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

Monday, 27 October 2008

27.10.2008 - Winter Review part 1

Tagging a leopard seal, Freshwater Beach

Midwinter photo 1

Midwinter photo 2

Midwinter Games 2008

Testing the rescue sledge on the beach

Flea (base technician and winter base commander) pumps water from the stream

Derren and I brandish our ice axes on the summit of La Roche, July 2008

Its not the North Face of the Eiger, but the winter conditions meant we could play on some frozen waterfalls. Here, Derren leads me on the cliffs of the south coast

Freshwater Inlet from Cave Crag (jetty and base visible); South Georgia behind

Icebergs in Bird Sound, from near the Special (seal) Study Beach

Leopard seal has a stretch and yawn whilst hauled out on a bergy bit

Tonk and Freshwater Bay from Molly Hill

Various landmarks from Wanderer Ridge

The base in a snow shower

Winter already feels like a distant memory, but it was a hugely enjoyable time. One of the true advantages of a Bird Island winter is that, unlike Halley and Rothera further South, we never lose the sun completely. The days around the end of June (midwinter) are short and gloomy, and in truth the sun never actually hits the base itself (as it barely rises above the cliffs to the north), but at least we have daylight, and it is possible to get into the sun if you walk up the hill to the meadows or the slopes of La Roche.

Winter began for real on April 29th, when Fabrice arrived back from a dental trip to the Falklands. The fishery patrol vessel took away Chris, who had been visiting doing some plumbing work, and returned Fabrice so that we could all settle into our winter proper. By the end of May we'd seen our first big dump of snow and the first of the hauled-out leopard seals which would become regular visitors over the next few months. The days grew shorter rapidly and this meant that it was dark well after we awoke in the mornings.

June was on the whole not a very snowy month, although near the beginning we had some stunning crisp, cold and clear days when the bay filled with a mixture of brash ice (from disintegrating glacier ice (icebergs) offshore) and pancake ice - newly formed sea ice which starts as small round plates on the surface of the sea, the edges turned up by constant rubbing together. This never froze solid enough to support our weight but it was enough to support the weight of some smaller fur seals.

Midwinters Day is traditionally a big celebration for wintering teams in Antarctica. We received messages from the many stations all over the icy continent and its offlying islands, from almost all nationalities that maintain a wintering presence: Australia, Brazil, Chile, USA, Argentina, Japan, New Zealand to name a few - as well as our British colleagues at Base R (Rothera), Base Z (Halley) and King Edward Point, on the South Georgia mainland. As Christmas Day falls in the middle of summer, Midwinter feels more christmassy than Christmas!

The day itself (June 21) started with a big cooked breakfast, and once it got light (10:45am) we headed outdoors, armed with flasks of mulled wine and mince pies, for the annual Midwinter Highland Games! Events included crossbow archery, snowball target shooting, welly-wanging (hold a wellington boot in your teeth and throw it as far as possible!), hurling the haggis and tossing the caber. We were outside for over three hours, dressed in kilts fashioned from old tartan shirts. Fabrice clearly relished his role as the old man of the island, by making up the rules as he went along!

Our annual midwinters day swim had to be postponed on two accounts: firstly, the large accumulation of sea ice in the bay would have made jumping off the jetty a painful affair, and secondly, the presence of a hungry-looking leopard seal lurking in the shallows near the jetty was enough to put anyone off. These animals are fierce predators and have big teeth, and our seal-like appearance after several weeks of Bird Island winter rations may have been too tempting for a leopard seal to resist.

Later that day we enjoyed a huge feast, several courses that had us eating through until after midnight! Afterwards Fabrice dressed as Santa and produced some gifts that had been sent by friends and family last year on the ship and stored secretly until midwinter. This was a really nice surprise as we hadn't been expecting it. We listened to the midwinter broadcast to all wintering FIDs (BAS 'South' personnel, from the days when the British Antarctic Survey was known as the Falkland Islands Dependencies Survey, or FIDS) on the BBC World Service, and heard greetings from friends and family at home.

During the rest of the midwinter week we enjoyed many fun events, including a beer festival (with 20 varieties of ales, lagers and ciders, including our own Albatross Ale homebrew!); a pub crawl, where we each outfitted one part of the base as a pub in a style of our choice; a 24 Marathon, where we watched a whole series of 24 (the US TV show starring Kiefer Sutherland) during one day (07:00 to 07:00 the next day); as well as the usual mix of fieldwork and base duties. The end of June was a very busy time for leopard seal sightings, with 11 seen on one day, and the weather was largely settled and cold.

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