Australia Day was celebrated with a lamb on the spit and movie clips on the big screen in the trades workshop. In other news Scottish’s birthday, preparation for resupply, Minke whales and penguin streakers.

News from the station

During the last week we celebrated Australia Day and Chris’s birthday. Most of our work activity has been directed towards preparing for our upcoming station resupply which involves refuelling the station, cargo operations and handing over the station to the 2013 Team.

A three-day blizzard last week significantly reduced the amount of sea ice in East Bay, Kista Strait and West Bay and opened up the entrance to Horseshoe Harbour. The sea ice to the north and south of Bechervaise Island, where Julie and Helen are working, also disappeared during the storm. In the days following the blizzard more and more ice has disappeared but the ice in Horseshoe Harbour still remains. Gale force winds and high tides on Wednesday will hopefully have some impact on the extent of ice in the harbour (check out the Mawson webcam).

Australia Day was a holiday although many people were working in varying capacities. The weather was inclement so we were unable to play cricket and with the harbour still full of ice there was no swimming. Wayne and various helpers fired up the spit lamb in the trades workshop and with a delightful variety of salads and accompaniments prepared by Ray we enjoyed a traditional Australian meal with a few drinks. Hendo projected the movie “Blue Ice” followed by short clips of Top Gear’s car chases and a short clip of a stunt bike champion on the big screen.

Sunday was a glorious day and many on station took the opportunity to walk along West Arm. Water was surging back and forth with the tide and it was wonderful to watch the penguins swimming underwater, then porpoising and jumping onto land to check us out. There were also many Weddell seals out, particularly in East Bay. After dinner we celebrated Chris’s birthday by enjoying a slice of birthday cake whipped up by Ray on Sunday morning. Monday was an even better day than Sunday. The light was perfect in the evening and we spotted a couple of Minke whales in West Bay.

Theo presented the ultimate Tuesday talk for our year at Mawson with an interesting presentation on Schlieran photography and Graham is prepared to present a video of the recent SIPEX II voyage on which he was the weather forecaster, if we can fit it into our heavy social calendar. 

Beche report 4

Ever have those moments where you go skinny dipping and wonder if your clothes will be there when you come back? This occasionally happens to the penguins. Adelie penguins rarely take their clothes off, it is formal attire all the way. To take your tuxedo off is not only improper, but also dangerous as the black of the tux hides you from predators. But for some daring individuals, they seem to enjoy a moment of clothes-free freedom, as was the case with one penguin at Beche this week.

Some people out there believe that there are leucistic (reduced pigmentation in animals caused by a recessive gene) penguins, but really they are nudist penguins that sometimes get busted! We feel sorry for them as they always seem to be wandering the colony alone, but really they have just left the suit at the drycleaners or had their tuxedo stolen by that cheeky penguin who wants their stones. 

Apart from nudists in the colony, it has been a relatively quiet week on the island. The chicks are growing larger by the day, with some starting to show their adult plumage, causing the air to be thick with down as the wind whips past. Juveniles are coming into the colony to moult, hauling their well fed, oversized bodies up to a quiet part of the colony where they will stay for several weeks while they lose their old feathers and gain shiny new ones. For these white chinned birds, this will be the first time they show the black plumage under their chin that the breeders have.

The sea ice blew out at the end of last week in the storm. It was incredible to watch, having ice right up to the island, then within an hour, the ice was over a 1km away. Now when you go down near the colony, the water resembles a thick penguin soup. We also saw three orcas this week 1-2km from the island. A penguin and orca soup would certainly prove interesting!

With potentially less than a week left on the island, it is a busy place. Yes, there is lots of field work to be done, but the Beche kitchen will also be a hive of activity preparing for the End of Island dinner this Saturday night. Let’s hope the penguins don’t forget their formal attire for this special occasion!

Julie McInnes