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Crazy spring work by Jerry

Crazy spring work

It’s a very exciting but very busy time of year with all the breeding species returning, so here’s a quick update on what’s going on on Bird Island.


Giant Petrels

As detailed a few entries back, working with the giant petrels is one of my main tasks. From 10th September I’ve been out every day walking back and forth over the study area, looking for new nests and recording information on the breeding birds. The northern geeps have almost all laid now, over 300 nests marked and pairs recorded, and the southerns are about to start.

Not my favourite nest location to check, though I can’t fault the view.

It’s great to see such a range of personalities in these birds; from nervous young ones who defend their patch with extreme aggression to calm old ones who tolerate your presence. Some of the latter are older than me while there’s a few new breeders who, although 6 to 8 years old, are on their first egg.

The advantage of nesting early is that the chicks will be born when food is at its most abundant as there will be plenty of vulnerable young seals and penguins. The disadvantage is that there can still be a bit of snow.

Checking all these birds has meant a few long days in the field, especially when I’ve a few other bits and pieces to do. Up to seven hours with only a brief lunch break and then two hours of data entry in the evenings is not unusual. That’s the nature of the job – when the work’s there you do it, when it’s not you try and relax a little.

A cold day on the geep round.


Penguins

Preparations for the return of the macaronis has focussed on setting up the weighbridge – the extremely clever system that weighs each and identifies each tagged individual on its way in and out of the colony. There’s a whole system of electronics that were taken in at the end of winter that needed to be reassembled and tested. After a few little issues that seems to be working and I’m excitedly waiting for the first birds due back this week.

Gentoos returning from the ocean to their breeding grounds.

The gentoos have been around in varying numbers all winter, often hanging round their nests and adding a few stones to it, but once the snow and ice disappeared they started building with real purpose. They collect as many pebbles as they can, supplemented by bits of bone and tussac and make a pile before pushing with their feet to hollow it out into a bowl in which they lay two large, white eggs. The first few are on eggs now and at two of the colonies I’ve mapped a combined 70 nests that I’ll follow the build up of. From this we’ll establish the peak laying date and hence when I need to do all the colony nest and chick counts.

Copulating pair of gentoos. There is a lot of bill-tapping and the male (on top) patting the female’s flanks with his wings.


Albatrosses

The wanderer chicks are very well developed, with many showing only the remnants of their downy chick feathers. They’re stretching their wings out and flapping hard and it’ll not be long before they’re jumping up in the strong winds, getting a bit of a lift before fledging properly in a month or two.


Cosy pair of grey-headed albatross.

The smaller albatrosses – the grey heads, black brows and light mantled sooties - are all back around their colonies too with the former already on eggs. Jess, the albatross assistant, has been out every day recording ring numbers of the birds and marking each of the nests.


White-chinned petrels

One of the joys has been the return of sound to Bird Island – the singing pipits, honking albatross and chattering petrels. While it’s great to see the white chins soaring around the colonies during the day it’s hearing them through the open window when I go to bed at night that’s the real treat.


Seals

Cian’s daily leopard seal round continues and although there’s only one regularly seen lep around at the moment he’s given us a lot of special moments. Not least recently when he made a spectacular meal out of a king penguin.

Gill thrashing an unfortunate king penguin.

While we’ll be waiting another month for the first seal puppy we’ve got our first baby in the form of an elephant seal pup. Several in fact. They’re not regular Bird Island breeders but we’re lucky enough to have one very close to the base. We noticed it almost as soon as it was born, before the hungry skuas noticed in fact and started hanging around, trying to pinch the placenta and afterbirth. In a day or two the pups have put on so much weight already it’s incredible.

Shortly after being born the first puppy screams for attention while skuas and a giant petrel wait for anything worth scavenging.

An elephant seal family? Or a mum and pup trying to get away from a huge, randy male?

There have been a handful of large male elephant seals hanging round the last few weeks and we’ve seen a few confrontations and short fights in the water. Seeing them rear up and bellow is an amazing sight. When they utter their deep, bass roar it reverberates off the hills and seems to shake the whole base.

Bellowing male elephant seal.


Visitors

The American ship the Nathaniel B. Palmer came by with a group installing a GPS station. This was on one of the wettest days of the year and they had to navigate round a huge male ellie seal that had taken up residence on the jetty. But everything went smoothly – we all pitched in with carrying scaffolding, batteries, electronics and tools up the hill. The route up, normally a stream, had turned into a bit of a torrent and despite the best efforts of our waterproofs there was no chance of staying dry. Those at the top did valiant work, staying up there all day until the job was done while we were able to show off a few penguins and albatrosses to the others.
Despite our initial reservations about talking to other people after seven months of the same three faces, communications proved easy and they were a very friendly bunch. They endeared themselves even more by bringing a few trays of fresh fruit, veg and eggs. Colourful, crunchy and tasty peppers, tomatoes and bananas! You know you’re missing out when celery is seen as a treat.

Jerry Gillham

Last days of solitude. by Jerry

With about a week to go until the new staff arrive on Bird Island I thought I'd try and squeeze in a quick blog while our internet isn't too busy. With first call imminent we've been rushing round cleaning and tidying, making space for deliveries and packing up waste and recycling to go off. Rooms and kit have been prepared so the incoming guys can get straight up to speed and we're enjoying the last few days of just the four of us. Craig will have a two-day changeover with the new technician and then head off down to Rothera, so this really is time to enjoy on the island.

Typically this business coincides with my busiest few weeks of the whole year, although I have now managed to get a bit of breathing space. In the last week I have finished off the nesting count of Gentoo penguins – two or more of us have been out to all the different colonies and counted the number of active nests, that is those containing penguins sitting on eggs. There's some small sections which are quite simple, and some areas of several hundred where we've had to agree on imaginary bisecting lines to split them into more manageable chunks. Then repeatedly count the nests within until we agree on a figure.

Wading through mud and crap to count Gentoos at Square Pond.

The other penguins, the Macaronis, are back in full force and can be heard all over that side of the island, arguing away over nesting territories. We've been weighing individuals as they come ashore, a simple test of how well they've been feeding over the winter.

Sleek-looking Macaroni Penguin, fresh from the sea.

Observations being made by both parties.

Standard Bird Island weather - a million shades of grey with penguins as far as you can see.

My work with the Giant Petrels continues. The Northerns have all laid and the Southerns, who operate about a month behind them, are in the middle of doing so. I've met a few calm old birds who were ringed as chicks before I was born, which is always a little humbling.

There's two of these rare white-morph Southern Giant Petrels in my study area of around 140 pairs.

A more normal plumaged pair of Southern Giant Petrels with the female sitting proudly in her mossy nest.

Many of the smaller petrels have also started returning and I've started checking their burrows, looking for individuals who have been carrying tiny geolocator devices over the winter. These have been tracking the birds movements and will help identify key feeding areas, hopefully leading to greater protection for them.

While most White-chinned Petrels land and head straight for a burrow, this one sat up on the tussoc, calling away.

Retrieving a GLS from a returning White-chinned Petrel while trying to avoid it's ripping beak and tearing claws (Craig's photo).

Blue-eyed Shags are starting to build their nests so I've started keeping an eye on the small colony near base.

Very smart looking Blue-eyed Shag. Like shags in the UK that crest is only prominent at the beginning of the breeding season.

We've all been out helping Steph with some albatross surveys. First up was the ten-year census of the Grey-heads, which took us all over the island counting some huge and some tiny colonies of these beautiful birds. Soon we'll have to repeat our rounds of the areas counting the far more numerous Black-brows and the much rarer Light-mantled Sooties.

Black-browed Albatross colony on one of the more remote 

The Wandering Albatross chicks are close to fledging, with the best developed individuals now carrying very few downy chick feathers. I gave Steph a hand finishing off the ringing of them, barring a few left for the new albatross assistant.

Will this be the last time this Wandering Albatross family all see each other together?

The beaches are quickly becoming dangerous places to go as the male fur seals haul their way up and pick a spot where they will try and get a harem of females together. It's still early so there's been no fighting yet, just a few growls. The majority of the big guys are just sleeping, well aware that there are hard times coming up with a few scraps and little time for napping or feeding. Over on Landing Beach the two elephant seal pups are enjoying each others company as their mums head out to sea.

The younger Elephant Seal pup enthusiastically shouting in his neighbours ear.


Jerry.






Puppies and eggs – a sunny day in October. by Jerry

Craig had set off early to carry out some repair work on the little hut at the Seal Study Beach. Just as I was about to head out he called us on the radio with news that there was an Elephant Seal pup born on Landing Beach, so we all excitedly headed over there.



Huge numbers of Elephant Seals give birth and breed all over the beaches of South Georgia, but up on Bird Island we generally only get smaller, younger ones hauling out and only a few occasionally pupping. There's been a couple of big females on the beaches the last week or so though and we had our fingers crossed for a pup.



It was looking pretty healthy and calling to the mother, who was responding which is always a good sign, although it took it a long time to suckle.


The skuas have been looking pretty desperate for food recently, picking up scraps of old bone and feather and taking risks they wouldn't normally. There was a pair hanging round the pup, taking their chances to grab a bit of afterbirth or try and rip off a bit of umbilical cord. Understandably this was causing a little upset, and the mother was furiously shouting at the pesky birds.



Further up the beach the Gentoo Penguins are well underway with their nest building. Some have huge piles of stones with a nice little well in the centre to form a big bowl shape, some just have piles of stones, some have piles of bones and some just have a shallow scrape in the ground.





I headed off up the hill to check on the Giant Petrels. The Northerns have mostly all laid now but there was a few more nests to mark and a quick check on those already sat there. The Southerns haven't started laying yet but are on with mating, nest building and a bit of fighting.


Pair of Southern Geeps scrapping over nesting space...
... before splitting up and declaring themselves masters of their own space. They then moved a short distance apart and settled back down on their own nests.


The sun burnt off a lot of the mist by early afternoon so I sat and had a bite of lunch while watching the returned Grey-headed Albatrosses. Steph has been checking on the colonies daily and found the first egg a few days ago.





The Black-browed Albatrosses are back as well now, as are the Light-mantled Sooty Albatrosses who are circling in pairs as part of their courtship.

Light-mantled Sooty Albatrosses almost colliding.

A gloriously sunny day, looking over towards the South Georgia mainland and down to Jordan Cove with the base tucked in below La Roche.
With it now warm and sunny I dropped down to check on another penguin colony but despite some more impressive nests and a bit of copulation there were no eggs.




Not-so-happy neighbours.
Nest-building.


An hour or so later though Hannah walked past the same area on the Leopard Seal round and radioed back to let me know that there was a penguin that had done an egg, our first one for the year.

So a good day with loads happening.

Jerry.


Begin the spring by Jerry

As autumn draws on back home the days are getting longer on Bird Island. The last week has seen snow, rain, mist and blue skies, though with tremendous wind speeds we pass through each of them several times a day.

Brown Skua taking advantage of a warmer spell when the stream melted to have a good wash. The skuas have returned in their dozens in the last fortnight.

As the island wakes up from winter my main field-work begins again.  

With the ground still too frozen to build nests the Gentoos spend their time preening, resting and quarrelling. 
In my last blog I talked about the returning penguins. Large numbers of Gentoos are now regularly on the nesting beaches, but there has been relatively little nest-building activity. With temperatures still regularly below 0C they can't pick up pebbles, sticks or bones from the frozen mud so they've had to be satisfied with longer courtship rituals (mainly bowing to each other) and wandering around getting distracted by snow and each others tail feathers.

Northern Giant Petrel. The proud owner of a new egg.
The bulk of my work now is with the Giant Petrels, the Geeps. There's a study area over the Meadows and each day I have to wander around looking for new nests and checking for any failures. I mark each nest with a stake and give it a number and record the location on GPS so I can create a map later.  

Southern Giant Petrels trying to create their own egg.
I try and get ring numbers for the birds and ring any unringed individuals, depending on how calm they are – with a beak superbly well adapted for ripping up dead seals and cetaceans they can and have inflicted some serious cuts and bruises to my hands and arms. The best protection during this sort of encounter is the leg of a welly (with the boot cut off) slid over the arm to act as a makeshift gauntlet. The ringed birds give us all sorts of long-term data including population changes, survival rates, chick-rearing success and long-term fidelity. One of the new nesters today was ringed as a chick in 1979, making her older than me. The old birds are generally more calm and relaxed and it's a privilege to sit near them eating lunch and counting how much we have in common (not that much was my conclusion).

Wandering Albatross chick sporting that 'mutton chop' look.
 Meanwhile, over with the albatrosses...

With their adult feathers showing through the down the Wandering Albatross chicks are keen to feel the wind blowing through their wings, even though it'll be a bit of time before they can fly.
As Steph's work ringing all the Wanderer chicks nears completion the first of the mollymawks, the smaller albatrosses, have returned and daily counts of them, along with more ring checking, have begun. The Grey-heads were first, followed by the Black-brows and the Light-mantled Sooties won't be too far off.

One of the first Grey-headed Albatrosses back at the colony.

And the seals?

The smelliest bean-bag you've ever seen.
As the craziness of the Fur Seal pupping season approaches Hannah is still recording Leopard Seal activity and desperately hoping for an Elephant Seal pup on Bird Island. There's a handful of enormous males on the beaches and a couple of females. We've got our fingers crossed.

Count the chins.
The Elephant Seals are amazing. They look like the sort of thing that used to exist a hundred years ago, before the Victorians wiped them out so we could just look at poorly-drawn sketches and think 'nah... as if'. As they don't really breed here we're not going to get to see any of those spectacular fights between males but seeing the sheer size of them, and of their mouths when they're bellowing across the bay, gives the place a sense of pre-human wilderness.

Deserving the name elephant.
In the midst of the Leopard / Elephant / Fur Seal watching there was even more exciting seal action with a second Weddell of the season. And this one was hauled out on Main Bay, far from home but enjoying the bitter weather.

Lovely small-faced Weddell Seal
Longer days mean heading out earlier is possible, and getting work done quickly meant we could be done in time to create cakes and costumes for Hannah's birthday.

New superheroes and villains: Lord Caveman, Jesus riding an Orca, Dr Hogface and Super Binman.


Jerry.


Penguins Strike Back by Jerry

The freezing cold gales bely the fact that spring is approaching in the south. Gentoo penguins have been around in small numbers all winter, but the breeding season is on its way and they need to find their partners and build up their nests. The last week has seen a huge increase in numbers coming ashore in the evenings to spend the night on their chosen beaches.


Out to sea there's an increased amount of splashing and black shapes are seen jumping between the waves.



They disappear from view and then, in an instant, there's an almighty splash and dozens of them emerge from the sea. Some leaping straight out, others scrambling, others slipping on the wet stones.


Once on the rocks they pause for breath and to check they're in the right place. One of the penguins in the above photo certainly is not.


One brave individual decides they're in the right place and starts off across the slippery rocks. There is an easier route, straight up onto the beach but it may be harder access under the water and it means finding a way past the fur seals. While they're not really a genuine threat to the gentoos, it's probably in their best interests not to antagonise them.



Negotiating some of those rocks is not so easy, particularly the slippery, algae-covered ones. This individual was pretty capable but more than one fell over and then climbed up slowly using their beaks for support.


Once the rocks are crossed there's the mass rush up the beach.


A few get delayed by the line of kelp - a confusing trap.


But all manage to head up to the nest site near the top of the beach.


Reunited at their nest. Gentoos are monogamous but pair-bonds rarely last more than a few seasons so there's plenty of courtship - birds bowing to each other individually or symmetrically - and starting to build up their nests.

It's still early in the season and there's ice all over the beach. That'll soon melt, giving them access to the nesting materials and they'll start to get underway seriously.

Jerry.

Wanderer chick ringing by Jerry

The Wandering Albatross chicks that hatched around the start of March have been sitting tight all winter, protected from the blizzards by huge amounts of fluffy down. Showing through that down now are good numbers of adult feathers, particularly on the wings, head and chest. Although they're still a few months off fledging many of them are able to stand up properly and will soon start walking, exploring the area around their nests.  

Wandering Albatross chick overlooking Bird Sound.
So this is the time for ringing them all. I've been out helping Steph as she covers the whole island, seeing to every one of the 500 chicks. The information we get back from these rings will provide information on survival rates, distribution, migration and breeding success of these huge, magnificent but endangered birds.

A sign of things to come...

I'd been out doing this and checking on the chick at the far end of the island on August 31st. I'd been told not to be back too late and when I returned I was allowed a quick cup of tea and shower before Hannah suggested we go for a walk up the hill. We headed up and over to the hut at Fairy Point from where I do the majority of my Macaroni Penguin work. There, Craig and Steph had decorated and warmed up some food and carried over a few beers – it was my surprise birthday meal! We had a good laugh and fought off the cold with tilley lamps and numerous cups of tea.  

Crammed together around the table awaiting dinner.
Over night it snowed heavily, so once we'd wiped the condensation from the window we could see white all around us. The skies had cleared for the journey back so we got some great views of the snow-covered island.

Cabin in the snow. Behind the 'Love Shack' is Big Mac, where about 40,000 pairs of Macaroni Penguins will soon return to breed. In front of it is Little Mac, where about 500 will.
Chating to the Geeps on the way back.
I returned for some beautifully made presents (framed picture, photo-book, knitted penguin) before we had a hot-tub and huge pizza. Brilliant.

Here's a few more photos of what's happening:

Antarctic Tern fishing in the bay. There's been quite a lot of terns about recently and with some low tides they're regularly seen fishing just off the beach, going for the tiny crustaceans and fish.

Average day of a Gentoo penguin; jump up on a rock, eat some snow, get confused how to get down from the rock.

Chinstrap penguin; an occasional visitor from a bit further south.

Pair of adult Wandering Albatrosses taking advantage of the rare opportunity when they both return to feed their chick at the same time to indulge in a bit of mutual preening and pair-bonding.

Leopard Seal hauled out on the brash ice for a rest.

Taking advantage of the super-low tide to do a bit of rockpooling.
Amongst the seaweed, sponges and anemones are lots of tiny crustaceans, hanging on among the swirling waves.
Always a pleasure to see - a nudibranch!
Jerry.

Please support our work by visiting Hannah and Steph's blogs too.









Ice Ice Baby by Jerry

We've had a taste of what Antarctic weather should be this week as strong winds blew up off the continent and brought us piles of snow and ice. We've had fun mashing through snowdrifts, skidding about on the frozen ponds and climbing the frozen streams. Here's a few photos:

The view from my bedroom window. Rather more obscured than usual.

The back of the base. Probably the snowiest and sunniest picture I'll ever get.

Ice forming on the sea and the jetty.

Frozen seaweed washed up on the shore.

Gentoo penguin stomping through the soft snow.
Watching the Gentoos in the snow is hilarious as they constantly act like they've never come across it before, always bending over to investigate a beak-full or slipping on the ice.

The Fur Seals are less confused although they seem to love rolling about in the snow. This one was just sleeping through a blizzard that ended up disguising him as a sheep.
The South Georgia Pipits are less at home in the snow, although they don't let it bother them. Small groups were patrolling the thin stretch of seaweed between the ice and the sea, looking for invertebrates. This one kept hopping onto floating bits of mushy ice and managed to find some food.
Leopard Seal on the edge of the open water and slushy sea ice. This was the Lep known as Maurice, who has been hanging around for a while. We were out on the jetty when he came to check us out.

A lovely big Leopard Seal 'hello' from Big Mo. He swam round us a few times, looking up, before playing with some seaweed and performing a bit of seal singing.


Jerry.

The Journey South by Jerry


Sunday 11th November, 4pm. Half the BI team (Tamsin, Hannah and I) gather in BAS HQ in Cambridge and get on the minibus. On the way we think it's really funny to send Steph a massive long list of things we've forgotten and ask her to pick them up (bread, cheese, balsamic vinegar, watermelon, socks, shower cap, fax machine, stepladder, bowling ball and shoes (x2), christmas tree... you get the idea).

By 8pm we're at Brize Norton where we meet up with Steph (who hasn't got our requests) and Craig, who we've only just met there and then. By 11 we're on the plane and heading South, enjoying their cheap and nasty drink and meals along with the handed out iPads.

Monday morning. Two hour stopover in Ascencion while the plane refuels. We spend this time standing around inside 'the cage', a fenced off bit of tarmac preventing us going anywhere while the low cloud prevents us from seeing much of anything. Still, we try and enjoy our last bit of warm weather.

Monday afternoon. Arrive in Falkland Islands and discover if anything it's even warmer here! Our journey Stanley is by another minibus, this time one that loses part of the side of it half way along the big dirt track. In Stanley we get straight onto our ship, the RSS James Clark Ross (JCR). The cabins are comfortable, there's three 3-course meals a day and the bar prices are incredibly low. After a meal onboard we head into town and find a pub full of British flags playing 80s tunes on the video jukebox.

A broken bus in the Falklands

Tuesday. We were due to depart in the morning but plans change and we get an extra day ashore while they test the lifeboats. After various safety and evacuation drills we again headed into Stanley. As with yesterday it takes us ages as we're stopping all the time to look at the gulls, vultures, ducks and a few dolphins. It was still really hot so we grabbed lunch from the supermarket and sat with an ice cream under the whale-bone arch. After a little gift shop browsing we were about to head off to find a penguin beach when a landrover pulled up and it's occupants informed us we had to be heading back to the JCR.
Looking towards Stanley

The whale-bone arch in Stanley, with us posing near it, thinking about ice cream.

The ship had to pull away from the jetty to allow another, with a medical emergency, to come in. So we went and sat in the bay for a while. From up on the top deck, the 'monkey deck' we could see everything around us – Fulmars and Giant Petrels especially. Just before tea we spotted the tiny, black and white, Commerson's Dolphins feeding very close in. Me running round and Hannah screaming was the first of our daily tellings-off for being over excited. The day signed off with a partial solar eclipse.
RSS James Clark Ross

Wednesday. After what seemed like an eternity of lifeboat drills we finally headed off. As we pulled out from Stanley we could see a group of penguins, probably Magellanic, on a distant beach. We were also joined by our first albatrosses – Black-browed – but all too soon ran into a big bank of wet fog. Later that evening we got our first Wandering Albatross, standing out as being absolutely massive, even amongst all the other huge birds.

Black-browed Albatross

Thursday and Friday. Daily life on the boat consisted of getting up for breakfast, going out on the monkey deck to look at the birds, tea break, birds, lunch, birds, tea break, play a game or something, birds, dinner, birds. It was a nice crossing with only a small feeling of sea-sickness mixed with the lethargy from taking anti-sickness pills. On the Friday evening, after having Light-mantled Sooty Albatrosses flying close most of the day, we saw our first seals. Out on the moneky deck we looked down at increasing numbers until we came across a feeding frenzy that must have contained 300-400 individuals, all popping up, diving and porpoising through the water. Shortly after we passed them there was a distinctive whale-blow in the distance, followed by several more closer in and finally a (probably Minke) whale surfacing just in front of us.

Pair of Light-mantled Sooty Albatross in a brief synchronised display flight.

Saturday. We'd been up on deck in the morning looking out for land, but gave up because of snow, fog and cold. Then, about 11, someone came into the bar and announced 'we're there'. Bird Island looked ominous and intimidating – low cloud with steep, snow-covered slopes leading up into it. The five of us, plus our luggage, were taken ashore in the little Humber ribs to meet the current occupants, those who'd just over-wintered; Ruth, Jon, Jen and Rob, as well as Jaume who'd come down a month earlier. We were shown around base and tried to settle in as the excitement welled up at seeing the beach covered in male Fur Seals (a few females and even a few puppies close by the jetty), Gentoo Penguins (and one ill-looking King) standing around looking confused and various albatrosses circling overhead. The captain decided it was too rough to do any real unloading so were had the afternoon to get to grips with our new home, an afternoon during which the sun came out and we were able to enjoy and gin and tonic on the jetty.
Welcome to Bird Island: (l-r) Hannah, Jaume, Jen, Steph, Ruth, Craig, Rob, Jon.
(kneeling) me, (setting up her camera so absent) Tamsin.

Jerry.

It's a very small amount of internet we've got here so I won't be putting up too many pictures on the blog. Instead I'll try and regularly post some here.


Training continued. by Jerry

A month to go now before I depart. We got the disappointing news the other day that our flights have been put back from the 7th to the 11th November. The ship is due to leave the Falklands on 13th and we were looking forward to a few days exploring there, but I doubt we'll get to do that now. We'll be taking the quickest and most direct route possible; flying from Brize Norton to the Falklands via Ascension Island, then on the RRS James Clark Ross to Bird Island. That'll take us five days (if the sea's calm enough to get straight in to BI, if not we may get to see a bit of King Edward Point and Grytviken on South Georgia as she unloads there).
After the excitement of conference and field course it was a bit frustrating to be back in the office when we really just wanted to get going, especially as others have already departed, at least on their pre-deployment holidays. But we've had quite a variety of other courses to keep us busy, mainly introductions to lab, biosample and data record management and identifying squid beaks and otoliths (fish ear bones) so we can work out what our animals are eating.

We had interesting tours yesterday of the aquarium and ice-core store. In the latter we got to play with some 20,000 year old ice while in the former we saw a range of weird creatures - bright sea lemons, large sea spiders and an old fish.

The weather's generally been pretty good in Cambridge, though there's a noticeable chill and darkness when I leave and return to the house. I've been jogging to work fairly regularly to try and ensure I'll be fit enough to keep up with the guys already down there when we have to stride out over the notoriously difficult tussock grass.

One of the stupidly ostentatious Cambridge colleges I go past on my journey to work.

It's been a few years since I was on the mainland at this time of year so I'm rediscovering the spectacular autumn colours as the trees turn yellow and red. On Skomer and Skokholm the few trees that there are tend to lose their leaves all in one go with the first severe autumn storm, over here I can collect conkers and kick big piles of leaves.

Enjoying time in the woods before I leave for another treeless island.