Thursday, October 28, 2010

ON BOARD PLANCIUS: October 27, 2010


FROM: Debi Shearwater Cabin 602

OCTOBER 27, 2010

Howdy, Birders,

Well, this is expedition cruising which always demands a flexible
schedule! Or, put it this way— if one cannot remain flexible, one will
certainly not have an enjoyable time. Case in point, was this morning.
At the 0530 wake up call, Troels announced that we would not be able to
land at St. Andrews Bay as scheduled due to a high swell and high winds!
We were blown out. So, back to sleep until 0700. We proceeded to Gold
Harbor where we had an easy, four hour landing! Gold Harbor is regarded
as one of South Georgia's most beautiful visitor sites. An amphitheater
of hanging glaciers and vertical cliffs rises straight out of the sea
and the towering snow-covered peaks of Mt. Paterson create an
unforgettable backdrop to an exceptional abundance of seabirds and
seals. Highlights included nearly 2,000 SOUTHERN ELEPHANT SEALS; KING
SHEATHBILLS and more. The elephant seals occupied much of our time. It
is only during October and November that one can expect to observe
breeding elephant seals. While alpha bulls try desperately to maintain
their harems from the satellite bulls, cows are birthing and nursing
their newborns. It is easy to spot a newborn pup, as the BROWN SKUAS
move in immediately to consume the afterbirth. Fat "weiners," those that
have already been weaned from their mothers, are scattered on the beach.
There is no end to the jostling and writhing on the beach. Meanwhile,
the King Penguins are scattered, everywhere. Many adults are finishing
the last days of their "catastrophic" molt. The fat "oakum boys" keep a
watchful eye for their returning parents. The dead remains of chicks who
did not make it through the winter liter the beach. The sounds of the
kings and seals alone are nearly deafening!

Back on board, we enjoyed a brunch before setting sail for Drygalski
Fjord. Our expedition leader, Troels was now working on Plan D or E for
the day, as we were also blown out of Copper Bay. Drygalski seemed like
a great bet, though. Here, we hoped to do a Zodiac cruise into Larsen
Harbor. Indeed, our good Captain Pruss approved this, although the winds
were difficult on the launch and return. Once inside of the protected
Larsen Harbor, we cruised up to some WEDDELL SEALS on the snow covered
rocks. Larsen Harbor is the most northerly recorded breeding site for
Weddell Seals. With their small smiling faces and curly whiskers, these
large mottled seals are easy to distinguish from all other seals. We saw
about a dozen of them. Several SOUTH GEORGIA PINTAILS and ANTARCTIC
TERNS were about. An odd sound, sort of reminiscent of a screech owl
call, caught my attention. Soon, we spotted two CAPE PETRELS on a rock
ledge, apparently setting up their homestead for the coming nesting
season. Deeper into the harbor, Troels spotted a SNOW PETREL which
vanished into a snow hole near the base of a rock. After we returned to
the ship, we proceeded on a ship's cruise to the end of Drygalski Fjord.
The weather in the fjord is windier and cooler than on the central north
coast. Funneled by the great massif of the Salvesen Range,
hurricane-force winds hurtle down 14 km long Drygalski Fjord. The peaks
of Mt. Carse, Mt. Macklin, Douglas Crag and Trendall Crag which rise to
over 2000 m barely 5 km from the sea, are positively breathtaking. These
rocks were once part of the continental margin of Gondwana, and as such
are the oldest rocks on South Georgia. Magnificent glaciers and Snow
Petrels were a beautiful end to yet another special day at South

Snow Petrels forever,
Debi Shearwater
On board Plancius; South Georgia Exclusive Voyage

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