About Me

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Bird Island, South Georgia & South Sandwich Islands
I work as a Zoological Field Assistant, and am the 2009 Winter Base Commander, at Bird Island Research Station, one of the British Antarctic Survey's five research bases in Antarctica. The main remit of my job is seal fieldwork as part of BAS' Long Term Monitoring and Survey programme. Science has been carried out on Bird Island since 1958. I work with Antarctic fur seals and leopard seals, as well as assisting with the seabird fieldwork programme. Contact me on: ewanedwards at gmail dot com

Friday, 24 October 2008

24.10/2008 - Spring on Bird Island

Winter has come and gone in the blink of an eye. Our peace and quiet was cut short by the arrival of a BBC film crew on September 10th and an additional two scientists towards the end of the month. Now, as we approach the end of October, the short, dark and cold days of winter, with only four of us on Bird Island and no visitors for five months, seem a long time ago. Recently the weather has been feeling much more springlike, with temperatures approaching 4 deg C (although only a few hours later it was freezing again).

Mark and Matt from the BBC Natural History Unit visited Bird Island to do some filming for a new BBC high-definition super-series, in the same vein as Planet Earth. Unfortunately their month-long stay coincided with the worst weather that we'd seen since the end of the summer, and mild temperatures (and hence rain), strong winds and the infamous Bird Island 'mank' (fog) make shooting a television programme a real challenge, but they put in some long days in the field, braving not just the weather but the wildlife! I hope they produced some footage that will make the final programme. Being restricted by what they were trying to film didn't help their cause - when one of the main things they wanted to see was wandering albatross chicks in the snow, the lack of significant snowfall in September didn't help...

Of course, the day that they left, it snowed.

Jaume and Glenn in the snow, the day that the BBC departed

Jaume Forcada (a senior scientist from BAS) and Glenn Crossin, working on the physiology of seabirds, arrived on the fishery patrol vessel towards the end of September and have slotted right into island life. Jaume is a Bird Island veteran (this being his seventh season visiting the island) but for Glenn it is a new experience. He was inspired to seek out a project working with albatrosses following several oceanographic cruises in the Ross Sea with an American research programme.

The leopard seals that were present throughout the winter have now more or less all departed. A couple of animals have been seen until very recently feasting on the gentoo penguins returning every evening to Johnson Beach. Jaume estimates that leopard seals could consume as many as 12% of the BI gentoo penguin population each year! We had the very exciting sight of a leopard seal eating a South Georgia pintail (Anas georgica), believed to be the first time a wild leopard seal has been recorded eating a duck!

Leopard seal hunting a duck

The first large fur seal males are starting to return to the island, as are all the other breeding species. The giant petrels, black-browed and grey-headed albatrosses are all sitting on eggs, the gentoo penguins are laying just now and the macaroni penguins are beginning to arrive. Our daily visits to the fur seal Special Study Beach begin on November 1st so the hard work begins again, after the relative calm of the winter.

Macaroni penguins have started to arrive on BI after the winter

White-chinned petrels were first heard at night at the end of September

Our main base resupply, with the visit of the RRS James Clark Ross, will be occurring towards the end of November, when we shall also meet two of next years wintering team and our new base commander. We look forward to meeting everyone and to receiving a consignment of fresh fruit and veg and mail from folks at home.


Christian said...

So - what's your postal adress down there? ;)

Nice story. Interesting to read what people do in their lifes.

Ewan Edwards said...

Hi Christian, thanks for the comment. I am going to try and update more frequently from now on - less "catching up" and more proactive, posting more current items

Postal address is Bird Island Research Station, British Antarctic Survey, Stanley, Falkland Islands, FIQQ 1ZZ, South Atlantic