The past week hasn’t just been about getting facilities ready for incoming expeditioners but also getting organised for the summer science program to begin. One of the first science teams to arrive this season will be the penguin folk, Colin and Louise, and we have been asked to make sure that their cameras are all in working order before they arrive. A significant part of the scientific effort down here is to make sure that the research conducted is as unobtrusive as possible. Consequently cameras are used to help count penguins rather than people walking in and actually disturbing them. This method is also more efficient. But for it to work, the cameras need to be in good working order for the start of the season when the penguins turn up to commence their breeding. As most of the cameras are in Antarctic Specially Protected Areas (ASPAs) it isn’t a simple matter of just going in and having a look. Entry to ASPAs is strictly controlled and permits needed to be obtained for each person involved for each site.
However this was all sorted out and, permits in hand, Andy, Bri, Mike and Mark H set off last week down to Odbert and Ardery Islands to check the cameras in the penguin rookeries. The four of us rode quad bikes across the sea ice in O'Brien Bay to the Mitchell Peninsula and then across Sparkes Bay to Robinson’s Ridge where we spent the night at Robbo’s Hut. The next morning we set out on foot across the short ice covered channel between Robinson’s Ridge and Odbert Island where we quickly found the first camera in a rookery on the southeast of the island. The solar panel had been damaged but otherwise everything seemed reasonably sound and we quite quickly went through our cleaning and checking procedures. After about half an hour we were satisfied that camera number one was doing exactly what it should. While we were there we noticed the first Adelie penguins of the season, four of them resting on the ice just to seaward of the camera. The experience of being in the ASPA, seeing the first penguins of the summer and the view back to Robbo’s on a clear sunny day all amounted to a very spectacular way to spend a morning in Antarctica.
Once we had finished with the camera (and taken a few minutes to admire the view) we headed off on foot west across the island so we could cross the sea ice to Ardery Island, where there were four cameras to look at. Odbert Island is only about three kilometres long, but is quite steep and consists of series of summits and saddles. In blistering −5oC temperatures and carrying fully stocked survival packs we found it necessary to stop and admire the view on several occasions during our trek across the island. Once we reached the western end of Odbert Island it was clear that the ice bridge across to Ardery Island (a distance of about two kilometres) had blown out and it was not possible to reach the second island by foot. We set off back to Robbo's, had a bite to eat and some coffee and then started the journey home, encountering a heavily pregnant Weddell seal on the sea ice in Sparkes Bay on the way.
In the end we only managed to check one of the five cameras we hoped to, but spending a couple of beautiful days away from station and out in the Antarctic springtime was definitely worth the effort.