station life

Football on South Georgia by Jerry Gillham

One of the highlights of this last summer has been the number of football games we fitted in. Behind Grytviken there's a pitch, with proper goals, that was built by the whalers when the station was operational. There's a few idiosyncrasies about the pitch; although there's a ditch around it that keeps fur seals away one does have to get used to the other pitfalls; the gravel end, the boggy end, the actual mudbath, the bit where the vegetation is so deep you have to really get under the ball and hook it up. As I was playing I wasn't able to get any photographs. All these are by other people who I hope I have credited correctly, please let me know if not.

Jump straight to the video.

After a few kickabouts our season started properly when Thies and Kicki mentioned to a friend, an expedition leader on the German cruise ship Bremen, that they would like a game. He promised to bring a few of the crew along but when the day arrived he sadly slipped and injured himself in the warm up. Like Glenn McGrath in the 2005 ashes, we took inspiration from this and put aside pre-conceptions about the Germans beating us on penalties.

Stunning location for the pitch.

Stunning location for the pitch.

Josh powering through the burnet. We have our own white Grytviken kit with king penguins on the front like they're sponsoring us.

Josh powering through the burnet. We have our own white Grytviken kit with king penguins on the front like they're sponsoring us.

As they were a person down Kicki went on their side for the first half. As we built up a lead she swapped with Thies, giving them one of our best players. Her first action as part of our team was to nullify his threat by barging him to the floor and clinging on so he couldn't move.

As they were a person down Kicki went on their side for the first half. As we built up a lead she swapped with Thies, giving them one of our best players. Her first action as part of our team was to nullify his threat by barging him to the floor and clinging on so he couldn't move.

She wasn't the only person to give Thies a hard time for defecting.

She wasn't the only person to give Thies a hard time for defecting.

One of the problems with playing on burnet; it tends to stick. Several of us chose to wear old pairs of socks and just throw them away rather than pick out all the burrs at the end.

One of the problems with playing on burnet; it tends to stick. Several of us chose to wear old pairs of socks and just throw them away rather than pick out all the burrs at the end.

KEP 7 - 1 Bremen, and happy faces all around.

KEP 7 - 1 Bremen, and happy faces all around.

Next up came the crew of the HMS Clyde. This time we were up to 10-a-side and the full pitch, which meant the quagmire end. I sprinted through that in the first few minutes and spent the rest of the first half thinking my lungs were going to burn through my chest.

Some spectators heading off for a walk while the rest line up for a corner.

Some spectators heading off for a walk while the rest line up for a corner.

KEP 4 - 0 HMS Clyde. A tough game.

KEP 4 - 0 HMS Clyde. A tough game.

Word of our victories had got around and the crew of the Pharos fancied their chances, thinking their mixture of British steel and South American flair would lay waste to our British / Irish / Kiwi / German / Swedish journeymen. Upping the ante they arrived in full warpaint.

This game started to get physical pretty early on. Tommy and Chris blocking well here while Kieran and Paula could be relied on to put in a agricultural tackle on anyone getting too close to goal.

This game started to get physical pretty early on. Tommy and Chris blocking well here while Kieran and Paula could be relied on to put in a agricultural tackle on anyone getting too close to goal.

Zac, adding a bit more pace to our attack, while the whale-oil tanks mean you can never forget the unusual context of our location.

Zac, adding a bit more pace to our attack, while the whale-oil tanks mean you can never forget the unusual context of our location.

As many have found out this season, you'll not find a way past Jim.

As many have found out this season, you'll not find a way past Jim.

Joining the two spectators were Miriam's two rodent-monitoring dogs, watching on while their handler didn't let playing in wellies hold her back.

Joining the two spectators were Miriam's two rodent-monitoring dogs, watching on while their handler didn't let playing in wellies hold her back.

Once again Thies managed to spend quite a lot of time on the ground.

Once again Thies managed to spend quite a lot of time on the ground.

Dale, one of our star players, thumping a header into George's goal.

Dale, one of our star players, thumping a header into George's goal.

You know you're not under much pressure when your 'keeper is able to take time out to relieve himself mid-match.

You know you're not under much pressure when your 'keeper is able to take time out to relieve himself mid-match.

KEP 9 - 0 Pharos. A comprehensive victory.

KEP 9 - 0 Pharos. A comprehensive victory.

Our final game of the season was against the crew of the Ernest Shackleton. I'd sent them a cocky email about us being unbeaten, though that hubris quickly dropped as they arrived when we were missing Thies, Kicki, Zac, Tommy and Paula. Going on board I found a younger, healthier crew than I was expecting with a sheet on their noticeboard detailing positions, while they'd made their own kit too.

They didn't seem to buy my explanation of our tactics or formation; it's quite fluid, basically the person with the most energy chases after the ball, the person with second most tries to keep up with them and those too tired hold back in defence.

We started off both playing in white, with the first few minutes being an utterly chaotic mess before they removed their tops and played in their black thermals.

We started off both playing in white, with the first few minutes being an utterly chaotic mess before they removed their tops and played in their black thermals.

Oli and Dale, scorers of five goals between them, celebrating the first.

Oli and Dale, scorers of five goals between them, celebrating the first.

One of my favourite things about the matches has been Jamie's coaching. Of Josh. Turning up to the match like an underachieving dad taking it out on his son. Every time Josh touched the ball or advanced slightly up the pitch there would be a loud 'JOSH! GET BACK'.

One of my favourite things about the matches has been Jamie's coaching. Of Josh. Turning up to the match like an underachieving dad taking it out on his son. Every time Josh touched the ball or advanced slightly up the pitch there would be a loud 'JOSH! GET BACK'.

KEP 5 - 1 Shackleton. I think our hardest game of the year and the only time we conceded a legitimate, and very well taken, goal.   See the video of this game in all its brutal, skilful glory.

KEP 5 - 1 Shackleton. I think our hardest game of the year and the only time we conceded a legitimate, and very well taken, goal.

See the video of this game in all its brutal, skilful glory.

So at the time of writing this KEP team is unbeaten. We won't have the same personnel available next season but we'll welcome any challengers.

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!

October - another St Andrews trip by Jerry Gillham

I'm writing this 6 months after it all happened (bandwidth availability dropped massively over summer) so it probably won't be that wordy, just a few captions to illustrate the photos from October.

Early in the month I took part in the Antarctic cooking challenge; like the movie competition this involved using 5 dedicated ingredients, chosen across a few stations, to create a culinary masterpiece. Some stations took it very seriously, I went a bit mad trying to get three of the ingredients (sausages, rice and cornflakes) into one dish.   This is a tower of 'crispy risausages'.  1. Take frozen Quorn sausages down to the workshop. Wrap them in baking paper and put them in the vice. Using a CLEAN bit, drill a hole lengthways down the middle of them.  2. Make a nice bit of risotto, to suit yourself. Ensure it is not too liquid.  3. Funnel the risotto into the sausage holes. This is difficult and for some I ended up cutting them in two and then using the risotto to glue them back together again.  4. Use either some more sticky risotto, or egg, coat the sausages and cover them in cornflakes.  5. Cook them, I can't remember how long. About 30 mins at 180c probably.  6. They were quite nice, though I think it's very dependent on whether the risotto is any good.

Early in the month I took part in the Antarctic cooking challenge; like the movie competition this involved using 5 dedicated ingredients, chosen across a few stations, to create a culinary masterpiece. Some stations took it very seriously, I went a bit mad trying to get three of the ingredients (sausages, rice and cornflakes) into one dish. 

This is a tower of 'crispy risausages'.

1. Take frozen Quorn sausages down to the workshop. Wrap them in baking paper and put them in the vice. Using a CLEAN bit, drill a hole lengthways down the middle of them.

2. Make a nice bit of risotto, to suit yourself. Ensure it is not too liquid.

3. Funnel the risotto into the sausage holes. This is difficult and for some I ended up cutting them in two and then using the risotto to glue them back together again.

4. Use either some more sticky risotto, or egg, coat the sausages and cover them in cornflakes.

5. Cook them, I can't remember how long. About 30 mins at 180c probably.

6. They were quite nice, though I think it's very dependent on whether the risotto is any good.

Early in the month a lot of the snow had already disappeared. At least that, and the longer evenings, meant I could get out running a bit more. Brown Mountain was opened up as part of the single person travel limit - a great option to get you a bit further off station.

Early in the month a lot of the snow had already disappeared. At least that, and the longer evenings, meant I could get out running a bit more. Brown Mountain was opened up as part of the single person travel limit - a great option to get you a bit further off station.

Fraser and I had been planning a trip to the Barff peninsula for a while, partly to check and update medical supplies in the huts, but also as a late holiday. We had grand ideas of skiing between huts but, as seen in the above photo, nowhere near enough snow remained.

Instead we concentrated on having a good walking holiday, fitting in a few peaks as well as huts and bays. We were dropped off one wet mid-afternoon at Sorling hut and straight away took the 2 hour tramp over to Hound Bay. There we warmed up with a large helping of Steve's chilli, which we'd scrounged earlier in the day, appearing at his house apologising that we wouldn't be there for dinner but hopefully holding out tupperware boxes.

Heading from Hound Bay to St Andrews we headed straight up the hill and, as the weather was good, just kept going up Mount Fusilier. I think this is just below 800m, and is one of the largest peaks within our travel area. To do that straight from sea level is no mean feat but it was a relatively straightforward slog up, rewarding us with this great ridge along the top. You can just see Fraser on the peak, looking back towards the central spine of South Georgia's Allardyce Range.

Heading from Hound Bay to St Andrews we headed straight up the hill and, as the weather was good, just kept going up Mount Fusilier. I think this is just below 800m, and is one of the largest peaks within our travel area. To do that straight from sea level is no mean feat but it was a relatively straightforward slog up, rewarding us with this great ridge along the top. You can just see Fraser on the peak, looking back towards the central spine of South Georgia's Allardyce Range.

Looking the other way we were staring down on St Andrews bay. Tempting as it was we didn't just slide down a snow slope all the way onto the glacier, though couldn't help thinking what an amazing route down that would have been if we had brought skis.  Just where the river enters the ocean you can see a speck that is the Hans Hansson. There was a party on board of scientists and tourists. We showed them the hut and Dion, the skipper, kindly gave us a bottle of wine.

Looking the other way we were staring down on St Andrews bay. Tempting as it was we didn't just slide down a snow slope all the way onto the glacier, though couldn't help thinking what an amazing route down that would have been if we had brought skis.

Just where the river enters the ocean you can see a speck that is the Hans Hansson. There was a party on board of scientists and tourists. We showed them the hut and Dion, the skipper, kindly gave us a bottle of wine.

Most of the king penguin chicks were a comparable size to the adults, though still wearing their big, fluffy brown coats that shone gloriously in the late afternoon light.

Most of the king penguin chicks were a comparable size to the adults, though still wearing their big, fluffy brown coats that shone gloriously in the late afternoon light.

King penguins returning to the colony in the evening. It was really dry there so lots of dust, sand and feathers being kicked up which gave a strange, almost other-worldly, feel to the place (though will admit I have altered the colour balance in this photo to make it appear a bit more Martian).

King penguins returning to the colony in the evening. It was really dry there so lots of dust, sand and feathers being kicked up which gave a strange, almost other-worldly, feel to the place (though will admit I have altered the colour balance in this photo to make it appear a bit more Martian).

Unlike my last visit, this time we were spot on for the big bull elephant seals defending their territories.

Unlike my last visit, this time we were spot on for the big bull elephant seals defending their territories.

Sitting in one place for an extended amount of time I could start to pick out the boundaries of each bull's harem. They spent most of their time bellowing and sleeping but were actually very aware of what was going on. When another male approached slowly out of the sea, hoping to steal a chance at mating with one of the females in the harem it didn't take long for a good beachmaster to spot him and chase him away.   I didn't see too many fights, and none that went on too long, though wait for next months blog if that's what you're after.  Often the females would call out when a new male approached. I guess from an evolutionary point of view it's in her interest that the males fight, or at least square up, as the biggest and strongest will get to impregnate her. If she has a male pup from a dominant adult he'd have a better chance at growing up and passing on her genes. As something like only 1 in 100 (and I've seen 1 in 1,000 quoted elsewhere!) male elephant seals manage to breed successfully that's a lot of incentive to only mate with the best.

Sitting in one place for an extended amount of time I could start to pick out the boundaries of each bull's harem. They spent most of their time bellowing and sleeping but were actually very aware of what was going on. When another male approached slowly out of the sea, hoping to steal a chance at mating with one of the females in the harem it didn't take long for a good beachmaster to spot him and chase him away. 

I didn't see too many fights, and none that went on too long, though wait for next months blog if that's what you're after.

Often the females would call out when a new male approached. I guess from an evolutionary point of view it's in her interest that the males fight, or at least square up, as the biggest and strongest will get to impregnate her. If she has a male pup from a dominant adult he'd have a better chance at growing up and passing on her genes. As something like only 1 in 100 (and I've seen 1 in 1,000 quoted elsewhere!) male elephant seals manage to breed successfully that's a lot of incentive to only mate with the best.

As we were doing a few peaks and quite a lot of walking we'd packed light. That means dehydrated meals. Thankfully we have a pretty good selection, topped up with a few drops of tabasco, couple of cubes of cheese and a few olives or jalapenos they're all you need.

As we were doing a few peaks and quite a lot of walking we'd packed light. That means dehydrated meals. Thankfully we have a pretty good selection, topped up with a few drops of tabasco, couple of cubes of cheese and a few olives or jalapenos they're all you need.

As well as updating the medical kit I was on a mission to clear out old food from the huts. There were a few bits in the army ration packs going off; tins going a bit dodgy on the inside, Rolos leaking caramel all over the place, dehydrated mutton I can't see ever being used.  The garrison left in 2001 so some of this food is pretty old. In fact I found a few soups older than Kieran.

As well as updating the medical kit I was on a mission to clear out old food from the huts. There were a few bits in the army ration packs going off; tins going a bit dodgy on the inside, Rolos leaking caramel all over the place, dehydrated mutton I can't see ever being used.

The garrison left in 2001 so some of this food is pretty old. In fact I found a few soups older than Kieran.

Amongst the gems, an old-style Double Decker and my favourite type of chocolate bar, a Milk Chocolate.

Amongst the gems, an old-style Double Decker and my favourite type of chocolate bar, a Milk Chocolate.

After a morning amongst the seals and penguins we set off back for Sorling. It was a stunning day so we took a detour and went up the seldom visited Mt Skittle. This isn't a tall peak but was quite challenging in terms of scrambling and route-finding. It's off the main route and has probably only been climbed a handful of times.  Looking at this photo you can Mt Paget, the highest South Georgia peak, toward the left of the range. In front of it and a third the size is Mt Fusilier that we did the day before. Our route back is in between that mountain and the range cutting across from the right.

After a morning amongst the seals and penguins we set off back for Sorling. It was a stunning day so we took a detour and went up the seldom visited Mt Skittle. This isn't a tall peak but was quite challenging in terms of scrambling and route-finding. It's off the main route and has probably only been climbed a handful of times.

Looking at this photo you can Mt Paget, the highest South Georgia peak, toward the left of the range. In front of it and a third the size is Mt Fusilier that we did the day before. Our route back is in between that mountain and the range cutting across from the right.

This was a long afternoon; just over 20km, just shy of 1,000m ascent, just less than 5 1/2 hours. Upon reaching Hound Bay I couldn't be bothered walking up and down to find a shallow place to cross the river so just took my boots off and waded through.

This was a long afternoon; just over 20km, just shy of 1,000m ascent, just less than 5 1/2 hours. Upon reaching Hound Bay I couldn't be bothered walking up and down to find a shallow place to cross the river so just took my boots off and waded through.

We arrived at Sorling Hut as it was starting to get dark but still had enough time to sit in the sun and have a quick beer from the supply we'd stashed there on the way out. The next morning there was cloud sitting at about 400m. We headed for Ellerbeck, a peak we'd been told good stuff about but unfortunately the clouds never cleared. On reaching the lake and start of the ridge we decided it wasn't worth it as we wouldn't get any views and it would potentially get quite dangerous if we couldn't pick out a good route. So we dropped down toward the edge of the Nordenskjold glacier.

This glacier is huge, standing out on all the aerial shots of South Georgia. We didn't approach too close in case a chuck calved off on top of us or, more likely, making a huge wave to wash us away. I don't know how recent maps Strava uses but I was tracking us on this walk out of interest and at this point it put us 1,500m up the glacier. That's how much it's retreated but unfortunately I can't say in how long.

This glacier is huge, standing out on all the aerial shots of South Georgia. We didn't approach too close in case a chuck calved off on top of us or, more likely, making a huge wave to wash us away. I don't know how recent maps Strava uses but I was tracking us on this walk out of interest and at this point it put us 1,500m up the glacier. That's how much it's retreated but unfortunately I can't say in how long.

September - birthday and more peaks by Jerry Gillham

September started off with my birthday. Although I didn't want anything special doing Bob made me an excellent meal complete with a crumble better than any cake. The guys presented me with a couple of home made gifts too - an amazing carved wooden albatross skull and a unique drinking vessel made out of a redundant search and rescue radar transponder. I proposed a fancy dress night at the bar with the theme of 'post-apocalyptic eighties music video', giving rise to a number of strange outfits.

Dave looking fabulous.

Dave looking fabulous.

Kieran looking like a legend. There's not too many photo from that evening that I'm happy putting online.

Kieran looking like a legend. There's not too many photo from that evening that I'm happy putting online.

Neil attempting, and failing, to master the lung tester.

Neil attempting, and failing, to master the lung tester.

It can't have been too chaotic a night as I made it out the next day. Paddy, Fraser and I headed to the nearby Spencer Peak.

This ridge is pretty close to station and not massively high but pretty narrow and technical in places. Good fun and amazing views.

This ridge is pretty close to station and not massively high but pretty narrow and technical in places. Good fun and amazing views.

End of the line, looking down on Maiviken.

End of the line, looking down on Maiviken.

Looking back from the peak toward the Allardyce Range that makes up the spine of South Georgia. Mt Paget, the highest at 2,935m, is on the left.

Looking back from the peak toward the Allardyce Range that makes up the spine of South Georgia. Mt Paget, the highest at 2,935m, is on the left.

Before Neil departed we made the most of the good weather and had a last group trip up Mt Duse.

On the approach the way up is fairly clear; that snowy gully on the right of the highest point. It just looks a little... vertical.

On the approach the way up is fairly clear; that snowy gully on the right of the highest point. It just looks a little... vertical.

Steep sections near the top, looking down on base and the fisheries patrol vessel.

Steep sections near the top, looking down on base and the fisheries patrol vessel.

Just before the top you climb through this little tunnel where a big boulder is balanced above you.

Just before the top you climb through this little tunnel where a big boulder is balanced above you.

Mid month Kieran and I headed off on holiday to St Andrew's Bay, see the last blog post: http://www.manraisedbypuffins.com/raisedbypuffins/standrewsbayholiday

Upon our return station was significantly busier as the crew of the yacht Novara, including some pretty renowned expeditioners, had made friends with everyone on station. As the first yacht of the season their arrival was an exciting time and it was great to meet such a friendly and interesting bunch - we welcomed them up to the bar and they gave us a few presentations of trips they'd taken through and climbing around the North West Passage. Read about their trip here: https://www.sy-novara.com/

Novara cutting through the thin ice on the bay as it approaches the jetty at Grytviken.

Novara cutting through the thin ice on the bay as it approaches the jetty at Grytviken.

The busiest the bar has been for a while.

The busiest the bar has been for a while.

Much of my work this month has been finishing off winter projects and preparing for new arrivals. I've been able to dedicate a little time to helping Paddy and Bob with jet boat maintenance, mainly handing tupperware boxes of oil back and forth as we drained the tank.

Getting the jet boat out of the water is relatively simple when it's this calm.

Getting the jet boat out of the water is relatively simple when it's this calm.

There is no comfortable way of working in the engine bay. If you think Paddy is standing up here you're mistaken.

There is no comfortable way of working in the engine bay. If you think Paddy is standing up here you're mistaken.

By the end of the month much of the snow had disappeared. Disappointing as it is to put the skis to one side I have been able to start running again. It's also nice to be heading out without excessive amounts of kit. Fraser, Vicki and I had one of the best days heading over to Camp Peak before dropping down to Curlew Cave. 

Camp Peak isn't particularly large or difficult, but it is quite far away and the approach involves a few steep passes.

Camp Peak isn't particularly large or difficult, but it is quite far away and the approach involves a few steep passes.

Toward Camp Peak, the furthest point on this part of the peninsula.

Toward Camp Peak, the furthest point on this part of the peninsula.

Looking back toward Maiviken again, from the other side this time. Spencer Peak and the ridge we did at the start of the month are just across the bay.

Looking back toward Maiviken again, from the other side this time. Spencer Peak and the ridge we did at the start of the month are just across the bay.

Dropping down to the coast and crawling through another tunnel to get to the dramatic Curlew Cave.

Dropping down to the coast and crawling through another tunnel to get to the dramatic Curlew Cave.

It would be a great place to bivvy so long as you avoided peak fur seal season, and especially if you remembered your home-made calzone.

It would be a great place to bivvy so long as you avoided peak fur seal season, and especially if you remembered your home-made calzone.

August - movie making & more skiing by Jerry Gillham

August started with the annual Antarctic 48-hour Film Festival. I've had great fun in the past parodying Star Wars and Lord of the Rings, but this year we went for something a bit more original; a fun satire of Brexit based on the idea of South Georgia trying to leave Antarctica.

It's available to view here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=StB1ftK6wcM

Neil and Dave ill-equipped to deal with the cold in the old whaling station.

Fraser taking a break with some personal reading material. I like the straight lines and symmetry in this photo, I'd be happy with making this the new South Georgia flag.

Fraser, Neil and Bob preparing for filming in the surgery.

Unfortunately our UK-centric storyline, combined with a scattering of in-jokes and oblique references, together with dodgy sound quality on the original edit, meant we were never going to score highly amongst the wide range of stations of various nationalities that did the judging, though I hope some of the European stations appreciated the point we were making. 

Congratulations to Rothera and Bird Island, the other UK stations, who made some highly entertaining movies, the latter performing very well in the voting.

I ended up spending several weeks going back through the footage and improving the sound quality, cutting and adding until I was properly happy with it. Reviews so far have included 'it looks like you had fun making it', 'you had a hard act to follow' and 'your acting hasn't improved', while several friends have avoided speaking to me since I sent them the link.

 

August also gave us some of the best days skiing of the winter. One weekend especially, after a particularly heavy snow-fall on the Friday, was spectacular.

Fraser on the slopes of Brown Mountain. The flat area below is the snow-covered Gull Lake. Visibility was often poor but where the snow was deep enough it was so easy to turn it didn't matter what the slope was like.

Clouds clearing as we returned to Grytviken. As it was just so good we ended up heading up Deadman's Pass to continue skiing instead of returning to base as planned.

Shameless skiing selfie. It's not light-weight skiing here; you never know where there's going to be rocks poking through the slopes and while we take every care to avoid potential avalanches you can never guarantee anything, so each time we've been out I've carried avalanche transceiver, probe and shovel as well as helmet and, because I've become a bit paranoid, spine-guard. The result is that I look much more extreme-sport than is justified.

The next day Fraser and I set off early while everyone else was enjoying a lazy (hungover?) Sunday. Our initial smugness took a dent as the visibility was pretty shocking.

It cleared however as we ascended toward Echo Pas and then an un-named peak beside it.

From the summit we had great views down to station as well as most of the travel limits of the peninsula, and then an awesome time heading back down.

When the snow's not been too deep to make walking difficult we've had some good days out hiking too. Although looking toward Petrel here, Vicki and I got up Narval, just out of shot. It's one Fraser and I went up early in the summer via a ridiculous route. This time we did the simple one but with the snow, ice and strong winds about it was just as rewarding.

On a better day we headed back over to Stenhouse, possibly the most spectacular peak in the local area. That ascent up what looks like a vertical gully above and right of Vicki is a proper challenge. It's been good to do a few days needing crampons and ice axe for their intended purpose rather than just carrying them as extra safety gear.

Those two days out counted towards the 2017 Race Antarctica. In previous years this has been organised from Cambridge to get BAS folk competing as teams to rack up distance equivalent to crossing the continent. With people moving on I took on the challenge of organising this years event, but only for those South. We had seven teams of 4 trying to complete the distance from Falklands to Bird Island, to KEP, to Rothera, to Halley and the Pole. That was about 7,000km - in 5 weeks! A bit much, most teams managed 30 to 40% of the distance but the BI team absolutely smashed it.

Activities were weighted so spending an hour on the exercise bike, rowing machine or running would be worth equal amounts. Skiing, cardio exercise and ascent gained also counted towards the total. Hopefully it gave people a chance to get rid of a bit of midwinter weight and get a bit of a routine going in the gym.

 

Finally, one of the most exciting events in August has no photographs to corroborate it; heading back from dropping people off for a holiday on the Barff Peninsula I was driving the jet boat when some way in front of me I noticed a black line rise and fall. It didn't take long before I realised it was either an orca or another whale maybe waving a flipper. I chose to shout the first and ran to alert Paddy and steer from the raised platform outside the cabin. I was correct, it was a big male orca though it only appeared once or twice more and never very close. Kieran and Bob in the RHIB noticed a second, a female, further off behind us so we slowly turned around and keeping revs low hung around the same place looking out for them. 

I guess they were feeding as we only got a couple of brief views, and always far from us and the spot they'd last surfaced. The final view we got was the best, both surfacing together in front of the sunlit glacier before disappearing for good. No photos but happy memories.

July part 2 - skiing & leopard seals by Jerry Gillham

One of my key reasons for coming to KEP was the opportunity to get out on skis. There's no lifts or skidoos to get you uphill so you have to do all the hard work yourself, you have to earn your turns. It's a long time since I've done anything but downhill skiing so I spent quite a lot of time and money investing in new boots, bindings and skis when I was last back in the UK.

This was the first day I headed out on skis. It's just in our local, single-person travel area where I've been loads of times before but the feeling of being out exploring was such a good one.

A nice patch of rock-free snow is a bit of a rarity. This is where we practiced ice-axe arrests a month or so ago so I knew it'd be pretty smooth and a good angle, worth the detour to get there.

One of the first bigger trips was when Fraser and I headed up to the VHF repeater on the ridge behind station. It's about 500m ascent and was an exciting bit of route-finding both going up and down. I was pleased I'd followed the advice about not spending a huge amount on the skis themselves as I picked up a fair few scrapes and scratches.

This is taken just beneath the final push, you can see the antennae on the skyline. It was a narrow chute to come down, especially for the first descent of the day. 

Fraser's photo from the same place as the above but looking the other way toward Mt Hodges and the interior of the island.

Fraser, Neil and I headed out for a planned longer trip up one of the peaks. As it turned out we got as far as Glacier Col and found the peaks had been blown bare. Still, we got a good descent back through a few little gullies. Though with some unexpectedly deep drifts we also fell over a few times.

I'll hopefully fit in a skiing holiday later in the winter, possibly hauling our kit by pulk. So on a slightly crappy but snowy day I decided to put in some practice by taking some food over to stock up the tsunami shelter. I learned that it's not as simple as it seems, especially the steep uphills and almost every downhill.

It's been a good month for leopard seals. Only three sightings, which is fewer than we'd get in a day sometimes on Bird Island, but they were all great ones and I didn't have the pressure of trying to get specific photographs of them.

The first was off down Moraine Fjord when we were in the rib, and kept lifting itself high out of the water, spy-hopping to get a better view of us.

The second was as Paddy and I were bringing the government officer and post master back from a fishing vessel. It was hanging around near a belt of sea-ice and as we slipped past came to investigate us, repeatedly swimming underneath the boat in the crystal clear water.

The third was probably the best yet. Paddy and Bob were working down on the boat when they heard a loud snort behind them. This lep kept poking it's head up through holes in the ice, staring at them for a few seconds then dropping back underwater and coming back up at another ice hole. This continued for the best part of an hour. It wasn't aggressive or nervous, just curious the whole time.

It seemed like an effort to push up through the ice at times.

Leopard seals can be identified by their unique markings. This one has a spot roughly in the shape of Africa just below his bottom lip. I've compared it to a few photos of other leps that have been about but it doesn't seem like a regular visitor.

When he was a good 10m away I slowly slid my GoPro under the ice on the end of a long pole. I got a whole load of video of him distant and disinterested but was rewarded with this one quick look straight into the camera.

Easy to get caught looking the wrong way... Bob and Paddy less on the ball than Vicki.

July saw Matthew's departure after his fourth year here. One of the things he brought down this year was a higher class of pizza, with two proper stones for the oven and a paddle. On his last week he hosted a pizza-making class so we can continue with the technique if not quite the high standard for the rest of the year.

Dave putting the finishing touches to his pizza, while the queue builds up.

Getting into character with the wig and especially dodgy facial hair.

Captain Phillips / any sort of maritime theme leaving party. I was dressed as what I imagine the captain of the Costa Concordia looks like. Top prize went to Fraser for his cryptic crossword style cap-tin (of pineapple slices) phillips (head screwdriver).

Dave showing Matt the appropriate respect.

July part 1 - Petrel, SAR and boating by Jerry Gillham

Despite it feeling like a quiet month in the aftermath of midwinter and still in the midst of the cold, short days it turns out quite a bit happened in July, or at least I’ve got plenty of photos from what did happen. So I’ll split the months blog into two.

The month started with a fun ascent of Petrel Peak, Fraser, Paddy, Vicki and I fought our way through the snow and occasional ice patches to reach the summit.

Kicking steps up the snow slope, it never looks as steep as it feels when your legs doing all the work.

After the climb out the valley you hit a fairly flat bowl. Petrel has two peaks, the most interesting and photogenic is the pointy one directly ahead of us in the middle of the photo.

Fraser contemplating the route to the summit. Petrel looks impossible from virtually every angle. From here we headed up to the ridge on the left, along and up that, then below the peak itself and back at it from the far (easier) side.

Up on the ridge, Petrel looks closer and marginally more accessible, but that ridge to get there gave us some problems and needed quiet a lot of route-finding and doubling back. Paddy's photo. Note July has been a month for experimenting with facial hair - this look is certainly better than one that will feature in July part 2.

Vicki and Paddy looking at something in the distance. In the background is the higher of the two Petrel Peaks (by a couple of meters); covered in loose rock and ice and not much of a fun climb even in good conditions, we decided this day it wasn't worth it.

Paddy, Vicki and I ascending the pyramid summit. In the summer we were amazed at how simple this route turned out to be. With snow and ice it was a little tricker. Summit height is about 600m. Fraser's photo.

We didn't hang around at the top as we could see the clouds closing in. It didn't start to snow until we were down in the bowl and approaching familiar ground. Still, the hard snow on these steep little slopes were good for a) sliding down, practicing ice-axe arrests and b) getting some good practice walking in crampons, as here. Fraser's photo.

Search and rescue practice is an ongoing training exercise. We’ve done a few tabletop scenarios and doc schools but this was the first time we put them all together and went out in the field. To complicate matters the casualty in this session was the doctor and I was pretending to be a visitor meaning Vicki, as deputy station leader, was responsible for co-ordinating the incident while Kieran was the lead first aider. They, and everyone involved, did extremely well and Fraser was safely recovered all the way back to the surgery. Even though you know these are only practice sessions they are still always stressful as there is a lot to remember. However well it goes there are always things you learn and little improvements you find you can make. There are so many different factors that could occur there is no one fix-all response so you have to do a lot of dynamic planning and responding and best reason for doing these practice sessions is to give you that confidence and ability to keep a calm head in a real emergency.

Fraser had 'broken his leg while playing on the old whaling station'. I was sent out as the quick response, taking the bike and pedalling round to meet him with a big orange blanket and some warm clothing. Shortly afterwards the main team arrived and splinted his leg up.

As we could have an incident anywhere off station we practiced bringing him back on the boat. Loading him from the jetty was relatively simple - next time it might be a RHIB pick up and mid-water transfer.

With several people managing holidays on separate peninsulas and the krill trawlers (which need inspecting by the government officers) there has been quite a bit of boating this month.

This was a weird day to be out - the snow fell so heavily it was sitting in a layer on the surface of the sea. Clearing it off the boats took a while but driving through it was simple enough...

... until it got sucked up into the cooling system and the engine overheated. Kieran watching on as Matthew fixed it.

One last thing Matthew wanted to do before departing was test whether he could take the jet boat into Moraine Fjord. This channel, although it is over 100m deep in the middle, can be just 4 or 5m and forested with kelp at the mouth. Normally we only take the RHIBs in there but with one due to go out for servicing we need to have a plan to use the jet as a back-up boat in case of any problems. So, with permission from Cambridge, we set out one sunny day on a test run.

Cutting through the line of kelp, hoping not too much gets sucked up into the jet units.

In front of the Hamberg Glacier. We kept our distance in case of calving events but didn't catch any. Shortly afterwards we did get a leopard seal swim past, checking us out.

Stepping out the boatshed door on 19th July it took me a moment to work out what was different, then I sussed it - the sun was shining on my face while I was on station. Although we don't get anything like the full days of darkness that's expected further south we are in the shade of Mount Duse, so it can be two months without the sun on base. Feeling it's warmth again is something special.

Tied up alongside here is the Fisheries Patrol Vessel, coming in to pick up pax and post in between searching for illegal fishing.

Midwinter celebrations by Jerry Gillham

And so it was time for the annual Antarctican celebration of midwinter, the shortest day of the year, celebrated since the very first days of polar exploration as we look forward to the days getting longer and the sun returning to shine on the station.

This is a dedicated week off work, although daily checks continue and we were on standby to carry out any boating work should any of the fishing ships have arrived for inspections.

The first big event of the week was the midwinter olympics, with competitors showing off their talents in the track and field. Paddy (boating officer) won the welly wanging, subsequent drugs tests revealing significantly higher than the acceptable trace levels of Guinness. Neil (field guide, newly arrived Halley refugee) took home the gold for the caber toss before Fraser (doctor) won the javelin with an entirely new throwing technique that he has quickly patented.

Dave (electrician) giving it some with the welly-wang.

Moving into the track events the three-legged race ended in dispute as both Paddy-Jerry and Fraser-Kieran claimed victory. The lack of a clearly defined finish-line was, in retrospect, an oversight. The was further controversy in the pulk-pulling as team Jerry-Paddy was the victim of subterfuge, with others holding onto the back of the sledge. Although the final was close Bob (mechanic) raced home dragging Fraser on his sledge despite the best efforts of Kieran (zoologist) trying to haul him down whilst dragging Vicki (fisheries scientist).

Later that evening I put on a pub quiz, with cocktails to be claimed for niche station knowledge like how many doors in certain buildings and guessing the total weight of cheese on station. I rounded it off with a totally self-indulgent guess the song intro round, all badly played on the banjolele, kazoo or stylophone.

A quiet strumming start and then giving it my all on the kazoo for the Baker Street sax solo was much more fun for me than anyone else.

I was on earlies on midwinter day itself so had done the building checks, made a big cooked breakfast and laid out the stockpile of presents I'd accumulated before the others awoke. Through the year we've been left various crisps, chocolates and drinks by visitors, well wishers and non-wintering staff, some of whom had been very generous indeed (Robbie and Adrian can't go without mention) so what could have been an expensive night was actually exceedingly well supported.

At mid-day we had our traditional mid-winter dip, a dash into the sea followed by an even quicker dash up to the sauna. No heroics for anyone, it's alarming how quickly freezing limbs stop working. Thankfully we were able to properly warm up, helped by Emma and Steve (government officer and partner) providing a mug of mulled wine each.

A little close for comfort but a grand way to warm up.

Early evening, with everyone dressed very smartly, we started our gift exchanges. The midwinter present-giving is a very old tradition; we draw names at random and just make a gift for one person. As always, the dedication, imagination and talent was jaw-dropping.

Midwinter gift collection.

Vicki made me an awesome lamp with copper pipes and sea-glass that looks like tree bark or, because it's so long since I've seen a tree, fronds of a kelp forest. I did a big painting of the local peninsulas for Neil who, with only two days since his arrival, created a lovely wooden ski pole for Fraser, who had made another lamp, this one based around an albatross x-ray. There were photo books, models of the boats (one making use of the broken blender parts to give it a working propellor), beautiful carved shot glasses and a life-sized metallic king penguin with toilet roll holder attachment.

Admiring the penguin Bob made for Kieran.

We'd all chipped in making a big roast dinner. I'd done the cauliflower cheese, yorkshire puddings, parsnips and sprouts (ie. stuff I'm quite particular about how I like it and don't trust other people).

Fraser suturing bacon onto a reindeer leg.

Sitting down to midwinter dinner.

Stuffed full of food we retired to the lounge to listen to the BBC's midwinter broadcast, exceptionally produced by Cerys Matthews with a heart-warming range of good wishes from, amongst others, David Attenborough, Michael Palin, John Carpenter (director of The Thing, traditional midwinter viewing) and Bill Bailey, who'd written a song specially for the occasion.

Dave testing his new shot glasses with their creator Paddy.

The week was wrapped up with the bar crawl, with people making their own place around station. From the upside-down bungee challenge in the boatshed to the frankly disgusting Deja Pu, the creepily decorated laboratory to Paddy's tiny Irish bar, Dave's frankly mental drawing challenges and finishing off with my erotic book club - because there's no better way to round off an evening than getting people to read out badly-written sex scenes from a collection of smutty books inexplicably filling our library.

Challenge 1. Climb up the rope, attach to the bungee cord, pull yourself along as far as you can and place the sponge on the velcro strip.

Sample bags, toilet roll and bog brushes dangling from the basement pipes, drinks served from a toilet... it was difficult to enjoy this bar.

Kieran getting angry that no one could get his perfectly clear illustrations.

Pep for erotic book club

Start of winter by Jerry Gillham

Midwinter, the biggest celebration in Antarctica and the sub-Antarctic, is almost upon us. Everyone has been spending the last few weeks (if not longer) working on their gifts, trying to tie up odd jobs so they can enjoy some time off, and trying to make the most of the start of winter. 

May was a pretty quiet month. With the toothfish ships at sea and the krill ships not arriving until next week (probably right in the middle of our celebrations) the boats have been off the water for a bit of maintenance. A few pairs of people have been off on holidays and on station we've been counting everything. Our annual indents cover all the field kit, stationary, comms, computing, domestic, cleaning, food & catering goods. Sometimes you can work with a few other people to get big chores done, other times you just put some music on and start looking through draws, making piles of pens.

Here's a few random photos from the last couple of months that haven't fitted into any other blogs:

One of the tasks we had in March / April was supporting a party doing asbestos and oil assessments of the old whaling stations at Husvik, Stromness and, pictured here, the largest one at Leith. These sites are fascinating but prohibitively unsafe so we're not allowed to get much closer than this.

Young rebels, Bob (mechanic) and Dave (electrician) having ridden their bikes round to Grytviken to consult with builder and former BAS technician Andy. It's only about a kilometre around the track between King Edward Point and Grytviken but it can be the longest part of any long walk and if you're doing it repeatedly it's nice to be able to mix it up a bit with the bike.

A day out exploring Repeater Ridge and making a try of Mount Spencer started with a walk over to Maiviken. Fraser (doctor), Vicki (fisheries scientist) and Bob looking at the route ahead, with Fraser preserving his energy by not wasting time turning round.

A steep ascent up the scree left us sweating and panting but gave great views down on Maiviken, the study bay for the gentoo penguins and fur seals.

We didn't get to the peak of Mount Spencer as the ridge pretty soon got quite technical - a bit too much for flaky rock and no kit. Still found it a challenge to traverse around the edge.

Another day out and exploring the edge of our travel limits with Fraser, Matthew & Paddy (boating officers). We are restricted to a few small peninsulas but it still makes a very expansive area - you'd have to be here a good few years to experience it all. This direction we found another technical ridge marking the end of our day's walk. From here we got a great alternative view down to Upper Hamberg Lake, the glacier above it and the peak at the back is Mount Sugartop.

A decent bit of snow on the ground, but a grey day so Vicki, Dave, Paddy, Kieran (zoologist) and I went off to do a short hike up the small, local Brown Mountain. It turned out to be a great day for some ice axe training that quickly turned into a sledging competition.

"Now, this is where we keep all of our meat. You got 15 rib roasts, 30 ten-pound bags of hamburger. We got 12 turkeys, about 40 chickens, 50 sirloin steaks, two dozen of pork roasts, and 20 legs of lamb."

Today. We had this big dump of snow earlier in the week but today was the first time I've got out in it. Partly because of work but mainly because that slope at the other side of the bay is above the only track out of King Edward Point and is rather prone to avalanches, so I let it settle a bit first.

It's still deep, fluffy snow so I opted for the board rather than the skis. Turns out it's still too deep. I got a couple of good runs down when sticking in a rigidly straight line but pretty much every time I tried to turn, which I'm not very good at anyway, it dug into the deep snow too much and threw me on my arse. Still, it's not a bad way to spend a lunchtime.

First update from South Georgia by Jerry Gillham

After about three years on Bird Island I’ve moved on. Admittedly not very far - I’m now stationed a little further south at King Edward Point research station on the South Georgia mainland.

As is now tradition I left the UK in early November, travelling down to the Falklands on the MOD flight from Brize Norton via Ascension. We didn’t have long in Stanley this time and a few hours of that was spent meeting the government and getting me sworn in as a magistrate. That’s right, I now have an official piece of paper giving me (limited) magisterial powers. Part of the recognition of sovereignty claims relies on having a structured legal and judicial system so out on South Georgia the government officers double up as police and the station leader fulfils the role of magistrate.

We sailed across from Stanley to South Georgia on the fisheries patrol vessel; the government-funded ship that travels round the islands incognito in search of illegal fishing vessels. The ship and crew will be regular visitors during my year out here so it was good to get to know them early on.

I’s only about four months since I was on South Georgia so as we arrived into King Edward Point it felt like that time at home and in Cambridge had been the break from normal life rather than the return to it. The old team greeted us and were very welcoming, allowing a day off before getting down to the hurried hand over; attempting to pass over all their knowledge about the station and their jobs in just three weeks.

Toward the end of that period we had the RRS Ernest Shackleton arrive for relief, bringing all our food, fuel, building, science, medical, computing and domestic supplies. Unlike Bird Island, where all the cargo is manhandled across from the tender, down the jetty and into the buildings, here they were able to unload a few containers straight onto the wharf and from there we picked the crates and pallets up with the JCB. Everything coming in has to be fully biosecured to prevent invasive species; rats and mice are the obvious threats but insects and seeds are probably more likely so each piece of cargo has to be unpacked by hand in a secure room.

RRS Ernest Shackleton in Cumberland Bay, South Georgia.

We celebrated the end of relief and the last days of the old team with a big barbecue by the boat shed before waving them off.

The departing team all aboard the Shackleton.

Waving goodbye to the ship and the old team. The flare preceded a surprisingly incompetent Mexican wave.

King Edward Point is a significantly bigger and more complex station than Bird Island. There’s just eight British Antarctic Survey staff; two scientists, two boating officers, a mechanic, an electrician, a doctor and me. Alongside us we’ve two government officers, a postmaster, five museum staff working for South Georgia Heritage Trust and a team of six builders as well as a couple of visiting scientists. The base can hold a maximum of 50 people but we’ve maxed out at just over 30 so far. 

Our travel area is pretty big and includes some pretty gnarly peaks and ridges, I can’t wait to get out and explore it a bit more.

Ascending Mt Duse, just behind the station, the edge which is just about visible in the bottom right.

The views from the top of Mt Duse.

A few old staff, new staff, doctors, postmaster and visiting scientist atop Duse.

Jamie recreating one of the famous photographs Shackleton / Hurley from the Endurance expedition of 1914. Looking down on the whaling station at Grytviken and Gull Lake from an outcrop of Duse.

Marine scientist Vicki crossing Penguin River on route to monitor Giant Petrels.

The key wildlife differences between here and Bird Island are 1. no nesting albatrosses about (barring a few light-mantled on the cliffs) and 2. loads of elephant seals. As we pulled in to the bay Kieran, our new higher predator scientist, exclaimed in a high pitch voice ‘look at the size of them!’. Most of the big ones have departed now and the pups are independent for the first time. These weaners are forming their own little gangs, wallowing together in the shallows or mud, sleeping all cuddled up in a cacophony of burps, farts, snorts and growls.

Good size (but not enormous) bull Elephant Seal amongst the ice.

Elephant seal weaners relaxing around the remains of the old whaling station.

Discovery Point and a relatively recent shipwreck now populated by seals.

The death of one poor Elephant Seal put means a feast for the Giant Petrels.

Still my favourites, the Giant Petrels are so charismatic with their dinosaur / turkey / banshee poses, running and sounds.

Higher predator scientist Kieran and doctor Fraser counting chick-containg Gentoo Penguin nests over at the study site at Maiviken.

Healthy Gentoo chick - all belly with tiny head and wings at this age.

The Saturdays by Jerry Gillham

During the summer season we crowd around the dinner table at meal times, discussing our day, points of interest and news from home. In winter however, when it's dark from early evening and there's only four of us, things get more informal. TV dinners become a regular thing and meal times vary depending on when people fancy eating. Routine though is the best way to stay sane so we keep up our formal three-course meals on Saturdays.

It's nice to be able to put more thought into what you're making, maybe try something new for starter, put aside a day to preparing a memorable evening. Here's the menu from my most recent Saturday cook:

Starter: Italian-style spring rolls.

Slightly odd, they were inspired by a Gino D'Acampo recipe and by the fact that I had some spring roll casings that I'd managed to bring from the Falklands (I've never seen them anywhere else but there, they sounded like a good idea for something different).

They didn't necessarily turn out as I'd intended. One of the problems was that when dropped into the fryer the air inside them expanded rapidly and burst them open.

A few exploded spring rolls.

A few exploded spring rolls.

One of the better ones. There was enough for one good one each (which was roughly a 30% success rate - don't think I'll be opening my own Chinese / Italian restaurant).

One of the better ones. There was enough for one good one each (which was roughly a 30% success rate - don't think I'll be opening my own Chinese / Italian restaurant).

Main course: Gnocci roasted pumpkin and tomato sauce and chorizo (or chorizo-style quorn). Garlic bread.

This was a course I had much higher hopes for. I've made my own gnocci before but only about once a year because of the huge faff it is, despite taking as many short cuts as I can (mash tinned potatoes in the blender, mix with flour in the bread maker). Nevertheless it does allow you the joy of brightening up the meal with food colouring.

Tri-colour gnocci in the collander.

Tri-colour gnocci in the collander.

Ok, I was pleased with how this course turned out.

Very happy with this meal, however I won't be cooking it again for a while.

Very happy with this meal, however I won't be cooking it again for a while.

Dessert: Double chocolate brownie in white-Russian ice cream.

We've been experimenting a bit with our ice-cream maker this season, and what is more natural to make into ice cream than The Dude's drink of choice? Like many of our attempts I didn't leave it long enough to freeze properly so it was better the next day, that that was left over. The brownie recipe is heart-stoppingly calorific, so just a small chunk is enough, and it makes a great snack for taking into the field on subsequent days.

You have to spend all day exercising to work off a piece this size (that is a normal size bowl and teaspoon).

You have to spend all day exercising to work off a piece this size (that is a normal size bowl and teaspoon).

 

Entertainments

It is the responsibility of the chef to come up with the entertainments for the night too. Often this will be a board game or a quiz... something to bring everyone together having a laugh. We have variously appropriated Monopoly, Cluedo and Guess who to give them more Bird Island relevance.

Recently Tim hosted a Saturday Nintendo night, with a set of challenges based around wii games and costumes essential.

Usually Saturdays require a more formal attire, but rules can be waived in special circumstances. [Photo by Ian Storey]

Usually Saturdays require a more formal attire, but rules can be waived in special circumstances. [Photo by Ian Storey]

We had to wait a while for the new Star Wars film so its screening was always going to be a special occasion.

We had to wait a while for the new Star Wars film so its screening was always going to be a special occasion.

Happy Birthday David Attenborough by Jerry

Sir David Attenborough's 90th birthday was celebrated down here on Bird Island with a cake, a raised glass and a few episodes of Life In The Freezer. The second one in particular, 'The Ice Retreats', contains a large amount of footage from Bird Island; all the albatross and penguin shots are familiar.

Here's a few screenshots of David Attenborough on Bird Island, standing in the middle of Big Mac, one of my key work locations when I was Zoological Field Assistant for the penguins, rather than the tourist I go over there as now. In this sequence he described Macaronis as the loudest and most bad-tempered of all the penguins. At times I have described them in similar, but less eloquent, ways.

All copyright owned by the BBC and photos used without permission. Check out their series Life In The Freezer or the more recent Frozen Planet for the best impression you can get of Antarctica.

Obviously much has been said regarding David Attenborough's work and life but it is probably worth repeating that, outside of immediate family, he has probably been the biggest influence on me and many others down here. Not just the scientists studying the charismatic megafauna but anyone who grew up wanting to travel, explore and witness all the amazing sights the Earth has to offer.

Bird Island folklore says that the old jetty bog was his favourite toilet in the world. Unfortunately when the jetty was rebuilt this had to be removed from the end and placed near the main base, but it is a mark of respect that it is still standing, admittedly only used as a store currently but no one can bring themselves to tear it down. You can't destroy David Attenborough's favourite toilet!

Time is getting the better of it however and this season we have started working on preserving the unique features. On the ceiling was a painting done by a previous Station Leader, Sam, in 2010. A recreation of the roof of the Cistine Chapel with a few Bird Island natives splashed across it, my favourite being the gentoo penguin chick on Adam's lap. The painting has been taken down, cleaned up and framed, ready to take pride of place on the wall in the lounge.

Jerry

More ice than we could ever have gin for. by Jerry

Since the ship called a few weeks ago we've seen winter close its icy grip on the island. Normally a Bird Island autumn is damp (like the rest of the year) with slowly dropping temperatures, but this year as the nights close in the island has frozen and become covered in snow already.

We awoke one day last week to find our bay filled with ice. With not so much on the hills and little in some of the other bays it became apparent that these were all chunks of a smashed up 'berg, destroyed by the rough weather and funnelled straight at us.

Looking back from the end of the now surrounded jetty.

The amount of ice on top of, as well as surrounding, the jetty was impressive. It's very rare the waves even crash over the top of it so to dump all this there it must have been pretty severe.

It was more obvious to identify the edge of the jetty than it seems from this photo.

As may be expected, van-sized chunks of ice being repeatedly battered against the jetty didn't do it much good. It took a few days to clear enough to be able to carry out a proper investigation. Aside from a bit of buckling of the scaffold planks and the odd pole less straight than before it's stood up pretty well. The biggest relief was the lack of real damage to the grey water pipe.

Over the next few days the snow fell a bit more and we had some excellent opportunities to get out and enjoy it.

Walking in these conditions is so much different from summer. The streams are frozen so you need chains or spikes to safely get up them, the meadows and bogs are frozen too so you can walk straight across them without sinking in. However some of the muddiest bogs amongst the tussack grass don't freeze over properly, just hide themselves beneath a tempting layer of flat snow.

Watching the wildlife cope with the new conditions is always interesting. The fur seals generally love the snow, pushing themselves along, rolling over and rubbing it into their fur. But the route to and from the sea has become difficult for some.

The skuas were largely relying on carrion on the beaches for their meals. With that all buried they face a tough time.

The wandering albatross chicks are fully prepared for winter, their thick down layer will protect them through anything.

The penguins love it of course, although this gentoo looks confused about the high tide.

It's rare you can get photos of penguins stood on clean, white snow. It doesn't take long for them to mess it up. So I've enjoyed watching the evening arrival of the gentoos heading up the beach to their nesting grounds.

Although far outside of the breeding season the gentoos still gather at their nesting sites in the evenings, although attendance varies hugely depending on things like weather and food availability. They can still be very territorial, building up their nests and fighting with others who get too close.

Having a bit of fun with the larger bits of ice.

Jerry.

Albatrosses, rain and birthdays by Jerry

A few photos of the work we've been up to in the last couple of weeks before the ship call, particularly those days in between when we were expecting them and when they actually arrived (the weather was too rough to call so, with all the cargo being ready, I had a few relaxing days before starting all my post-call work).

Checking wandering albatross on the ridge. This pair were the last to lay and so the last ones to be checked for signs of hatching.

Making friends with the locals. This albatross is sat in particularly scenic spot and I already have plenty of photos of it, though not too many with me in too.

Black-browed albatross chicks, as mean-looking as their parents.

Grey=headed albatross chicks, slightly less angry-looking.

When the chicks yawn they open their mouths so wide you can almost see the squid in their bellies.

It's time of year to get ringing the chicks, unfortunately the first day we were defeated by wind and rain. It's not safe for us in the colonies and not good for the chicks who aren't as waterproof as the adults so really shouldn't be disturbed in the wet.

Poa annua is an invasive grass species that crops up on several sub-Antarctic islands. We're largely free of it, though Al found this patch this season. Removal is best done by spade, though I did pick the first day the ground froze to try it.

Young elephants seal apparently attacked by a sea monster,

Lucy, on her birthday, adopting a heroic pose under our first good icicles of the season.

The icicles didn't last too long, not least because they got broke off to make a birthday G&T extra special.

Jerry

Cargo by Jerry

Most of my work over the past month or so has been the preparation of cargo for exporting off the island. The bulk of this is waste, the vast majority of which is shipped back to the UK for recycling. Then there are scientific samples sent back to the scientists who requested them, scientific and technical equipment that gets returned for servicing, use elsewhere or sold on. Not forgetting personal cargo for those sadly leaving.

All this needs to be properly recorded; unique ID numbers, contents, size, weight, destination need to be easily identifiable for each bit. For some, such as the hazardous shipping goods (biological samples in ethanol, used aerosols, batteries) there is additional paperwork and strict rules about packaging.

This has taken a long time but it is extremely pleasing to walk round the station now and see it looking clear, right in time for stocktaking and cleaning.

Colour coded drums containing waste glass, scrap metal and fuels.

Each room had cargo for a different destination - UK, Falklands, other bases - to make backloading easier.

Hazardous packages with a whole host of appropriate labels.

FIBC bags of recyclable plastics, cardboard and cans, dragged round the front of the building the day before the ship call. The large buoys, dragged up from beaches around the island, will be found a new home.

Basic waterproofing with tarpaulins, no need to weigh them down when the seals are still looking for comfort spots.

The ship, the RRS Ernest Shackleton, approached Bird Island early in the week, took one look at the swell and turned round. They returned a few days later and were able to run the tender in, unloading a few bits of food, post and technical equipment with us and taking everything away.

Pulling away from the jetty with our last load of outgoing cargo.

 Before the ship departed properly though we were able to get a large group of passengers ashore. These were other BAS staff, most of whom had been enjoying the cruise up from Rothera and have seen a few sights on their way. While some were found jobs to do we tried to ensure all got up to see the wandering albatrosses and a few penguins. After a summer with six other people it was a bit of a shock to be up this hill with over 20, but I hope I hid my trauma.

Finally it was time to say goodbye to those whose time to go had arrived. Waving people off from the jetty is by far the hardest thing that one has to do on Bird Island. The walk back up to station is a jumble of emotions - sad and subdued as folk leave mixed with anticipation and excitement at what's to come.

The penultimate rib heading back to the ship, just visible in the fog.

As has been pointed out to me, when I left at this time last season I didn't think I'd be here doing this again. But I'm here for another two months during which time I'll make a start on all the stocktaking...

...but in the meantime I'll just check all the wandering albatross chicks are ok.

Search and Rescue practice by Jerry

Bird Island Research Station has a small staff team; no more than 10 in summer and just four over winter. We have no doctor on station though all staff receives excellent pre-deployment first aid training from the BAS Medical Unit, with one or two individuals spending a few days on the front line in an A&E department to broaden their experience.

However well skills are taught they can be quickly forgotten so we try and have a training session once a week, on an otherwise quiet evening, where we go over some aspect of rescue, recovery or medical skills. One week it could be a discussion about hypothermia, then practicing putting a stretcher together, then CPR practice with our own dummy.

Learning how to put someone in the spinal board and set up the stretcher in the comfort of the lounge.

Earlier in the season we sat around the table and had a serious discussion about what we would do if someone severely injured themselves in the field. Bird Island has some steep, slippery terrain and people frequently work alone. The importance of regular radio contact is hammered home, as is the necessity of always carrying spare warm clothing and an emergency aid kit. During our table-top exercise I sat down with the Emergency Action Plan and talked through the extremely useful flow chart it contains, detailing priority actions and who to contact.

With field-work calming down a bit in the last few weeks I have been on the look-out for a good occasion to put this formerly into practice. So last Friday everyone was told to be available for the afternoon, while one of the departing staff went round the beach and lay at an awkward angle at the base of a cliff. I was able to sit back and observe the response and was pleased at the calm, organised and efficient way at which those on station, particularly the upcoming winter team, dealt with the incident. A fast search party took the emergency medical bags and warm clothing and quickly located the casualty, reporting back enough detail for a second party to head out with stretcher, spinal board and other necessary equipment. On station we had someone consulting the doctor at King Edward Point and talking to Cambridge, relaying important information to those in the field.

Assembling the stretcher and other kit upon reaching the incident.

Despite apparently serious injuries our casualty was soon back indoors, after a short stretcher ride to demonstrate how tiring it can be for those struggling along the uneven terrain. Around a cup tea we debriefed and reviewed the incident, with everyone happy and more confident in their abilities to respond to any problems, but also more aware of how difficult it can be and how self-aware they need to be in any situation.

Casualty on the spinal board. Last minute checks before transferring to the stretcher.

Jerry

Questions from schoolchildren by Jerry

A short while ago I got asked some questions from some year 6 schoolchildren (that's what? 10 or 11 year olds?) taught by a friend's mum. I was interested in the sort of thing they would ask me, what their impressions, excitement or concerns would be. It turned out they had some really good questions covering a range of topics, not all of which were that easy to answer. Here are the highlights:




Traveling to Bird Island

How did you get there and how long did it take?
How do you get there?

It’s a long journey down to Bird Island. I started from Cambridge on 4th November and flew down from Brize Norton, which is an RAF airport, though we were on a comfy commercial plane. After a 9 hour flight we stopped at Ascension Island (in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, near the equator) to refuel and then had another 9 hour flight down to the Falkland Islands in the South Atlantic. There we joined a ship, the RSS James Clark Ross.

The crossing to Bird Island is normally three days but we had drop some people off further south first, then do some marine science on the way back north, so it was actually 24th November when I arrived – a three week journey!


Have you travelled into the Antarctic?
Have you gone to the Antarctica and if you have please can you tell me what you have done there and if you have gone to Antarctica please can you send me some pictures of Antarctica?

I’m afraid I have not set foot on the Antarctic continent yet; it is something I hope to do in the future. However the official Antarctic Circle is at 60° south and I crossed that on my journey down. We dropped a number of scientists and other staff at another station, one that was covered in snow and surrounded by miles and miles of ice.

It was amazing being on the ship, slowly moving through a sea of ice as far as you could see. Most of it quite flat, small chunks that made a bumping and grinding noise as the ship pushed them aside, but frequently we would see huge icebergs in the middle of it all, standing like blue hills. It was all quiet apart from small numbers of seals, penguins and small birds following the ship.


What were your first impressions when you arrived?

The weather was grey and cloudy as we approached Bird Island so instead of seeing it on the horizon and getting gradually closer it suddenly appeared out of the mist looking huge and inhospitable. The cliffs and steep slopes had a thin layer of snow on them so you couldn’t see any colour; it was all just grey and white with waves crashing at the shore. I didn’t think I’d made a mistake in coming but I did wonder if I had underestimated how difficult it would be. Luckily later that day the sun came out, the snow melted and it looked much nicer and welcoming.



 Life on station

Where do you stay and what's it like?

The station is located on a small beach beside a sheltered cove. During summer the beach becomes covered in fur seals that can be noisy, smelly and quite aggressive but are also very cute and fascinating to watch.

We have a few different buildings but the one we live in is called Prince House. There are 5 bedrooms so sometimes people have to share but you get your own for most of the time. We have a large kitchen with lots of modern appliances and a dining room / lounge area with comfy seats and a big screen for watching films on. There are offices and laboratories for our work and a very warm porch for leaving our wet outdoor clothes in. We have a laundry, medical room and large food stores too. In the other buildings we have further store rooms, a workshop for any building work and a big shed housing the generators that provide us with power.

Our station is quite small but it is modern, clean and warm, most of the time we just wear t-shirt and shorts when indoors. Every Friday we have scrubout, where we are assigned a room or two that we are responsible for cleaning.


Is it ever warm in the summer?
What kind of clothes do you wear?

You get used to it being cold so when the temperature gets over 5°C in the summer it feels warm, especially if you are somewhere sheltered from the wind. Walking up and down the hills can be very warming with no wind to cool you down and there are a few occasions when I’ve done it just in a t-shirt.

Most of the time we wear thermal undergarments, a thin jumper, then good quality waterproof salapets and jackets. During winter a thicker jumper or extra layer is often needed, especially if you’re not moving about much. The ground is often very wet so we have big walking boots that keep the water out and thick socks to keep our feet warm. Feet, heads and hands can easily get cold so I always carry thick gloves and hat with me even if wearing thin ones. Finally, sunglasses and suncream are sometimes essential if it is very bright, with sunlight reflecting off the snow or coming through more powerfully due to the hole in the ozone layer.


What other people are on the island?
Have you made any good friends?

This season (November to April) there are seven of us on Bird Island. Five are scientists recording data on the penguins, seals, albatrosses and other birds. A technician, who is a cross between a plumber, electrician, mechanic and builder, keeps the station running, ensuring we always have electricity and water as well as fixing all the things the scientists have broken. And I am here as the station leader, responsible for overseeing the smooth running and safe working of the station and team.

During the winter this will drop down to just four people – the technician and three scientists. I have spent two winters down here and have made some amazingly good friends. When you spend over six months with just three other people you really get to know them, to love their good sides and tolerate their bad sides, like you do your family. In such a small group everyone has to be responsible for their actions and be aware of their role in the group. So you help each other out and you know you can trust each other. I’m looking forward to having some group reunions and seeing those people in what we call ‘the real world’, the world outside of Bird Island.


What do you eat?
How can you cope without eating fresh food?

We actually eat very well down here with plenty of variety of food. With no permanent chef on station like some of the larger bases have we take it in turns cooking each night. We try and make Saturdays a special occasion with a three course meal and sometimes dressing up. Chef for the day also has to make fresh bread, so there is always a delicious smell when you get back in from the hills.
We have a few rooms full of food; mostly tinned, dried or frozen as well as a limited supply of fresh ingredients. Things like potatoes, onions, carrots will last a long time in a cool, dark place but they aren’t quite as fresh as the ones you find in the supermarkets.
There is very little we can’t make with our ingredients, a cookbook and a little improvisation. Pizzas, curries and chips are always very popular but we will always appreciate someone experimenting with something a little different. Ingredients do start to run down over winter so sometimes have to be rationed, or used in unusual ways (for instance you can make a decent pizza topping out of baked beans if you run out of tomato paste).

One of the things we miss the most is fresh fruit and salad; when I returned home last year I would sit and eat a box of cherry tomatoes like other people eat crisps. We remain healthy and get our vitamins from other food, but it is something I look forward to about getting back.


Did you spend Christmas on the Island? What did you do?

I have spent three Christmases on Bird Island and they are often strange days. It is a very busy period for work; lots of seals giving birth, albatross nesting and penguin chicks hatching so we all have jobs to do. We try and fit our Christmas around them so we will bring out our decorations the week before and put up the plastic Christmas tree. Then on Christmas day someone will cook a big breakfast before we all go out to do our jobs for the day. Whoever has free time will dip into the kitchen throughout the day to help with the main meal or make a cake. Then we dress smartly for our big evening meal, a traditional Christmas dinner with crackers and party hats. After food we may play a game or have a party but we have to be up early the next day to carry on with more science work.

We give each other cards and open the few small presents we may have been sent from home but it’s not a big present-giving time. The main celebration in Antarctica is midwinter, June 21st, which marks the point at which the days start getting longer again. Further south, where the sun never rises in the winter, this marks the point at which they start counting down to seeing it again. Midwinter parties can last all week with many games, competitions and challenges. On the British bases we do a sort of secret Santa where everyone makes a present, often spending months over it, for one other person. There are some amazing examples of arts and crafts that get handed over and they are treasured for what they mean as well as a gift.


Do you miss your family? How often do you contact them?

Yes I do miss my family, and my friends, especially at times like Christmas and birthdays. Sometimes it feels like we are a family down here as we have to live so closely with one another and at times, if someone is feeling down, we depend on each other like a good family would. I am lucky though that, although we have very slow and internet no mobile phone signal, our communications are good; I can easily phone home on a land-line and I try to send a short email or photo to my parents each week.


What would happen if one of you gets ill?

Good question. We don’t have a doctor on station like they do on some of the larger bases. Instead we have all been through some quite intensive medical training and do regular training sessions on how to deal with injuries. We have a cupboard full of medicines and several doctors always available at the end of a telephone for advice. The biggest problem here is dental; one year I had to have a three week, 2,000 mile trip to the dentist to get a tooth pulled out. That was a long time to be in pain. Make sure you brush your teeth properly.


What do you do in your spare time?

Working hours are often dictated by the animals’ behaviour so we can busy every day for weeks at a time and then suddenly more relaxed. If we have a day off and the weather is nice I like to go out with my camera to photograph the wildlife, or explore areas we don’t normally get to see. If the weather is poor I can write to people, practice a musical instrument, try some painting or woodwork or just relax with a book or TV show.

We have regular film evenings and sometimes people give talks or show photos of holidays. We have a draw full of games that are really good for relaxing and enjoying time with other people.



Working on Bird Island

How do you get around the island?
Have you ever got lost on the island?

We get everywhere by walking round the island. It is not very big (about 5km long by 1km wide) but it is steep and the terrain is difficult to walk across. There are paths that we try to stick to to avoid causing unnecessary damage or erosion but they are not easy to follow and frequently lead through mud, ponds and lumpy tussac grass. Imagine walking up slippery steps of different heights, some of which are hidden under overhanging grass. And some of them have seals hiding amongst them.
Often we walk up the slope by following the streams. These are only shallow and rocky so give good grip. During winter you can put spikes on your boots and walk straight across the frozen marshes.

Sometimes the fog comes in very thick and if you’re in an unfamiliar part of the island it can be very disorientating. I have never got properly lost but I have headed in what I thought was the correct direction only to emerge where I thought there would be a path and instead there was a cliff.


Have you discovered any new species of animals? What?

Sadly I haven’t, though I think if I collected a lot of the insects that live deep within the soil I may have a chance to. The most exciting discoveries I and others have made are when you see a bit of animal behaviour that you haven’t heard about anywhere else.
Seeing a pair of birds working together to steal an egg out from under a larger, more dangerous bird was one such thing, as was seeing a leopard seal with a penguin it had killed and was apparently saving for later rather than eating straight away.


Do you have any weapons to protect yourself from animals and if so which weapons?

I’m sorry, we don’t get any weapons, but you are right in thinking that some of the animals we work with can be dangerous and we have several different bits of equipment for defending ourselves. The fur seals are probably most dangerous as they are fast, heavy and the big males regularly injure each other while fighting. We spend a lot of time training people how to walk around them without disturbing them to remain safe, but we also carry long broom handles known as bodgers. These are never for hitting them with but it is something to hold in front of you so if you do get it wrong and one does try to bite it will only get the stick.

The albatross and other birds can also give some nasty injuries if you get it wrong while working with them. They are not being aggressive but have such large, powerful beaks that a quick peck can draw blood and easily bruise. Think of a welly boot with the foot cut off – we often use something like that over our arms to give an extra layer of protection.


Do you have any pets and what are they called?

We have to be very careful about what comes onto Bird Island as any non-native species could disturb the ones that live here. So we don’t have any usual house pets. Also we try not to disturb the local wildlife outside of what is required for science so we’re not allowed to take the seal pups or penguins as pets, no matter how cute they look.
However there are some individual animals that we get to know and they do get names. There is a skua (a bird like a large, brown seagull) with a broken wing who has lived near the station for a few years now. She is called Scratchy because she scratched the scientist who caught her to see if she could do anything to fix the wing.
As the wandering albatross chicks are sat on the same nest for around eight months and are one of the few wildlife around in the winter some of them get names, especially if you walk past them every day. One this year, known as Christopher, got his development regularly updated on Twitter.


Have you ever dug down beneath the surface?

At times I have, yes. Usually what you find is rock or smelly mud. I was collecting old bits of penguin eggshell from years past by excavating some of the stony ground where they breed and I was surprised by the large numbers of insects living under the rocks, surviving off dropped food, dead penguins and droppings.



My job


What do you do in your job?
What do you do on a day to day basis?

As station leader I am responsible for ensuring everyone is able to do their jobs efficiently, safely and correctly. If anyone has a problem they usually come to me to try and sort it out. I am the main point of communication between the station and our bosses in Cambridge, the ships and other bases so I can organise getting any supplies that are needed.
A large part of my job is managing cargo; the incoming deliveries and preparing waste for appropriate shipping and recycling. Recently I have been working on emergency evacuation plans – ensuring we have enough supplies to survive comfortably if the base burned down and we had to live in a hut or tents. I also organise training for the others, whether it’s refreshing medical knowledge or what to do in an emergency.


Do you like your job and why?

Yes, I enjoy my job for several reasons. Firstly I get to live in an amazing place. I have always liked wildlife and the outdoors and here I feel like I am in the middle of a David Attenborough documentary.

I enjoy the lifestyle; working with a small group of people who all help each other, no worries about money, travel, fashion. Almost everything I need to be happy is here.
The job itself is also very varied which keeps it interesting. I could spend one day in the office going through health and safety forms, then the next helping count albatrosses, then boxing up recycling, then out repairing footpaths.


What was your job before, was it anything to do with the job you do now?

I previously worked on small islands around the UK – the Farne Islands off Northumberland, Skomer and Skokholm in Pembrokeshire and the Shiants in western Scotland. Many parts were similar to what I do now. Although there were no penguins or albatrosses I did a lot of science work monitoring and recording British seabirds such as puffins. In those jobs I would often work with volunteers or visiting members of the public, something that we don’t get on Bird Island, but one thing about living on remote islands is that you have to learn to get on with the people around you. You also have to be resourceful and adaptable – if you need something it may not be able to be delivered straight away so you have to learn to deal without or make do with what you have. I think learning that set me up well for living down here.


Do you like living in the cold?

I still get excited when it snows and enjoy crunching through it when freshly fallen, seeing ice on the ponds and feeling well wrapped up when you can see your breath in the air. So yes, I do like living in the cold. Although I am very happy that we have a warm base where I can relax in just a t-shirt, I don’t think I’d enjoy it as much without that.
There are things I miss about the warmth though – swimming in the sea, sitting outside eating an ice cream, being able to go for a walk without having to spend 10 minutes putting on several layers and big boots.



Bird Island and the wider world
 
Does global warming affect Bird Island?

Good question, though a complex one. I will try and answer it as clearly as I can.
One of our jobs here is counting the numbers of seals and birds breeding each year. This has been done for the last few decades so we can look at how populations have changed since the 1960s. As most of these are long-lived species (some albatross can live to over 50 years) it takes this long to be able to say whether there are any trends in terms of more or less of a species. Over this time period albatross numbers have drastically reduced, dropping to roughly half the numbers there used to be.
Proving that this is due to climate change is very difficult because the way the atmosphere, ice sheets, ocean and wildlife interact is very, very complicated. There are many other factors too, for instance fur seal numbers have increased massively in that time, but that is because humans stopped hunting them.

However what we think is happening is that with the earth’s temperature, especially the sea temperature, rising this is causing the ice sheets to melt and break apart quicker. The underside of those ice sheets is the main place where krill breed and grow. Krill are tiny shrimps that are the basis of the Antarctic food web. Everything that lives here – whales, seals, albatross, penguins – either eats krill or eats something that eats krill, everything depends on it. So if there is less ice there will be less krill and less food for everything else.
  

Have there ever been any earthquakes or natural disasters on the island?

The South Sandwich Islands are about 500 miles south west of Bird Island and sit on a geological fault so do experience earthquakes from time to time. We are a bit far away to feel their effects but we do have the possibility of tsunamis, tidal waves.
In my first winter we got a phone call in the early morning telling us there had been a tsunami warning and we had 20 minutes to get up the hill. So we quickly pulled on lots of warm clothes, grabbed the emergency satellite phone and headed up the icy stream in the dark. Luckily nothing happened; we just had to wait an hour before we were allowed back down. But it is something we prepare for with emergency drills and supplies located away from the main base.


I would like to know what it is like to live with penguins around you?

It’s brilliant. You can never be bored or unhappy while watching penguins as they’re so entertaining. Sometimes if I have been working with them for a few days I have to make sure I don’t get complacent about it so I spend a bit of time just sitting, watching and enjoying them. Instead of watching the soaps we will frequently sit around the window on base watching the penguins and seals.

There are down sides to being surrounded by penguins though. With a fishy diet their colonies do smell pretty bad and if you’re working there it can be a difficult smell to get rid of. The macaronis especially are particularly noisy and aggressive. You can’t be friends with them.
  

What's it like living there? Please send pictures?

I love living here. There’s something different to see or do every day, the people are friendly and helpful, the wildlife is entertaining and the views are spectacular. Hope you like the photos.
  

Rat boxes by Jerry

One of the reasons Bird Island is so important for wildlife is that it has never been populated by rats or mice. On the South Georgia mainland rats have decimated populations of the burrowing birds - the small petrels and prions - as well as terns and pipits. With the

rat eradication programme

it is hoped these species will recover, indeed the first nesting pipits have already been discovered.

There are several measures in place to combat the threat of rats. Firstly landings on the island are very restricted, provided only with special permission by the South Georgia government. The BAS ships that bring us our supplies are very rigorous about preventing rats and as everything we have comes ashore on small boxes from the tender there are plenty of opportunities for spotting rodents.

Poison-baited boxes will be around the jetty whenever we have a ship in but around the rest of the island there are a series of other rat boxes. These contain a block of chocolate wax made by melting together candles and cocoa powder then letting it harden in an ice-cube tray.

Location of rat boxes on Bird Island

As you see they are quite spread out across the island. One of my jobs is to travel round checking on them, specifically looking for gnawing marks in the wax block that would indicate the presence of rats or mice. Thankfully there have been none.

It is a good opportunity and excuse to get out to a variety of parts of the island I wouldn't necessarily travel to. 

The rat box just up from Main Bay, with nice views back toward base and La Roche.

We have other biosecurity measures to prevent more invasive species. Prior to leaving their ship and on arrival at the jetty all visitors are required to wash their footwear to remove any possible insects or seeds. Fresh fruit and vegetables are thoroughly checked, each and every potato, to remove insects, soil and mould.

Jerry.

Emergency boxes by Jerry

One of my jobs this season is to ensure that all the emergency supplies are up to date and in good condition. The biggest risk to station would be a fire or tsunami (there's a bit of geological activity in the South Sandwich islands so it's a threat, however remote). We have several systems in place to warn us about this and a good fire-suppression system, but good planning means we have to take into account the worst case scenario.

In this photo Lucy is sorting through the emergency medical box, ensuring all our supplies are in date, well sealed and we know how to use them. There are further boxes containing cooking equipment, water purification, warm clothing and shelters.

One of the other key features in an emergency would be communication so I have also been checking batteries for and testing our iridium field phones and working out ways we could charge them if we lost all power. We do have a small back-up generator offsite but having recently read The Martian I keep thinking of how we could adapt the solar chargers used to power some of the science equipment.

Of course this is all something we hope is never used, but thinking it through and putting precautions in place is very useful and really interesting.

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.