The last few weeks it has been increasingly quiet around Palmer Station. Much of the avian wildlife that abounds in our neighborhood during the summer months have headed out to sea, further south to an ice edge, or migrated north to balmier climes. The other day while returning from a dive a lone gentoo penguin porpoised near the zodiac. The giant petrel chicks that Anne wrote about in her walk about entry have fledged and taken flight. A flock of Antarctic terns took advantage of strong winds out of the south to start their annual journey to Arctic. An abrupt change in direction seemed to have grounded the flock on the ice near Palmer. I guess they didn’t want to deal with the headwind when they could hang out around our friendly station. When the winds dissipated they disappeared, probably continuing their journey.
Palmer no longer resembles a Club Med basked in long days of sunshine, caressed by gentle winds, warm, sapphire blue water lapping at the shore. Well – all things are relative! Now, with the shortest day of the year approaching our sun rises about 9AM and is setting shortly after 3PM. That is assuming we see the sun! We have had a good stretch of stormy weather- seeing little blue sky. Some of the instruments that Jim described in his previous entry have documented Mother Nature’s mayhem as she roars into winter. For instance, on 4 May we were 2 days into a good blow when the barometer fell off the chart (<950 mb) and the sustained winds increased to 60 mph. Our little station was pelted with gusts exceeding that. The anemometer (wind-o-meter) peaked with an 82 mph blast at 1120!
The water is not quite inviting as it had been on our arrival in February. Brash ice is increasingly common and makes zodiacing to and from dive sites slower and hence colder return trips to station. It is kind of fun diving in the brash though. Think of swimming in a slushy. The water temperature is noticeably colder now –1.5 C(~28F). However, on some days, the divers are more comfortable than the topside tenders as the air temperatures have been less than the water temperatures. A few times the waters have been calm enough to form a thin film ice – grease ice – the first step toward fast ice, which may soon put a solid icy ceiling on Arthur Harbor. So given how our polar paradise is plunging into darkness, shuddering with wind and cold, it is not hard to imagine why so much of the wildlife has headed to parts unknown.
A few birds are still winging around. The opportunistic feeding sheathbill is the most prominent. Its white plumage though makes it difficult to see sometimes though amongst the snow. Mostly they seem to like perch atop our buildings –often right at the gutters. Lately, that is risky as snow cornices wrap out and under the eaves on exposed building corners. Long jagged icicles hang menacingly beneath.
Always present is our errant flamingo. Through the heat of summer and the howls and snows of the approaching winter our pink 'feathered' friend remains poised near the tip of Bonaparte Point. The flamingo stands a one-legged guard over one of our dive sites. It is a nice rocky wall and has yielded many collecting treasures for our chemical ecology study. We recently joked about renaming the site Bonaire, a tropical dive mecca. The flamingo adds to the notion.
My migration north on our ship the Laurence M. Gould rapidly approaches. It is time for me to join the snowbirds and head to warmer climes. Soon I will be back in balmy Alabama, warmed by the memories of cool times in a marvelous place. Gotta fly…..