The summer season is upon us

"Game of Stones" and other entertainments

As Casey station moves into the month of November, the inevitable transition from winter to summer is upon us. In recent weeks we’ve had wildlife returning as our sea ice retreats, an increasing abundance of sunlight exceeding 18 hours a day, a Defence C17 Stallion airdrop, a United States Antarctic Program (USAP) Basler aircraft visit to change out some of our wintering crew, and expeditioner restlessness around the continually evolving start to our Australian Antarctic summer program.

The most anticipated event has of course been the return of our Adélie penguins alongside Weddell and Leopard seals. The Weddells are presently pupping on the sea ice, the Adélies are arriving in droves – while the Leopards plan their menu options (similar to the skuas who are renowned for taking advantage of young prey). The cycle of life starts early into our summer, and while it is sad that some life expires as soon as it arrives, this is the harsh reality of Antarctica and mother nature. The clowns of the penguin world do provide some comical relief however. Not only do they have the most colourful of personalities, but their current shenanigans are providing light-hearted entertainment as they establish their rookeries and play “Game of Stones” before mating and hatching begins.

At the start of summer, the penguins head for shore to begin nesting, usually in pre-determined locations known as rookeries. The Adélies make their nests from pebbles and rocks, but there’s a finite supply of these and fierce competition to collect (and steal!) stones is the number one game in town. An absolutely hilarious thing to watch as one penguin secures a nest, adopts a 360-degree lookout to ward off incoming burglars (usually approaching from behind) – whilst a partner in crime runs off to steal rocks elsewhere. Fisticuffs, shoving and plentiful honking and braying ensues, with the increased physical activity often resulting in birds being covered head to toe in their own filth. There’s no sewage plan in a rookery, space is tight, the inhabitants are distracted and therefore indifferent!

It’s been a real morale booster for Casey’s team to experience the return of these native inhabitants. With increasing hours of sunlight that continue well into midnight, our expeditioners are taking daily opportunities to observe ‘nature hotspots’ such as Shirley Island and the Swain Group of islands. It won’t be long before the newly-born Weddell pups grow into their eyes – so everyone is keen to experience the ‘cute factor’ while it lasts.

With the above positives comes the reality that our time down south is slowly drawing to a close. We’ve recently farewelled three of our winterers and welcomed their replacements, who are now working hard to prepare Wilkins Aerodrome for its first flight. With some uncertainty around when the summer season will start in earnest, we continue to find distractions (in addition to wildlife tours) to keep people both motivated and happy. The start of November delivered the Melbourne Cup which was a great afternoon for punters, trackside tragics and the uninitiated to enjoy. We will also commemorate our End of Winter tour with a Bumper-BBQ event in the coming days – while we continue looking forward to what the summer season will bring.

-Dave Buller, Station Leader