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.

Wednesday, 24 January 2018

Late January

By late January, everything is moving on.  We are past mid season which is a milestone mentally as it becomes necessary to start thinking about plans for once the season is over and writing job applications- until this point it is so far ahead that not much can be planned.  At Signy there is still a lot to do.  The weather has been pretty dismal in the last couple of weeks, with warm temperatures giving us several days of heavy rain, and frequent fog.  This hasn't been great for pictures so apologies that most of these are not very bright!
Last week we visited the gentoo penguins up at the North end of the island to count all of the chicks.  The chicks are getting quite big.

The gentoo chicks are lovely.  Unlike the Adelies, they seem to have the sense to move out of their guano-covered colonies as soon as they are big enough, so they manage to remain clean and tidy.

The shag chicks at North point are also getting quite large.  They are brown at present but will change colour when their feathers grow. 

The chinstrap chicks are also growing well.

On Friday the RRS Ernest Shackleton came to visit. 

It came to take away two of our scientists, Alex and JB, who have been with us since just before Christmas.  Alex has been working with me, flying a drone to conduct a whole island aerial surveys of chinstrap penguins. 

At this time of year the Antarctic fur seals turn up in large numbers.  They are usually sub-adult males who are not big enough to hold territories on the breeding beaches of South Georgia.

This one was special.  It has a red flipper tag, and the number on it tells us that it was tagged as a pup on Bird Island in the 2012/13 season!  What are the chances of him turning up on Signy in a place where I could spot his tags!

There are some strange creatures in the Antarctic waters. 

This crustacean (identified as the amphipod Paraceradocus) washed up on the beach one day and was brought in for a photograph before being released.

Monday, 15 January 2018

Time Flies

Somehow it has already reached the middle of January without me noticing!  Work is very busy which makes the time fly.  Wednesday for us will be mid-season.  Last night for the first time we commented that it was starting to get dark at 10:30pm- it was the first time I've noticed that the nights are starting to draw in a bit, although we are almost a month past the longest day now so it is not suprising.  Hopefully that means you've started to notice the days getting a tiny bit longer in the UK!     

Over the weeks the Adelie penguins have been very busy feeding their ever growing chicks.  When the chicks get large enough to be left alone, both parents spend their days at sea fishing.  The chicks which now look like big balls of fluff, form creches, huddling together for warmth and protection.

On days when it is snowy or rainy the colonies are filthy from all the penguin guano and the chicks end up rather grubby!

The chicks are very mobile and very comical, providing endless entertainment.

A month behind the Adelies in their breeding cycle, the chinstraps have now just finished hatching.  The chicks are still quite small and are being guarded by their parents.  This one has two - on a cold day they bury their heads under their parents where it is warmest, and often just two bottoms can be seen! 

These two penguins were investigating a Weddell seal sleeping on the rocks.

The skuas have chicks now too.  Some of these are getting quite big - fed largely on a diet of eggs and baby penguins.  Young skuas are very mobile and start exploring their surroundings as soon as they hatch.  They are fiercely defended by their parents against anything that may harm them.

And to finish, here are a couple of pretty ice formations that had formed over a semi frozen stream last week.

Sunday, 7 January 2018

Happy New Year

Happy New Year to everyone back at home.

We had a white Christmas, but the sun shone too making it a very pleasant day.  We all enjoyed a good Christmas dinner.

Some of us had a walk out to the bottom of the glacier in the sunshine.

Christmas involved some tasty treats including mince pies, trifle, and a large Christmas cake, made and iced by me, but then cleverly finished by Catrin who did an excellent job of making marzipan sculptures to go on the top.

 Boxing Day some of us were back to work.  The days are long at this time of year, and the weather can be stunning.  The sun shone on our trip over the icecap to the west coast by skidoo. 

Nothing is prettier than the view across to Coronation island on a bright day. 

Some of the icebergs were looking particularly nice.

With temperatures just above zero and no wind, the green moss banks were snow free and it felt very summery!

A content looking Weddell seal was also enjoying the sun.

Things can change rapidly- the next morning we awoke to winter again.

The next couple of months are probably the busiest for me.  The Adelie and gentoo chicks are getting big, so there are tasks like chick weighing and fledgling counts to be done.  Meanwhile the chinstraps have started hatching and the fur seals, which also get counted, are starting to arrive.  There is much to be done!