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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  3

Scotia Sea, South Georgia

 

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Black-browed Albatross

Black-browed Albatross

 

January 23 - January 25 Scotia Sea On Route To South Georgia

By noon the swells are back to 10-13 feet and the ship is rocking and rolling again. The next two days were spent on deck watching seabirds and attending movies and lectures in the warm lecture hall. By now we are used to seeing penguins porpoising along on their way to and from the rookeries.

Gray-headed Albatross, Black-browed Albatross, Cape Petrels, White-bellied Storm-Petrel, Southern Fulmars, White-chinned Petrel, Giant Petrels, Light-mantled Sooty Albatross, Antarctic Prions and even a Sheathbill followed the boat for some time. Wandering Albatross are constant companions and one stayed with us for two days. I like all the Albatross, but the Wandering is a special pleasure.

We see Fin Whales and the captain reports Blue Whales. Third day out we see more of the same birds and Soft-plumaged Petrel. At one point we have a Snow Petrel near the boat. I never did see one near an iceberg.

January 25 Elsehul, Right Whale Bay on South Georgia

Late in the afternoon we sight Willis Island part of South Georgia. There is Kelp in the water for the first time. Shackleton and his men knew that kelp and Shags were signs they were approaching land. We sail into a bay on the west end of South Georgia. There is a flock of 20 Gray-headed and Black-browed Albatross on the water. It is very windy. There are lots of Prions ( Antarctic Prions) and Northern Giant Petrels.

In contrast to the rocks and snow of Antarctica, South Georgia is green. We are sailing into a fjord called Elsehul. A bare patch on the left is a colony of hundreds of Macaroni Penguins. On the other side the white spots in the green tussock grass are nesting Gray-headed Albatross. We see Fur Seals, King Penguins. A small tornado on the water is called a Williwaw. The wind is gusting to 40 knots. We will not have a zodiac cruise of Elsehul. Instead since our ship is small we are able to see most of it from the main ship. We then cruise by Bird Island and on to Right Whale Bay where conditions are no better. No landing tonight and most of us are not too disappointed that we will not venture into these angry seas in the small boats. We think about Shackleton making the entire trip in a boat about the size of a zodiac.

January 26 Grytviken

In the morning the British Harbormaster of Grytviken ( Grit vic ken) arrived aboard to stamp all our passports. The ship keeps everyone's passports and presents them to the Harbormaster. We land in our zodiacs opposite the cemetery.

Zodiacs ferry passengers to Grytviken

King Penguins greet us on the beach and there are feisty juvenile Fur Seals. It is another sunny balmy day. We first visit the cemetery and Shackleton's grave. (center ) Shackleton returned on a second expedition and died of a heart attack on South Georgia. The group wanders though the rusted remains of the whaling station. Two Elephant Seals are fighting on the old dock. After one is pushed out of the territory, the other lifts his head and bellows. Steam comes from his mouth. The territorial dispute settled, they both go back to sleep.

We are greeted first by Pauline Carr and later by her husband Tim. The Carr's sailed the world in their tiny sailboat named Curlew, finally settling on South Georgia where they run the museum and Tim works as a carpenter restoring the small church. They are authors of the wonderful picture book about South Georgia called Antarctic Oasis listed as a reference at the end of this report. I read their book prior to leaving and so knew the story of their thirty years of living aboard the small sailboat. I won't spoil their story for you, but I was thrilled to meet them in person and to see Curlew tied up to the old wrecked whaling ship Petrel. (left photo)

Whale bones

The first building we passed was the white hydro power house pocked marked with shell holes from the Falklands war. The metal whaling station buildings have rusted to a rich brown color. The former manager's villa a white wooden building with a red roof is the museum and gift shop. In front of the museum are three large metal pots which were found here before the whaling station was built. The town is named Grytviken which means Pot Cove. Whaling continued here until 1965 when it became unprofitable because the whales were all gone. I always thought whaling ending in the days of Moby Dick.

Behind the museum I meet "Skua", a wild Brown Skua who has become somewhat tame. He is one of the stars of the Carrs book and is pictured leaning down into Curlew's galley looking for a handout. The gift shop has all the usual postcards, coffee mugs, T-shirts, patches, pins. I bought a nice baseball hat with two King Penguins and the logo South Georgia. When I wear it, I am sure people will assume I am supporting a hockey team somewhere south of Atlanta. It will be a little geography lesson.

Tim Carr has restored the tiny church built in 1913 (the same year the Brookline Bird Club was founded in Brookline, Massachusetts). Recently a boat load of Norwegians tourists, many of them descendants of the men who worked here came to visit and for the rededication of the church.

It was a lovely morning and the birds here were: King Penguin, South Georgia Pintail, Antarctic Tern, Brown Skua, Kelp Gull, Light-mantled Sooty Albatross. Fur Seals and Elephant Seals. The crosses on the mountain and a sign that read "Emergency Store Please do not enter. Our lives depend." remind you that not all the days are so peaceful and sunny. Tim, Pauline, the Habormaster and some of the British Soldiers come aboard for our afternoon sail.

January 26 Fortuna Bay King Penguins

In the afternoon we landed at Fortuna Bay to visit a colony of 100,000 King Penguins. On landing we were greeted by rambunctious juvenile Fur Seals. Adult fur seals are huge animals and barely open their eyes when you pass. The juveniles however are frisky. They hide in the tussock grass, rising up to bark at you and sometime to charge. They can be frightened off by barking back, waving a stick or knocking two stones together. After a short while they are little more than a nuisance.
King Penguins
A Southern Giant Petrel surely one of the most ugly birds was on the grass near the beach. Antarctic Terns were nesting on the gravel between the beach and the King Penguin colony. We also saw a few Gentoo Penguins here.

The real spectacle was the huge colony of King Penguins with their very large furry brown chicks. The old time sailors called the King Penguin chicks the Oakum Boys. (Oakum is a frayed hemp rope mixed with tar that is used for caulking boats. I have no experience with oakum so I can't comment on the appropriateness of this nickname. Obviously I looked the word up the dictionary after I got home. )

Just behind the colony was the end of a large glacier. On the way back to the boat in the zodiac I noticed that there was a distinct line where the milky glacial water met the blue ocean water. The tide must be incoming. That evening we had a barbecue dinner served on the deck of the boat with our guests from Grykviken. Tim and Pauline gave a talk with some of their slides after dinner. They will be leaving South Georgia soon for a book tour that will bring them to the United States and Great Britain. During the night we steamed back to Grykviken to disembark our guests.

January 27 Gold Harbor South Georgia

On a day that alternated between bright sun and high winds, we explored Gold Harbor. There were Fur Seals and huge Elephant Seals, King Penguins, Gentoo, Blue-eyed Shags, Brown Skuas, Snowy Sheathbills, and the South Georgian Pintail Duck.

And on top of the cliffs nesting Light-mantled Sooty Albatross. The leaders announced a climb to the top of the cliffs expecting that most in the group would decline. They were wrong. We all wanted to go. It was not an easy climb for me. The cliff was covered with tussock grass in which hid young Fur Seals. When I got almost to the top, the wind started to blow so strongly I almost lost my balance. But I made it and everybody else did too. Our reward was a pair of Light-mantled Sooty Albatross sitting on a nest on the side of the cliff. From the top, I witnessed the tremendous splash of a large iceberg breaking up. I seem to have been the only person in the group that witnessed this event.


Macaroni Penguin The afternoon excursion by zodiac was to Cooper Cove where we made a short,steep climb to a Macaroni Penguin Colony. It is so amazing that penguins nest on such high inaccessible spots. The Macaronis nest in the tussock grass and we had to again face the ire of the juvenile Fur Seals to get close.

We ended the day with a sail up Drygalski Fjord a spectacular narrow channel. It was a chance for the Little Red Ship to show off its maneuverability. We sailed right up to the edge of the glacier and then turned 180 degrees in place to sail out forward. The real highlight here were 500 or so Snow Petrels. Pete Dunne pronounced the Snow Petrel the most beautiful bird of all and he makes a good point. There were also many Cape Petrels, Antarctic Tern, Southern Giant Petrel and Black-browed Albatross.

January 28 Bay of Isles and Prion Island

We made an early morning landing at the Bay of Isles for a last look at a King Penguin Colony. When on shore it rained, snowed and even hailed. Getting back in the zodiacs was difficult as the wind was very strong. Just as I went to sit on the edge of the zodiac, it moved and I fell into the water up to my waist. I was very grateful that my camera and binoculars did not get wet. Usually, I put my camera in a plastic garbage bag and then place it in my backpack. Later people asked if the water was cold and truthfully I don't remember. My boots however got wet on the inside and that was cold. I used the hair dryer in the cabin to dry my boots. Think of Shackleton's men who slept in wet sleeping bags during the Antarctic winter.

Wandering Albatross Our last stop in South Georgia was on Prion Island. Here we hiked up an easy but very muddy slope to a nesting site of Wandering Albatross. I was surprised on reaching the top to realize that I was less than 5 feet from a Wandering Albatross sitting on the nest.

These birds are huge and they have enormous bills. The nests are built up 2-3 feet from the ground. We wandered around the colony seeing theSouth Georgia Pipits and a Brown Skua with chicks. I was unhappy that the group was allowed to stay so long and to get so close to the nesting Albatross. While I can't say that I noticed any ill effects on the birds from this encounter, I do think that the operators and VENT need to modify their procedures when approaching a nesting colony. I later heard that some people were picking up grass and handing it to the Albatross to watch them tuck it into their nests. During the trip we were told to stay at least 15 feet from Penguins unless they walked up to you, which they often do. Why not stay at least 15 feet from an Albatross nest?

 

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