Sunday, December 18, 2005

Setting up the Weighbridge

Grant and Vijay setting up the weighbridge sled.

The weighbridge subcolony from above.

Adelie penguins crossing the weighbridge.

On our very first day at Crozier (November 15th) we set up the wieghbridge, which is a scale with a magnetic hoop that wieghs and identifies penguins as they walk across it. The weighbridge is the only point of access to a fenced-in nesting subcolony, so each penguin from that subcolony has to walk across it to get to its nest and back out to sea. The bird is identified via a subcutaneous pit-tag that is automatically read by the magnetic hoop, just like a penguin fast-track. The data tell us when the each bird comes in and out of the colony and how much it weighs each time, and from the weight difference we can calculate, without having to handle the bird, how much food each one is bringing back to its chicks throughout the breeding season.

Every year we have to haul the weighbridge itself, the WB computer, a big battery, and several rolls of fencing from the hut to the colony, which is 1 km downhill. We load everything on a banana sled and brave the icy snow field with our crampons, holding on to the sled with thick ropes to keep it from sliding all the way down to the sea ice. Dragging 250 lbs downhill along a snow field isn't too bad, but hauling it back up the hill at the end of season is always a good workout, especially when there is big sastrugi (wind-carved snow) in the way. Fortunately by that time, after two solid months of walking up and down the hill on a daily basis, we're in pretty good shape.


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