Mawson station is privy to one of the most incredible wildlife colonies on earth, the emperor penguins at Auster. With or without Mr Morgan Freeman narrating, it’s pretty spectacular.

Emperor penguins

At Mawson we are very fortunate to have an emperor penguin colony 54 kilometres northeast of us. There is a field hut on Macey Island, eight kilometres from the colony. It is a popular destination for recreation trips, especially through the winter months when there is no other wildlife around and the plateau’s weather is too extreme.

There is a strict policy of not approaching breeding penguins closer than 50 metres and this is not hard to comply with. However, the inquisitive nature of the emperors usually means groups of unattached birds soon have you surrounded. Even birds with chicks balanced on their feet are known to approach as if to show off their young. It is widely acclaimed as one of the most spectacular wildlife events in the world and we have the privilege of observing it over most of their breeding cycle.

Knowing the force and unrelenting merciless cold of the blizzards, the fact that they not only survive but breed through the long dark winter leaves you humbled in their presence. On returning from a trip to Auster you can’t wait to get back to see how the chicks are growing and be immersed in the sights and sounds of thousands of the most amazing survivors getting on with life. There aren’t enough superlatives to describe the experience.

A footnote to last month’s report on the Taylor penguin colony

The numbers are in and there are 2100 breeding pairs this year (give or take a few).​ It is good to know that they are up nine percent from last year but unfortunately, totals are still down 25 percent on the long term average.

Advantages of the Antarctic climate

Well, it’s been quiet here this week, and on quiet weeks you sometimes have to think creatively to come up with a topic for the station news.

So, with that in mind I decided to write about things that we experience down here that you don’t think about until you actually arrive. Once you've been here a while you start to take it all for granted, but those reading this at home may never have given it a thought.

I personally didn’t give any consideration to what Antarctica would smell like. The truth is quite simple. It has no smell, at least not to me. Outside the air is so cold and clean that the wind carries no odour, unlike home where you’d detect everyday smells of bush, industry, cut grass, farm animals etc. Natural smells of the bush after recent rainfall is something I am looking forward to when I return home.

Along with this lack of smell there is very little sound that occurs naturally. If you can get out of earshot of the continuous noise from the diesel generators on a calm day, the silence is just wonderful. Up on the plateau on a still night you hear the glacier ice popping and cracking, and that is all. Of course at the emperor penguin rookery you hear the bird noises, but other than that it is so quiet you can’t help but feel relaxed.

For me one of the big advantages of the cold climate is the lack of vermin and insects. We have no rats, cockroaches, flies, or spiders. Rummaging through old gear in storage you don’t have to be concerned about spiders or the like. As one of the station’s waste officers, I love the fact that the kitchen rubbish quickly freezes in its outside storage container. There are no rotting juices we have to deal with, and no cockroaches or flies and their disgusting larvae to avoid. It’s almost a pleasant job! And, there are no ants crawling through the sugar bowl like I get at home! Brilliant!

However, I should point out that we do have one or two pests that show up now and then. At any moment you may open a cupboard and find a plastic rat gnawing on a biscuit staring out at you (he was even found drowned in the milk jug one morning). There’s been a ‘snake’ spotted slithering across the floor, and recently there’s been a ‘scorpion’ turn up as well as some sort of ‘beetle’ I've never seen before. Somewhere around station we also have our pet plastic spider but today I could not locate him.

So I imagine that when we return home in six months or so it may take me some time to adjust to the smells, sounds, and creatures we have lived without for over a year. I only hope I’m alone when I come across my first live spider. I'll probably squeal like a frightened child!