27th October, 1995

Hello everybody from sunny, spectacular, pristine, beautiful Antarctica. The land of the penguins! WOW! Have things changed down here!. Overnight it seems to have burst into summer. The penguins sure know how to pick their weather. I am feeling so happy at the moment with all the activity down here. There is just so much to tell you about! But first the bad news! Our friend the Adelie penguins are already on full alert! On Saturday about six great skuas arrived to take up residence on the high ground overlooking their rookeries. The skuas now cruise above the penguin heads looking for any weak animals they may be able to have for dinner. So far they have gone hungry all week. We haven't seen any Adelies attacked.

On Sunday, our first seal arrived which was quite exciting. We rushed over to say gidday to our beautiful big-eyed Wedel seals which we have missed for so many months but as we approached to about 10 metres it saw us coming, arched its head, hissed its mouth wide open, then started swaying its head from side to side like a dragon, with rows of sharp teeth glistening in the sun. Don immediately recognised it as a leopard seal, whose number one diet is penguin! and number two diet, possibly us! I didn't like him and it was the first time that anything has arrived that would seriously consider us as "dinner" if we got too close. He had spots on his fur and was not as fat as a Wedel seal, with a predator's look in his eye, and just simply didn't smile! He had pulled up on the frozen sea ice at the head of Boat Harbour where he slept for two days in the sun. We took some photos and watched with amazement as the Adelies walked right past "Mr. Sleepy Head" about 2 metres from his mouth, probably without realising that they could have become dinner! I was glad to see him go on Tuesday but Don wasn't so sure. He said he was obviously hungry and would be out cruising the ice edge for something to eat!

Sure enough on our daily inspections to greet the penguins, which are now arriving in their thousands each day, we witnessed a dramatic escape. Usually the Adelies jump from the water onto the ice, then stand for a short time shaking off and preening their feathers before walking away. It was a perfectly calm day as we moved along the shore, looking down at the crystal clear water with weeds, rocks and ice, frozen to the sea bed, when a big splash startled us and four Adelies, obviously jet-propelled, rocketed skywards from the water beside us, overshooting the ice edge by some considerable distance, bouncing when they hit the ground, not waiting an instant before running straight up into the rocks. Sure enough, the old leopard seal was right there with a hungry look on his face - he had missed lunch again!

I felt so glad for the Adelies but Don pointed out that the leopard seal was only staying alive just the same as the Adelies eat krill. I suppose it would be pretty sad if I was just about to sit down to eat my often dreamt about roast chicken and vegetable dinner, when it jumped off the table and out the window! Don is really impressed by leopard seals, sharks, killer whales and other predators. He says they are amazing creatures, beautifully designed, very functional and an important part of nature. Our leopard is only a small one, not quite 2 metres long as they can grow to well over 3 metres.

The poor skuas haven't had much luck either and are getting hungrier as the week goes by. Their bombing raids are becoming more and more aggressive each day. So for the moment, the Adelies are winning the war but the battle is not over.

The weather has been so good this week that we have been outside every day except Thursday. This is some sort of a record for us and it could even get better. Imagine being outside every day of the week! I'll let you know when that happens.

Our new activities are to just sit by a rookery watching the busy little penguins. The girls have been collecting little rocks to pile on their nests which look a bit hard to me. I suppose there are no sticks, grass or leaves to make anything better and at least the rocks don't get blown away. Don said its also to keep their eggs off the ground so that when the snow melts, the cold water drains under the rocks and does not touch the eggs. Within a day or two of arriving, the girls all found boyfriends and quickly got married because they are all busy mating, trying to start their families. It looks like weÕre going to have lots of eggs soon!

The rookeries after only one week, are overflowing and expanding onto new ground as more Adelies arrive each day. The arrive so fat with their bellies full of food, some can hardly waddle around. When the wind blows, they get knocked about and tumble over which is a funny sight.

Temperatures have gone to -12 degrees Celsius averages, which drowned all our books again inside the hut as the ice melts now that our heater is more efficient. They have been in plastic bags but somehow ice gets in them and melts. It is so frustrating and disappointing trying to dry them out with quite a few of our very old red rare editions becoming water-damaged. Don is philosophical, saying that it is now part of their history and that we probably have the only original set in the world of Mawson's scientific notes, diaries and journals that have spent a year at his original base camp in Commonwealth Bay.

The high temperatures and bright sunshine, continue to crack the ice edge along the shore and may have something to do with our "Ave Maria iceberg" finally setting out to sea. It carved from the ice cliffs early in the year when I was singing "Ave Maria" and has sat grounded on rocks about 4 kms to the east of us all through the huge winter blizzards. On Friday, Don shouted out "Ave Maria is moving". It is incredible to see this huge berg moving ever so slowly out to sea. It's sad in a way because we have always checked on it at every opportunity throughout the year and now it's headed north. Maybe that's a sign! Don says it will take days to drift out of the bay then head east in the currents and prevailing winds offshore. It could even run aground again as it probably extends, hundreds of metres below the surface. It floats about 100 metres high. I will let you know next week, how far it has gone. We estimate it's about 12 square kilometres in size and the funny part is, we have a better view of it now from different angles. It really is beautiful, especially in the late afternoon sunlight when the sea is dark and the sky is dark but the sun is illuminating with fantastic colours. Don's brilliant statement was that it's even big enough and flat enough on the top to land a plane on. Wouldn't that be funny! If it does drift out of sight, we may see it when we sail home. That would be exciting! Not long to go!

The total sun for the week was 85 hours. The best meal for the week was honey-glazed ham with cloves, roasted in the oven, followed by baked apple pie with raisins and custard. I used dried apples soaked in water.

Three bears were born this week. One a 20cm white bear named "Bright Eyes", and two 15cm beige bears named "Bob" and "Laseron".

The worst part of the week was the burns on my bottom have dried up and are cracking and itching. Don said I have to tell you that I slipt and slightly sprained my wrist too! Fortunately nothing happened to him!

For Australian schools, we will be on the Today Show on Channel 9 next Tuesday 31st October at approximately ten to eight in the morning.

Catch you next week. Stay warm.

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