Tag Archives: Wandering Albatross

The birds that make the wind blow (R.C. Murphy)

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.

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Towards the ice

This morning I awoke early to feel the swell of the Drake Passage tossing my body around the bed and various loose items around my cabin. I must be on my way to Antarctica!

After a quick tidy up of my various scattered belongings however, I took the time to take in the splendour of being on the southern seas – rolling waves crested by white caps, wind-whipped foam lining the deep blue water … and of course the birds. While sailing all summer up the Norwegian coast in our own little yacht accompanied by northern fulmars, puffins, guillemots, gannets, razorbills and various gulls it’s easy to forget just how numerous the sea birds of the Southern Ocean are.

In Norwegian waters there is generally one or two birds in sight of the ship … Strolling on the pitching deck this morning I was greeted by clouds of seabirds trailing after the ship like a wheeling cloud of moths over a flame. Wandering albatross, giant petrels, pintados, storm petrels, southern fulmars, black-browed albatross and more all formed a soaring entourage to herald our passage towards the southern continent. In an ocean that stretched around the globe it’s hard to feel alone.

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Today was a quick morning stop in Gold Harbour where the elephant seals have claimed the beach in a writing mass of bodies piled atop of each other. Grunts and bellows resound and startle the droves of king penguins and fur seals picking their way through the thrown of large inert blubber wallowing in filth and mud. With the sun beating down the ellies were particularly pungent as they dug into the mud and fling it upon their bodies to protect them from the suns burn. Leaving all this behind I lead a hike up a steep slope into the tussock plateau where the spectacular coastline of South Georgia unwinds below the sheer cliffs where albatross nest and glide out to sea on the unseen wind currents. Really is gold.

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Bits and birds

Another Drake passage with a long swell setting the boat to a slow swinging roll. The wind is quite and the birds are drifting long behind the boat as if drawn to this small speck of steel adrift in the endless ocean. We have Royal and Wandering albatross that ghost in occasionally to inspect and a cloud of black browed albatross, giant petrels and cape petrels that seem loath to stray far from our wake. We also spotted a spectacled porpoise today which is a rare sight in the Southern Ocean (I say “we” because I missed it ..damn). Otherwise it is plain sailing with Antarctica at the bow… hoping to reach land by tomorrow afternoon!

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