By Lizzie Meek
Blog number four. As part of our multiyear support agreement with UKAHT, Artefact Conservation Programme Manager Lizzie travelled to the Antarctic Peninsula to survey and assess artefacts at Bransfield House, the main building of ‘Base A’ at Port Lockroy.
It seems like the more time you spend observing wildlife, the more there is to observe and the more interesting you find them. I frequently found myself hypnotised by the penguin tableaux at Port Lockroy, although naturally mostly I was far too busy working to dilly dally watching penguins. Still, sometimes you had no choice but to stop and watch, as the rules of the island are ‘give way to penguins’.
We are very sensitive to the fact we’re living in a wild place and the rights of the original inhabitants to go about their lives undisturbed must be protected. In fact, half of the island is cordoned off as a human ‘no-go’ area, strictly penguis only.
All across the island, there are ruts in the snow – ‘penguin highways’ – which the birds habitually use between the sea and their nests. We stop some distance away to allow the penguins to pass – ideally they don’t even notice us – that’s the best, but it’s also ok if they do notice us and merely give us a wary eye as they wander past.
Their guano is EVERYWHERE and whilst we silly humans make a great fuss about cleaning it off our boots, the other bird residents on the island, the snowy sheathbills, simply get in there and hoover it up for dinner. Good old nature.
The sheathbills are an extremely social bird. Usually seen in pairs, they follow each other about, often in synchronicity, with quick footed turns and head bobs.
They spend a lot of time on the ground as opposed to flying. At night, we hear them on the roof of the Nissen hut. For all the world they sound like a bunch of Lilliputian horse racers thundering up and down on the corrugated iron. For some reason, although extremely annoying when you are trying to get to sleep, their roof-antics are also extremely funny, resulting in snorts of laughter as we lie in our bunks.