06 February 2017

A soggy penguin count

Although another week has past and Port Lockroy life itself has become a routine for us by now, nature and wildlife are in a constant changing cycle. Last week we witnessed the first sparkling stars far above us, and the nights are now getting noticeably darker. A reminder that this season is coming fast to an end. Well aware of the precious time we have left on base, not only getting all the jobs done, but also inhaling the final special moments, like watching a fluffy chick snoozing on top of a rock with its legs stretched out, seeing an adult gentoo running with a chick or two after it begging for food, having a conversation with a curious chick during painting work or seeing it's head moving as it follows the broom scrubbing up and down during our daily morning rock guano cleaning workout. The weather has changed to a more wet one, with some more rainy days this week.

'Icy rain-needles attacked our faces in 30 knots of screaming winds with violent gusts up to 40 knots', these are the conditions Adele, Lucy and I encountered on Friday during the penguin count of the entire island, part of the wildlife monitoring study. Despite the weather and the fact that the wet conditions were far from pleasant, we were hoping that the windy conditions would make counting a bit easier, as the chicks will be huddled together in groups rather than running around the island. It still wasn’t easy, as one of the bigger crèches has over 150 chicks huddled in it!

Trying to subdivide the group using natural imaginative boundaries turned out to be unsuccessful as the chicks kept walking around and crossing these boundaries.  Leaving us with no choice but to count the whole group. In the cold, wet and windy conditions we attacked each our clicker: click-click-click-click-click-click... whilst we were trying to keep an overview of which ones we had already counted and on the same time keeping an eye open for wandering chicks. After each count we compared our numbers: 185, 174,178 … oh dear, lets recount! Whilst we were counting and recounting chicks, Laura and Tim were counting number of boxes and its contents as part of the season stock take. Several stock takes and an inventory are being done during the season. For all of you who have been following us, you might be wondering: 'Who is Tim?'.

This week the Lockroyan team of 4 increased to 5 as Tim, the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust’s new Antarctic Operations Officer, arrived on Thursday onboard Le Boreal. He had a lovely travel south and we want to thank Ponant for their generosity and continuous support for the Trust. It was nice to finally meet Tim and welcome him as part of the team for the final weeks. After a short guided tour, he was literally thrown into daily life at Port Lockroy, as we had a ship visit straight away. In addition, he has been bombarded with an overload of information during his first few days, and getting used to every aspect of living and working at Port Lockroy. One of these tasks led to a discovery on Goudier Island!

As Tim and I were preparing the icy path for today's afternoon ship visit, which included removing some sleek ice and washing away guano with sea water, something did catch Adele's eyes. On a closer look, it turned out to be an artefact bullet dated 1942! Who knows, it might be from the Operation Tabarin days! Speaking of Operation Tabarin, we did have another special happening this week when the date showed the 11th of February, taking us back to the origin of Base A Port Lockroy.

Operation Tabarin was a British secret wartime mission during the second world war. The plan was to set up the first permanent British base on Hope Bay, but as ice prevented them from offloading cargo, they continued their journey south. Due to bad weather and running low on coal, the 11th of February 1944 Lt. James Marr made the decision that the first permanent British base was to be set up on Goudier Island Port Lockroy! The biggest building, Bransfield house, named after the British explorer Edward Bransfield, became the main building of Base 'A' containing the rooms where the men lived and worked until the base closed in 1962. It is fascinating to hear about and read the stories from those days, not only from Operation Tabarin times, but also afterwards when it became a FIDS research base, and again when the base was being restored in 1996, after have been left abandoned for more than 30 years! And it is even more special being here; living and working on this historical site, trying to imagine how life was for the men on base, sensing the atmosphere when walking through the museum, and doing maintenance on the buildings, preserving them and keeping the history alive, because behind every artefact is a story to be told! Stories we gladly share with our visitors and with you. Wishing you a lovely week with greetings from Port Lockroy!



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