Thursday, 2 January 2014

Happy New Year

Firstly, happy new year! Hope you are all enjoying a fantastic start to 2014. Thank you for all the Christmas wishes - it means a lot to all of us here.

The Graham-Brown family is still here at Port Lockroy and we welcomed in the new year partying together on a super yacht in the bay. Filming is continuing to go well - more details can be found below.

Every year, the Natural History Unit runs a birding competition to see who can spot the highest number of species of bird between Christmas and new year. There are a selection of categories, including one for those who are away (usually filming) during the festive period. Rather than write a separate blog for this week, I thought it would be appropriate if I share with you my report and entry:

Ruth Peacey NHU Birding Christmas Cup 2013

Blue-eyed Shag
Antarctic Tern
Kelp Gull
Snowy Sheathbill
Wilson's Storm Petrel

The day started unlike any other Christmas I have experienced before. With a snowy glacial backdrop, constant daylight and a colony of penguins as neighbours, I feel like I'm living in a Christmas card. The Birding Christmas Cup on my mind, I hurried outside at midnight to see what I could spot (hopeful that 24 hours of light would give me an advantage here)... As there are only 6 species of regular birds around Port Lockroy (all of which can be seen within seconds of looking around from pretty much any one point on the island), I was keen to look (and listen) out for any wayward adelies or chinstraps - or indeed any other vagrants that might find themselves here. Natural World's Penguin Post Office team have spent the last 2 months surrounded by about a thousand gentoos so anything out of the ordinary is readily noticed!

After Christmas lunch with both the Port Lockroy girls and on Pelagic, a trip with Andrew's family in the zodiac towards Jougla Point provided awesome views of a crabeater seal, hauled out on the fast ice that still fills part of the back bay at Port Lockroy. A Christmas night cruise out into the Bismarck Strait on National Geographic Explorer didn't add any new birds to my list, although it made for an unforgettable Christmas with beautiful blue skies and sunshine reflecting incredibly on the open ocean and floating icebergs. I stayed up with the Port Lockroy girls to watch the sun just dip below the horizon (it doesn't get dark), although we fell asleep just before it rose again - not that much later. The views were breathtaking and we were accompanied across some of the waves by wayward skuas.

Of course, the most exciting thing to occur during the week between Christmas and New Year was the arrival of our first chicks. Oh my goodness, they are ADORABLE. I can barely tear myself away from them. They are tiny and fluffy, and look completely vulnerable in this giant wild landscape. The parents are being dutiful, protecting them well in their brood pouches and feeding when required. Unfortunately, the skuas think they are the perfect snack and hover around the nests awaiting an opportunity of predation. (I appreciate the skua has a family to feed too and they are rather majestic birds, reminding me of the buzzards I'm missing back home.) Daily dramas continued to unfold here at Port Lockroy in the past week - sheathbills swooping in to feeding gentoos, forcing regurgitation of food which they immediately snatch for themselves; stone stealing from a penguin led protectively on a nest of two eggs; a leopard seal patrolling the water looking for an easy meal.

As the week progressed, the desperation to get more species on my list grew. Fortunately, luck seemed to be on my side as a single adelie penguin honked in the water, giving away its position before leaping out onto a rock to give me a view. A lonely chinstrap also made its way to Port Lockroy this week, hanging around on the edge of the colony and even walking right up to a gentoo nest! Wilson's storm petrels have also been flying around the bay, skimming the water and taking to the skies, wings spread like a swift.

Ok, so overall the number of species may not be that high since we are somewhat limited in where we can travel right now. However, this week, whilst birding - sorry I mean working - I have been pooped on by a penguin, shat on by a sheathbill and turned upon by a tern.

I would say I'm sorry not to be in the running for the cup this year but when I look out of the porthole of the yacht and see penguins porpoising alongside me, there is no where on earth I would rather be right now. Sending lots of smelly hugs and love back to the NHU, along with very best wishes for a superb 2014. Look forward to seeing you all in a few months hopefully with the ingredients for a top film!


  1. What an amazing experience. One out of the box. Love following the tales of life at Port Lockroy and surrounds...this time last year...(3.1.13) we were visiting Port Lockroy, Jougla Bay on board the Polar Pioneer. SO it really is lovely to read of your tales and reminisce about our adventure.

  2. We were aboard the Explorer and thoroughly enjoyed our morning at Port Lockroy, followed by the obligatory "polar plunge". Very much looking forward to seeing Penguin Post Office when it airs in the US. What a great experience for you all to share with the world.

  3. Ruth.. how did I not know about this blog before??!! Thanks for the postcard (my first with an Antarctic post stamp!!) I've shared it with the rest of the One Show team. Sounds like you're having fun down there... If you're back before the end of March then there's a chance you'll be back to see your Wartbiter film go out on BBC One :-) Keep ejoying those penguins.