christmas

December - the busiest month? by Jerry Gillham

December felt hectic busy with more and more people on station - the vegetation and rodent monitoring teams, scientists studying soil and flora around the retreating glaciers. All had their own specific requirements regarding accommodation and movement around the local area.

Our zoologist Kieran headed off to Stanley to visit the dentist so I helped cover some of his work. At this time of year the key job was visiting the fur seal beaches at Maiviken to take photographs every other day. Upon his return he counted all seals.

Our zoologist Kieran headed off to Stanley to visit the dentist so I helped cover some of his work. At this time of year the key job was visiting the fur seal beaches at Maiviken to take photographs every other day. Upon his return he counted all seals.

The new team got on with their duties including learning the boat handling and regulations. Here the doctor Cat and boating officer Jim power away from the Nordenskjold Glacier.

The new team got on with their duties including learning the boat handling and regulations. Here the doctor Cat and boating officer Jim power away from the Nordenskjold Glacier.

It was difficult to relax with so much work so I had to make a real effort to get away. Fraser and I got out to Sorling Hut on the Barff Peninsula one afternoon. As it looked a nice evening we headed off straight away to climb Montebello, a small but interesting peak with a challenging ridge near the top.

It was difficult to relax with so much work so I had to make a real effort to get away. Fraser and I got out to Sorling Hut on the Barff Peninsula one afternoon. As it looked a nice evening we headed off straight away to climb Montebello, a small but interesting peak with a challenging ridge near the top.

The 800m+ Black Peak to the right and Nordenskjold Glacier to the left.

The 800m+ Black Peak to the right and Nordenskjold Glacier to the left.

The next day was one of the best I have had on South Georgia. We got up early and headed up Ellerbeck Peak, one that we attempted in September but were turned back by thick cloud. The views down on the glacier and interior of the island were breathtaking.

The next day was one of the best I have had on South Georgia. We got up early and headed up Ellerbeck Peak, one that we attempted in September but were turned back by thick cloud. The views down on the glacier and interior of the island were breathtaking.

It was another challenging mountain, with a fair bit of scrambling.

It was another challenging mountain, with a fair bit of scrambling.

Pretty much 360 from the top.

Pretty much 360 from the top.

I think this is one of my favourite photos.

I think this is one of my favourite photos.

From the top we dropped down and across Sorling Valley, through two passes, walking quickly but it was a long way. Our plan was to get picked up on the east side of the peninsula as the boats were out, dropping off the rodent team. I had my radio on so could hear all their discussions about where they were landing, how much kit they had.

Dropping down into Ocean Harbour we met builders Adrian and Dale who were hard at work fixing the door to the hut.

Dropping down into Ocean Harbour we met builders Adrian and Dale who were hard at work fixing the door to the hut.

Fraser cooling down inside the hut.

Fraser cooling down inside the hut.

A day or two after that we headed out for another night off station. This time we decided to bivvy over at Sappho Point, so setting off after work we walked over to Maiviken and up over the ridge. There we encountered a big bank of sea fog. We continued, taking our time going down an unknown slope to a location we couldn't see until we got there. Then we couldn't find any fresh water that wasn't occupied by seals so ended up walking round for what felt like hours. Still, it was a good night and the next morning the sun woke us up with the view we had hoped for.

A day or two after that we headed out for another night off station. This time we decided to bivvy over at Sappho Point, so setting off after work we walked over to Maiviken and up over the ridge. There we encountered a big bank of sea fog. We continued, taking our time going down an unknown slope to a location we couldn't see until we got there. Then we couldn't find any fresh water that wasn't occupied by seals so ended up walking round for what felt like hours. Still, it was a good night and the next morning the sun woke us up with the view we had hoped for.

Another night I bivvied out with Becky, Roger and Charlotte. We walked the few hours over toward Curlew Cave and found a spot with a great sunset.  (photo by Roger Stilwell)

Another night I bivvied out with Becky, Roger and Charlotte. We walked the few hours over toward Curlew Cave and found a spot with a great sunset.

(photo by Roger Stilwell)

The next morning Charlotte and I dropped down to the cave before heading back for work. It would be a good place to camp out but not in peak seal-breeding season and we could barely get into in because of the territorial residents.

The next morning Charlotte and I dropped down to the cave before heading back for work. It would be a good place to camp out but not in peak seal-breeding season and we could barely get into in because of the territorial residents.

Pre-Christmas we had the traditional decorating of the church, complete with mince pies and mulled wine.

Pre-Christmas we had the traditional decorating of the church, complete with mince pies and mulled wine.

Posing for xmas photo number 1.

Posing for xmas photo number 1.

Xmas photo number 2, in our bar prior to dinner.

Xmas photo number 2, in our bar prior to dinner.

We all chipped in to cook dinner, which was spectacular. Boating officers Bob and Jim took responsibility for carving the meat.

We all chipped in to cook dinner, which was spectacular. Boating officers Bob and Jim took responsibility for carving the meat.

40 people crammed in the dining room, cheers!

40 people crammed in the dining room, cheers!

Days out over Christmas by Jerry Gillham

A few photos from South Georgia taken over Christmas and New Year

Christmas Day was amazing. The weather was just unbelievable. We'd had a bit of a party the night before with a carol service at the old whaling station church, then a traditional meal with everyone enjoying themselves.

On the 25th three of us headed up Mount Duse, just behind the station (that you can see with the red roofs. To the right of the bay is Grytviken and the museum and post office were open that day as cruise ship Le Soleal was in, unloading passengers to look around the whaling station.

Fraser, Kieran and me on the top of Mt Duse.

No one really knows why Fraser was dressed as Neil Buchanan, but it did give us this excellent photo opportunity.

We returned in time for the builders' barbecue - a fabulous affair that went on all afternoon. The blue containers were dropped in to give shelter from the wind while the white container is a permanent fixture as it contains our sauna.

Boxing day wasn't quite as sunny but was still clear so this time we headed up Mt Hodges, detouring slightly to Orca on the way. Here Grytviken sits directly below us while King Edward Point is on the spit further out. The path over to Maiviken is on the left and the Gull Lake on the right powers out hydroelectricity generator.

The weather deteriorated slightly as we reached the top of Hodges. Again you can see a large cruise ship in the bay - it was a busy time of year for the museum and post office staff.

Coffee envy at the summit.

Part of the on-site training has been learning to crew and cox the RIBs and jet boat. There are two of each and the jets, seen here, are used primarily as the harbour launches. This day we'd picked up people from their holiday and were doing a bit of familiarisation around the local area. This included getting up to the Nordenskjold Glacier and taking GPS readings near the edge, tracking it's retreat.

With a bus weekend ahead Fraser and I headed out on a Friday to stretch our legs before more work took over. We didn't pick the nicest of days; what should have been amazing views were shrouded in cloud, but it did mean we occasionally stumbled across treasures, like this tiny glacier up near one of the cols (Glacier Col in fact).

Elephant Seals are forming their big wallows as they moult. Noisy, stinking places they are nevertheless very amusing to watch.

Following that slightly miserable day we awoke to several inches of fresh snow and glorious sunshine. It was so warm that by mid-afternoon there was barely any left.

The first bit of snow shovelling of the season to clear the walkway.

Matthew clearing the snow off the jet boats. That day we had a cruise ship, a ship bringing new people and cargo, and the auxillary fleet's Gold Rover who had personnel wanting to be ferried ashore. So there was plenty going on. The following day the HMS Portland was in, in atrocious weather, and he racked up over 60 nautical miles moving passengers between the ship and Grytviken.

Xmas on BI by Jerry

This is a piece written for the BAS internal newsletter that I thought I'd recreate here with a few more photos.

While others were either busy with work or taking time off to celebrate over Christmas, we at Bird Island tried our best to do both. The wildlife doesn’t stop but the occasion must be celebrated. 

Hence the morning of the 25

th

found everyone up bright and early, enjoying croissants and salmon before the seal team headed over to the study beach to record adults present and pups born that day. Bird team headed up the hill to map wandering albatross nests while back on station Ian continued to drive himself mad, counting screws for the tech indent. I worked through a few waste management chores before hitting the kitchen. 

Although I had volunteered to cook the main meal of the day I was grateful to Al and Siân for doing the meat and puddings respectively. Some may say that’s the vast bulk of the xmas dinner but they’d be forgetting about roast potatoes. And err... laying the table.

With everyone back early enough to shower and smarten up we tucked into South Georgia reindeer and all the trimmings. Later on, with bellies full, we slumped back in our chairs and played games like ‘spot the tune being murdered on kazoo and stylophone’. While that taking care of the digestive process we were soon fit for more active games, like ‘pick the ever-shrinking box of cereal of the floor with no hands’, then dancing into the small hours.

Not quite so bright but equally early people were up the following day, back to the seal beach, back up the hill, back in the tech store and office. We’re currently planning new year and the thinking is... same again.

Decorating the world's most horrible Christmas tree.

Awaiting permission to sit down.

Tim using his full height advantage to win the box game. He beat Ian and I on a flat-piece-of-cardboard-on-the-floor decider.

I don't know the name of this game but the object is to get a wine bottle as far as possible away from a line with no feet touching the floor.

The morning after? Partying too hard? No, just an evenings training on splints and stretchers in the middle of the xmas / new year period.

Xmas / New Year lull by Jerry

Toward the end of December there's a strange tradition on Bird Island of celebrating the birth of a 2,000 year old hippy. I can't say I understand it but it's good fun.

Late afternoon on Christmas Eve we took mince pies and mulled wine over to the seal team on their Special Study Beach (SSB) and sat there enjoying the festive spirit while watching the seals below us.

On Christmas Day itself I was out with Ruth, more searching for petrels and prions so more crawling about amongst the tussock grass with arms down burrows. Returning in time for a good wash and donning smart clothes, but a bit too late to help out in the kitchen, I was very ready for the huge meal we'd all chipped in with (but Tamsin and Craig should take the credit for the majority of the work done on the day). As well as turkey, ham, nut roast, potatoes, yorkshires, stuffing, other veg and loads of wine we had a massive stack of cakes and puddings, several of which are still around a full five days later!

The meal was excellent and followed by an increasingly raucous game of Balderdash, with only a break for washing up and then to watch the colourful sunset at about half eleven. We then stuck loud music on and danced like idiots until about five in the morning.

I opened a few presents throughout the day - a few chocolate treats, a harmonica with which to annoy the others and a scrapbook full of embarrassing pictures of me that I unrealisingly opened in front of everyone else. Thanks Mum.

The next day I was out again on a Geep and Skua round, battling the effects of a late night as well as a ferocious, cold wind. Since then I've been out over various places in the island marking new Wandering Albatross nests. This is a big job that everyone is getting involved in, a great excuse to head to new places and I got to ring my first Wanderer yesterday - quite a difference from the Wrens and Willow Warblers I got used to on Skokholm.

When it's wet and cold outside, and warm and dry in, the puppies will gravitate toward the kitchen. If the door is left open they'll even start to invade.

 Take one for the Christmas card. Although this one has more seals in it we vainly decided it didn't show us clear enough.

 Sitting down for Christmas meal, all scrubbed and smart.

 Christmas cake number one (of about five). The big seal is 3D, raising itself up, and I should explain that 'oof choof' is their all-purpose call.

Another Christmas cake, this one Craig, Steph and Jen's construction of a pair of ginerbread houses.

Christmas Eve on SSB - almost the full team as Steph was back in the kitchen making dinner. (Tamsin's photo).

Jerry.