Sunday, 17 November 2013

Sun, Sea & Penguin Sex

Sun, Sea and Penguin Sex - 16th November

Well, we asked for some glorious weather and the sun delivered. We sure needed sun screen yesterday - and got a tiny bit burnt even with it on. It's hard to believe that yesterday morning we were walking across sea ice to get to Port Lockroy from the yacht, Pelagic. The sun was shining when we woke up and the skies were blue, so we trekked out to get those all-important shots before the ice melted. Even with incredibly strong sun and temperatures warm enough to be able to work in without a coat on, it took almost all day for the sea ice to melt. Pelagic bashed its way out of the ice before it had fully melted and was able to relocate to a safe mooring point back round near Jougla Point so we were able to get back to our base on the yacht via (a slightly leaky) zodiac last night. Incredibly, masses and masses of sea ice has melted overnight and I can hardly recognise places we have been over the last week or so. This is another reminder of the power of this truly remarkable continent - and how easy it would be to get disorientated without the guidance of professionals, such as Tudor and the Pelagic team.

So we started filming at about 6am yesterday, working our way from the ice to Port Lockroy, where the penguins were in full swing. We watched (and filmed) as they wooshed out of the glistening sea onto the ice and waddled up to find their mate, pooping in a most comedic manner enroute. Once back at their current spot (you can't really refer to it as a nest site as there is still so much snow, I am sure there will be some moving around as potential nest sites uncover), they greeted their partners with an elegant courtship bow and then, usually, mated immediately. The bow greeting is really the only time these plump birds really look elegant (I'm ashamed to say). They elongate their necks in an almost-swan-like fashion, making their whole bodies seem more streamlined and svelt. The subsequent mating is about as far from an this elegance as one could imagine... firstly the male often ends up pushing the female onto her belly with his (usually rather mucky) feet. If she consents, he then jumps swiftly onto her back so that he is standing on her. The mating itself lasts very little time but frequently I have witnessed the two bonding afterwards, standing together rubbing beaks, lightly pecking each other and even rubbing wings together - as if holding hands. I know one shouldn't anthropomorphise but it really looks that way so I thought it would help to describe it so! This is the best time of year to visually distinguish males from females as the females end up with slightly scruffy backs as a result of mating. We are starting to find our penguin characters at Port Lockroy now and I am very much looking forward to spending more time really getting to know them by observing their behaviours.

Yesterday's sunny weather didn't just work well for us. A cruise ship called Plancius stopped at Port Lockroy for a visit. It was fantastic to experience a visit for ourselves and see how much the visitors enjoyed their sightings of penguins and an old British base. All the visitors were lovely and friendly, so tolerant of us walking around them with our kit. A rather spectacular adolescent elephant seal even turned up to enjoy the melting ice, chilling at the edge of the water for a couple of hours, giving the visitors and us something a bit different to see. I have been reliably informed that this animal has likely been turfed out of the breeding grounds and is possibly looking for somewhere to moult.

Sadly we missed out on a visit to the Plancius with the rest of the Port Lockroy team as the light levels were so perfect yesterday, we stayed on Goudier Island to carry on filming until about 9:30pm. It was a glorious peaceful evening and we really made the most of the light conditions.

Snow Day
It is just as well that we made the most of the great conditions yesterday as, despite our predictions, we awoke to a much darker morning, complete with snow. It has been a complete white-out, but has given us a much-needed opportunity to catch up on logging. I do love watching back what's been shot and re-living some of the best moments we have witnessed. It has been quite an uneventful day but we are looking forward to having the whole Port Lockroy team over for dinner a bit later on...

In the meantime, I am sure you are curious as to what it's like living in such a small team in such intense conditions. Here are a few stories and thoughts from behind the scenes:

It's a boy thing
So far, Dave and Andrew have been having what can only be described as a cook-off. Or at least the pretenses of one, with each interrogating the other as to how they cooked a particular dish and speculating on how they themselves would improve on it. To be fair, it has meant we have enjoyed some truly wonderful dishes - Dave's banana bread and Andrew's tortilla to name a couple. However, they seem to have indadvertedly stepped up the competition and taken it beyond the kitchen. This latest contest is for the loudest snorer. Fortunately, I can sleep through pretty much anything. I hope the penguins feel the same way...

Don't get me wrong, I have been happily winding Andrew up too! Not only have I brought along a penguin hat, I have embraced the theme fully by also bringing my penguin onesie :D (Yes in answer to Anna's comment!) I think if Andrew could have, he would have sent me home when he saw it. It is great for chilaxing in on cold evenings below deck though. It has crossed our minds that it could also double as camouflage if needed...

The other frustrating thing here is the amount of time it takes to upload blogs and emails via our satellite data connection. Thankfully, we don't have to suffer the old dial-up tone that was present when internet first came about but it feels like it's there as it's equally slow. I am going to start uploading even smaller pictures to accompany these posts I'm afraid. However, we will do some photo galleries when we return to the UK, so you can see the highlights of our adventures for yourselves properly. The other thing that I have leaned to appreciate is google (and other search engine) access. We don't have access here and it has made me realise just how often I use it in my normal everyday life - from settling arguments to checking rules of games, to looking up last minute facts and even checking if I recognise a famous person when their name is mentioned (often, sadly not). Bertie and I have been keeping lists of things to google when we finish our trips!


  1. I bet I'd win any snore-off! Stay safe, don't wear your penguin onesie near any elephant seals...

  2. Could not be more jealous of your adventures Ruth...loving the blog! Stay safe :) Claire xx

  3. On behalf of Natural World I am very pleased that the onesie made it down to PL! We are now looking forward to seeing it deployed as camo at some point in the film.

  4. Good to hear your progress - if you're desperate to Google a query could you put it in your blog post? - I'm sure one of us would look it up and post the answer in a comment!