From South Georgia to the Peninsula

Hi Everyone,

Happy Christmas – I probably won’t get to update this again until just into the New Year, so let me send best wishes now. I’m in Ushuaia, mostly sleeping and recharging batteries (some literal, some metaphorical) before joining the Sea Spirit to go to the South Sandwich Islands with Quark Expeditions.

As you’ll have seen from Caitlin’s post, we had an amazing time on the Hans Hanson, an eighty-foot ex Nowegian Lifeboat run by Dion and Juliette on a trip along with Tom from Cheeseman’s Ecological Safaris.

Kings on ice at St Andrews Bay

Kings on ice at St Andrews Bay

We were traveling with ten adventurous tourists on a month long expedition from the Falklands to South Georgia and back to access sites we otherwise wouldn’t. The trip was absolutely amazing; breathtaking scenery on South Georgia at that time of year and the arrival of macaroni penguins was something I’ve not seen yet. I can’t thank everyone enough; we achieved so much and it’s going to be a very busy year trying to process all of the data from that trip!

On that note, I’m delighted to see the progress of http://www.penguinwatch.org – it’s storming along!

On return to Stanley, we were picked up by the Ocean Diamond on route back to South Georgia and on to the Antarctic Peninsula. A total of nearly four weeks on South Georgia this year means we were able to achieve an extraordinary amount. Moving from the Hans Hanson to the Ocean Diamond meant that we said goodbye to some friends and were reunited with Woody and the team. We made our first stop this season at Port Lockroy, and it was great to see the girls from Penguin Post office again!

As always, the Ocean Diamond was high energy and it was a struggle to keep up, but we did (just) and have just completed our second trip and downloaded over 200,000 new images from the cameras at about 9 sites. I’m now trying to back all these up in the down time.

Wonderful lenticula cloud over St Andrews

Wonderful lenticula cloud over St Andrews

So, all is going fantastically well down here! Don’t forget to email us if you’re waiting or would like a post card from Antarctica! We can’t guarantee when it will get to you, but it will reach you!

Next up – South Sandwich! Mike Polito has replaced me on the Sea Spirit, while Gemma Clucas from Southampton University joins me tomorrow to try and go swimming onto the South Sandwich Islands again. We’re looking forward to join Cheli and the team in a couple of days. The South Sandwich Islands are some of the bleakest islands on earth – where better to go and look for penguins?

http://blog.quarkexpeditions.com/the-south-sandwich-islands

So, I hope you’re all well, whether you’re cold up there in the north or basking in snowy sunshine in the beautiful south and all the best for the holiday season,

Tom

N shore Zavodovski

Posted in 2014/14 field season | Leave a comment

Life in the Field- Two Months in the Falkland Islands, South Georgia, and Antarctica

Penguin Lifeline's own Tom Hart and Caitlin Black explore an ice cave at Fortuna Bay after a long day of surveying king penguins.

Penguin Lifeline’s own Tom Hart and Caitlin Black explore an ice cave at Fortuna Bay after a long day of surveying king penguins. Photo by Roland Gockel

After two months in the field on two different vessels, we can finally update you on some of the progress we have made on our camera project and survey efforts in the Falkland Islands, South Georgia, and the Antarctic Peninsula.

The trip began in Stanley, Falkland Islands where we accomplished endless hardware shopping, picking up shipments of cameras and batteries from all over the world, and meeting with collaborators working on projects in the Falklands and South Georgia. We also managed to set up two cameras overlooking King and Gentoo penguins while on the islands.

The beautiful Hans Hansson anchored at Stromness in South Georgia.

The beautiful Hans Hansson anchored at Stromness in South Georgia. Photo by Caitlin Black

After a very busy week, we disembarked on the Hans Hansson- a beautiful 23 m. yacht- with Dion Poncet and Juliette Hennequin as our wonderful hosts.

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Relaxing on the aft deck of the Hans Hansson.

After a long 4 days at sea, we landed at Elsehul on South Georgia and began collecting data.

Throughout the trip we worked to set up new time-lapse cameras, count birds by taking oblique photos, and 3D map sites to better understand how penguins succeed or fail when building nests under different topographical conditions.

We were fortunate that the beauty of South Georgia made even our count photos extraordinary momentums.

King penguins count survey photo from Right Whale Bay

King penguins count survey photo from Right Whale Bay

While in South Georgia, we were able to install 15 new cameras, overlooking colonies of gentoo, king, and macaroni penguins as well as both fur and elephant seals. We hope to better understand the annual cycle of each of these species from the cameras and how changes to the timing of the breeding phase is influenced by environmental variables.

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Macaroni penguins nesting at Cooper Bay, South Georgia. Photo by Caitlin Black

A female elephant seal relaxes with her pup on the beach in St. Andrews Bay, South Georgia.

A female elephant seal relaxes with her pup on the beach in St. Andrews Bay, South Georgia. Photo by Caitlin Black

Using a very long pole and a GoPro camera, we mapped penguin colonies, which will later be used to generate a 3D model of each colony or sub-colony studied using the time-lapse cameras.

Tom Hart uses a GoPro and long pole to map a chinstrap penguin colony at Orne Harbour on the Antarctic Peninsula.

Tom Hart uses a GoPro and long pole to map a chinstrap penguin colony at Orne Harbour on the Antarctic Peninsula.

An example of an image resulting from pole mapping a gentoo penguin colony at Ocean Harbour, South Georgia. Note our time-lapse camera also present in the mapping photos.

An example of an image resulting from pole mapping a gentoo penguin colony at Ocean Harbour, South Georgia. Note our time-lapse camera also present in the mapping photos.

The trip ended with Orca sightings and a visit to Shag Rocks to count the thousands of blue-eyed shags that nest on these remote islands.

Thousands of blue-eyed shags nest on shag rocks, a series of islands off the coast of South Georgia.

Thousands of blue-eyed shags nest on shag rocks, a series of islands off the coast of South Georgia. Photo by Caitlin Black

Once back in Stanley, we hopped aboard Quark’s Ocean Diamond and headed back to South Georgia, still anticipating more time on the island. Once there, we were able to maintain the cameras that were installed a couple weeks prior and pick up data in the form of tens of thousands of images.

Gentoos nesting at Cooper Bay, South Georgia are photographed every hours by a time-lapse camera installed this field season.

Gentoos nesting at Cooper Bay, South Georgia are photographed every hours by a time-lapse camera installed this field season.

After a few days at Fortuna Bay, Stromness, Grytvikken, Gold Harbour, and Cooper Bay on South Georgia, we were back at sea, this time headed to the Antarctic Peninsula. First, we landed on the South Shetland Islands to visit two chinstrap penguin cameras we have installed on Half Moon Island.

Time-lapse camera overlooking a chinstrap penguin colony, maintained on Half Moon Island, South Shetland Islands.

Time-lapse camera overlooking a chinstrap penguin colony, maintained on Half Moon Island, South Shetland Islands.

We eventually made it to Antarctica and were able to set up three new cameras overlooking gentoos and chinstraps on Petermann Island and Booth Island.

Gentoo penguins nesting on Booth Island, one of the most stunning sites on the peninsula.

Gentoo penguins nesting on Booth Island, one of the most stunning sites on the peninsula. Photo by Caitlin Black

Just as exciting as the camera installation was the chance to collect data from cameras that had been running for an entire year and realize the camera was still intact and collecting data.

Image of Adélie and gentoo penguins nesting on Petermann Island, Antarctic Peninsula from one of our time-lapse cameras installed on the Island.

Image of Adélie and gentoo penguins nesting on Petermann Island, Antarctic Peninsula from one of our time-lapse cameras installed on the Island.

Alas, we headed to Ushuaia to end the trip and begin the next. There are always more cameras to maintain, birds to counts, and samples to take as our team continues the field season for two more months with additional trips to South Georgia, the South Sandwich Islands, and Antarctica ahead.

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