The onset of winter. / by Jerry

Though the work-load has now decreased a bit the last few weeks still seem to have flown past; we've been on our own 6 weeks now and it feels more like two or three.

Winter is kicking in as the streams are now frequently frozen and the dusting if snow on the tops looks like it might stay.

Steph checking on a Wandering Albatross chick.

Frozen Flagstone Pond and a dusting of snow on the mountains.
We've had our first real storm, the most impressive result of which was the sheer volume of kelp and other seaweed thrown up onto the beach. It's out past the length of the jetty, looking like a weird, moving snake-covered jungle floor or something.

The view down to base from near the top of Tonk. 
With it came a good amount of se life, most of which we'd never otherwise see: starfish, bivalves and large crustaceans amongst other unidentified bits. We've given it all the generic name 'aliens'. Part of my winter task involves recording marine litter so I've a good excuse for beachcombing.

A variety of starfish washed up during the storm.

Penguins and Seals

The number of penguins at Big Mac has dropped quickly from 80,000 to about 10 as they all head off to sea, having spent the last few weeks moulting into their winter plumage. Gentoos are still present in small numbers.
The seals are leaving us too, with only a few puppies found around the beaches and fewer and fewer adults up in the tussoc grass. It can be a strange time of year as the joy of seeing independent puppies swimming off on their own is tempered by those who remain, too weak and skinny to head off. It's always the way with nature.

Giant Petrels

My main work season begins and ends with the Geeps. When I arrived in November I was doing a daily round of the study area, looking for newly nesting Southern Giant Petrels. In the last few weeks I've been around all their chicks, ringing them and attaching tiny geolocators to a select number. They will soon fledge (as the Northern Geeps have already done) and head off for several years to explore and mature. Little is known about where they travel in this time but many return to their place of birth to mate and nest. Hopefully whoever is here then can retrieve a few of these devices and shed some light on the mystery. As always this data will help us understand their lifestyle and hopefully enable us to better protect them.

Southern Geep chick ready to fledge having lost all its downy feathers.


The albatross chicks are all getting bigger and the Black-brows have started to fledge. Not many mind, and the colonies are still full of mature-looking birds jumping up and down and madly flapping their wings, getting the feel of the wind blowing through them before they take that first plunge. I've been helping Steph with some of the chick-weighing so know from first hand experience how much bigger and more aggressive they're getting.

Black-browed Albatross chick exercising those wings.
The Wanderer chicks are looking fat and fluffy, with almost all of them left on their own now.

Wandering Albatross chick getting used to the view.

Around base

With a little more free time, and some horrible weather, thoughts turned to our midwinter presents. This is a south tradition, like a secret santa, when each person randomly picks someone else on base to make a gift for. A tremendous amount of effort and care has gone into gifts in previous years and I'm keen to get working on something.
Craig showed us round a few of the tools in his workshop in a basic woodworking class, should we wish to use any of them. As part of his demonstrations we tried making a load of equal-sized and smooth blocks which just happened to turn out ideal for giant jenga.

Safety first with giant jenga.