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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

Saturday, 11 July 2009

11.07.2009 - Camping on the meadows

On the way to Top Meadow, Tilley lamp in hand

The albatross chicks we met on the way must have been very confused at the unusual sight of people, with bright lights, at night!

Settling down for the night, around the stove and lamp, in thick down sleeping bags with a waterproof bivi bag on the outside, and a thick self-inflating "Thermarest" mattress

The moon was in its 'waning gibbous' phase, a few days after full moon. When the skies were clear the moon lit up the landscape brightly

Waking up the next morning, Jose pointed his camera at me as I emerged from my sleeping bag! What a way to wake up! (Notice the ice on the bivi bag after our night at -3ÂșC).

What a view to wake up to: a rainbow, albatross chicks and the snow-dusted Willis Islands

Lighting the Primus stove

I get some hot water on the go for hot chocolate as the sun rises over North Cliffs

On July 9th, whilst checking the beaches for leopard seals on a beautiful calm evening, I decided to spend the night outdoors. A nearly-full moon lit up the bay and valleys and it seemed so inviting.

Jose and I set off from base at 22:00hrs with sleeping bags, a stove, some hot chocolate powder and a paraffin lamp in hand, and climbed up North Valley to camp on Top Meadow. Armed only with bivi bags (no tent), we were hoping for a calm and clear night.

We were in luck. We found a relatively sheltered flat spot, near to some wandering albatross nests, with their fat chicks waiting for parents to return to feed them. A snow shower or two did nothing to put us off as we set up our "camp" and lit the stove to make a hot drink.

We both slept well, although had to wake up a few times to adjust the zip of our bivi bags. Once inside it is very cozy, but with little ventilation so condensation can be a problem. Between snow showers, it was good to unzip the bags a little and get some fresh air.

In the morning, our bivi bags were covered with a layer of ice where the snow had melted and refrozen (upon returning to base, we found the temperature to be -2deg, and probably a degree colder up on the meadows). We made more hot chocolate whilst still inside our down sleeping bags and bivi bags, and both of us admitted it hadn't been as cold as it might have been.

We began to understand how the wandering albatross chicks cope during the winter, as their thick coat of grey down traps air, just like our sleeping bags had done for us, ensuring a comfortable night. However that had been good weather, and yet the wanderer chicks do it in all conditions, from when they are first left unguarded by their parents in April, through to fledging just before Christmas.

And as the sun rose over North Cliffs, we both remarked on what an incredible place this was to wake up. A quick radio call to base ensured that there were bacon sandwiches and a pot of tea waiting for us on our return. Thanks Derren and Stacey :)

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