Since 2011, I have been spending November to April each year working for the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) on Signy Island in the South Orkney Islands, Antarctica. I work as a Zoological Field Assistant on the penguin and seal long-term monitoring programme. Before this, I spent 2.5 years on the sub-Antarctic island of Bird Island, South Georgia, in the South Atlantic.

This blog gives readers an insight into my day-to-day life in the Antarctic, from my first trip south in 2008 to the present day.

Monday, 25 December 2017

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas to everyone at home!  Some of you will have received this by email, but this is for those who's email address I don't have.

Have a lovely day!

Saturday, 23 December 2017

Midsummer

Firstly, seasons greetings from the Signy Team.

Secondly, Happy Midwinter to anyone in the northern hemisphere.  After a gorgeus day of sunshine, lovely clouds and ice...

...we were treated to a beautiful calm evening.  This is how dark it was at midnight.

It is lovely having such long hours of daylight. 

At Signy we are busy preparing for Christmas, but there are still a few bits of fieldwork to complete before then.  The Adelie colonies are now quite busy as the ever growing chicks demand more and more food. 

It always suprises me how quickly they grow!

Whilst out and about doing the whole island chinstrap penguin survey over the last week, we have visited most of the island.  There were some rather nice views.  These are Cape Petrels.

This is a large pile of Elephant seals.

Gentoo chicks (also growing very fast!).

And some peaks on the icecap.

I'll write about Christmas next time.  Meanwhile, I wish everyone at home a lovely Christmas and best wishes for 2018.

Sunday, 17 December 2017

Something different

At present I am very busy with fieldwork with a lot to squeeze in between now and Christmas.  This season, in addition to the usual long term monitoring work, we are conducting a whole island Chinstrap survey.  Although approximately 1500 birds are monitered every single year as part of the standard monitoring, in addition, every 10 years every bird on the island is counted.  This year we are also conducting this survey using a drone to investigate its potential for surveying inaccessible places in the future.  It is keeping us busy, but is fun to do.

The survey gets us out and about all over the island, to the little nooks and crannies that we don't usually visit.  We still have some pretty ice around.

Whilst out and about on the chinstrap survey, it has actually been the Adelies who have been the most photogenic as the chinstraps are just sitting dutifully on their eggs.  There is much more activity in the Adelie colonies.  The chicks are already suprisingly large!


This pair is almost too big to fit underneath its parent.  It is good to see many nests still with two chicks- in a really poor year they can only find enough food to rear one.


Whilst out surveying we came across something quite special.  Spot the odd one out! 


This Adelie is leucistic, meaning it has a pigment disorder resulting in a partial loss of pigmentation in its feathers.  This form of leucism is known as Isabellinism- where the bird has a uniform reduction in the pigment melanin all over, giving it a honey colour everywhere that should be black.  It has brownish toenails and an almost red beak.  It is not an albino, which would have no colour at all and pale eyes.


It looked perfectly happy with its fellow colony buddies.


Finally to finish, here is some more ice in the bay.


On base we are starting to prepare for Christmas.  We put the Christmas tree and decorations up yesterday and my Christmas cakes are maturing, waiting to be iced.  The temperatures are hovering around minus two- probably warmer than the UK at present!

Monday, 11 December 2017

Moving on

The season is moving on- we have been here for almost a quarter of our time already.  In another 10 days we'll have reached the longest day here.  It doesn't really get dark at night much these days which is rather nice.

The wildlife is also busy progressing through the season.  The Adelie penguins now have small chicks.

They are guarding these closely from predators like skuas and giant petrels.

The chinstraps nest about a month later than the Adelies.

They have just finished laying their eggs and now begin the process of incubating them.

We had a nice visitor one day to the beach in front of the station.  This little Weddell seal came to visit and seemed very content snoozing on the beach.

Meanwhile, on station things moved on too and we had the second ship visit of the season- the RRS Ernest Shackleton, which called yesterday.  It is too big to get to the jetty (so people and cargo are moved in small boats) but it has a shallow draft so can get much closer than our other ship, the James Clark Ross.

The Shackleton brought four new scientists.  This bring the number of people on station up to eight, which is the maximum we can fit in.  It feels much busier than it did til now as there were only 5 of us for the first part of the season.  Claudia, who has been with us from the start but has now finished her science here, left on the ship.  She has been collecting small crustaceans from the lakes and shorelines around the island.  Here are the original team- Matt, Iain, Me, Catrin and Claudia.  

(the orange boilersuits are not compulsary, but they are a firm favourite for wearing around and about- rather like wearing a duvet!) 

This will now be the last ship we see until early February when there will be another change of personnel, who will join us for the remainder of the season.  The next couple of months will be the busiest- there is much to do!

Friday, 1 December 2017

Antarctica Day

Happy Antarctica Day!

December 1st is Antarctica Day.  This day celebrates the signing of the Antarctic Treaty on 1st December 1959.  The Antarctic Treaty, signed by 48 nations is a perfect example of global cooperation between nations, designating the whole of Antarctica as a "natural reserve, devoted to peace and science".  The treaty sets aside all claims of territorial ownership by the various nations, and prohibits military activities and mineral extraction.  Conventions passed by the treaty nations protect the Antarctic as a whole, enhancing scientific discovery, monitoring the status of the continent and its wildlife (my job) and regulating fishing and tourism to sustainable levels. The treaty has resulted in successful cooperation between all nations, working together for the greater good and is as strong now as when it was first signed.  

If you are interested, more information (an interesting read) can be found at https://www.bas.ac.uk/about/antarctica/the-antarctic-treaty/the-antarctic-treaty-explained/ 

It seems a shame to me that we can't use this as a model for the rest of the world!

We can't celebrate Antarctica Day without some penguins, so here are a few pictures.  The Adelies are currently still incubating and the colonies are clean and tidy with each bird sitting on their nest of pebbles, patiently waiting for their eggs to hatch.

Its a long job, so snoozing is often a good way to pass the time...

Yesterday when I went to visit my study birds, it was exceedingly windy and the birds had all turned themselves round to face the wind.  This made them look particularly neat and tidy.

From the front the Adelies look rather intimidating!  Not something to be messed with.  Especially the one in the middle of the picture!


The first egg was just showing signs of hatching yesterday with a pea-sized hole in the shell and a tiny beak showing through.  It will hatch fully today- what better day to arrive into the world than on Antarctica Day!