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New England Seabirds

Wilson's Storm-petrel Dave Jones

Trip Reports

Chapter 1 Intro

Chapter 2 Drake Passage

Chapter 3 South Georgia

Chapter 4  Falklands

A. So Georgia Bird List

B.  Costs, Leaders


 

Antarctica, South Georgia and the Falkland Islands

January 15 - February 2, 1999

Trip Report by Emmalee Tarry

Chapter 2

Drake Passage, Antarctic Peninsula,Elephant Island

 

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Chinstrap Penguin with chick

A Chinstrap Penguin with a chick

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Chapter 2 - Drake Passage, Antarctic Peninsula, and Elephant Island

January 18-19 Drake Passage

It was easy to wake up early the next morning. The ship was pitching and rolling in 10-13 foot waves. (The ship log described this as pitching rolling moderately to heavily. ) Many just stayed in bed and the doctor was busy. I had a few bad moments as I tried to adjust to showering in a room that rolled back and forth repeatedly. Breakfast was wonderful every morning with a buffet filled with cereal, scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage and loads of fresh fruit and baked goods. And if you didn't find you favorite here, you could order anything. If your sea legs were weak, the waiters would carry your plate for you.

After breakfast, I was out on the deck. During the morning we had our first Wandering Albatross.Also Black-browed Albatross, Southern Giant Petrel, Blue Petrel and Cape Petrels. A Royal Albatross was seen by others. I saw one and only one Common Diving-Petrel.

How wonderful are the albatross with their huge wings. They follow the ship for miles without ever flapping their wings. Sometimes they catch up to the boat and fly alongside. Then they drop back, stay behind the boat for hours and then catch up again. I can persuade myself that I understand how they stay aloft without effort, but how do they catch the boat?

In the afternoon we saw more of the same birds. Was this boring? Not at all. To learn the pelagic birds, you need to experience many individuals and learn their flight patterns. And if you were tired of birding there were lectures: Pete Dunne on "Optics 101", Greg Lasley on Southern Seabird Identification and ship naturalist Charles Wheatley on Southern Oceans.

Each day we received a printed daily schedule of activities. During the trip there were videos, movies, lectures, games, demonstrations on napkin folding and vegetable carving. A daily crossword puzzle was distributed as well a brief on the world news that kept us up with the attempted impeachment of the president.

In the evening the captain introduced the crew and explained the "Open Bridge" policy. We are welcome on the bridge at any time as long as we don't sit in the captain's chair or interfer with operations. The bridge was a great place from which to spot birds in comfort. There were other great places: on the top deck, outside the bridge, from the stern of the pool deck. All of them were very cold. The captain was very impressed with our group because we all had such good binoculars.

The next day we passed below the Antarctic convergence. This is an area where the cold waters of the Antarctic moving north meet the warmer waters moving south. This produces an upwelling of nutrients and is very productive for seabirds. Today the sea conditions are 3-5 foot waves and we are pitching and rolling easily. Most of the sick are up and trying to regain their dignity and their confidence. Some are still among the missing.

Some new species today: Wilson's Storm-Petrel, Black-bellied Storm-Petrel, Antarctic Prion , Gray-headed Albatross (one) and Antarctic Fulmar. More of the same birds seen yesterday except we have lost Blue Petrels. Porpoising through the water.... a tiny dolphin? .... No, Chinstrap Penguins.

We learned the ship stores all the fresh vegetables and fruits in the covered swimming pool. About 3 PM we sight Smith Island one of the South Shetland Islands. We have reached Antarctica.

Antarctic Peninsula January 20 - Wienke Island, Petermann Island

We are anchored off Wienke Island at the port called Dorian Bay. Here we will make our first landing. There is an announcement of two whales on the port side. Paula has a perfect view from her bunk out the porthole. The bay is beautiful, surrounded by snow capped peaks.

Breakfast as usual and by 8 AM we are making our first zodiac landing. Dressed in knee-high boots, rain pants, and the small life jacket we waddle down the gangway three at a time to get in the zodiac. Two able-bodied seaman stand on the platform and practically lift us into the zodiac. These guys are great and when the sea get rough we come to really appreciate our trust in them.

Today the sea is like glass. It is a bright sunny day. We need sun glasses and sun screen. The island ahead is covered with clean fresh snow with bare rocks sticking out in places. There are Gentoo Penguins standing on the shore where we land. A pair of Skuas one declared to be hybrid South Polar and Brown and the other a South Polar are nesting near a rock. They are not happy about our arrival.

 
Gentoo Penguin

We walk a short distance to a Gentoo Penguin Colony. Already I realize I am very over dressed. Off comes the parka. I am very comfortable in a polar fleece shirt with a vest. And I don't need the hat or the gloves. The rain pants are a real misery. ( I quit wearing plastic rain pants and instead wore water resistant pants that did get wet, but dried quickly. )

The penguins here have it easy. There are several colonies within a short walk of the beach. Penguins don't fly and they look so clumsy walking. So why to they prefer nesting sites high on the cliffs and how do these little guys get there? Penguins are very noisy, constantly braying for their mates. Smelly too. A Brown Skua (or is it a South Polar Skua) is eating a penguin chick and carrying bits of food back to the nest.

We return to the zodiacs and go around the peninsula to Port Lockroy on the other side. This is a British post office station. You can mail post cards here and buy stamps, pins. The post master tells us this is the first sun in 10 days. The post office is surrounded by a noisy, smelly, Gentoo Penguin Colony. Here we see our first Snowy Sheathbills, the pigeon like bird that makes a living scavenging in penguin colonies. There are also Antarctic Terns.

Back to the ship for lunch and a sail down the beautiful LeMaire Channel to our next landing on Petermann Island. The sea is like glass. We see several Minke Whales. We admire the beauty of the sculptured ice bergs and watch a very small sail boat navigate carefully through the loose ice. On one small berg is a Crabeater Seal. On another both a Weddel Seal and a Leopard Seal. We pass a Ukrainian hut where in 1982 two British Scientists from the Faraday Station skied here, got trapped by a storm and died trying to get back to their base. This is not always a kind place.

Adelie Penguin

 

 

 

 

 

We zodiac to Petermann Island at 3 PM. This is home to colonies of Adelie Penguin.

Adelie Penguin sliding on the snow

These penguins too like the high ridges for their colonies. These lucky guys however have a lot of snow banks and they toboggan both up and down on their belly using their flippers and claws to push themselves along. It looks like great fun, but these birds are working hard to feed their young. A South Polar Skua sits in a stream of melt water. He must be cooling off. He doesn't even fly when 100 of us troop by. As I follow the others up the hill, there is a sudden rush of wings as a Skua dive bombs my head. Why did this bird take exception to me after so many others trooped past his nest. Imperial Shags on the island have babies too. There are more Gentoo Penguins here as well.

Petermann Island was our furthest point south at 65 degrees. We end the day with a sail through Paradise Bay passed a closed Argentine Research Station and an active Chilean Station. Antarctica is not a country and internationally ownership by any other country is not recognized by the international body. Several countries make a presence on the continent and some claim it as their territory. We can visit these places because the Explorer is a small ship. There are larger ships making this trip. Larger ships may handle rough seas better, but the downside is that they carry more passengers. One carries 500 passengers and it take 4 hours to make a single zodiac landing so they only make two on the whole trip. Larger ships cannot manipulate into the smaller channels.

In the evening (my notes fail me here) we watched two Humpback Whales feeding on perfectly smooth water. We see Humpbacks all the time off the New England coast, but it was an unusual sight to be able to see the whale so clearly though the glassy water.

January 21 - Deception Island, Hannah Point on Livingston Island

The morning landing is at Pendulum Cove on the volcanic Deception Island. The big attraction here is a swimming adventure where you walk into and sit at the edge of the beach. Hot water comes up from beneath the sand and mixes with the cold water of the sea. You circle your arms to mix the two. There is no swimming, only sitting. Afterward you dry off and they rush you back to the ship. To participate you need to wear shoes into the water to avoid burning your feet. I didn't have any shoes I was willing to get wet so skipped this activity. Scuba booties, Teva sandals or old tennis shoes would have been perfect.

Aboard ship we saw a white morph of the Southern Giant Petrel. Hundreds of Cape Petrels circled near a cliff. Sailing on we came to a beautiful iceberg with a gentle slope on one side and rather steep slope on the other It was covered with Chinstrap Penguins. Other Chinstraps were trying to get on the berg and of course they were trying to jump up on the steep side. We watched for some time as bird after bird jumped out of the water to get tenuous purchase on the ice only to slip back and fall in the water. Perfect for those with video cameras.

Our next landing was at Hannah Point on Livingston Island in the South Shetlands. There was a considerable amount of loose ice along the water edge. The zodiacs took this in stride. We could see how this ice caused trouble for the penguins trying to go out to feed. They seemed to need to walk over the broken ice rather than swim under. Actually there is very little ice this year and the penguins are having a good year. The morning landing is at Pendulum Cove on the volcanic Deception Island. The big attraction here is a swimming adventure where you walk into and sit at the edge of the beach. Hot water comes up from beneath the sand and mixes with the cold water of the sea. You circle your arms to mix the two. There is no swimming, only sitting. Afterward you dry off and they rush you back to the ship. To participate you need to wear shoes into the water to avoid burning your feet. I didn't have any shoes I was willing to get wet so skipped this activity. Scuba booties, Teva sandals or old tennis shoes would have been perfect.

Aboard ship we saw a white morph of the Southern Giant Petrel. Hundreds of Cape Petrels circled near a cliff. Sailing on we came to a beautiful iceberg with a gentle slope on one side and rather steep slope on the other It was covered with Chinstrap Penguins. Other Chinstraps were trying to get on the berg and of course they were trying to jump up on the steep side. We watched for some time as bird after bird jumped out of the water to get tenuous purchase on the ice only to slip back and fall in the water. Perfect for those with video cameras.

Our next landing was at Hannah Point on Livingston Island in the South Shetlands. There was a considerable amount of loose ice along the water edge. The zodiacs took this in stride. We could see how this ice caused trouble for the penguins trying to go out to feed. They seemed to need to walk over the broken ice rather than swim under. Actually there is very little ice this year and the penguins are having a good year.

 
Chinstrap Penguin

This was a Chinstrap Penguin colony with one Macaroni Penguin in their midst. The Chinstrap Penguin is most distinguishable. On the right a Chinstrap with a gray and white chick.  The chick is about half the size of the adult.

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We climbed a short, steep hill to the first colony and I just stopped to watch the show. Chinstraps build nests of pebbles and pebbles are a limited resource. The area at the top of the hill was totally devoid of pebbles. When one penguin thinks another is not looking they sneak over and snatch a pebble. This causes a ruckus which often involved several penguins. The victim blames his nearest neighbor and they squabble while the thief makes off with the pebble. After a great deal of squawking they all calm down only to have it start all over again. I watched an immature penguin walk all the way down the hill to pick up a pebble and bring it up to his nest and then back down to get another.

Most of these penguins have 1 or 2 chicks. One parent goes out to sea to feed while the other watches the chick. If the feeding parent fails to return, the other parent eventually abandons the chicks to become food for the skuas or the sheathbills. Since the penguins are feeding on krill, their guano is red. Penguins defecate by squirting guano out from under their stiff tail feathers. Living in such close quarters it is inevitable that it lands on the neighbors. Most penguins in the colony had red stains on their white front feathers. Clean penguins were ones who had just returned from feeding. When a parent returns from feeding, he or she first greets the mate. They posture towards each other raising their bills and moving their heads back and forth. The baby waits impatiently. As soon as it stops, the baby goes after the returning parent. By pecking on the parent's bill they cause the parent to regurgitate food. The baby sticks its head entirely into the parents throat to get the food. The parents then resume their greetings while the second chick clamors to be fed.

Here we also saw nesting Giant Petrels, Kelp Gull and Snowy Sheathbill. There were Gentoo Penguins and Elephant Seals.

January 22 - Antarctic Channel, Brown Bluff and Kinnes Cove

Overnight we sail north and east to enter the Antarctic Sound. To the south is the Trinity Peninsula which is attached to the Antarctic peninsula. North the islands of Joinville and Dundee. The channel itself is iceberg alley as towering bergs have become common. We are looking at every berg for the beautiful Snow Petrel and while others see this bird, I managed to miss it every time. In the meantime there are Southern Giant Petrels, Cape Petrels, Wilson's Storm-Petrels and Minke Whales.

This morning I stepped onto my sixth continent: Antarctica at Brown Bluff. There is a very special treat to celebrate this occasion: A single juvenile Emperor Penguin stands with his back to the water molting. The EP breeds much further south and on ice. There are trips that sail south for two days and then helicopter birders in to check off their life Emperor Penguin making it one of the more expensive birds. I am happy to check off the juvenile at Brown Bluff.

Brown Bluff has Snow Petrels flying high on the cliff. I watch one fly into a hole 3/4 of the way to the top. A few Wilson's Storm-Petrels nest here also.

But the real show is a large colony of Adelie Penguins parading along the beach. They want to go to sea to feed, but a hungry Leopard Seal is patrolling the beach just waiting to snatch a penguin. The parade moves to the right with great determination. Then the lead penguins pause and the rest start milling around. Then they are start moving back the way they came with equal determination. Every now and then we catch a glimpse of the seal. What puzzles me is that it seems that if the seal moves right, the penguin move right. Every now and then a group of penguins gets brave and plunges into the water. We do not see the seal get lucky.

On the beach there are scattered Gentoo Penguins with their chicks. The preferred nesting sites are near large rocks. The naturalist says they choose the snow free spots first and the snow must melt around the boulders first. These Gentoo chicks are much larger than those further south. They are almost ready to creche. Both parents will go to sea to feed, leaving all the chicks together on the beach.

We climbed a short, steep hill to the first colony and I just stopped to watch the show. Chinstraps build nests of pebbles and pebbles are a limited resource. The area at the top of the hill was totally devoid of pebbles. When one penguin thinks another is not looking they sneak over and snatch a pebble. This causes a ruckus which often involved several penguins. The victim blames his nearest neighbor and they squabble while the thief makes off with the pebble. After a great deal of squawking they all calm down only to have it start all over again. I watched an immature penguin walk all the way down the hill to pick up a pebble and bring it up to his nest and then back down to get another.

Most of these penguins have 1 or 2 chicks. One parent goes out to sea to feed while the other watches the chick. If the feeding parent fails to return, the other parent eventually abandons the chicks to become food for the skuas or the sheathbills. Since the penguins are feeding on krill, their guano is red. Penguins defecate by squirting guano out from under their stiff tail feathers. Living in such close quarters it is inevitable that it lands on the neighbors. Most penguins in the colony had red stains on their white front feathers. Clean penguins were ones who had just returned from feeding. When a parent returns from feeding, he or she first greets the mate. They posture towards each other raising their bills and moving their heads back and forth. The baby waits impatiently. As soon as it stops, the baby goes after the returning parent. By pecking on the parent's bill they cause the parent to regurgitate food. The baby sticks its head entirely into the parents throat to get the food. The parents then resume their greetings while the second chick clamors to be fed.

Here we also saw nesting Giant Petrels, Kelp Gull and Snowy Sheathbill. There were Gentoo Penguins and Elephant Seals.

January 22 - Antarctic Channel, Brown Bluff and Kinnes Cove

Overnight we sail north and east to enter the Antarctic Sound. To the south is the Trinity Peninsula which is attached to the Antarctic peninsula. North the islands of Joinville and Dundee. The channel itself is iceberg alley as towering bergs have become common. We are looking at every berg for the beautiful Snow Petrel and while others see this bird, I managed to miss it every time. In the meantime there are Southern Giant Petrels, Cape Petrels, Wilson's Storm-Petrels and Minke Whales.

This morning I stepped onto my sixth continent: Antarctica at Brown Bluff. There is a very special treat to celebrate this occasion: A single juvenile Emperor Penguin stands with his back to the water molting. The EP breeds much further south and on ice. There are trips that sail south for two days and then helicopter birders in to check off their life Emperor Penguin making it one of the more expensive birds. I am happy to check off the juvenile at Brown Bluff.

Brown Bluff has Snow Petrels flying high on the cliff. I watch one fly into a hole 3/4 of the way to the top. A few Wilson's Storm-Petrels nest here also.

But the real show is a large colony of Adelie Penguins parading along the beach. They want to go to sea to feed, but a hungry Leopard Seal is patrolling the beach just waiting to snatch a penguin. The parade moves to the right with great determination. Then the lead penguins pause and the rest start milling around. Then they are start moving back the way they came with equal determination. Every now and then we catch a glimpse of the seal. What puzzles me is that it seems that if the seal moves right, the penguin move right. Every now and then a group of penguins gets brave and plunges into the water. We do not see the seal get lucky.

On the beach there are scattered Gentoo Penguins with their chicks. The preferred nesting sites are near large rocks. The naturalist says they choose the snow free spots first and the snow must melt around the boulders first. These Gentoo chicks are much larger than those further south. They are almost ready to creche. Both parents will go to sea to feed, leaving all the chicks together on the beach.

   
Iceberg with Penguins

Leaving this landing we continue up iceberg alley. On the large iceberg to the right, the little dark spot to the right of the diagonal crease is a penguin. How did it get up there?

Ice Berg with one penguin

On one berg we have 6 Crabeater seals. Another large berg has beautiful blue caves carved in the side. Glacial ice has a turquoise blue color. After lunch and on the other side of the sound we land at Kinnes Cove on Joinville Island. After the landing, we take a zodiac ride around the bay getting very close to one very large iceberg with a single penguin standing on top. How did he get up there? Later we saw penguins on top of very large icebergs. I just can't believe those little birds can jump that high. 

Viennese Tea or Beaked Whale

Back on board we steam ahead to Elephant Island where we will land tomorrow. Tea this afternoon is something special called a Viennese Tea. A large table was loaded with beautifully decorated pastry and very tempting chocolate tarts. It all looked so good and I knew I wouldn't be able to stop at one, so I decided to escape to the outside deck. Here I found Michel Sallaberry one of the trip leaders. He too was avoiding the Viennese Tea. We were rewarded with an unusual whale/dolphin show. There was only one animal and it had a sickle shaped dorsal fin. What was unusual was the way it rode the bow wave of the boat. It would appear first on the port side, then on the starboard. The naturalists aboard said that this behavior is frequently exhibited by one of the Beaked Whales. Several other Beaked Whales were spotted on the trip, but always at a distance. This was our last chance to see the Antarctic Petrel and it was the miss of the trip.

January 23, 1999 Elephant Island - Following the spirit of Shackleton

Morning found the ship anchored in a heavy fog off of Wild Point on Elephant Island 173 nautical miles from Kinnes Cove. What makes this place special is the role it played in the Shackleton story. The year was 1914, just before World War I began in Europe. The Norwegian Amundson had already made it to the South Pole and back. The British expedition under Scott made it to the pole, but died on the way back. Shackleton proposed to salvage the British reputation by crossing the continent from the Weddell Sea to the Ross Sea. He set out in a year when there was more ice than usual and ended up with his ship caught in the ice. The ice in the Weddel Sea moves in a clockwise rotation. The ship held fast by the ice moved with it toward the Antarctic Peninsula. Finally the ship sunk leaving Shackleton and his men riding the ice floe until it broke up still many miles from land. They sailed in three small boats to Elephant Island. Leaving most of the crew on a rocky spit now called Wild Point, Shackleton and 5 men left in one of the boats to sail to South Georgia. It was April, fall in the southern hemisphere. The trip lasted 16 days and they survived a storm that sunk a much larger boat. It is considered one of the most incredible voyages of all time. They landed on the uninhabited side of South Georgia and leaving 3 men at the landing spot, Shackleton and two others succeeded again all odds in hiking 19 miles over the mountains that had never been climbed before to a whaling station on the other side. The men left on the other side of the island were then rescued . It took four tries to rescue the rest of the men left at what is now called Wild Point on Elephant Island.

We visited Wild Point on a very foggy morning. A rocky spit some 100 yards long connects the main part of Elephant Island with a rocky promontory. It appeared to be about 20 yard wide. The middle of the spit is now marked by a statue to the captain of the Chilean boat that finally rescued the men. They survived the Antarctic winter by building a hut of stones using the remaining two boats for a roof. Penguins, seals and some meager stores from the ship were their only food. There were Chinstrap Penguins, Sheathbills, Fur Seal, Weddell Seals, White Morph Giant Petrel, Shags at the site.

We returned to the warm Little Red Ship of hot showers, Viennese Tea, comfortable beds, cocktails and too much good food. Could Shackleton's men have imagined such a thing. For the next two plus days we followed Shackleton's route to South Georgia.

Next Chapter 3

1. Introduction  |  2. Drake Passage - Antarctic Peninsula  |  3.  Scotia Sea to So. Georgia  | 4  Falkland  Islands

|Appendix A So. Georgia Bird List | Appendix B Costs, leaders Top of Page