Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Cape Crozier Census

A bit of background about why we go to Cape Crozier. Cape Crozier is on the opposite side of Ross Island from McMurdo Station. Crozier is the southern most emperor colony in the world and is also of historic significance since this is the colony that Cherry-Garrard reached in 1911. His harrowing journey is documented in  Worst Journey in the World

See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apsley_Cherry-Garrard  for more on this historic trek.

In 2001, this emperor colony was devastated by the large iceberg B15, which blocked the ocean access for the colony. Prior to B15, there were roughly 1200 chicks born in Crozier. In 2001, there were no living adults and certainly no chicks at the colony. Any adults that managed to make it into Crozier were trapped and died of starvation.

(from Paul)

We made it into Cape Crozier to do our annual emperor penguin census without any problem. There were no winds today and we walked down in about an hour . The colony looks about the same size as last year, maybe 100 adults bigger, no dead chicks, and about 7 eggs. It still hasn’t recovered from the iceberg incursion of a few years ago. It looks as the remnants are doing very well, coming and going. The chicks look good.

Our transportation below. The flight took about 30 minutes. On the other hand, Cherry-Garrard and his team man-hauled their equipment around the backside of Ross Island in the middle of the Antarctic winter, a trip of about 60 miles. At times, they could only manage about a mile and a half a day.


The colony from the air.


Cass and an interested bystander


Jessica at the colony




Some colony shots of the adults and their chicks. There are few things cuter than an emperor chick.

DSC_6346b DSC_6350b DSC_6351b DSC_6392b DSC_6415b

Hiking up the ice slope


Hero shots – sort of. Left to right, Marco (new pilot), Jessica, Cass, and Barry (pilot)


OK, this time for sure – hero shot of Jessica and Cass with the permanent ice shelf in the background. See the V? That’s where the colony is sited. Be impressed; its a long walk and a steep climb up an icy slope.


The weather in McMurdo was also good today. Kozue and Brendan enjoyed sea ice class. They have really scored on the weather for all their outdoor classes.

Tomorrow, we have a recon flight to see the sea ice where we want to put the camp, and to glance at the sea ice beyond Royds. No one is sure if it is just pack ice packed tight, or solid, fast ice (i.e., ice that is anchored to the land and floating on the ocean). There is apparently a large crack with open water at Royds. So, we will see.

First, of course we need to find a site, then we will need to find non-breeding birds.

Today's flight came in. So there is no back up. I think there is a flight on Wed and then yours on Fri. So far, the weather is looking good to keep you on schedule. (from Kathi – Yay!!)

(from Cass)

I haven’t sent many photos recently because I lost my camera transfer cord.  But I found it last night, just in time for Cape Crozier trip. 

We had amazing weather,  beautiful blue skies and virtually no  wind. 

Crozier colony from the air

Crozier colony from the sky

Part of the Crozier Colony

colony with background


Jessica with penguins

A lone penguin

Lone penguin

Paul taking census photos

paul census photo

An emperor penguin up close

penguin close-up

The hike down to the colony was great – we wore crampons (my first time wearing them).  I did pretty well until I caught one of the spikes on a strap from my other shoe – ended with a face plant. Luckily it was in the snow, so it wasn’t too bad – just made me feel silly.  I’d never been to Crozier before and it was so beautiful.  The features around the penguin colony were beautiful.  And we couldn’t have asked for better weather – although as we hiked back up the steep hill, we were all sweating – even without big red (our extreme cold weather parka) on.

Adult and chick. Notice how the baby stands on the adult’s feet. It keeps the chick warmer to be off the ice.

penguin with chick