Tag Archives: Field Guide

What are we doing here?

So why are there seven of us on a tiny island for the Antarctic Summer?  First and foremost we are here so the Foreign Commonwealth Office (FCO) has a presence in the South Orkney Islands.  This is arguable (and I should probably be careful what I write here) but with an Argentinian base on the nearby Coronation island the FCO needs to keep the current BAS bases running every year which in turn helps with the British say in the Antarctic Treaty.  Science probably comes equal to that and on Signy science means penguins.  The colonies studied on Signy have the longest data sets of any in Antarctica and they continued to be monitored every year.  Along with the penguins there is also a vast amount of other bird life, seals and mosses and lichens.  Understanding what is happening to the various species in Antarctica over time gives an insight into what is happening in the larger environment.

So seeing as lots of people have asked for pictures of penguins, here it is, lots of photos of the wildlife at Signy.

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Flying the flag at Signy Research Station, Coronation island behind.  If you’d like to have a virtual wonder around Signy Research Station click – here

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At signy we have three types of penguins – Adelie, Chinstrap and Gentoo.931A9196So can you spot the difference?  While this looks like one massive colony there are actually distinct boundaries between groups of birds.  Sometimes this is birds of different types (this is Adelies and Chinstraps) and sometimes just different groups of the same bird.

People love penguins – I think this is because we find some of their actions endearing and somewhat humanlike – they mate for life, they return to the same colony they were born in to have their chicks and the male and females take turns on the nest and going off to feed.  They also have very little fear of humans and look funny when they walk!

931A9638Tim (the Zoological Field Assistant) has two main study colonies – one of Adelies and one of Chinstraps.  In these colonies he has 100 nesting pairs that he checks every two days.  He checks each nest for number of eggs and/or chicks.  When the chicks are born they will get weighed and their diet sampled as well.  Above – Iain (facilities engineer) recording the numbers as Tim shouts them out.

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Recording at the Adelie colony.

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Adelie penguin posing for the camera.  Its hard not to imbue animals with human traits.  If Adelies were humans they would probably be the village idiot, constantly wondering around, falling over, stealing stones from each others nests and looking quite lost.931A9232The ecstatic display.  At times is hard to imagine penguins showing emotion but this does seem to be a display of pure love and affection – perhaps another reason everyone loves penguins so much.  It usually starts with a slight bow to each other , sometimes twice, there heads almost touching and then they bob and weave there heads either side of each other dipping down as low as there middles.  They then look at each other with there heads close together before looking away as if to check that no-ones noticed.  A pair of penguins might stop and do this every few minutes if they are both at the nest at the same time.

931A9644 Chinstraps on the nest.  The chinstraps are slightly smaller than the Adelies and don’t seem to do quite so much aimless wondering around.931A9199Chinstraps standing around in their pairs.  This has changed now with one of the pair permanently on the nest.

931A9260Gentoo penguins.  The Gentoos are a tiny bit bigger than the Adelies and a lot more skittish.  They also nest further away at the North point of the island.  While the two main study colonies on the Gourlay peninsular get counted every two days the other colonies get counted every couple of weeks.

931A9648Is that meant to be one chick or one egg?  Iain checks his numbers with Tim after another counting session.  

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We also record all seals that we see and in February all of the staff on base will be involved with the annual seal census counting every seal on the island over a few days.  Above – it can sometimes be hard to work out what type of seal it actually is (these are Weddell Seals)

931A9310Leopard Seal.  These are the absolute killing machines of the Southern Ocean and actually responsible for the last fatality at BAS in 2005.  This one was hauled out just below some Adelie colonies having a rest.
931A9360No doubt what type of seal it is when you see a Leopard seal close up.

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Elephant seals – the one everyone loves to hate.  These are enormous animals and they love getting around the BAS bases, keeping you up at night burping and farting.  The bull elephant seals are enormous and can grow to weigh about four tons.  These adolescent elephant seals have found a nice wallow amongst the crosses of some Norwegian Whalers a short walk from Base.  While ridiculous and disgusting on land they are amazing animals with the ability to dive to around 4 km in depth while shutting down their brains, operating on a sort of “auto pilot”.

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Elephant seal pup and its mother.  Pretty much the cutest of all baby seals its hard to imagine it growing into a full size one!

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Fur seal trying to scare me off.  Fur seals are really the only thing we have to watch out for on land.  They look and behave a bit like an angry Doberman and if they do manage to bite you the wound would be pretty dirty.  Sleeping, they look just like rocks and then leap into action either making a big fuss or making for the sea.

931A9247Southern Giant petrel – There are also lots of other bird species on the island other than penguins.

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Cape Petrels in the water at North Point.

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Iain looking down on the Gourlay peninsular on a rare blue sky day.

If seven people seems a lot just to count some penguins here is brief run down of our jobs.  While everyone has set responsibilities its very normal to help each other depending on work schedules etc.

Matt – Station Leader.  Deals with the running of the base, Comms and the bigger picture

Iain – Facilities Engineer.  Keeps us in Electricity and Water

Jim and Tom – Carpenters/Builders.  This year fixing the base and and the huts.

Tim and Mike/ Fabrizio – Zoological field assistants.  Mike and Fabrizio change over this weekend after a visit from the HMS protector.  They have both ongoing science and sometimes other data collection for other papers and PHD students.

Me – Field Assistant/ Field Guide.  Basically anything to do with being out “in the field” from training to helping with data collection to keeping the huts restocked with food and fuel.

Other blog posts coming soon – Life on base (with better photos of the team) as well as more about the Base and the huts and of course some more penguin photos (the first chicks just hatched in the last couple of days).

 

Posted in Adelie Penguin, alastair rose, ali rose, Antarctica, BAS, British Antarctic Survey, Field Assistant, Field Assistant Antarctica, Field Guide, Field Guide Antarctica, Gentoo, Signy, Signy Research Station, South Orkney Islands, Uncategorized Also tagged , , , , , , , , , , |

The Ernest Shackleton and Signy Arrival

We were on board the Ernest Shackleton for two days before setting off South with Signy Research Station as the first stop. Ive spent a fair amount of time at sea before including yachts on the Wild Coast of South Africa and various tall ships in the South China sea and the North Atlantic and I’ve rarely been seasick. This was all about to change.

Onboard the ship passengers are still referred to as FIDs though there is no longer a “King Fid” declared as there was in the old days of BAS staff going south (Spikes book “In the shadow of Ben Nevis” has a great description of how it was for BAS Staff going south in the 1960’s). Initially I had been a bit put out by us being the first stop as it would have been a good excuse to see the other BAS island bases “Bird Island” and “King Edward Point” on South Georgia. Within a few hours at sea I had changed my mind.  By the first meal I was feeling pretty rough and heard one of the crew comment “It can’t be rough yet – the FIDs are still showing up for food” – sure enough the only thing I managed to show up to after this point was a few very quick meals and the various safety briefings.  The hardest thing about this journey is really that there isn’t much to do even if you are feeling well.  There is some basic exercise  equipment in the hold, a tv lounge, a smoking room and a general lounge or as I did you can just lie in your cabin and stare out of the porthole.

Arriving in the South Orkneys I was relieved to see only open water and no sea ice. With sea ice present it would have been up to me and the Station Leader to organise the relief of the ship over the ice – testing thicknesses etc. In a fragile sea sick state this could have been quite the test. In fact all we had to do was wait for the crew of the Ernest Shackleton to get there tenders ready, struggle into our dry suits and head to the base.

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Jim and I’s cabin on the ship.  These are sometimes shared by four people.  Luckily for me I had the top bunk so could easily see out of the porthole

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One of the less rough moments when I managed to go to the bridge.  The Shack is known for her corkscrewing motion and the fact that she rolls 30degrees.  (That horizon is meant to be straight!)OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A really exciting briefing. (Biosecurity I think)931A9125

My favourite view.  I was able to lie in my bunk and watch a film on my laptop as long as I alternated between the porthole and the screen every couple of minutes.

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Lifeboat drills on the first morning at Sea.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This is the last season that BAS plan on using the Ernest Shackleton.  With the new ship currently being built the Shack will end her service next spring and the James Clark Ross the following year.  This calendar on one of the decks shows the progression from two to three ships and down to just the “Sir David Attenborough” and finally it sinking in 2021 (bottom right).  931A9129

Looking a bit pasty but very ready to get off the ship.  After three days at sea I was ready to leave my cabin!

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First view of the South Orkneys931A9145

Jim and a big pile of cargo ready to go ashore.

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The Ernest Shackleton out in the bay as another blizzard rolls in.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHaving not been lived in for eight months the first job was removing the shutters off the window and getting the base habitable (to be sure that we wouldn’t have to back to the ship that night!)

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Various ships crew and staff from other bases came ashore to help dig out the base and unload cargo.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The most important cargo was the last off.  I’m holding a case of Glenmorangie and was happy to see Dalwhinnie 15yr old and some Talisker 57deg North come off as well.  Hopefully it lasts us!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The fresh food that came ashore will be all we get until the next time the ship comes in mid January.  Every piece of fresh food has to be inspected for any wee beasties that might have hitched a ride.  Above – Tim and Mike (Scientists) inspect the cauliflower and remove a few tiny caterpillars.

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Taking the Skidoo around to the other side of the island.  The Shack was only with us for a few days so it was important to make the most use of their tenders while we could.  It felt pretty strange to be putting a skidoo onto a boat and taking it to somewhere I’d never been.

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One penguin, two penguins, three penguins….. Tim doing his first of many penguin counts.  Tim, Mike and I made a quick visit to the main penguin colonies on the Gourlay peninsular on the second day.  This will be Tims main focus for the 5 months and part of my job is to help him.  (Dont worry – lots of penguin shots to come!)

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Its definitely spring here.  The South Orkneys are at 60deg South so gets roughly the same daylight hours as Orkney in the North of Scotland (59deg North).  It is a little colder here month by month however due to not having the gulf stream.

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Signy Island.  Home for seven of us for the next four months.  The base is on the peninsular in the middle of the East coast (tiny black dots)  You can view a pdf version of this map here.

Next blog – life on base and why we’re here.

Posted in Antarctica, BAS, British Antarctic Survey, Ernest Shackleton, Field Assistant, Field Assistant Antarctica, mountains to the sea, mountainstothesea, Signy, Signy Research Station, South Orkney Islands, Uncategorized Also tagged , , , , , , , , , |

Finlandia Foothills and a Skua Survey

The news was broken to me at Halley that I was the only person flying back to Rothera with Olly the pilot.  My dreams of alternating between napping and reading my book in the back while someone else did co-pilot duties were shattered!  As the plane was so light we flew direct from Halley to Rothera in just under seven hours with me still managing to get a bit of a nap and some reading done.  In reality it was a fun trip feeling much more like a road trip than normal with just Olly and I chatting away and me occasionally doing a little bit of flying to give Olly a break.  On the way out of Halley we flew over the RRS Ernest Shackleton doing relief on the Brunt Ice Shelf 40km from the Halley base.

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The “Shack” doing relief with lots of cargo sledges and vehicle lined up to take the cargo back to base.
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By the time we got to Rothera it was grey and overcast.  Flying from Halley to Rothera directly does mean that the last bit of the journey has some interesting views as the route cuts across the peninsular.

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Back at Rothera Julie and I had a bit of planning and packing to do before the input to the Finlandia Foothills for our final short project of the season.  It wasn’t until after Julie had flown in to establish our camp that I was shown this excerpt from the previous field party in the area in the early 80’s.  Needless to say Julie and Pete were on the ground for five days waiting for the weather to improve for the rest of us to fly in.931A6473

Julie walking away from camp with the Wilson range behind.  The team of six of us were in the Finlandia Foothills on Alexander island in the hope of establishing an Antarctic Special Protected Area (ASPA).  An area of the foothills had shown promise via satellites and four scientists were expecting a higher than normal density of biological matter and some birds. (Basically bird poo, birds, moss and lichens).  (Fossil Bluff is also on Alexander Island which at BAS is often referred to as being the same size as Wales.  I recently learnt that it is also the second largest uninhabited island in the world)

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On our first afternoon we headed up on the screes above camp looking for moss and lichen931A6490

Pete hard at work collecting Lichens931A6499Gearing up to leave camp.  On this day we decided to head down to our main objective just over 6km away.  Note the bird net Richard is carrying.931A6503

Julie and the two Pete’s skiing away from camp.

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What a lot of Lichen!  After three hours of glacier travel on skis and foot we reached the site to realise that there was…. just a few bits of Lichen and no sign of birds, bird poo or moss.  We had expected the sample collections at this site to take three to four days!
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Scientists in the mist.  While at the site Kevin wanted to collect a series of DNA samples making him and Richard look particularly strange wandering around in the mist.  Needless to say it was quickly decided that the site was not worthy of ASPA status!
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The neighbours – It was great to be in a field camp as a large group again as once we had discovered the site was not what we wanted we had to wait a few days to be picked up.931A6538

Julie and the Petes being told the planes wont arrive tomorrow.

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After eleven days for Julie and just six for me we flew back late afternoon over some amazing chunks of sea ice and the RSS James Clark Ross doing relief at Rothera.

931A6555JCR on the Rothera Wharf.

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Skua survey.  After a brief couple of days at Rothera it was straight back out with my tentmates from Finlandia, Kevin and Richard, to carry on a skua survey on the islands near Rothera.  The flags on Kevin and Richards bags are to give the skua’s something to go for rather than your head when you’re peering into their nests.931A6577

Skua chick.  While Kevin outlined survey areas and Richard counted nesting pairs I tried to count nest contents.  Despite the skuas clearly showing you where their nests are by swooping you more and more aggressively the nests are surprisingly hard to spot.931A6613

Our salubrious accommodation on Anchorage island.  Salubrious until I pulled the door off the hut within minutes of our arrival!   931A6617

More Skua chicks.931A6620

Inquisitive Weddel seal.  I’ve spent barely any time on the islands around Rothera so doing the Skua survey was a great excuse to wander around and get some photos on both Anchorage and Leonie Island.
931A6682Incoming! Despite being assured by Richard that the skuas were not that aggressive and would only go for the flag some of the birds were extremely persistent I did get a few good hits to my head by some of the more adventurous ones.

One more week in Antarctica before heading home to Scottish winter which appears to be shaping up nicely.

Posted in alastair rose, ali rose, Anchorage Island, Antarctica, BAS, British Antarctic Survey, Field Assistant, Field Assistant Antarctica, Field Guide, Field Guide Antarctica, mountains to the sea, mountainstothesea, Rothera, Rothera Research Station, Skua Survey, Uncategorized Also tagged , , , , , , , , , , |

Halley Christmas

A bit late on Decembers blog!  I’ve had a really varied season so far with the biggest difference getting to spend time at BAS’s other Antarctic Research Station – Halley VI.  Halley has been in the news a lot over the last couple of years as some previously dormant cracks started opening up in the Brunt Ice Shelf inland from the station.  Last year a huge team of Engineers, Drivers and support staff moved the main modules to the other side of the crack (known as the Chasm) only to discover there was another crack (Halloween Crack) even further “inland”.  Work continues at Halley this season with a lot of monitoring of the various cracks, readying the base to survive the Antarctic winter without staff and and attempt to fully automate all the long term science that happens.

From a Rothera perspective Halley is the place that all the fuss is made about while the science and field work happens from Rothera.  From a Halley perspective Rothera is not the real Antarctic.  The main difference for me is that you get bacon rolls for smoko at Halley

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At the start of December I spent a lot of time flying around the Ellsworth Mountains with Ian (Pilot) and Ben (Engineer) sorting out more science sites.  The views of the mountains were amazing as was getting to stay in the “hotel” at Union Glacier.

 

931A6048 Mt Vinson  – the highest peak on the continent (4892m)931A6052 Ben working at one of the sites south of the Ellsworths.  The first few sites were al uphill from the plane and involved lugging batteries to and from them.  A couple of these sites were at about 8000ft.  With the lower air pressure in Antarctica they feel more like 12000ft so its pretty knackering dragging car batteries behind you.931A6072 Tough place for a lunch stop.931A6090Enormous crevasses on the approach to the Union Glacier skiway.931A6098 Ben walking back to our tent on the guest side of the Union camp.  It was great to check out the setup here and catch up with some friends.931A6236 Flying again –  As field guides we spend a lot time in the aircraft.  Fellow field guide Julie knitting away on the long flight from Rothera to Halley.
931A6280 Halley VI.  The original Halley Base was started in 1956 with the most recent incarnation being commisioned in 2006.  The original four bases were snowed in and the staff lived in them underground.  Both Halley V and VI were designed to raised to deal with the snow accumulation.  931A6284 I’ve often wondered why you dont see many pictures of Halley from the air.  I think part of the reason is that its not a particularly exciting view but also that a lot of attention is focused on the space age modules.  The view from above shows the vast amount of infrastructure needed to keep the base running.  Above – Halley modules in the centre with the various vehicle lines, container lines, accommodation and garage modules.  The lines at the top of the photo are enormous windscoops leading to the “hinge zone” where the Brunt ice shelf meets the continent.931A6312-HDR Classic Halley view.931A6327 Christmas day – Doug climbing in Halloween crack.  Mark (FG), Doug (Air Mech) and Olly (Pilot) snuck off on Christmas for a quick climb in Halloween crack.  Having to ski-doo there, set up the ropes, abseil in etc meant there was only time for a couple of climbs each but a great way to spend Christmas!931A6332 Some things are the same on Christmas day the world over – lots of washing up!.  (Though I’m not sure Marks Hawain shirt and flip flops are standard)931A6343 Straight after Christmas it was back out into the field for me.  I joined Neil at Bluefields depot and then moved to a Depot in the Shackleton Range.931A6362Filling in the days with igloo building.  Rob (who switched with Neil) came to join me while I did constant Weather observations for the aircraft.  10 days of staring at clouds, drinking tea and reading.

Back to Rothera in the next couple of days and then back into the field for a couple of weeks before heading home.

Posted in alastair rose, ali rose, Antarctica, British Antarctic Survey, Climbing Antarctica, Field Assistant, Field Assistant Antarctica, Field Guide, Field Guide Antarctica, Halley Research Station, mountains to the sea, mountainstothesea, Mt Vinson, Uncategorized Also tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , |