Letter from Lockroy - 6th December 2009
The days here are getting crazier and crazier, so much has happened this past week. It started with a double celebration as not only was it Anna's birthday, Anna is also the first female base leader in Port Lockroy History!!! Eleanor and I carefully walked down to the boat shed through the penguin colony sporting sunglasses and head torches, to hack into the 'special food goody box'. Anna had requested Italian food so we whipped up a fresh tomato and olive bruchetta for a starter and a sundried tomato, chilli, ham and olive tagliatelle with proper parmesan cheese!!! Dinner was just about to be served up when I looked out of the window and whom should I see but a bunch of men in yellow jackets waving at me through the condensation. As you can probably imagine Port Lockroy is not the place where you suddenly get people turning up unannounced. As it turns out it was the Argentine Navy that were in the area carrying out a territorial patrol. Their aim is 'to safeguard the human life in the sea', which was agreed in the 'International Agreement about Searching and Maritime Rescue' in 1979. Dinner was put on hold while we introduced ourselves. We were informed that we would have an official visit from El Capitane the next morning. After Anna kindly gave the men an impromptu tour of the museum it was back into the kitchen to have a second attempt at serving dinner. Tudor kindly went to hack off some blue glacier ice for Antarctic style Gin and Tonics (yum). Happy Birthday Anna!
The following day involved the Captain's morning tour and then the final member of our team, Rachel Harrex, finally arrived on Fram. Fram had been held up due to a rare encounter with a pod of Orcas hunting a poor seal which was fighting for its life afloat a piece of sea ice. It was great to finally meet Rachel, the fourth lady of Lockroy, but greetings were short and sweet as she immediately got stuck in shifting 180 bags of aggregate and cement that will be used to build the Nissen Hut later in the season.
There always seems to be something to celebrate here, and on Dec 1st it was the 50th Anniversary of the Antarctic Treaty. Once again things were celebrated with some freshly hacked glacier ice. It's amazing hearing all the old air bubbles trapped in the ice cracking. Port Lockroy seems to be the place to be for young bull elephant seals. Claire's favourite (fondly named Jaba – due to his amazing repertoire of beautifully disgusting sounds) has been replaced by a larger elephant seal (Winston). How these big bags of blubber are able to manoeuvre themselves and end up with their upper torsos between penguin nests without squashing them is beyond me!
We have started beach combing the Island and were surprised to find some fragments of pottery and some odd bullet casings. Then the big day came where we had to do a full island count of all the penguin nests and eggs. At the end of the last season there were 620 breeding pairs of Gentoos so we were curious to see how the numbers looked at the beginning of this season. It was a fantastic day and we were so lucky with the weather. The boat shed colony was really challenging (thank you to Rachel for her fantastic nest mapping) as not only did we count 201 nests in that single colony, we also had to work around Winston the elephant seal. He didn't seem bothered by us though and just made a couple of rather impressive burping sounds. By the end of the day the Port Lockroy ladies had counted 636 occupied nests including a few nests with three eggs. One penguin close to the base door is incubating four eggs which is extremely unusual (answers on a postcard please)! Another penguin was closely guarding her nest but when she did stand up there were no eggs under her...only a limpet shell. She then started carefully shuffling and rotating the shell as if it were an egg and then nudged it gently with her beak before settling back down on it. Anna and Eleanor managed to get over to Bill's Island (only accessible by low tide) to carry out an egg count and check the number of Dominican Gull nests in between being dive bombed by gulls and terns. We have been so lucky this week with ships. For an unprecedented three mornings in a row we were invited onto ships for breakfast and showers, long may the good times continue.