Monday, November 15, 2010

PLANCIUS: November 10 & 11, 2010

NOVEMBER 10 & 11, 2010

Howdy, Birders,

Well, it had to catch up to us, sooner or later—the weather! Unlike
anywhere else on Earth, the Southern Ocean wraps completely around the
planet, with no continents in its path. This means that winds and swells
can build to higher dimensions than anywhere else on Earth, since there
is nothing to stop them. This morning, we attempted to land at Elsehul.
However, the winds and swells prevented us from even a Zodiac cruise. It
was not safe. So, we pushed on for Right Whale Bay. Don and I were, of
course, quite thrilled that we had made this very difficult landing on
our prior voyage. How lucky we were! The first SNOW PETREL and
PALE-FACED SHEATHBILLS of the voyage appeared today. I call the
sheathbills, the "chickens of the sea." It was funny to watch these
white birds sitting on top of the orange life boats, outside of our
cabin window. Sheathbills are just returning from South America for the
breeding season in the Antarctic. They are the only non-webbed bird in

This afternoon, we landed at Right Whale Bay in gale force winds, with
icy snow bits pelting our faces like small stones! In a howling wind,
such that we could barely stand up, we hiked to the KING PENGUIN COLONY.
This bay was presumably named for the large numbers of Right Whales once
found here. Whalebones littered the beach, even today. As compared with
our landing on the previous trip, only ten days ago, we made note of the
departure of about 50% of the Southern Elephant Seals, while the
Antarctic Fur Seal numbers had more than doubled. Our landing was of
short duration due to the extreme weather. In fact, it was reported to
me that one lady actually became airborne due to the high winds. Back on
the ship, the wind meter was reading gusts up to 57 knots. Now, we have
had a chance to see a bit of what the weather can do!

The next morning, November 11th found us anchored at St. Andrews Bay.
Although it was still a bit windy, the sun was shining! What a
difference a day can make. Near the landing site a group of giant
petrels was feeding on a dead elephant seal pup, their faces covered in
bright red blood. It was amazing to watch them vying with each other
over the carcass. Most of us walked over to the KING PENGUIN COLONY. I
sat at the edge of the colony, photographing and videotaping their
amazing sounds. Don and Joe meandered around, photographing wildlife, as
well. Over 100,000 pairs of King Penguins are estimated to breed at this
site. In 1911 Norwegian whalers imported REINDEER to the island in order
to have a supply of meat. Several small herds could be seen feeding in
the grassy areas.

In the afternoon, we made our way to Cumberland Bay and the historic
whaling station at Grytviken. Here, we officially cleared customs with
the South Georgia Government and our passports were stamped. We all had
a toast at Sir Ernest Shackleton's grave, "The Boss." Many of us visited
the post office, museum and the newer exhibit of the small vessel, James
Caird in which Shackleton and his men sailed from Elephant Island to
South Georgia. Several pairs of South Georgian Pintail were feeding
along the shoreline. Will managed to get a great shot of one with a leg
band, #57. The South Georgian race of Antarctic Tern was feeding its
young in a nest on the fallen down dock. This is the exact same spot
where one was feeding a youngster when we visited last January. Finally,
we returned to the ship for the "Antarctic Barbecue" which included the
staff at the museum and the BAS station. A fun time, with dancing was
had by all!

Debi Shearwater
On board Plancius; Falkland Islands, South Georgia & Antarctic Peninsula

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