South Georgia for Kids!!!!

This entry is part 44 of 47 in the series British Antarctic Survey

I was recently approached by Will Harper-Penrose from Woodmansterne Primary School and Children’s Centre via the wonderful medium of Twitter. His year two pupils were learning about the Antarctic and exploration, and he got in touch to ask about the possibilities of doing a Q&A Skype session.

Unfortunately, South Georgia’s internet connection was not up to a Skype video so, on hearing that, Will came up with a much more imaginative way to ask the questions. Being a music teacher, he composed a song for his pupils to sing, asking questions like ‘Have you seen a penguin sliding on its belly?’ and ‘What do you eat in Antarctica?’

As you can see for yourself, the video, song and dance are awesome and put a smile on everyone’s face on base. Completely aware that this amazing video would outshine any video of mine, I used my surroundings on the island to assist me, featuring penguins, seals, icebergs and boating, here is a compilation of some of my footage from a year on South Georgia.

I hope that this will entertain the kids and hopefully inspire one or two to become polar scientists

 

Majestic Petrels and Glaciers

This entry is part 43 of 47 in the series British Antarctic Survey

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Technically I have left South Georgia but I am aware that I haven’t posted many blogs over the past few very busy weeks. So I will catch you up on my activities with a few blogs! The beginning of spring brings a series of fresh faced new British Antarctic Survey recruits eager to takeover from the old guard and ready to learn their new job.

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First on the long list of Kierans (the new me) new responsibilities was the Giant Petrels. Fortunate for us, these prehistoric birds have the a habit of nesting in areas of especially spectacular backdrops!
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Where ever there are Giant Petrels there are glaciers not too far away so its often harder to take pictures without glaciers in the background.

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There are colonies of Northern Petrels at Maiviken, Zenker Ridge and the Greene which nest approximately six weeks ahead of the Southerns which nest at Harpon and on the Greene.

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The latest trip was to check up on the Southerns which should have all laid by now. The Northerns, are starting to lay and will have chicks by now.

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Both sexes are very similar in appearance. However females tend to be smaller in size.

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Not only Giant Petrels enjoy the views
Not only Giant Petrels enjoy the views

Settling In The Deep End

It feels like I have been waiting to get here for so long, I have spent the last 3 months being told about King Edward Point and South Georgia and how amazing it is whilst driving around the country for various training courses and activities. Now I finally get to experience it for myself! Once I had attended a number of base briefings about H&S and the way that the islands are run I got to meet the current team. It’s a shame that these guys have to leave so soon as they are a great group of people.

I now have a very brief overlap period, during the busiest period of the year, where I have to dissect my predecessors brain for every little detail on my new job as Higher Predator Scientist before they depart back to snowy England.

Fortunately my role allows me to get to outdoors a lot. My Penguin and Fur Seal study areas, which I have to visit every other day during the summer are conveniently located 4 miles away across stunning scenery. So whilst I will be learning a lot I will not be stuck behind a desk whilst doing it.

View down to Maiviken where I will be carrying out most of my field work.
View down to Maiviken where I will be carrying out most of my field work.

 

Day one involved visits to both the Gentoo Penguins and also the Antarctic Fur Seals. I spent the morning counting the number penguins which had laid eggs and then the afternoon traipsing through the tussock grass to take pictures of the fur seals. I will try to write more about the science I will be completing and why I will be doing it next time, but for now, you will have to settle for pictures of my new study friends.

Gentoo Penguins sitting tight during the first egg count of the season.
Gentoo Penguins sitting tight during the first egg count of the season.

 

Currently, with me being located in the southern hemisphere, it is currently spring. On a normal year the lower altitudes of the island would be free of snow. However, the islands have experienced a particularly white winter and many of the lower passes are still covered in a couple of foot of snow, which makes for interesting walking conditions.

Me stood at the top of Deadman’s Pass, in the snow with Sugartop mountain in the background
Me stood at the top of Deadman’s Pass, in the snow with Sugartop mountain in the background

 

I am part of a small team of 8 arriving here this week. The team is made up of a fisheries biologist, higher predator biologist, two boating officers, a station commander, a doctor an electrician and a technician. Fortunately all of the team are going through the handover period and part of the boating officers training, is the familiarization with the local waters meaning there is great opportunities to get out and see Cumberland Bay. I was lucky enough to jump on board for a trip to a Neumayer Glacier. Worryingly, as with all but one of South Americas Glaciers. All of South Georgia’s glaciers are receding at a considerable speed. Rough calculations by the government suggest that this particular glacier has withdrawn as much as 300m a year. Unfortunately, the glacier had recently calved quite spectacularly meaning getting to Glacier wasn’t possible, since there was so much floating ice. But nevertheless photo opportunities were frequent and it did allow us to top up the supplies of Ice for base to make our Gin and Tonics later that evening.

 

One of our jet boats amongst the Glacial Debris from Neumayer Glacier
One of our jet boats amongst the Glacial Debris from Neumayer Glacier

 

Unlike many of the other Antarctic bases, we have a large amount of freedom during our free time. And the island offers an amazing range of walking, climbing, boating, and skiing opportunities, depending on the season. There are also outrageous opportunities for wildlife encounter, comparable only to the Galapagos and The Farne Islands. So just to make you feel jealous I will leave you with a picture from my bedroom window!

 

Elephant seal chilling in the shallow waters in front of base with a Giant Petrel in the background
Elephant seal chilling in the shallow waters in front of base with a Giant Petrel in the background

Arriving at my new home

With winds picking up over night and approaching 50 knots the boat began to role and with it, me in my bed! So I was almost thankful to see first light outside and hear the alarm at 4 o’clock! As we approached South Georgia and Shag Rocks to the north I hoped that wildlife sightings would increase.

Unfortunately the weatherman decided to scupper my plans! I arrived on the bridge to force 9 seas and visibility of about 200m. Although the winds were now subsiding, the chance of wildlife sightings was remote at best. Still, I persevered unsuccessfully until breakfast! If the food wasn’t so good on the ship I may have been disheartened but when you’re at most four hours from a three course meal its hard feel aggrieved!

As unfavorable conditions continued I returned to my room to sort through the hundreds of pictures I’d taken the previous days. I did forex outside a few times and see a couple of fur seals and another Grey Headed Albatross but the most exciting part of my day was probably trying to aim in the toilet, whilst standing in a rolling force 9 sea.

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First glimpse of South Georgia with a Giant Petrel in the foreground

Fortunately the weather had cleared by the following morning allowing us, not only better views of the wildlife, but also our first glimpses of South Georgia. We travelled south along the eastern side of the island with incredible views of snow covered mountains and blue glaciers before navigating towards King Edward Point through Cumberland bay.

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A Black Browed Albatross pruning in flight in front of my new home

I would be lying if I said I hadn’t been slightly worried about the crossing, with the Southern Atlantic notorious for some of the biggest seas in the world. Here, force 12 seas are far more frequent than flat calm days. But all my worrying was put in to perspective when we encountered a tiny yacht departing from South Georgia ready to venture back to civilization! If they can do it, it is and was a breeze for the my vessel; this time!

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Small yacht leaving Cumberland Bay, South Georgia navigating through the glacial debris

Although the skies were blue the winds were far from calm and it needed some great skippering in order to park us safely alongside my new home.

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King Edward Point, my new base with Antarctic Fur Seals and Elephant seals awaiting our arrival

South Georgia is unique for its incredible richness and diversity in both flora and fauna . But travelers, tourists and whalers, over the years have brought their share of non-native species to the islands, many of which have had large scale detrimental affects. The South Georgian Government are doing an incredible job aiding the return of the ecosystem back to its former strength with successful eradications of Rats and Reindeer both completed over the recent history. In order to prevent any more of these accidental introductions, before I was able to meet my new colleagues I had to stop of at the bio shed to thoroughly search and clean myself and my belongings.