Monthly Archives: December 2014

Birds!

I often get asked what wildlife I’ve seen here. In the many times (about 10) I’ve been down here, I’ve seen a total of five types of animals.

First, the most common – the skua. This is a bird that is much like a seagull, and is not afraid of humans.  We’re cautioned to not carry food outside in a way that will attract them, as they will work hard to steal it! I can certainly sympathize, given the lack of other things to eat in this barren desert.

A skua flying overhead.

A skua flying overhead.

My emperor penguin sighting, along the road from town to William’s Field. He wasn’t too close, hence the poor quality of the picture! For much better pictures, close up, by another member of our crew that passed this fellow on a later shuttle bus, see http://jegudmunds.wordpress.com/#jp-carousel-443 .

The next is, of course, the Weddell seal, of which I’ve posted pictures previously – they’re quite common, lying on the annual sea ice near the holes they use to slip into the water to hunt.

Everyone wants to know, of course, whether I’ve seen a penguin. I can happily say now, that yes, I’ve finally seen one on this trip. In fact, I saw my first-ever Emperor penguin just last week – here he is:

My emperor penguin sighting, along the road from town to William's Field.  He wasn't too close, hence the poor quality of the picture!  For much better pictures, close up, by another member of our crew that passed this fellow on a later shuttle bus, see http://jegudmunds.wordpress.com/#jp-carousel-443 .

My emperor penguin sighting, along the road from town to William’s Field. He wasn’t too close, hence the poor quality of the picture! For much better pictures, close up, by another member of our crew that passed this fellow on a later shuttle bus, see http://jegudmunds.wordpress.com/#jp-carousel-443 .

As the caption says, I didn’t get very close (he was well off the road), but some of my work mates saw him much closer, later, and posted great photos… see http://jegudmunds.wordpress.com/#jp-carousel-443 , for example.

To round things out… I haven’t seen them this year, but in the past I’ve seen Adelie penguins (they’re smaller than Emperors) and, the first time I came here, killer whales! That was after the icebreaker broke open a channel to the sea so the resupply ship could dock and deliver supplies to the station.  That happens in late January, so I won’t be here for that this trip!

 

Hiking the “Hut Point Loop”

This is a belated post of a fun event from a couple weeks ago:  we took a Sunday hike up into the hills around the station.  It was great to take a break from the work out at the highbay, and get some exercise.  There was still a fair bit of snow around covering the volcanic rock of which this island is made, but not so much as to make the hiking at all difficult.  It was pretty chilly, and very windy, up in the hills – here you see my three hiking companions (Sean, Johanna, and Jamil, from bottom to top) bundled up, as we trundled up a trail along a ridge.

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From our first stop, Hut Point, we looked down on seals resting on the sea ice. They spend hours and hours in one spot; I’ve never seen one even heading toward their hole in the ice, to go off and hunt!

Three seals lying on the annual sea ice, off Hut Point.

Three seals lying on the annual sea ice, off Hut Point.

Turning around, the view from Hut Point includes the front “shore” of the station, as well as the nearly 100 year old hut of Robert Scott, known, of course, as “Scott’s Hut”.  :)

McMurdo Station, as viewed from Hut Point.  Scott's Hut is in the foreground, left side.

McMurdo Station, as viewed from Hut Point. Scott’s Hut is in the foreground, left side.

The trail went up along a ridge that overlooked the sea ice, which provided a beautiful view.  We saw a field party returning to the station on their snowmobiles, traveling along the sea ice.  (Watch out for cracks!)  The field party in the bottom right of the picture below helps set the scale of this place, which is just immense.

A field party on three snowmobiles returns to town.

A field party on three snowmobiles returns to town.

Looking back along the way from which we came, we saw Scott’s Hut and Hut Point, and more seals below.

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In the other direction, looking inland, we could often see the station, which sprawls quite a bit.  This station is the logistical hub for all the field parties that go forth from here (ranging from geologists to biologists to glaciologists to, yes, astrophysicists) as well as the entire South Pole station.  Most of the buildings you see in this picture house the people and equipment needed to provide that support.  The peak population in the austral summer (about now, that is) is around 900 to 1000 people.

the blue building houses the galley (as well as dorms and some administrative offices).
Another view of McMurdo Station, with Obs Hill in the background.  The brown buildings on the right middle are the dorms, while the blue building houses the galley (as well as dorms and some administrative offices).

Another view of McMurdo Station, with Obs Hill in the background. The brown buildings on the right middle are the dorms, while the blue building houses the galley.

After reaching the peak of our hike at Arrival Heights, we circled back inland to return to town. All told a roughly 2 hour hike in the brisk wind, a great break from work.