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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, 18 September 2009

18.09.2009 - Seabirds and sunshine

A snow petrel takes off into the wind

To see these birds at such close range is really special

King penguins don't breed here. They come to moult (and look really scruffy) in the summer, so when they turn up in winter, they are more photogenic!

A chinstrap penguin - these breed in large numbers elsewhere around South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, and further south in the Antarctic, but not on Bird Island

August was a fantastic month in many ways. Firstly we saw our first significant snowfalls since June, and by the end of the month we were able to ski all the way to base from the slopes of the mountain on which we ski. In addition, the prevailing wind direction for the month was from the east, which meant bright, clear and cold days. Some days we recorded over six hours of sunshine - anyone who has spent any time on Bird Island, especially during the summer, knows that days like these need to be treasured. The cold, clear and almost-calm days meant time spent outside was a joy. We had a barbecue one calm night, when the temperature was well below freezing, but the lack of wind made it quite bearable.

In addition to the longer, dry and sunny days, we had some great wildlife encounters. Around the beginning of the month, upwards of 12 snow petrels could be regularly seen in the bays around the island. These have never been confirmed as breeding on Bird Island, and most sightings are fleeting glimpses as the birds fly past, out at sea. But seeing these beautiful, pure white birds at close quarters is something special, and sometimes we have to stop and think how lucky we are to see them like this.

We have also seen quite a number of chinstrap penguins. They used to breed on Bird Island in a small colony on Johnson Beach, but this disappeared several years ago. Now and again, a pair attempts to breed amongst the 80,000 macaroni penguins on Goldcrest Point, but otherwise, we class them as 'visitors' rather than 'residents'. During August and early September we have seen quite a few chinstraps. They look very smart, and although not as tall as our numerous gentoo penguins, they seem to have an very long tail!

The wandering albatross chicks are still on their nests, although they are starting to look more like birds now, as their dark feathers grow through the grey down. They will start to leave the island at the end of November, nearly one year on from their parents arriving to breed.


Silje-Kristin Jensen said...

Really nice photos Ewan. Thanks for the update. :)

Tullis said...

Absolutely wonderful.

Could I get a hi-res version of that snow peterl taking off please, for my desktop? It's lovely.

L'homme pressé said...

I wish that when the sun came up the updates would increase. But, I suppose there's work to do.