Saturday, 27 December 2014

Bird Island arrival

With a variety of delays on the JCR, getting the base going at Signy, and a few hitches with scientific equipment, we arrived on Bird Island on the 1st December, 20 days after leaving the UK. The sea was a bit rough, so we were dropped off by inflatable  with only essential kit.

20141201-DSC_2219Our first view of Bird Island.

Finally ashore after 20 days traveling.

Once we were ashore the JCR headed round to King Edward Point where the sheltered bay gave a better opportunity for getting some work done in the windy/choppy seas. It also gave us the chance to get settled into base and have a look around before the madness of resupply.

One of my study species, a Southern Giant Petrel

Giant Petrels can be often seen on the shores of South Georgia ripping apart penguins and seals, with their heads buried in the the carcass to get to the juicy innards. After washing the blood from their heads and heading back to their nests they are rather nice birds, and can be remarkably friendly, preening your hand gently when you’re checking for an egg.

20141204-DSC_2239 Panorama
‘Big Mac’ 80,000 Macaroni Penguins, I’ll be counting them soon!

20141204-DSC_2250 Panorama
Looking down towards base from Tonk ridge

Fur seals prefer to lie on the walkways off the wet ground, this makes it interesting when you’re trying to do resupply, wheeling trollies of supplies up and down, rolling drums of waste and fuel, and just trying to get between the different buildings!

20141210-DSC_2361 Panorama
Plenty of Fur Seals on the beach

The rooms are comfortable and there is plenty of space. Bedrooms are shared during the summer and for a few days there were three of us in this room (there is a spare drop down bed over the desk. During the winter we will all have our own bedrooms.

My bedroom, I’m in the top bunk

The food store, dried, tinned, preserved foods

The dining room/lounge is a nice big room, comfortable chairs, plenty of books and DVD’s, and even a projector, screen and surround sound for a makeshift cinema. In the windows there are marine blackout blinds. These are closed at night so that night flying seabirds don’t crash into the buildings, they are attracted to the lights at night, especially when there is poor visibility. Evening meals are eaten at 8pm and cooked in turn by everyone on base. Saturdays are a three course dinner and Sundays a roast. Wednesday and Sunday nights are movie nights, with the cook choosing the movie.

Dining room/lounge

That’s all for now, my turn for the Saturday night dinner, better get cooking.

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Opening Signy

Signy is a summer only base, and so needs to be opened up each year by a team of people, digging snow, hacking at ice, starting generators, starting the reverse osmosis plant to produce fresh water, unloading equipment, food etc.

The first obstacle, chunks of sea ice blocking the jetty

Digging out the snow down to the walkways

With the jetty blocked there was no option but to drag all the gear along the beach on sledges to the base.

Testing a quad-copter from the jetty

Base open, flag flying.

Good reflections

Walking over the mountains to get to the Chinstrap and Adelie colony for a spot of work.

Whilst we were there Richard Phillips and I spent some time removing geolocators from Chinstrap penguins. These tiny devices measure light level, this creates a record for the time of sunset/sunrise, as well as the day length. This data can then be then used to calculate the location enabling tracking of the animal to which it was fitted!

Whilst we were doing that the rest of the team helped the Signy zoological field assistant to move nest marking blocks which are used for marking study nests for monitoring breeding.

20141123-DSC_1672Adelie penguin

Chinstrap penguin

Adelie penguins lying down while Chinstraps stand.

Adelie with an egg.

Two of the field huts at Signy, and very nice they are too, much nicer than the ones around KEP!

Sailing South to Signy

Having left Punta Arenas it was 4 days sailing to reach our next stop, the island of Signy in the South Orkney Islands. There wasn’t a great deal to on board, so I spent a large amount of time watching seabirds. The winch control room was perfect for this, with comfortable seats, and good visibility to the port side of the ship and also astern where lots of birds were following in our wake.

Cape Petrel, present behind the ship almost the whole time

Wandering Albatross, the worlds biggest seabird

Antarctic Prion

Big tabular iceberg with pack ice in the background

Lying beyond 60 degrees South, and being well into summer there was practically no darkness, very reminiscent of the “Simmer Dim” in Shetland which is at 60 degrees North. Before we arrived at the summer only base we had to push through some loose pack ice where we spotted Chinstrap and Adelie Penguins, Leopard, Crabeater and Weddell Seals.

Pushing through the ice into Signy

Hanging glacier, dramatic scenery all around

Stars above the ship

Pushing through the ice

A couple of species that were quite tricky to photograph were the Antarctic Petrel and Southern Fulmar, persistence paid off though in the end.

Antarctic Petrel

Southern Fulmar

Next stop opening the base at Signy.

Saturday, 20 December 2014

Punta Arenas

The first leg of our journey to Bird Island was to fly from Heathrow – Madrid – Santiago – Punta Arenas. It was a long old way, and airports are never a particularly exciting place to hang around. Luckily the check in staff at Heathrow were very helpful and didn’t charge me for excess baggage, being a Penguin scientist has it’s perks, and the LAN Chile staff dealt with all our kit as a group and shuffled us past everyone else to our own check in desk!

20141114-DSC_1007 PanoramaJCR at the jetty

Our home for the next 3 weeks, the James Clark Ross was moored in Punta having a few repairs made to it’s 10 tonne crane, this gave us a couple of days to explore the town.

20141114-DSC_0930 PanoramaThe Cemetary

An interesting place to visit is the cemetary, with row upon row of family crypts. The trees, bushes and lawns provide plenty of space for birds, I even found a brood of Rufous-collared Sparrow chicks.

20141114-DSC_0913Rufous-collared Sparrow

A walk along the coast brought a few more species, here’s my Punta bird list:
Upland Goose
Steamer-Duck (probably Flying)
Rock Cormorant
Imperial Cormorant
Black-faced Ibis
Southern Caracara
Southern Lapwing
Kelp Gull
Dolphin Gull
Chilean Seaside Cinclodes
Austral Negrito
Chilean Swallow
Austral Thrush
Rufous-collared Sparrow
House Sparrow
Black-chinned Siskin


20141114-DSC_0965Southern Lapwing

20141114-DSC_0982Pair of Upland Geese on the shore

20141114-DSC_0986Chilean Seaside Cinclodes, seen picking about in the litter under a bridge

20141114-DSC_0967Imperial Cormorants on one of the old piers

So after a couple of good meals out, visits to a variety of bars, seeing the sights, ship repaired, we were ready to head on our way.

20141113-DSC_0881Team BI posing at the town square

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Lake District Holidays

As a last minute getaway I headed off for a long weekend to the Lake District with Ros. Despite rain and gales every day we went out exploring the lower hills and lakes in the Elterwater area, drove up through Hardknott Pass, and even had pizza delivered to the middle of nowhere! It really was a great getaway, relaxing and enjoyable. I’ll let the photos speak now.








Pre deployment training

So four years after my first job with the British Antarctic Survey I am going to head South again, this time as the Zoological Field Assistant on Bird Island, South Georgia, with responsibility for the Penguin and Giant Petrel long term monitoring work. And I’m also going to be the winter base commander too!

20140907-DSC_0597Unfortunately the BAS office doesn’t look like this!

Before heading to Bird Island there is plenty of training to do again, and management meetings to attend as the winter BC. This meant spending 2 months living in Cambridge and heading to the office each day. I’m not really used to cities and offices so this was quite a change for me! Cambridge was a great place to catch up with lots of friends, buy last minute items, and enjoy the river and parks.

20140921-DSC_0677Derbyshire night sky

One of the most enjoyable aspects of our training is the field course in Derbyshire. For many years this has been held in a field, but now, due to a very wet and stormy year it has been moved to a field centre. Not only did we have spacious tipi’s to sleep in, but there was a proper kitchen and dining room, and a high ropes course, perfect for practicing crevasse rescue techniques.


Weather for the field course couldn’t have been much better, beautifully clear. A few people were commented on it being cold at night…. do they realise where they’re going?!

20140912-IMG_20140912_162743BI science team. Lucy (Albatrosses), Sian (Seals), Me (Penguins)
Very important team building pimms!

By working in Cambridge for a while we were also able to spend more time with the people heading off to other bases, and get to know each other too. Punting on the river Cam was a particularly good team building exercise, especially when followed by a large jug of Pimms!

20140919-IMG_20140919_154154Casualty simulation at the first aid course