19 December 2016

 New arrivals for the New Year

 It has been a busy but rewarding festive season at Port Lockroy. There were a number of milestones just before Christmas with the first chicks hatching on December 21st as we celebrated the summer solstice and December 23rd saw us officially becoming an island as the fast ice connecting us to Wiencke Island in the back bay finally broke up. Over Christmas we had glorious weather and many visitors and vessels of varying ages and sizes. Families and student groups came with lots of interesting questions and it was one of the children who spotted the first penguin chicks.

We want to thank everyone for their kindness over Christmas, our friends and families who sent presents and good wishes and the ships who carried the mail bags and welcomed us on board for special meals, Christmas carols and dancing! We were also touched by unexpected gifts from expedition teams, crew members and passengers. Everyone seemed truly grateful to be able to spend Christmas in such a beautiful location.

It is also a busy time of year for wildlife with many raising young. As I write this the earliest gentoo chicks are now 10 days old and growing at a rapid rate. Their hungry cheeping has added another sound to the symphony we hear as we head outside every day. We have also spotted two small Dominican Gull chicks through binoculars on neighbouring Bills Island and Blue-eyed Shag chicks at Jougla Point. Many of the expeditions landing at Port Lockroy also put their passengers ashore at Jougla Point, the closest rocky peninsula of Wiencke Island. Finally, in a special moment late one night as we were leaving a visiting ship we also saw our first whale in the bay, a humpback swam serenely through the calm waters and although none of us were able to capture it on camera now we know they are out there too!

We continue to fit in maintenance on the buildings when we can, we do seem to have had an extended period of warm, dry weather and finding time has been the more challenging factor. In particular, the roof fascia boards and windows are now looking very smart with fresh coats of red paint. With the warm weather the snow cover on the island is reducing fast. Every day more and more rock is exposed and inevitably pooped on by penguins so the pre-visit cleaning jobs are taking a little longer. It is important to keep the floors of Bransfield House as clean and dry as possible so all visitors are asked to wipe and brush their boots before entering the historic building. The large snow bank and impressive spiral snow staircase we lovingly sculpted at the beginning of the season is long gone and passengers now ascend a number of rocky steps when they arrive. They also get to see the rusty chains installed by whalers during the period of 1911-1931 and for the eagle-eyed spot the date 1921 carved into the now exposed rock.

At the end of the month we completed our second beach survey. On the same day each month while we are here we will carry out a beach-combing walk around the island. The data is fed back to the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources who have responsibilities for protecting the Antarctic marine environment. It is a task enjoyed by the whole team as we walk slowly and systematically up and down the beach carefully checking for any debris. Often it takes a little longer than planned as we get side-tracked watching the penguins swimming and washing close to shore or the snowy sheathbills foraging for limpets. The ideal time to do it is low tide and we are very appreciative of the weekly weather forecasts and tide times emailed to us by Alan Carroll, Base Leader at Port Lockroy from 1954 to 1957 and now Historic Adviser to the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust.

We have managed a couple of short trips off the island. One evening Adele and myself received a ride to nearby Dorian Bay courtesy of Expedition and made the short walk to Damoy Hut where we got a few small tasks finished off before taking the opportunity to stretch our legs and hike up the ridge to look down the other side and see Port Lockroy. It was really special to see our little island from up high and we waved to Laura and Hannelore. The stars aligned another evening when Ocean Nova invited us onboard for a meal. Often we still have a few hours work after a visit to clean up, re-stock and prepare for the next day but on this occasion we didn't have a ship early the next morning and Ocean Nova were making a short trip south to check out the Lemaire Channel before passing back past Port Lockroy. Although the Lemaire Channel was blocked by ice we thoroughly enjoyed an evening cruise, the company of the crew and chance to see a little more of Antarctica.

In the last few days of 2016 we managed to cancel and send out a staggering 90kg of Christmas mail. This helped to free up a little space as we also received a large cargo drop from Fram and we want to thank them for all their help as they also kindly supplied a team of helpers to assist in transferring 192 boxes of cargo from zodiacs to the landing site. It was gone midnight by the time the four of us finished moving the new stock into the boatshed and up to the shop in Bransfield House, but it was worth the effort with the shop now full of lots of new merchandise for the start of 2017. The team here would like to wish everyone a Happy New Year.




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