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 2

Gentoo penguins crowd Johnson Beach at sunset

Coming ashore in huge numbers...

Sunset on the ski slope

Fur seals play in the snow

Sunset over South Georgia - leopard seal on ice in the middleground

Ski route, marked in red, from La Roche to base

Skiing high on the eastern slopes of La Roche, in Mountain Cwm

Post-winter-haircut, skiing in Mountain Cwm

Ski area on the SW slopes of La Roche

Snowboarding on La Roche

After midwinter, of course, the days start to grow longer. This meant we had more time to get out and about to enjoy the island at its wintery finest. Winter sports were popular, and a shallow-sloping coire on the SW slopes of La Roche, just above Wanderer Ridge, provided the closest and best conditions, only half an hours walk up from base. During July, August and early September, it was possible to ski directly to Freshwater Beach, and the back door of the base, from a height of around 200m on La Roche, via the stream beds and tussac meadows of Wanderer Valley.

Around the beginning of September I made a bit of an expedition into Mountain Cwm, a scree-lined coire towards the eastern end of the island, overlooking the narrowest bit of Bird Sound, separating us from the South Georgia mainland. The skiing conditions out here, where the slopes rarely (if ever) saw the sun, were a mixture of fresh, wind-blown snow and hard packed icy conditions, coupled with the steeper slope made for some brilliant, exciting skiing. Always in the back of your mind, however, is the fact that we are at least 5 days from the nearest hospital, so we aren't so inclined to push it too hard!

The leopard seal fieldwork kept me busy most days, with a considerable increase in the number of sightings from the previous year, owing perhaps to a relatively large sea ice extent further South. On calm sunny days, sometimes eight or nine different seals were seen, but when the weather was lousy, or there wasn't much ice around, the seals would tend to stay in the water, largely out of sight. I managed to put tags on several of the animals, which makes identifying them easier when they return in subsequent years.

At the beginning of every month we do an all-island wandering albatross census: this involves checking all the nests that were marked by Derren at the beginning of the year to check whether the chicks are still surviving. Once they hatch from their eggs, survival of wandering albatrosses is very good, although the numbers have declined from 1500 nests each year twenty years ago, to only around 800 these days. The census allows us the perfect opportunity to go out for a good tramp around the hills, checking on the fast-growing chicks.

In addition to the fieldwork (much reduced from its summer peak) there are various office tasks to do, such as the compilation of various reports for the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) and our own annual Bird and Mammal Review, detailing interesting wildlife sightings from the past year, which gets circulated internally at BAS HQ in Cambridge. But aside from the work, the winter is a very fun time on Bird Island for relaxing, hobbies, and fun evenings.

We organised several themed nights during the winter, usually on Saturday nights (our weekly three-course feast, washed down by several gin and tonics) and on a few occassions we fired up the hot tub - this is an old water tank that sits outdoors on the walkway, with comfortable space for four people but not much more, which can be filled with hot water from the tank and is a really nice way to spend a cold dark winter's evening. We had several barbecues outdoors under the stars. It is important to have time to relax during the winter, as the summer field seasons are so busy.

We continued skiing and snowboarding into September, and Flea celebrated his birthday high on the slopes of La Roche, albeit in the fog, getting a few late-season runs in. In fact, I was skiing only last week, and the base seems to be holding up. My intention is to get some skiing in at the beginning of November, and if at all possible, a few turns on Christmas day, after midsummer!

The arrival of the Golden Fleece at the beginning of September brought to an end the official winter, and in fact thereafter the weather was fairly mild. Our winter minimum temperature, which came about on the night we had a barbecue, was -6.7deg C, nothing like the extremes of temperature seen further South, or even at similar Northern latitudes near my home in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, but during these cold, dry periods we could see temperatures remaining below freezing for several days or weeks at a time. We didn't see temperatures above +2deg C between May and September.


View from the Hilltop said...

amazing pix!!!
looks like a lot of fun skiing and snowboarding down there!
love the pix of all the penguins, too.
thanks for sharing!

Ewan Edwards said...

thanks for the comment. the skiing and snowboarding is fantastic here - to think that so few people have ever skied here...