The Casey skiway is almost ready, the first penguin arrives, bird cameras are serviced, and an interesting ice effect at a frozen spring.

Casey skiway nearly ready

The planes are on their way. The emergency skiway has now been completed and the Casey skiway is nearly ready to receive flights.

Cary and Steve have been working hard every day that the weather has allowed to make this happen. Next step: put out the flags, put up the windsock and bag the ice.

The first Adélie on the block

While checking one of the cameras pointed at an Adélie breeding colony on Whitney Point (located within one of the Antarctic Specially Protected Areas), we spotted the first Adélie penguin of the 2014–15 Antarctic summer.

The males return first to claim their territory and set up the ‘nest’ within a small ring of stones. This guy was looking mighty fine — well fed and glistening in the bright sun. He periodically called out, keen for company, the pile of stones next to him proof that he had not been idle since arriving. This being the 9th of October, one day before the date historically recorded as the date the Adélies return, he was already well ahead of the rest of the colony.

Another unusual sight was a large silver grey crabeater seal rocking gently on a large section of broken up fast ice in the residual swell from the winds earlier in the week.

Bird cameras serviced

In preparation for the summer season we have now visited all the accessible cameras trained on breeding colonies around the Windmill Islands.

Rob (our Supervising Communications Technical Officer) organised groups who then set off with service kits and, if going into an Antarctica Specially Protected Area, the appropriate permit, to visit each camera. They checked the condition and operation of the flexible solar panels, batteries, the protective case and the camera itself. Broken equipment was replaced and panels and lenses cleaned. The cameras are now ready for the busy job ahead of them, recording the daily life of the Adélie breeding colony without disturbing the inhabitants.

After a visit to the Odbert Island camera near Robinsons Ridge, Dan and Rob also replaced a sign blown down during a September blizzard. The sign directs vehicles and foot traffic away from the rare and fragile moss beds just starting to come out from beneath a blanket of winter snow.

Frozen spring

While out last week near Robbos hut we spotted a feature we had previously noticed at the end of last summer.

We can’t explain why it happened but it looks like discoloured brownish water has poured freely from a number of boss- or dome-like features and run down the slope towards the coast. Perhaps a sediment-laden melt pool was then drained subsurface through the plateau ice, and here resurfaced at the edge of the ice sheet.

Whatever the cause, the water has quickly frozen and progressively covered the area with brownish cloudy ice forming distinct thin layers over the usual vivid turquoise/blue plateau ice.

Near the apex of each dome the ice has fractured, forming radial cracks. The surface is slick and slippery and can only be negotiated with micro-spikes (or as Dan shows, on his stomach).