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November 25-26, 2013 - McMurdo Station, Antarctica

Checking in on Cape Bird

by Andrew Klein with help from Mary Tilton

Andrew's head

Today was a good day for the entire B-518 crew. We had a chance to collect some soil samples at our control site at Cape Bird. Cape Bird is an ice free area on located north of McMurdo Station near the northern tip of Ross Island and is home to thousands of Adelie penguins. Cape Bird was discovered in 1841 by a British expedition under James Ross, and named by him for Lieutenant Edward J. Bird of the ship Erebus.Ross Sea Region
Map of the Ross Island Region

Our helicopter flight to Cape Bird was wonderful. On our flight we saw a large iceberg some 5 km in length north of Cape Royds. This was impressive as no iceberg was visible from Cape Royds when we visited on Saturday. Apparently this iceberg passed just a few kilometers off of Cape Bird on its fast way south. We had two helicopter technicians join us on this flight. Unfortunately, they were not able to stay for the entire duration of our work as they had to be picked up early and flown to Lake Hoare to repair a helicopter there.

Our control site is located at the boundary of an Antarctic Specially Protected Area commonly called ASPAs. These specially protected areas were first established in 1964 under the Antarctic Treaty’s Agreed Measures for the Conservation of Antarctic Fauna and Flora. Earlier categories of protected areas were replaced by Annex V to the Environmental Protocol of the Antarctic Treaty, which was adopted in 1991 and entered into force in 2002, and which provides for the designation of Antarctic Specially Protected Areas (ASPA) and Antarctic Specially Managed Areas (ASMA). Cape BirdMap of Cape Bird

To be considered for an ASPA designation, an area must have outstanding environmental, scientific, historic, aesthetic or wilderness values, or ongoing or planned scientific research. These are aras of environmental or scientific importance and/or interest and entry to these areas requires a special permit. The ASPA our control site is near is ASPA-116 New College Valley. This ASAP was proposed by New Zealand. The area within the ASPA contains some of the most abundant occurrences of mosses and associated microflora and fauna in the Ross Sea region. This ASPA is located just upslope a few hundred meters from the New Zealand Hut.

The New Zealand program maintains a hut at Cape Bird mainly to support studies of Adelie Penguins at the large Rookery. When we arrived a team of three New Zealand scientists were at Cape Bird. The flight we left on brought in an American scientist from Oregon State University who was also studying penguins. He accompanied us to Cape Royds on Saturday. Antarctica can be a small place in that regard.

Sampling at Cape Bird
Terrestrial Sampling at Cape Bird

Following our successful sampling, three team members: Terry, Mary and your faithful correspondent hiked upslope and viewed the glacier that is the graceful backdrop to this beautiful place. Following some investigation of the glacier edge, the three of us went to the beach to view the thousands of penguins, as well as many skuas and a Weddell seal or two. It is quite an impressive sight seeing penguins going back and forth between the colonies and the ocean and watching them jump in and out of the water. We even saw a couple do a face plant directly into the edge of the ice that covers the beach. Ouch!

Panoramic of Cape BirdPanoramic photo of the Cape Bird Penguin Rookery

Subset of Rookery
Part of the penguin rookery

Looking toward Beaufort Island
Looking toward Beaufort Island

Adelie penguins on ice
Adelie Penguins an a small ice floe

Adelie Penguin
Adelie Penguin going from nest to sea

A skua

Terry, Mary and myself then had a nice visit with Brian Carl and researcher who works for Landcare New Zealand and has studied the penguins at Cape Bird for quite some time. The weekend before we arrived was the annual Adelie penguin census conducted by Landcare New Zealand. This survey is done using aerial photography from a helicopter.

Earlier this year, annual sea ice existed between Ross and Beaufort Islands which enabled the helicopter to survey the colony there as well. Because sea ice is uncommon between these islands this time of year, it can be difficult to survey the Beaufort Island colony by helicopters which cannot fly over open water. Brian thought the last time they were able to do this was in the early 2000s when the B-15 iceberg made it difficult for the sea ice to exit McMurdo Sound.

While the three of us were sitting having a nice talk with Brian over a cup of tea we heard the whoop whoop, whoop of a Bell 212 helicopter approaching and we hurried to join Steve on the Beach for our cool ride home. On the way back we had more wonderful views of Mt. Erebus and the large iceberg as well as many other cool stuff.

When we arrived at McMurdo, sadly our sampling away from McMurdo has come to an end. For the remainder of our time, we will focus on terrestrial sampling within McMurdo and on the its adjacent slopes.