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.

Thursday, 22 February 2018

Signy Webcam

We have had a webcam running at Signy this year, and had been hoping to get it connected to the BAS website for everyone to see.  Unfortunately this is out of our hands, and has not yet happened so we have come up with an alternative from here.  The images from the webcam can be found here: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/keqdquv3zqa3zmz/AABE0o_5tCJXq3ZJbBNskgS6a?dl=0  There is a new image every 30 minutes.  It is worth noting this links to a large number of images so can take a while to load up.  The view is from the front of the station looking towards the generator shed and jetty.   

After a lot more mild wet weather, we finally had a nice sunny day earlier in the week and managed a trip to the west coast to do some maintenance work on the hut there.  There are some lovely icebergs grounded in the shallower waters along the west coast.  The smaller bits are often used by leopard seals as places to haul out for a snooze.

All of the Adelie penguins have now gone.  They will head south to the ice edge where the adults will moult and regrow a new set of feathers.  The chinstrap chicks are enormous.  The youngest look like this:

Those that are a bit older look like this:

And the ones that are only a week or so from fledging look like this:

One day this Macaroni penguin showed up.  In the past, a few of these have been known to breed at Signy, but I have never seen any breeding in my time here.  However, a few are seen each year, looking for a nesting site or a mate. 

The last few days I've noticed it is starting to get dark much earlier here now, and its still not fully light at 6am any longer.  Although this means winter is on its way here, it also means the opposite must be happening in the UK and it will therefore be spring when I get home in a couple of months.

Monday, 5 February 2018

Out into the Big Wide World

Firstly, BAS has developed a new virtual tour of Signy research station, which can be found on the BAS website at: https://www.bas.ac.uk/project/virtual-antarctica/virtual-antarctica-signy-demo-vr360/  The pictures for this were taken the day we arrived so there is a lot of cargo in the wrong places, but it does give the general idea of how things are.  I think it is likely to be quite good, as long as you have faster internet than we do here!  Enjoy!

The end of January sees my  Adelie chicks starting to fledge.  The adults leave too so in the space of about 10 days, the colonies go from being full of birds to strangely silent.  Here is the big colony at Gourlay at the start of the week: 

At this stage the Adelie chicks are fully feathered and have lost nearly all of their fluffy down (in this picture you can also see the younger chinstrap chicks behind):

This chick looks fat and healthy and probably weighs only slight less than its parent.  This is probably its final meal from its parents before heading out into the big wide world alone.  It will hopefully return to Signy to breed in a few years time. 

It always amazes me that the chicks somehow know the time is right to leave behind the safety of the shore and leap into the sea and swim away.  It only takes them a couple of seconds of bobbing and splashing on the surface like ducks before they realise they can dive under and vanish completely.  This is the last we see of them.  It is critical that they get this bit right as leopard seals and giant petrels cruise the shoreline, picking off any weaklings.

By the end of the week, the colony in the picture at the start of this blog was almost empty.  The birds around the edges are largely chinstraps, with just a couple of tiny clusters of adelie chicks remaining.   

My study colony has only 2 birds left in it, and the colony is now an empty space littered with numbered nest marker bricks.  All of the neat little nests of stones have turned into one big dirty mess.  One of my jobs in the coming weeks will be to clean the bricks up for next year, but I think I'll let the rain do a bit of the work for me first.

Meanwhile the chinstraps will be with us for a while yet. 

The smallest of these are still very cute.  But the majority are much bigger than this now.  They have about a month to go before they too will head for the sea.