17 Feb 2014 - Expect the unexpected

This has been our motto since the ice filled up theChick and parent bay and the channels leading to our lovely island were blocked earlier in the season. It feels like it was a long time ago but the weather is increasingly wild again.  This week started with sunshine and warm temperatures but Thursday, strong winds brought snow from the south and later rain from the north. It looks like we’ll never get to see the island without snow this year! On the plus side, having so much snow has made access onto the island easier as we have kept a snow staircase the whole season, carving and remodelling the steps daily. The surface of rock that needs scrubbing has only slightly increased, making it a good warm up and work out!

On Monday, Captain Jacek from Corinthian brought our last bag of mail. It had travelled from the Falkland Islands to the peninsula on the ship Bremen and was then passed on to Corinthian to be delivered to us. We didn’t expect it until the 20th of February but ships go a long way to help us out and know how important it is to get news from home! It felt strange to open our last letters and to realise that no more mail will be travelling down until November. But fear not if you are visiting us in the next couple of weeks mail will still leave Port Lockroy Post Office, travel to the Falklands by cruise ship before being flown to the UK by the RAF and entering the British mail service. Postcards to Europe usually take between 4 and 6 weeks to reach their destination and I am happy to say all our friends and family have received their cards and parcels so far!

We had a lovely visit from Plancius on Tuesday. We hadn’t seen the ship for a few weeks as it was cruising in the Falklands and South Georgia. On its last stop with us at the end of December, Plancius had taken 4 of our empty propane gas bottles to Bunk roomStanley in the Falkland Islands and this time, returned 4 full ones back to us. Our agents in Stanley, Sulivan’s, and UKAHT friend Sally Owen help us with all our fuel re-supplies during the season. We use propane gas for our heater and cooker in the Nissen hut and depend on the generosity of the ships to get our supplies back and forth to the Falklands. As it takes a few weeks to get resupplied we have to make sure we are well organised. Next year’s team is already equipped for the start of the season! As for other types of energy, we are a little bit more independent. We are equipped with two sets of solar panels- one on the Nissen hut and one on Bransfield House. These are enough to power lights, computers, radio equipment and the credit card machines! In case of continuous bad weather and low solar power intake, we have a wind turbine and a couple of fuel generators. Luckily this season, we can count the number of times we have had to use the generator on one hand! The greener we are the better.

Wednesday brought another delivery: some era specific mattresses to complete the bunk display in the bedroom of Bransfield house. The beds do look a lot more comfortable-like they would have been! Although many people comment on how short and wide the bunks are, it appears to have been the normal size of Dunlopillo beds in the 1950s! We are continuously updating our museum display and have been able to do so thanks to the contribution of all the ships transporting artefacts, the generosity of the men and their relatives who worked down here but also to the visitors, who by shopping at Port Lockroy contribute to our on-going project.

Thursday, we had the chance to meet Jude Black, a former Port Lockroy team member (2008-2009) now working as expedition staff on Le Boreal. It was her first time here this season and she was impressed to see even more of the 1950s pin ups in her former bedroom. It’s great to meet former volunteers and see how passionate they still are about the place even years later. We hope the visitors feel the same way about our little island!

Valentine’s Day started with dense fog and an amazing light in the bay. Glaciers are calving intensively at the moment, filling the bay with funny shapes of clear, blue and white bergs. The day was celebrated with lovely visits from National Geographic Explorer and Ocean Nova. After an afternoon of wild weather, the team was happy to be invited for hot showers and an indoor barbecue (it seems to be the norm this season!) on Ocean Nova before joining the recap meeting delivered by two former British Antarctic Survey (BAS) staff Jonathan Walton and Nigel Milius (Nigel also worked at Port LockroyLeopard seal in the late 1990s). Nigel’s talk on ‘what does penguin taste like’ was a real hit.

Talking about eating penguins, leopard seals have been present in the bay all week, mostly lounging on icebergs, weather permitting! We have seen traces of blood near them but the team is yet to witness any live predation. It’s amazing to see leopard seals next to other types of seals such as a crabeaters. Their heads seem disproportionally big and menacing! Andrew and Ruth have been filming the beasts and are looking forward to welcoming a temporary addition to their team next week-Doug Allan, who is going to capture underwater scenes of predation in the bay.

This week marked the start of penguin crèche forming all over the
island. While the chicks are small, Gentoo parents relay each other on the nests to feed the little ones. After about four weeks, chicks leave their nests and gather in small groups called crèches while the adults go to sea and feed together. They then come bLeopard sealack and attempt to feed their own chicks. I say attempt because all the little ones know exactly where and how to get krill and are very persistent: they cry and run after the adults until either the adult gives up and opens its beak or pecks them so hard that they have to go away! These races on our rocky island are very entertaining to say the least! The creching of the chicks was also the signal for the last island count of all the chicks. You can imagine counting little fur balls running around and all looking too similar is no easy task so the whole team was involved in the counting, recounting and re-recounting! We found a total of 568 chicks on February 11th - no doubt skuas and giant petrels have continued feeding since, and the snow and rain of the last few days might affect the survival chances of some of the youngest ones. Some of the chicks have started moulting and revealing their white patches above their eyes, so it won’t be long until they are fully fledged and will start making their way into the water. We just have to hope the leopard seals’ appetites are not too big!Chick and parent

Adults without chicks have started moulting too. Every year, they renew all their feathers at the same time. The whole process takes four weeks and means they can’t go in the sea and feed for that whole period. This is an extremely stressful time for them as they try to conserve energy to survive so we are careful not to make them move unintentionally. With the adults and chicks moulting, the island will soon be covered in fluff and old feathers. This will coincide not so nicely with the painting of the boatshed with bitumen in the coming weeks!

The afternoon visitors have just arrived so I’ll say bye for now and until next time!