Listful thinking


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Happy 2013

I’m sitting in our little hut out at Cape Bird seeing in the new year, watching minke and orca swim out the window and a leopard seal drifting past on the ice.  It’s a pretty good way to end what has been a spectacular year.  All the best for 2013 from the penguins and their wranglers at Cape Bird!

Happy 2013 big


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Cous cous bread

One of the nice things about living in a remote place is that you get to try out lots of inventive recipes.  This is partly because you have time to do things without the distractions of modern life (she says writing a blog post from a field camp in Antarctica) but also because the selection of ingredients is often somewhat eclectic.  We bake a lot of bread out here at Cape Bird and we’ve been experimenting a little this year.  One of the winning recipes is an adaptation of Alison and Simon Holst’s rice bread recipe from their excellent New Zealand Bread Book, bought about by a seemingly never-ending pot of leftover cous cous.  It’s particularly good if your cous cous has bits of sundried tomato in it like ours did.

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Cous Cous (Rice) Bread

3 t Surebake yeast
1 cup warm water (plus a little more depending on how wet the rice/cous cous is)
2 t sugar
1 1/2 salt
2 T oil
3 T non-fat milk powder
1 cup wholemeal (or country grain) flour
2 cups high grade flour
1 cup cooked rice (i use brown rice or cous cous)

  1. Mix yeast, water and sugar in a bowl and leave for 5 mins.
  2. Mix in rest of ingredients and knead for 10 mins.
  3. Cover and leave to rise for an hour or until doubled in size.
  4. Knead again and place in a greased loaf tin.
  5. Leave to rise for another hour.
  6. Bake at 200C for 30 mins.

Enjoy!


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Cape Bird

Flying into Cape Bird hut from Scott Base felt a little like flying home – being greeted by familiar faces, sites and sounds, slipping into familiar routines around the hut and out around the colony.  It is certainly nice to be back.

Ross Island

Cape Bird is often referred to as the Riviera of Ross Island and for good reason.  We probably have the best weather as we’re relatively sheltered from the southerlies by Mount Bird and Mount Erebus and we certainly have some pretty sweet accommodation compared to some of the other field camps.  Our hut is pretty palatial, with a large living area, a lab, two bunk rooms and a shed complete with clip-on outhouse.

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There’s even a wringer for when you need to wash your stinking penguin socks.

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The pantry is well-stocked and, as long as you don’t look at the expiry dates, you can find most things you want (as long as you don’t want anything fresh or have a particular fondness for tinned fish, surprise beans or christmas pudding).

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There’s even a secret stash of marmite, which made me happy!

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But it’s hard to believe how fast the time is going.  Already, I’ve been here for over two weeks, making today the halfway point for me this season.  This year we have seven people for what the same amount of work we did with three the first season, so while the hut is super-busy, we’re getting way more done and not working ridiculous hours.  We also had a pretty slow start this year as the birds seem to be running a bit behind schedule but it has nice to ease into the work and get settled in before it got all crazy busy.

I’m going to leave you with a pretty penguin picture to wet your appetite for stories about penguin work in the new year.  Happy nearly 2013!!

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*Thanks to Papa John for the use of his photos from last season!


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Heading south

It seems slightly wrong to be able to send blog posts from a remote location in Antarctica but it does mean that I get to tease you all with photos, so it’s not going to stop me!

This year we flew down in a C130 Hercules which made for a different experience. Imagine sitting in a deck chair for eight hours with your knees touching your neighbours, inside a cake tin, next to the cake mixer. Not the most comfortable of flights and definitely limited inflight entertainment.

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So it was a grateful plane of well-insulated sardines that landed at the Pegasus airstrip out on the ice shelf.

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From the plane, it was a 60 minute trundle in Ivan the Terra Bus around the edge of the iceshelf to Scott Base and McMurdo. That’s a door to door service of about 13 hours.DSC_0267

We’ve spent the last few days at Scott Base organising our field gear and getting ready for heading out to Cape Bird for a season of wrangling Adelie penguins.


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Penguin wrangling in Antarctica

In a few days time, I’ll be heading south for another summer of penguin wrangling in Antarctica. It’s going to be a bit of a stark contrast from cruising the city streets of Melbourne in 30 degrees to stalking the beaches of Cape Bird at -15 degrees but I’m looking forward to it.

Hopefully this season will be a bit more relaxed work wise, with nine people doing the work that three of us did the first season but it will make for a super busy hut. There are rumours of internet access this year which I’m not sure I’m that happy about. It seems a bit weird to disappear to one of the more remote parts of the planet and still be able to check facebook. But on the plus side, I will hopefully be able to tease you all with pictures of penguins.

But just in case the technology fails us……

Merry Christmas from Cape Bird!


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32 things – a recap

So another birthday has come and gone and it’s time to reflect on the year of 32 things.

1. Bike the Great Divide
So, the grand plan was to take 4-5 months off work and bike the ~4500 km with the boy along the length of the Rockies.  But life kinda got in the way and it all got a bit complicated and I couldn’t get enough time off work to make the trip worthwhile.  But I did buy the book.  Surely that has to count for something, right?!  This trip looks like an amazing mission and is definitely still on the to do list.  It might just need to wait a couple of years until we can both have the time to cycle off into the sunset.

2. Compete in the 12 hour Spring Challenge
So the Mighty Midgets had done the 6 hour Spring Challenge a couple of times and, despite being super-scared, we decided it was time we sprung up to the challenge of the 2011 12 hour event. We trained hard all winter and had some awesome missions.  We were fairly nervous but confident we would survive as the morning of the race dawned.  It was an amazing day, with a nice smattering of rafting, mountain biking, bushbashing and rogaining to keep us occupied.  We had a fabulous support crew (thanks Ash, Nomes & Graham) who fed and watered us and even tied our shoelaces.  It’s not very often that we push ourselves to see what we can achieve but the Spring Challenge is an excellent opportunity to do this and it was extremely satisfying to cross the finish line after 15 hours and still be smiling.  In fact, we could have kept going for longer, which might imply that we didn’t go hard enough!  Thanks to the Miniest Mighty Midget Michelle and the Mightiest Mighty Midget Maaike for being awesome team mates!

3. Put my clipless pedals back on my mountain bike
Ok, so they are on there.  But it doesn’t mean i like them!  I’m still a wimp and bought pedals that are flat on one side, so I can indulge my wimpiness but they are technically on my bike.  Now I just need to ride the thing.

4. Run 500 km
So I just went back and looked at the excuse that I wrote for not completing this on the list of 31 things and it was pretty lame.  Unfortunately I think this year’s excuse is probably even worse and I’m pretty sure that I didn’t even run as far as I did last year.  I kinda lost my running mojo this year but I’ve just bought a new pair of shoes (although I’m not entirely sure how I wore out the old pair!).  And this spring weather is making me more enthused about the whole running idea, so maybe next  year.  Although I feel I may need to scale down the distance somewhat!

5. Compete in a triathlon
Similar problem to item 4.  A combination of laziness and a distinct lack of triathlons after my return from the ice.  Oh well….

6. Photograph a snow petrel
These funky little birds hang out in Antarctica and are snow white and very cool.  I would love to get a picture of one, only they don’t really hang about for very long during the season and, when they are actually there, you get a 30 second glimpse of them as they glide past.  This year I think I saw one for about 20 seconds.  Not even enough time to register in my brain that I should grab my camera before it was gone again.  Maybe next season??

7. Publish the remaining whio papers
I seem to be writing up a list of excuses!  There really isn’t any excuse for not having done these.  I did do a bit of work when I was in Perth but it’s hard to find the motivation to do work when I’ve already spent 8 hours at work doing maths.  But it would be really helpful to have these papers out there, so I really just need to pull finger and do them!

8. Complete a half marathon
Refer to item 4.

9. Go cycle touring
I didn’t really go cycle touring per se but we did do an overnight mountain bike trip which I like to refer to as tramping with bikes.  So not really cycle touring at all since there was very little cycling actually done.  But entertaining nonetheless.

10. Make Albert Monkey
Finally something I can cross off! Albert Monkey came into being in October and set off on the adventure of a lifetime.  First to Auckland where he took in the sites of the rugby world cup.  Then off to Raoul Island.  He must have had a fabulous time and been super busy because he never even sent a postcard.

11. Publish an Antarctic paper
It’s close.  Well the finishing of the analysis and the writing of the paper bit.  The actual publishing bit will be totally dependent on whether the third reviewer is having a nice day when they read it.

12. Compete in a road bike race
I bought a new road bike this year and it seemed like it was time to actually do a race.  So a group of us headed up to do the Grape Ride, a 101km race from Blenheim to Picton and around the bays.  It was a little on the damp side and super windy, which made the Blenheim to Picton leg less than fun.  But the return trip was awesome.  I rode with my sister’s future father-in-law for a while before he had a mechanical and our team of girly awesomeness left him behind to lament his poor bike maintenance record.  We were pretty awesome as we flew along the road, passing people up the hills and being passed by a dude with panniers on the downhill.  We rolled across the line in just over four hours which made for three happy and tired girls, having each just completed the longest ride of our lives.

13. Knit/crochet a jersey
So I started a knitted vest when we got stuck by snow in Queenstown last year and nearly had it finished when, true to form, I decided I didn’t really like it and I frogged the entire thing.  The wool then languished in the stash for quite some time until I found a pattern for a felted crocheted vest with crazy  multi-coloured stripes.  This seemed more my style, so I’ve been busy crocheting away and it is nearly done.  I don’t think this one will get unravelled but I don’t have a good record for keeping jerseys intact (all four knitted thus far have been unravelled), so I had better felt it soon before I get the chance!

14. Compete in a mountain bike race
Every mountain bike race that I wanted to do seemed to be on a weekend when I had something else on.  At least, that’s my excuse and I’m sticking with it.

15. Climb a grade 17
I did it once.  And have never managed it again.  I am enjoying climbing though, even if it is only inside – there being a distinct lack of outdoor rock to climb in Christchurch, what with it all being shaken of the hillsides and all.  Hopefully I will be able to climb something real in the coming year.

16. Buy a macro lens
I didn’t buy a macro lens but I did accidentally buy a new camera.  So maybe they cancel each other out.

17. Ride a century in a day
Refer to item 12

18. Spend a night at the Sign of the Packhorse
This has to be the longest standing item on the list, having started out on the original list in 2007.  But it finally fell this year with an excellent election weekend escape with some friendly resident poms.

19. Sew an item of clothing
In a fit of sewing crazy, I constructed an infinity dress, a reversible hooded dress and a reversible skirt, all without the benefit of a proper pattern or in some cases any pattern at all.  In hindsight, patterns may have been a good idea.  To date, there have been limited outings of the fore-mentioned items, so a distinct lack of photographs.  But there is a hint of spring in the air and a slightly mad scheme afoot that will see this predominantly trouser-clad lass breaking out the skirts, so hopefully you will get a peek soon.  More on this in the list of 33 things….

20. Organise a clothes swap party
It is completely coincidental that this follows on from item 19!  To be honest, I’m not sure there would have been many takers either.  But I have now been to two clothes swap parties which have been an excellent way of cleaning out the closest and gaining a few new items.  I’m now planning a stuff swap to clean out the rest of the crap that I’ve accumulated over the past 6 years.

21. Present a paper at ICCB 2011
Four mins of petrels and I was outta there.  Easiest conference talk ever.  And not a bad conference either, even without my organising committee hat on.

22. Empty out my storage shed of crap
When I went to Antarctica in 2010, I moved out of our house of 4.5 years and put all of my crap in storage.  Then I came back and got out a few boxes and the rest languished in storage for a ridiculously long time, costing me a ridiculous amount of money, because I was too lazy to move it and I didn’t really have anywhere to put it at the new house.  I slowly managed to pawn a lot of it off onto unsuspecting friends until I was left with a couple of boxes of unknown contents, a desk, washing machine and a broken rat trap and little motivation to actually shift it.  But the storage shed o’ crap has finally been emptied, the stuff sort of sorted and I’m working on ways to hide in the back of various family member’s garages as I get ready to set off on another adventure (more on that soon).

23. Buy knee-high boots
They are red.  and awesome.

24. Make bagels
Antarctica is a good place for experimental bread making, given that we are given a bag of flour and some yeast and we have plenty of time.  The rising conditions for yeast are less than ideal but it is possible.  This year we feasted on a wide variety of breads, including bagels, naan and beer bread.  I swear I had a picture of the bagels somewhere but you will have to make do with some bread instead

25. Go back to Antarctica
A second stint in Antarctica was calling and so I set off to pester some more penguins with Dad in tow as my field assistant.  Many people expressed some concern about being cooped up with my Father in a confined space for eight weeks. Indeed, it could have gone horribly wrong.  But we happily spent our time poking penguins with needles, baking bread, swimming at Christmas (in Santa hats), excitedly examining comb jellies and sitting about reading the dictionary without too much drama. Good times.

26. Have a hot pool party
We tried.  This was the infamous tramping with bikes expedition where the tramping part took so long that people who were sans bike were faster than we were.  Which meant we ended up staying at a different hut from the one we intended and never made it to the Hope hot pools.  I realise that this was in October and there has been plenty of opportunity to try again but (here come the excuses) it never quite happened.

27. Apply for a post-doc position
I applied for a post-doc.  In Brisbane.  I went to Brisbane for a day for an interview.  It seemed like a nice place.  So nice I spent an extra day there (not voluntarily.  Never fly with me to Australia – I think I am cursed).  I didn’t get the job.  But they put me in touch with a guy in Melbourne.  He offered me a job.  Which apparently, I learnt today from the lady who needs to order me a computer, starts on October 1.  Although I haven’t seen a contract yet, so not counting chickens just yet.  But, yup, hopefully moving to Melbourne.  In a month.  Boy, have I got some stuff to do between now and then. (Hence the blog updating and other sundry procrastinatory activities).

28. Publish the shrub paper
It’s on that list of things to do before the end of September.

29. Lecture in a university course
Three riveting lectures in Biology 112 on things ecological, courtesy of my PhD supervisor swanning off somewhere exciting.  This year I didn’t get in trouble for showing Green Porno videos.  Bonus.

30. Do some volunteer work
Allegedly I did this – I crossed it off on my list on the desktop of my computer.  But I do remember it being somewhat tenuous at the time and I have absolutely no idea what it might have been, so I’m leaving this unchecked.  Slacker.

31. Learn to jugular bleed penguins
How to have fun with needles and penguins – stick them in them blindly in the jugular.  While it sounds horrific, and seems awful the first few times you do it, it is by the far the fastest way to extract blood from a penguin.  And is infinitely more “fun” than trying to bleed them from the foot.  Definitely my preferred vampire method.

32. Go on an outdoor adventure at least once a month (SONDJFMAMJJA)
Lots of outdoor trips this year, although the term adventure is perhaps somewhat debatable for some of them.  We started out with a hiss and a roar with the Spring Challenge in September, then tramping with bikes up the Hope in October, November was up Sign of the Packhorse, followed by two months in Antarctica.  February scraped in with a camping trip to Lake Taylor while March and April were spent camping in the wilds of Western Australia.  May just caught a quick blast up Scott’s Saddle, while June was ice climbing and other adventuring at Fox Glacier. July hosted Laura’s annual birthday tramp to Lake Daniell’s, while August was graced by a short jaunt up Mt Oxford (& hopefully cross-country skiing this weekend).

and other fun stuff

33. Sleep in my new tent
It’s light and small and you need to be short.  And a little on the damp side, being a single skin and all.  And clearly pitched outside a perfectly good hut but it was full of children.  Now I just need to make sure I get in the right one!



34. Buy a new road bike
It’s light and small and you need to be short.  But it’s carbon and fast and a really nice ride.  I just need to actually ride it more.

35. Go on a Western Australia roadtrip
South-western Australia has been given a cursory go over and places to revisit properly have been duly noted.  Middlish western Australia also revisited.  It was good times.

So all in all, not a bad year.  There are a few lingering things on the list that should really have been crossed off (but they are mostly the boring work-related things).  The list of 33 things is currently under construction but should be ready for general release soon.


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Antarctic slackness

I just realised that it’s almost the end of March and haven’t even downloaded my Antarctic pictures off my camera, let alone written about my adventures.  Slack, I know! In fact, I just found a video from the first trip that I never posted.  Terrible!  So I’m going to work on last year’s slackness first but I promise there will be more to come soon!

Last year I diligently took my camera out to the toilet every day and took a picture of the view.  Looking out the door (I’m not that weird)!  I’ve linked these together to make a video to show just how much the sea ice changes both throughout the season, and on a day by day basis.  I was pretty amazed by how dynamic it was.

More pics soon, I promise!


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1. Go to Antarctica #1

Antarctica was amazing – a fantastic experience that definitely rates very highly in the list of coolest things that I have ever done. It’s kinda hard to sum up the experience in words but the following is a letter that I sent out a month into the trip. More photos will follow soon……


3 December 2010

Hello from Cape Bird!

There is a flight coming tomorrow to bring in some Americans, so it seemed like a good opportunity to send some news out to the real world (via Nita – thanks!).

Cape Bird is a pretty amazing place. Our hut is about up on a terrace about 300 m from the coastline and we have a great view out over the sea towards the Victoria Land coast. The view is ever-changing with pack ice coming and going, depending on what the wind and currents are doing. Last night when we went to bed there was less than 5 % ice cover, while this morning we woke to find the bay almost completely filled with pack ice. I’ve been taking a series of photos from the toilet twice a day, so will be able to show you how much it changes over time.

The hut is very comfortable and similar to most field huts. We have a large kitchen, dining room, with a well-stocked pantry. This is provided you don’t want to eat anything fresh, make anything using eggs or mind eating things that are well past the use-by-date. We have a diesel fire for heating, which is great when it is working, something that it has been doing quite sporadically so far this season.

There are lots of penguins. About 35,000 Adélie penguins to be exact, plus 3 Emperors which we saw cruising past one day. We also have a lot of skuas, a few snow petrels (impossible to photograph), and Weddell and Leopard seals. We have seen some orca way off in the distance and I have heard rumours about minke whales but they have yet to appear on the horizon. We also saw a black-backed gull the other day! That pretty much sums up the wildlife (unless you count springtails but then anything you need a microscope to see doesn’t really count, right).

A polar skua surveying his larder, with the Cape Bird Ice Cap and Beaufort Island in the distance.

There is very little snow and ice at Cape Bird and it looks largely like I imagine the moon would look. Most of the rocks are volcanic, with lots of scoria and basalt (maybe??), and a few bits of granite that have been carried over by glaciers from Victoria Land. The penguins and the skuas build nests on the ground, with penguins building nests from rocks (usually stolen from the neighbour’s nest).

However, some penguins prefer alternative building materials!

And others don’t really build in the most sensible places. This frozen creek will almost definitely flood later in the season when the icecap starts to melt in the warmer weather.

At the moment, all of the birds are still sitting on eggs, with the first chick predicted to hatch about December 10th. Adélie penguins lay 1-2 eggs, with both parents incubating. One parent will remain with the eggs, while the other goes to sea for a few days to forage for fish and krill and then they switch over.

This guy is making his way back over the push ice along the edge of the sea.

The skua are always looking for a free meal and are constantly cruising the colonies looking for unguarded eggs. They will also attack and feed on chicks, often while they are still alive. Sounds pretty gruesome.

A weddell seal sunbathing on the edge of the push ice. We have only seen leopard seals from a distance but we expect to see leopard seals devouring penguins anytime soon.

While it is very rocky and moon-like out here, it is not entirely devoid of greenery. The great forests of Cape Bird contain…..

algae and moss.

We basically spend everyday walking around the colonies, looking for penguins with flipper bands. We are tagging the nests of all banded birds with cattle tags and then we follow the progress of these nests through the season. So far we have tagged about 300 nests and we still expect to find a few more. We are also setting up a fenced colony that has a weighbridge to record the weights of parents with tagged with pit tags as they come and go from the sea to try and work out how much they are feeding their chicks. We will also be catching birds and taking blood samples to look at physiology and diseases. We will find out more about this work tomorrow when the Americans arrive. We also seem to spend an inordinate amount of time doing data entry. In fact, the boys are still doing data entry and it is 10:30 pm! I’ve had a few geeking moments making the system as efficient as I can but it still seems to take forever (not helped by the fact that we have to enter it twice as the Americans use an antiquated piece of software that I have never heard of and can’t figure out a way to cheat with).

And just to prove that I have actually been doing some work, here I am out in the colony looking for banded birds.

On this day, I was wearing the following: long johns, polar fleece pants, windstopper overtrousers, thermal top, fleece jersey, fleece jacket, primaloft jacket, windstopper jacket, fleece neckwarmer, fleece windstopper hat, polypro gloves, windstopper gloves, handwarmers. It was a little bit cold.

And this was the day I decided that carrying a 60m roll of plastic garden netting was a good idea. It wasn’t. It is quite difficult to stand up with 60m of netting, let alone walk. But I made it in the end.

So all is well at Cape Bird. It has been a pretty amazing experience and I look forward to seeing the changes that occur as the season goes on. I’ll try and send out an update when the boys leave after New Years.

I hope that all is well with you all.

Have a Merry Christmas!

Amy

6 December 2010

As is often the way in Antarctica, the helo flight was cancelled due to bad weather (although it’s been nice here) and has been rescheduled for today. We’ve seen quite a change in the ice conditions over the past few days and lots of Weddell seals hanging out on the pack ice. Quite a few snow petrels too, although I still haven’t managed to actually get one in the picture frame yet. Still there is plenty of time……


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1. Go to Antarctica

Tomorrow I’m off to do Number One on my list – Go to Antarctica! It all still seems a wee bit surreal – I’ve spent the weekend moving out of the house I’ve lived in for the past five years and squeezed all of my stuff into a storage shed. I have a giant pile of “stuff for the Antarctic” on Hamish’s floor and it’s hard to believe that I’m about to trade a balmy Christchurch evening for 3 months of ice and subzero temperatures. I can’t wait!

I’m going to work with Adelie Penguins at Cape Bird and will completely isolated from the world for 3 months. No internet. No phone. Nothing but 24 hours of daylight and ice and penguins and leopard seals and whales and 2 other people in our tiny little hut at the base of Mount Erebus. Should make for an interesting summer!
So this will be it from me for a while. But I promise I’ll be back with lots of pictures sometime in February. Merry Christmas, Happy New Year and a warm summer to you all!