Christmas at Davis station sees Santa arriving by Hägglunds.

Christmas at Davis

When people are so far away from family and friends, Christmas can be a depressing time of year but everyone on station, the cooks in particular, were sure to make the pain of being away from loved ones just that little bit easier.

Any hopes of a “White Christmas” were dashed when most people awoke to blue skies and a temperature the wrong side of 0oC. Brunch was served between 10:00 and 12:00 where the effort that the cooks and “slushies” had been putting in only now started to come to light as we were treated to a feast of hot and cold meals with a sweets trolley that would leave Santa drooling.

Due to the Antarctic Treaty banning non-native animals in Antarctica, Santa had to leave his reindeer north of 60o south and instead arrived by red Hägglunds at 2:30pm and was only more than happy to pose with the station population for our summer crew photograph. From there it was upstairs in the living quarters (LQ) where he distributed presents and listened to the Christmas wishes of the expeditioners.

The lack of children didn’t seem to dampen the excitement however as everyone was eager to open their presents to see what Santa had brought them. The rest of the afternoon was spent comparing, swapping or trying out presents.

At 5pm, we all proceeded downstairs for Christmas dinner and realised the smorgasbord put on for brunch was only an appetiser for the choice and amount of food that lay before us at dinner. Food spilled out of the bain-marie onto another two tables while dessert took up the length of the breakfast bench. Tables were set with white linen and, in the spirit of a Christmas of International peace, the flags of the Antarctic Treaty Nations hung around the room.

After grace was said (from the ‘Book of Dickens') and a toast made to family and friends, we proceeded to enjoy the efforts of the chef’s labours until all were nearly fit to burst.

The rest of the evening was spent like most Christmas’, grumbling that we shouldn’t have eaten so much and simply enjoying the company of friends.

On behalf of all those at Davis, I would like to wish all our families and friends a belated Merry Christmas and assure you that our thoughts were never far from you during the day. Also, I would like to offer up a big thank you to the chefs and slushies who did a remarkable job, not only on Christmas Day but the week leading up to it, and to all those that assisted in some way to make sure that those who were in the kitchen were able to get out as early as possible so they too could enjoy the day.

Christmas at Hop Island

While most expeditioners were enjoying Christmas on station, two intrepid scientists were out in the field. Two biologists, Nobuo Kokubun and Barbara Wienecke, are continuing their study on Adelie penguins in a program they began last year. It was nice for them to return to the island and find the hut in fine (and clean) condition! Equipped with gas stove and heater, three bunks and plenty of storage space, the hut commonly referred to as a “Googie” is quite comfortable for two people. Drinking water has to be brought in from the station but they can melt whatever snow they can find so they can have an occasional hair wash. With 24 hours daylight, the scientists don’t need to worry about light in the hut but they do need to run their computers to set up their equipment so a little generator was taken along and thankfully set up far enough away from the nearest colony in order to not worry the birds with the noise.

The Adelie penguins are in full swing of their breeding season. On 8 December, Nobuo and Barb heard and saw the first chicks. Since then eggs have been hatching everywhere and the chick chirps are ever increasing. The parent birds are working hard to supply the youngsters with food. This year they have no sea ice to cross at all so Nobuo & Barb are wondering whether this may affect their foraging trip duration. To find that out, a few select penguin volunteers receive electronic tags that tell us where they go and also what they do when they are at sea. Last year, the penguins went as far as the break of the continental shelf and travelled for about two weeks before they returned to their nest.

By 23 December most eggs have hatched. Some chicks are already so large that they barely fit under Mum or Dad’s belly any more. The foraging trips of the parent penguins appear to be getting shorter but some still take their time and don’t return to the colony in a hurry.

The south polar skuas start their breeding cycle later than the Adelie penguins. Some of the pairs in our neighbourhood are now sitting on eggs while other pairs have not yet filled their nest cups. Skuas are fiercely territorial and penguin colonies are part of their territory. That is, after all, where during summer most of their food comes from! Skuas are incredibly agile and fast flyers so often the penguins are surprised by the speedy attacks. However, as the season progresses the penguins become increasingly wary of their foe and defend their offspring with utter determination! That leaves the skuas sometimes rather hungry.

The southern fulmars have also started to incubate. Their colonies are on steep cliffs and the noise here nearly exceeds that of the penguins. Graceful flyers, their ability to land on tiny rock ledges is sometimes beyond belief.

Being out at Hop Island is such a privilege and seeing the season’s activities unfold in the various colonies is ever so fascinating. These birds are so amazing! Here we are in all our Antarctic clobber still feeling the chill and all of our feathered friends just get on with life. It doesn’t matter whether the sun shines, it snows or the wind blows! They simply get on with business. For the scientists Nobuo and Barb it will be a sad day when they have to leave Hop Island but we suspect that the birds in general and the penguins in particular won’t mind at all to see them leave their paradise!