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Tag Archives: Light Manteled Sootie Albatross
We are now making for Cape Horn, a name synonymous with mighty pounding ocean hungry for the lives of unwary sailors. Thousands of mariners have lost their lives to the cold waters of the horn as the struggled to skirt the craggy finger of the South American continent and make passage between the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans. Today, however, we are gliding upon a silken sea with a lazy breeze that lacks the strength to raise foam from peaks of the gentle swell rolling in from the west. The birds have adopted the languor of their wind gods and sullenly flap about the boat or sit on the surface of the water as if reminiscing about stormy seas and the embrace of mightier winds within their outstretched wings.
The Horn should be in sight by lunch and we will peer towards the rocky outcrop that has marked so much maritime misery and read the inscription that is dedicated to lost sailors:
I am the Albatross that waits for you,
At the end of the Earth.
I am the forgotten soul of the deceased sailor,
Who crossed Cape Horn,
From all the seas of the world.
But they did not die in the furious waves.
Today they fly in my wings to eternity,
In the last trough of the Antarctic winds.
Sara Vial (Translated from the original Spanish)
We are now half way across the Drake Passage with our bow pointed towards the Lemaire Channel which is much further south than we normally aim for the start of a trip. Very much looking forward to getting in amongst the serious ice right at the beginning of the trip!
But right now we are gently rolling in languid seas with an escort of albatross soaring around the ship. Wandering albatross with their wingspan of over three meters surround us and display their plumage like badges of rank denoting their age. Some birds still present the dark cap and brown plumage of juveniles, some have discarded the brown feather but retain the collar that proclaims them as sub-adults, some hold the black and white plumage of breeding adults and a few proudly display the broad expanse of white wings that marks them as mature adults approaching the full 50 years of their lifespan. Amidst these colossal ocean wanderers are a host of other albatross including black browed, grey headed and light mantled sooty albatross, as well as smaller ocean birds like the Wilson’s storm petrel, cape petrel, Antarctic prion and the slender billed prion.
It’s a vast ocean but it is hard to feel lonely when surrounded by such splendid companions.
This morning we were surrounded by the same thick fog that has clung to us for days except this morning the silence of the fog was pierced by a cacophony of seal cries echoing off the sheer cliffs that peeked through the white mist. We have arrived at South Georgia Island! This is an absolutely incredible place… like nothing on earth. We started the day with a zodiac ride in Elsehul harbour were we cruised past a swarming mass of fur seals all stridently crying out and barking. Above us albatross wheeled through the mist and grey headed, black-brow and light mantled sooties perched amongst the tussocks above us on their delicate nests. Macaroni penguins charged down the hills into the surging waters and king penguins stood proudly in the their neat colonies on the smooth shingle beaches. Meanwhile giant petrels feasted on the carcasses of fallen elephant seals only feet from their comrades still lounging on the thick rafts of kelp washed ashore. The entire busy beach is also bathed in the peculiar chummy odor of fur seal which brands this as South Georgia.
This introduction was followed by a visit to Salisbury Plains, home to the second largest king penguin colony in the world. Picture tens of thousands of stately penguins splashed with gorgeous colours of sunset orange spilling out from the beach into the green tussock. At the base of the colony juvenile kings in their scruffy coats of brown down wait patiently for a feed while occasionally engaging in a detailed investigation of a passing tourist. Stopping to gently mouth a proffered finger. Unfortunately to get to the colony you have to run the gauntlet of grumpy fur seals who have missed out on the seasons breeding and are looking to take it out on the soft looking bipeds wandering around in a daze. Only a couple of close calls for me but 200 kg of angry seal is something to treat with respect!
It’s good to be back after two years!