Ongoing bird list for the year 2010. This is my first official year list! Pictures to follow soon. Only new year (and life) birds are listed as the months roll on. Exceptions to this rule are special birding excursions, where all species seen are listed – these are demarcated in a bullet list. Life birds marked with **…except those for the first half of the year (through to June, when I returned to the US) because those were all life birds!
January: (NZ and Antarctica)
New Zealand gull
South polar skua
The day finally came when we were slated to leave Antarctica, but in my case hopefully not for too long…the time flew by quickly, as it always does when in places so exotic, and I was wishing that we could have stayed longer. But the summer season was over, and we were on one of the last planes out. The passenger load on our flight was indeed packed to the limit – over 260 people. A lot of them were rambunctious Kiwi “Nav Chaps” who had been hired and flown into McMurdo for the sole purpose of helping to offload the cargo ship (American Tern) that had brought in all the winter supplies (which had in turn been able to come in only because of the channel carved into the ice by the Oden). This task usually took about 10 days, but they finished it in a week’s time. During their stay, no alcohol was sold or served throughout McMurdo…I think this fact alone attests to their notorious unruliness!
I have been busy with getting myself together here in Australia, but it is important to me to do a post on my reflections of my trip to Antarctica. The trip, with all its ups and downs, was without a doubt the trip of a lifetime. Who knows how/if I will ever find my way back to the last continent on Earth…but having visited, lived and studied there (albeit shortly), I have become deeply drawn to it, and therefore it will remain in my heart for the rest of my life.
For my last day in Antarctica, I decided to hike out to Castle Rock, which is a big volcanic rock jutting out of the ice shelf. It is one of the only places outside of McMurdo that the station employees can visit, although you have to take a one-hour course in “outdoor recreation safety” (which breezes over what was covered more extensively in the Antarctic Field Camp Training course). The trail out to Castle Rock is part of the McMurdo trails system, which, unfortunately for the station workers, does not offer too much diversity, and the Castle Rock loop being the only trail out into the ice. The part that we hiked (out to the Rock and back) covered 6 miles, but doing the entire loop would have been 9 miles.
hiking out to Castle Rock
Cape Crozier was the location of the largest Adelie colony that we would visit this season, with about half a million penguins! We went to Cape Crozier with the plan that we would be going there for 3 day trips (which ended up getting scratched). We could have stayed there in the hut, but it was being closed up for the season, and it would have been easier just to fly in every day. The weather there is notoriously swift to change from good to bad, and there was a large chance that we would have to stay there anyways for an indeterminate amount of time (which I would have been just fine with!). But, just like the rest of the season, the weather cooperated perfectly, and we got in and out as planned.
view from the helo flying in
Yesterday was a very exciting day – one of the highlights of this entire trip, and a new experience altogether! It was our highly-anticipated trip to Beaufort Island, which could only be reached by the Swedish icebreaker Oden. For our team, it was a chance to sample some very old penguin colonies. In fact, the oldest penguin molt layer was discovered there by Dr. Emslie 5 years ago. He collected feather and bone from this exposed layer on the northern end of the island, which turned out to be too old for radio-carbon dating – meaning that the remains were over 44,000 years old!
Beaufort Island was visible during our stay at Cape Bird. However, NSF helicopters cannot reach it because there is an expanse of open water, which they are not allowed to fly over (because in the case of an emergency, it would mean certain death). In 2005, when USAP had Coast Guard helicopters at McMurdo, flying to Beaufort Island was not a problem. But the Coast Guard helicopters are no longer coming down to McMurdo (they were extracted because they were needed for Iraq). So the only way to reach it now is by icebreaker, which limits field time severely (we were given a maximum of 3-4 hours on the island). It really is too bad, because Beaufort Island is a treasure-trove of paleoecological data, and has been studied very little to date.
Beaufort Island as seen from Cape Bird
So, Friday morning I woke up at 5 am to make it to the lab before our pick-up time of 5:45 am. The van came on time and delivered us, as well as Dr. Ainley’s team, and a couple of artists (a husband and wife) to the dock. There were 12 of us – 10 scientists and 2 artists. I was surprised, because I thought that many more scientists would be going. But it was only a select group. In fact, I almost wasn’t allowed to go – they would only allow 4 people from each team, and of course, I would have gotten left out. It might have had to do with the fact that Beaufort Island is another ASPA (Antarctic Specially Protected Area) and you need a permit to visit it (although every field site we visit is an ASPA because of the colonies). But Dr. Emslie wrote to the captain, asking that they allow me on as well. They said I could come along for the ride, with the exception that I would not be able to go out to the island (although once I was on the ship, they did agree to let me go…after all, how could they resist the charm of a young, aspiring scientist?)…I just am so happy that in the end, I got to participate despite the obstacles.
The mighty icebreaker Oden!
On Monday we flew to Marble Point, which is about 45 mins (by helo) west from McMurdo, so that Liu could collect some moresediment samples. There weren’t going to be any penguin colonies there because of the sea ice reaching right up to the shore – although, historically, when the area was ice free there were colonies. In fact, Larry and Dr. Emslie found a site from 10 years previously where they had sampled an abandoned colony. The square of disturbed pebbles was unchanged from ten years prior. Its amazing how little things will change in Antarctica. There was a big “road” (really just cleared space) left over from huge earth-moving vehicles from over 20 years ago, when NSF was considering moving the main USAP base to Marble Point. There was some trash strewn about – rusted cans, ropes, and pieces of wood. Treads were still visible in the soil. This stability of Antarctica attests to how much humans can indeed impact this fragile environment.
a view of Marble Point Bay