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Tag Archives: Gentoo Penguin
Today we pulled into Cuverville Island for our first stop of the day and I had a chance to sit down for an hour or so and watch the local skua population wreak havoc on the Gentoo Penguins. Skuas are a large brown bird related to the Northern Jaegers that constantly prowl the periphery of penguin colonies awaiting the opportunity to swoop in and steal an egg. Despite their scavenging habits and cutthroat attitude to cute cuddly penguins there is something charming about skuas. They are absolutely fearless and will wander up and stare you straight in the eye, but it always occurs to me that they are sizing you up for a meal “Are you dead yet? Can I eat you?” They also congregate around research stations where they virtually become pets despite their bad manners and killer instincts. If they are pirates then they are certainly the “Captain Jack Sparrow” kind of pirate with a bit of the rouge mixed in with a lot of charisma. The ones I watched today were happily sitting amidst the penguins which seemed unconcerned despite the various empty eggs around the colonies that had fallen victim to the rapacious birds. The skuas disdained the occasional penguin pecks to the extent that many pairs were happily consummating their relationship amongst the throng of tomorrow’s food.
Today I woke up early to prepare for a landing in Deception Island – the very alive volcano that is now about 5 years overdue for its somewhat regular 30-year eruption cycle. Unfortunately a peek out the porthole showed not the rocky crags and cliffs I was expecting but snow being blown in sheets across the water by strong winds. Looks like a landing was out of the question! Instead we turned tail and fled before the growing gale until we found shelter at Mikkelson Harbour on the southern side of Trinity Island. As soon as we jumped in the Zodiacs the weather turned crystal clear and the clouds pealed back to expose blue sky over the glorious white ice of the Antarctic. Thus we had a long landing amidst gentoo penguins and a veritable slumber party of Weddell Seals all lazing on the snow banks happily digesting fish with only an occasional pause to scratch an itch. All up …not a bad day.
Last night I slept under the Antarctic midnight sunset and was lulled to sleep by the sound of Gentoo penguins trumpeting their love to potential partners. Those with the best call were busily engaged in energetic lovemaking around us while snowy sheathbills darted around the snow banks picking up unspeakable morsels left behind by the penguins. Not a great deal of sleep was had as I was in an open bivvy that seemed to be a magnet for wandering penguins that tripped over my weary bulk several times. Not too bad I guess but sleep seems to be a long lost friend right now.
The rest of he day ran like a typical day guiding and driving Zodiacs in Antarctica – Packed up the camping early to make our first landing at Port Lockroy were I ended up spending most of my time helping floundering passengers out of thigh deep snow and guiding them over slippery rocks as the tide continually retreated making boat operations difficult.
Sometime tonight we will pass over the rusting hulk of the explorer onthe sea floor where she sank 3 years ago … here’s hoping we don’t join her!
Woke at the crack of dawn.. but dawn is less of a crack and more of a gaping chasm here in Antarctica and lasts for hours …despite this I caught at least the first half of dawn when I dragged myself out of bed at 4:00 to jump in a small rubber boat to charge around icebergs. Minutes later I’m hanging from a crane 25m above the water and descending into the cold ice waters with seals, penguins and whales on my mind.
The first stop was Orne Harbour where I cruised past chinstrap penguins and leopard seal…then a quick dash up to Cuverville Island to see the largest Adelie penguin colony on the Antarctic Peninsula, and finally a landing and hike at Neko Harbour. The last is a particular favorite of mine with a churning glacier descending into a tranquil Bay populated by Gentoo penguins. The Glacier is fast and furious …by glacial standards, and drops icebergs frequently. Today a HUGE carving happened that sent a wave right up over the beach. I was onshore and though I avoided the worst we lost a bit of gear and I spent the rest of the landing wet up to my waist. Still …a great landing. I blazed the trail for the long walk up to
the ridge and then to the next bay where there were about seven Weddel seal asleep. I managed top get 20 minutes sitting alone on the beach listening to the Weddels sing in thier sleep accompanied by the trumpetting of Gentoo penguins.
A beautiful place to be working.