Tuesday, 29 March 2011

The Greene Peninsula

As part of the rat eradication by SGHT the SGSSI Government and SGHT have been out monitoring for dead rats and also any ‘collateral damage’ in the form of poisoned ducks, gulls, skuas, giant petrels etc. anything that might eat the pellets, or eat poisoned dead rats. To help with this work I was asked to accompany the SGSSI ornithologist on a trip to the Greene peninsula for the weekend.

20110304-DSC_0997SGHT helicopter flying to a baiting area

When we arrived on the Greene we offloaded all our gear into the small hut, and spent some time taking photos of the helicopters heading back and forth carrying out their final baiting runs in the area. During this time I noticed that there was also a VC-10 flying around. Below it coming around Sooty bluff I noticed a military Hercules, so I radioed base so they could quickly look out for it. There wasn’t much time though as it appeared out of nowhere! As it flew around the bay it called into the SGSSI Government by radio to say hello, and carried on it’s way around the island.

20110304-DSC_1013 British air force hercules flying around South Georgia

20110304-DSC_1025 20110304-DSC_1031
A rat bait pellet which landed in a rat runway

During the afternoon and into the evening I walked along a section of the coast looking for any signs of dead rats or birds. Although I didn’t find any I did find evidence of lots of rats, and perhaps most striking was the clear runways used to get from their fortress down to the shore line. Some of the pellets had landed in these, and the rats had already been collecting them and piling them outside their burrows. It was a beautiful afternoon, and a lovely walk to explore a new part of the island.

20110304-DSC_1050_merged Looking towards the Thatcher Peninsula

20110304-DSC_1075_mergedWhale vertebrae on the shore

The evenings meal was a frozen hot-pot which Ashley the boating officer had stashed in the freezer for just such an occasion. The hut was cosy, with an entrance/storage area, and in the main room 2 bunks and a cooking area/work surface. Complete with a Tilley lamp and a Primus is was home from home. During the night however the weather changed markedly, the wind picked up and it started to rain.


On Saturday the weather didn’t improve much, and it remained wet and windy all day. On the plus side this did give me plenty of time to read an interesting book by Tim Jarvis about re-creating the famous Mawson Antarctic Expedition sledging trip. I also used the time to create some time lapse films of ice blowing around the fjord, with the camera pointing out of the door trying to keep dry!

20110306-DSC_2616_merged Looking back to Grytviken and KEP

Sunday however was a beautiful day again, and this time I headed down the peninsula towards the point and pintail ponds looking for anything dead. Andy had also seen some South Georgia Pipits down there, and I really wanted to get some nice photos. So off I went complete with 500mm lens, which doesn’t get as many outings as it should owing to it’s tendency to make you feel like an overworked mule by carrying it!


20110306-DSC_2636 Male Fur Seal

20110306-DSC_2657-2 Antarctic Terns

The wildlife was great for taking photos, the Terns especially so, although I wasn’t so lucky with the pipit and only got a fleeting glance as one flew past. Having had a nice mornings wander it was back to the hut for lunch and an early afternoon pick-up. Back to base to prepare for the following day’s Fur Seal pup weighing!

Thursday, 24 March 2011

How to attract Wilson’s Storm Petrels

These beautiful tiny birds spend most of their lives out at sea, and when you see how small they are, similar in size to a robin you can’t help but be even more amazed at their hardiness. In King Edward Cove there are usually two or three flitting around at various times. Over the last month or so there have been lots more around, and can be seen feeding around Giant Petrels when they are devouring anything that has died in the water. Once a month they also get a bit of a treat from the base. This comes in the form of our mechanic cleaning out the sewage system on base, and they flock around the outfall to feast on any morsels that appear!

Whilst not being an entirely pleasant thought it does mean that the Wilson’s are feeding close in to the shore, in one area, and with fairly predictable flight foraging patterns. Anyway, enough chit chat, here are some of the results:





Monday, 21 March 2011

Camping holiday

With the Fur seals getting into the full swing of moulting my tagging work had to stop. The tags are glued to the fur, so obviously moulting causes issues with the tags falling off. So once I had retrieved my two tags I took the opportunity to go away on holiday for a few days with two of my colleagues.

The Barff  peninsula is a popular holiday destination here on base, at one end is St. Andrews bay, famous for 150,000 pairs of King Penguins and hundreds of Elephant Seals; towards the other end is Rookery bay with it’s colony of Macaroni Penguins. The walk to St. Andrews is quite an undertaking with all the camping and emergency supplies BAS make us take, so we decided on a shorter hike to ease us in by visiting Rookery bay before the Macaronis finished breeding. So after a mad evening of packing Sam doc, Matt boat and I were fairly ready, excited, and had the name “team calamity” having lost the kit list 3 times in the field store alone.

Holiday to Rookery Bay with Sam and MattBefore starting our holiday we first had to visit the Greene peninsula to check some rat traps we had put out. Then it was off to Corral landing on the beach with the RIB and making sure we didn’t leave anything behind on the boats! At this point forgetting something would have been quite good, as our backpacks were topping 30kg, a mix of heavy winter standard gear, lots of precautionary ‘emergency kit’, and what most people might think was rather excessive amounts of camera equipment!

Holiday to Rookery Bay with Sam and MattThe walk from Coral to Rookery Bay started like most walks in South Georgia, by heading uphill. The route followed the valleys up to Rookery Pass, a rocky scree filled pass that took us several hours to reach. On the way though we enjoyed the scenery, and even came across part off the Reindeer herd. There is currently a substantial amount of interest in the Reindeer of South Georgia. On one hand they are an alien species that damage vegetation, cause erosion, and would prevent rat eradication by eating the poison bait and suffering terrible deaths themselves. On the other hand they are beautiful creatures that are part of the whaling heritage, and are the only reindeer not to be polluted by Chernobyl fall out.

Holiday to Rookery Bay with Sam and Matt 
Sam at Rookery Bay Pass

Holiday to Rookery Bay with Sam and MattAs we walked down from Rookery Pass (over some killer scree) we came to a grassy area and Gentoo Penguin colony. There were also more reindeer, although they weren’t particularly approachable and disappeared as soon as we got near. By now we were on the look out for a suitable camping spot, and just as we reached the tussac an ideal location appeared. A lovely flat area, sheltered by a large rock and small ridge, and fairly close to our water source too. This must have been a site used in the past, as there were some pieces of firewood stored in a small cave beside the sheltering rock.

Holiday to Rookery Bay with Sam and MattThe moon over Rookery Bay

Our campsite turned out to be right next to the Gentoo highway between their colony and the sea. This gave us plenty of amusement watching the antics of the chicks chasing the adults down the hill begging for food. It also caused some confusion to the penguins, and a number of times they wandered into the camp to see what these strange things were that had appeared.

Holiday to Rookery Bay with Sam and MattOne of the main attractions of Rookery Bay is the colony of Macaroni Penguins that breed there. So on the second day we headed off after a “hot breakfast” rat pack, in search of the Mac’s. The walk was fairly easy going, the reindeer keeping down the vegetation, and creating handy paths to follow. Our first point of call was the “Launch Pad” where the Mac’s enter and exit the sea. There was a hive of activity, penguins hanging around, bathing, coming in from the sea and heading out to sea. The rocks were incredibly slippery with all the Penguin poo, and we had to be careful not to slip over or get caught by the swell.

Holiday to Rookery Bay with Sam and Matt 

Holiday to Rookery Bay with Sam and Matt

Holiday to Rookery Bay with Sam and Matt
Watching the Mac’s scramble out of the surf, only to be side swiped by another wave showed how hardy these little guys are!

Holiday to Rookery Bay with Sam and Matt
Nesting in the dense guano fertilised tussac I’m quite pleased I don’t have to count this colony of Mac’s!

Holiday to Rookery Bay with Sam and Matt
Giant Petrel chick

Holiday to Rookery Bay with Sam and Matt 
Matt photographing the GP chick

Holiday to Rookery Bay with Sam and Matt Campfire flames

Holiday to Rookery Bay with Sam and Matt [photo]Rookery Bay, on our return from the Mac’s.

After a chilly and damp start to the day by lunch time things had brightened up considerably. After having a bit of a wander to look at Reindeer and the Giant Petrels we headed back towards our campsite. We wondered if it was possible to get down to the beach from the top of the cliffs, and a carefully chosen gully and tussac slope allowed us to do just that. The resulting walk along the beach was lovely, Furries, Ellies, Gentoos and Kings all on the same beach. We even picked up some more driftwood for the campfire.

Holiday to Rookery Bay with Sam and Matt Having spent one day over at the rookery we decided to use our last day by having a relaxing morning, and then an amble back across the peninsula to Corral Hut. Having left some supplies for the next people to come out here (the next day), we had a nice quiet, slow wander up the unbelievably steep scree. The weather was fairly nice too, so we were able to take a break by some lakes, and pose for a group photo too! Away from the coast there is very little in the way of wildlife, so without any wind there was an almost eerie silence. That was until some grumpy Antarctic Terns appeared and started squawking incessantly at us!

Holiday to Rookery Bay with Sam and Matt

Back at Corral we had the afternoon to relax. Fur seals lounging on the beach, with pups playing in the water. There was even a blonde pup who wasn’t bothered by our presence and posed quite nicely for some photos. Having seen a waterfall from the boats as we arrived we decided to go and investigate. We found the waterfall, with plenty of water coming down, and creating a nice large plunge-pool. This obviously seemed like a bit of a playground for the Fur Seals, and they seemed to be enjoying leaping in and out of the waterfall. Having my waterproof compact camera I also decided to try and take some underwater photos. The pups were quite inquisitive too, so it wasn’t too difficult to take photos of them investigating me.

Holiday to Rookery Bay with Sam and Matt

Holiday to Rookery Bay with Sam and Matt

Holiday to Rookery Bay with Sam and MattA Fur seal’s mouth and nose from underwater

Holiday to Rookery Bay with Sam and Matt

Holiday to Rookery Bay with Sam and Matt

Back at the hut Matt created a nice campfire again, and I made us dinner. Dinner however got put on hold slightly as sunset developed rather spectacularly. It made a lovely change being able to see the colour in the sky over the mountains of South Georgia, rather than mostly being blocked out by them as from KEP. Fortunately the fire kept dinner warm (it was only rat packs anyway) and they were more edible after a longer soak too!

Such a spectacular sunset was the perfect way to end a really nice holiday. Wonderful scenery, amazing wildlife, and great company too. I can’t wait for my next holiday already!

Holiday to Rookery Bay with Sam and Matt