Aviation fun, an amazing birthday cake, aquatic finds and the Adélie update – another busy week at Mawson.

Hangar Rats

The annual Mawson ‘hangar rats’ event was held in the Diesos’ workshop on Friday afternoon. This is one of the premier events on the Mawson calendar each year and, this year, was also considered a good enough reason for ‘Friday Drinks’ followed by a BBQ dinner. BBQs are something the Diesos seem to be good at, though there doesn’t appear to be a corresponding correlation with overheated engines so this is possibly just a fortuitous coincidence.

For those wondering, a ‘hangar rat’ is a balsa wood (or more likely foam plastic now-a-days) model aeroplane with a propeller driven by a rubber band. The ‘pilot’ winds the rubber band up until he/she thinks there is enough energy stored to get the longest flight, gets bored, snaps the rubber band or breaks the aircraft in two. Of course, putting lots of energy into light weight model that is about to be flown inside a large building full of steel girders carries some risk that it will last only the one flight, though the onlookers will certainly enjoy the outcome.

The rules are that the aircraft must be built from a pre-supplied kit on the basis that all will be identical, though there is some scope for adding decorations such as a distinctive colour scheme. In reality, these rules are taken more as guidelines and about the only one followed to any extent is that most began life from the same type of kit, mainly because that is the only way to get started. One entry was deemed ineligible as it was of rotary wing rather than fixed wing design; possibly the fact that it was also powered by an electric motor and radio controlled didn’t help it’s chances of being permitted to compete.

While most entries stuck with the basic form of the kit there were a couple of versions of ‘rats’ from previous years that had survived and were found around station, and a model of the WW-I tri-plane flown by the Red Baron.

Several events were held: longest flight, best turned out, elimination heats of two aircraft competing for the longest flight, and most spectacular crash, landing, or other feat that was considered worthy of notice. Plenty of fun for all involved, and a great BBQ dinner afterwards made the 2011/12 ‘Hangar Rats’ event another success on the annual social calendar.

Ian Phillips

How to make a croquembouche

Until this week, I had never heard of a croquembouche. As the result of being Slushy on the weekend, I now not only know how to make one but I also know how to spell the word. It is French for “crunch in the mouth”. How’s that for an education!

Scotty, our clever and illustrious Chef, made a croquembouche as a birthday cake for Mark (Skiddy) and Ken’s combined birthday party last weekend. Here’s the gen…

Lloyd Fletcher

Attack of the sea spiders

With the sea ice quickly starting to recede, I went for a wander last week around the station limits to have a look. In the shallow water near the workshop I found a lot of different things including a fully intact sea spider. Our doctor Lloyd had previously found a sea spider in 1980, but it was missing a leg. Nonetheless it is still kept on display in the dog room. Lloyd took one look at my lucky find and was immediately trying to come up with ways to sabotage it, such as amputation or radiation. The spider was dead when I found it but was still pliable enough to dry it out in a proper spider stance.

Sea spiders can be found worldwide but they are especially in Antarctic and Arctic oceans and Caribbean and Mediterranean Seas. There are around thirteen hundred species of sea spiders and they vary in size from 1mm to 90cm. The large sea spiders are found in Antarctic waters. They live on eating sea sponges and other unpronounceable things. They insert their proboscis into their food and suck out the innards… Yum!

Rodney McCulloch

On a similar note, a day out at the beach along the shore of melting sea-ice for Doctor Lloyd has turned up starfish, sea urchins and other marine exotica.

Penguin ponderings and scandalous skuas — 27th Jan

Penguin ponderings

This week has all been sunshine, lollipops and rainbows out here at Béche… well sunshine anyway. Some days have been so warm, that some chicks are seen panting in their heavy down jackets. The sunshine also seems to be making them grow faster, as some are getting huge! I’m a scientist, I know how it works, a bit of sunshine and water them each day, we’ll have big chicks in no time. Our three musketeers are still going well. Nest A is still being brood guarded by one parent, however the other two are left alone most days while their parents forage. Both of these two chicks have found playmates and are seen huddled with them when the weather gets cold.

Each year, penguins need to replace their old feathers with shiny new ones, coming ashore for just under 3 weeks to moult. At the moment we have quite a few sub-adults around the colony, looking like oversized pin cushions. These younger birds are easily identified by their white chins.

Each year since 1990, a subset of Adélie chicks at Béchervaise Island are tagged before they fledge. Then during the breeding season, adults in the colony are scanned for tags, allowing us to investigate population demographics and survival. The oldest known bird in the colony this year is a 20 year old female, who was tagged as a chick in 1991. She bred this year in the same sub-colony where our three chicks monitored here live, so she could even be one of their mothers. There are quite a few 18 and 19 year olds too. As tagging here only started 21 years ago, it is possible there are older birds in the colony that we just don’t know about. Hopefully over the next few years, these older birds will continue to breed and provide us with important information on Adélie penguin longevity and survival.

Scandalous skuas

Both chicks are still doing well and as much as I love them, they are beginning to go through their ugly stage. Their feathers are just starting to show under their down, so they look quite shabby, and their legs are still the most developed part, making them look like they are on stilts. Even with all the noise of the penguins, the shrill squealing of the skua chicks can be heard as they wander around trying to get the attention of their parents. The greatest threat to skua chicks here, is posed by other skuas. In the past fortnight, there has been an influx of non-breeding skuas to the island, all seeking a tasty penguin morsel.

Susan and I have been on Béche now for five weeks and every day there is something new that blows you away (sometimes literally). This week, the sunsets over the plateau and then sunrises soon after that stole the show. Another hard week at the office…

Julie McInnes