Field trips a-plenty for recreation, a flight brings an overnight visitor via the Rumdoodle skiway, and the weekly Beche penguin and skua update.

Mount Henderson on a sunny Sunday

Mawson Research Station is located on the edge of Horseshoe Harbour and looking to the South East, some 25 kilometres away, is Mount Henderson. The Henderson Massif main peak is 934 metres and offers a somewhat steep climb to the top with a reward of a spectacular view.

Mount Henderson offers glamorous views but the mountain is like a magnet for wind and when the weather is good and the wind is low it is a picture postcard view that no lens can truly capture.

On this sunny Sunday the team of Tim, Lloyd, Ken and Nick all headed for the mountain to capture some of the view that this peak has to offer.

Ken Owen

Vertical limits

The weekend started off a bit shaky with our Hägglunds rupturing a coolant hose within 2km of our accommodation, but with swift action from the diesos we were back on our way to our climbing destination, Fang Peak. What a great day it was for some mountain climbing. With perfect blue skies and five knot winds, we couldn’t ask for much more.

With our following morning being just as good the decision was made to climb Mt. Parsons.

Clint Forster

Test flight to prove the Rumdoodle Skiway

The Rumdoodle Skiway has been activated for flying in the 2012 summer. Summer expeditioners from Davis are flying to Mawson so they can return to Australia on V4 at the end of February. The trip from Davis is in a chartered BT-67 aircraft (a modified DC3). However, before passenger flights can begin the skiway has to be tested by a ‘proving flight’. This was undertaken on Tuesday 31st of January — Davis to Mawson and return.

The BT67 aircraft chartered for the delivery of passengers to Mawson is a DC3 that has been seriously modified for polar use. Basler has modified the aircraft for a Canadian charter company that the AAD has used over recent years for intra-continental flights between Australian Antarctic bases and field outposts.

At the beginning of the season the Canadian charter company fly their aircraft through the US and South America and then across the Antarctic Peninsular to begin charter work for Australia and other nations.

What is required to activate the skiway? The Rumdoodle Skiway is on the glacier that crawls past the Masson ranges near Rumdoodle. The glacier has been used since the early fifties as a landing ground, but from year to year the surface of the glacier is subject to wind scouring, melt, snow accumulation and ablation. So before it can be used in the summer months its surface is checked. If satisfactory the skiway is deemed suitable for aircraft.

Prior to any flights the skiway is prepared. That means the runway needs to be marked out, a windsock installed, a parking area defined and a ground crew ready at the airfield. Then an aircraft will do a test flight with a landing. If all is well the skiway is open for flights. The skiway is in Antarctica however, so airfield set up takes place just prior to each flight otherwise everything would blow away in the next blizzard.

So on the morning of the 31st January five of us with two Haggs and emergency response equipment went to Rumdoodle to set up the skiway for the proving flight. One crew (Tim, Lisa, Cotty and Lloyd) laid out coloured bags, evenly spaced along both sides of the surveyed runway length of 1500m and set up a windsock. The other team (Wilko and Dave) spread a small drift of accumulated snow from the skiway and did regular weather observations so that the incoming aircraft knew the weather conditions on the ground.

The DC3 landed on schedule, unloaded an aviation ground support person (Matt), some light cargo and back-loaded some packages, and in fifteen minutes was on its way back to Davis.

We await the next weather window that will allow the passengers to make their journey from Davis to Mawson.

David Morrison

Penguin Ponderings and Scandalous Skuas — 1st Feb

Penguin Ponderings

The chicks are all muddling along on Beche. Still around 530 chicks around and most have formed crèches within the sub-colonies. The parents are out for 4–5 day foraging trips at the moment and when they return home the chicks are overly excited to reach the food dispenser. When there are two chicks, it is almost impossible for the adult to reach either with them both jostling for food, which results in a feeding chase. These chases can go on for a long time and over great distances. One study found birds running as far as 300m from their nest. These chases serve several purposes, firstly to reduce sibling competition as one chick tends to out run the other initially, and then the chick that is fed is likely to switch after other chases. Also, given how close other chicks and adults are in the colony, these chases also give more space to be able to feed chicks without harassment from other chicks and neighbouring adults. These chases are more common for two chick broods, but are also seen with single chicks, suggesting it may also be a way for chicks to indicate their hunger to the adult. The chases are very comical, with chicks regularly seen tripping over, face planting and careering into others.

The three remaining chicks monitored here are all doing well and are all left alone now while parents forage. Chicks begin crèching on average around 22 days old, however this can vary depending on the season. The three chicks here are now 5–6 weeks old (A the youngest, D the eldest). These chicks will continue to gain weight until about 6 weeks old (from 95g to 4000g), after which they lose about 15% of their mass before fledging. Around the colony, the older chicks are starting to lose their down now, with small patches of adult plumage beginning to show through.

Scandalous Skuas

The two skua chicks are now almost the height of the adults, with their feathers still growing through the down. The chicks leave the nest within a few days of hatching and find a good place to tuck up out of the wind. The amount of poo around tends to be a clear sign of the favourite locations. The exact age of these chicks is unknown, but they are approximately 4–5 weeks of age. They typically fledge around 6 weeks old.

The sea ice has completely gone around the island now, yet small bergy bits are seen drifting past with penguins hitching a ride. On a sunny day, the view off the island is breathtaking. This week with the ocean around, we have also seen plants! First time in months! Next week, we will give you an update on snow petrels… but will stop now before my pondering has to be reduced.

Julie McInnes