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Oct 26 - Bird Island and King Edward Point

Date: Sunday 26th October 2003

Position noon: 53° 12.9'S, 043° 21.6'W
Distance travelled since Immingham: 9369 NM
Air temperature: 2.6° C
Sea temperature: 2.9° C


The Week In Brief

When we left you last week we had just set out on our first Antarctic voyage of the season. We sailed south east from the Falkland Islands towards South Georgia to deliver people and supplies for the start of the summer work. The two stations we resupplied this week were King Edward Point on South Georgia, and Bird Island, which is a small island at the northwestern end of South Georgia. To give an idea of the geography of the area we are working in the map below shows all of the stations operated by BAS. Signy, Fossil Bluff and Sky Blue are manned during the summer season only.

Map of BAS Antarctic Stations. Click To EnlargeBritish Antarctic Stations. Click to enlarge.

After completing the Bird Island relief on Wednesday and managing to entertain the winterers to dinner onboard, it was a brief trip down the coast to arrive at King Edward Point (KEP). Here we disembarked our additional passengers from the whaling station clean-up squad, who had been great company whilst onboard and we look forward to catching up with them during our forthcoming calls to KEP.


Bird Island

Wednesday last week saw us start and complete the Bird Island relief all in one day. This was amazing by ship's standards as two years ago we spent almost a week waiting for the right weather to do the same work. All the old hands onboard have stories of lumpy times, waiting off Bird Island for the weather to improve. Perhaps it had something to do with us being a day ahead of schedule, getting there on the 22nd rather than the 23rd. The day of the 23rd turned out to be a different story with wind, rain and snow but by then we were sheltering at KEP.

Bird Island is a 5km long island, but is only about 800m wide at its widest point. The science here is concentrated on studying the lives of penguins, seals and other sea birds and the base is manned all the year round with a winter population of four, though this can expand in summer to about 12. Probably the best well known of its inhabitants is the Wandering Albatross and the island represents one of the few places in the world where these huge birds breed. The pictures below show these lovely birds with the lefthand one showing a chick with the base in the background. The middle shows the raised nest where it spent the worst of the winter storms and the right one the final result with an adult bird incubating its own egg. Click to enlarge.

Bird Island and Wandering Click. Click to enlarge Wandering Albatross Chick. Click to enlarge Adult Wandering Albatross. Click to enlarge
Bird Island and Wandering Click. Click to enlarge Wandering Albatross Chick. Click to enlarge Adult Wandering Albatross. Click to enlarge

However, with an island so relatively small it is impossible for the ship to reach the base. In order to get supplies ashore and to remove the waste, the ship anchors outside the cove and the cargo tender shuttles back and forwards to the base.

JCR anchored amongst the icebergs in Bird Sound. Click to enlarge Tender on it's way back to the ship for another load. Click to enlarge
JCR anchored amongst the icebergs in Bird Sound. Click to enlarge Tender on it's way back to the ship for another load. Click to enlarge

The picture below left shows the crates containing sections of a new building. It's been placed on the jetty by the cargo tender's crane, but that is as far as the mechanical help goes. It is then a matter of breaking down the cases and hand carrying the components up to the base storage area. The picture on the right shows the other process- that of taking waste from the base. It is packed into empty fuel drums to make for easier handling. On these occasions the more help the better and all volunteers are gratefully received.

Bird Island jetty loaded with boxes. Click to enlarge Back loading wasted drums on the jetty. Click to enlarge
Bird Island jetty loaded with boxes. Click to enlarge Back loading wasted drums on the jetty. Click to enlarge

There are lots of other birds living on Bird Island and their breeding season has just begun, unlike the wanderer chicks which have sat on their nests all winter long. The picture below shows a Gentoo penguin caring for its egg in its nest of stones.

Gentoo penguins tending their egg. Click to enlarge A Gentoo penguin tending it's egg. Click to enlarge


King Edward Point

Thursday morning saw us arrive about 100 miles down the coast into Cumberland bay and the research station at KEP. The weather was less than clement at the time of our arrival with rain, wind and snow throughout most of the day. Despite this the task of resupplying the base started almost straight away. This year as well as cargo for the base there was equipment for the clean up of Grytviken, which is being undertaken on behalf of the South Georgia Government. All this meant the deck crew were kept busy for a couple of days with cargo operations, but at least the weather improved for day two (and the doctors' jollies- Ed).

King Edward Point Research Station. Click to enlarge KEP staff and their food stock. Click to enlarge Leaving once more. Click to enlarge
King Edward Point Research Station. Click to enlarge KEP staff and their food stock. Click to enlarge Leaving once more. Click to enlarge

The pictures above show the main science and accommodation building (left) and some elephant seals basking in front of it. Then in the centre we have some of the team lucky enough to live here; from left to right we have Frinn (Head Scientist), Ann (Post Mistress), Susie (Scientist), Jenny (Doctor) and Howie (Boatman) standing in front of just some of the food boxes which are to last them over the next year. The final picture is of the whole team on the jetty as we left, but we'll be back very soon..


KEP Wildlife

The wildlife of South Georgia is just fantastic to watch and photograph as the animals and birds have practically no fear of humans. We take every effort not to disturb and upset them, but they tolerate you being near by making it a paradise for photography. Below we see some king penguins in the cove where KEP is situated. In the lefthand photo you might be able to make out some further seals in the background. They might not be so friendly next time we call as it'll be the height of their breeding season.

King penguins and fur seals at KEP. Click to enlarge King penguins. Click to enlarge
King penguins and fur seals at KEP. Click to enlarge King penguins. Click to enlarge

This time of year is the height of the Southern Elephant Seals breeding season and pups were being born just a matter of yards from the ship on the beach in front of the station. The picture below is a montage of the scenes on the beach. The upper left one shows a pup still damp having been born just moments before. Lower left shows a pup suckling; from birth they put on an average of 3.6kg for each of the first 23-25 days. This means they grow from 1.3m long and 36-50kg at birth to reach as size of 1.6m long and 110-160kg. Though during this time an awful lot of sleeping is done by all.

Elephant seals at KEP. Click to enlarge. Elephant seals at KEP. Click to enlarge.


Gorgeous South Georgia

Saying cheerio to old friends on Bird Island was hard. We left Isaac Forster, the new bird assistant in his new home with Andy Cope, Andy Wood, Paul Cousens and Graham (aye) Gillie to construct the new visitor accommodation. The Dorchester will replace the Hilton and will provide accommodation for two. When we return in 3 weeks time we hope to see this new luxury palace and some fine new Bird Island haircuts.

In the meantime, we doctors have tried to live up to our reputations and enjoy ourselves as much as possible. Friday morning saw myself, the new SG doctor Jenny, and the SG Base Commander Ian, skinning up to Dead man's Point for an early morning ski. It was a glorious morning and we had the most spectacular views all round.

The two docs skiing. Click to enlarge The church at Grytviken. Click to enlarge
Emma and Jenny at Dead Man's Point. Click to enlarge The church at Grytviken with Sugartop Mountain behind. Click to enlarge

Then a full day's cargo work was done with the KEP and ship's staff working tirelessly to unload a year's worth of food, scientific supplies, electrical apparatus and medical essentials. Fortunately for us, no-one needed medical attention and we were able once again to explore a bit of this beautiful island. With ship's electrician Nick Dunbar and AB Lester Jolly, Jenny and I hiked around to Penguin River, past the grave of explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton. The small graveyard also contains the graves of Norwegian whalers and is overlooked by a family of King Penguins who huddle against the wind and snow up on the hillside. Shackleton is buried under a headstone of Scottish granite, inscribed with Robert Browning's words, "I hold that a man should strive to the utmost for his life's set prize". On the opposite hillside, at Hope Point, there is a wooden cross erected to his memory. This is the first landmark to be seen when entering King Edward Cove and the last to be seen on leaving.

Shackleton's Cross. Click to enlarge. Shackleton's Cross. Click to enlarge.

We were so fortunate with the weather that we managed to go skiing again on Saturday morning. Once more, after a very early start, we spent 2 long hours skinning uphill towards Mt. Hodges amongst some of the most spectacular scenery in the world. We were led by South Georgia museum curators Tim and Pauline Carr as well as Andy, Ian and Rich from KEP. It was a magnificent morning and so warm that the snow was melting even as we skied down. Most of us managed to return in time for work, but somehow the two doctors managed to miss their deadlines- something to do with Pauline's warm kitchen and home-made biscuits perhaps?


A final thought until next week...

We are making our way back to Stanley through the wind, rain and lumpy seas with the memories of views of South Georgia to sustain us until we can come back again. The picture below left is our view as we left Cumberland Bay yesterday and as if we needed reminding that there is ice around the righthand picture shows bergs on the radar screen.

South Georgia. Click to enlarge Ice bergs on the radar screen. Click to enlarge
South Georgia. Click to enlarge Ice bergs on the radar screen. Click to enlarge

So until next week when we will have left Stanley once more and should be approaching Signy Island in the South Orkneys.

Wildlife. Click to enlarge. Paradise Island. Do we really have to go? Click to enlarge.