Sunday, November 18, 2007

Penguins, spindrift and tractors

We got lucky on Saturday. The weather was meant to crap out, but we decided to chance a run to the coast to see the neighbours. This time transport was a sledge towed by the big fast Challenger tractor. Pulling on thick down jackets, we sat on kit boxes with a ghetto blaster booming as Lance pointed the Challenger west and powered up.

Getting covered in spindrift on the sledge

Within seconds snow was flying everywhere forcing me to hide under the massive hood for the rest of the short trip.

Flying snow gets everywhere!

On arrival the light was very flat, but Toddy (our new field guide for the summer season) declare contrast was sufficient to head onto the ice.

Crap light. Great wildlife

The first thing that hit me at the bottom of the rope was the smell. On previous visits the cold had kept this down, but the recent warm temperatures had melted the penguin muck. It reeked! The poor contrast played hell with the camera, so I put it away for a while, sat on my bag and just watched, realising how lucky I am to see such amazing sights.

Penguins as far as you can see

The second thing we noticed was the spread of birds. As the colony no-longer needed to huddle for warmth, they had spread round the headland as far as the eye could see. Within an hour the clouds lifted and the light changed, giving the cliffs a fantastic glow.

Although there were a number of casualties, the surviving chicks had grown loads, now standing at about 3/4 of their parents' height.


They were also adapting more adult behaviour, flapping their wings and trying to slide on their bellies. This made to laugh, as no matter now hard they paddled with their legs, their fluffy coats were too sticky to allow much movement, causing the bored chick to give up, exhausted!

There was much less activity compared with last time. Creches had opened up as the chicks became strong enough to survive by themselves and no-longer needed to huddle for warmth. They were still inquisitive enough to come and see us though.

Penguin with Jules for scale

The sun finally came out and the hours flew by in the summer warmth. All too soon it was time for home.

Ant and Toddy on the way home

Even the journey home was an event! Vehicle driving is now very much encouraged, so Lance gave five keen faces a chance to indulge in their school-boy heavy plant daydreams.

Ant playing with the Big Toy

The last tractor I drove didn't have a roof, so the £150k Challenger was quite different! It's got more of a bridge than a dashboard, with computer readouts for everything from engine stats to track tensions. Driving it was surprisingly simple. Revs up on the hand throttle. Select third to move off, then push the gear selector forwards to engage drive. Clutching is automatic, gear selection on push-buttons and steering on a standard wheel. Hanging on tight as we bounced over the sastrugi, Lance kept saying "next gear" so I rattled up the box to a mighty 14mph! The speed of these machines on rough ground is incredible and will be crucial for moving the masses of supplies for the Halley VI build. It's also great fun!

The day rounded off with a fantastic curry, a few drinks in the Weather Haven bar and then an acoustic set from Mark in the bar. What a top weekend!

For more penguin photos, click here.


Anonymous Becs said...

Still waiting for that photo of you in your DJ, a Pengiun and a menu!!
First snow of the year here biking at Llandegla yesterday.

12:37 pm GMT  

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