The difference between yesterday on the South Shetland Islands, and today on the Antarctic Peninsula was like “night and day”. Yesterday, it was cold, snowy and very windy. Today was as close to perfection as you can imagine- almost zero wind and sun. In fact it was downright hot and many of us stripped down to t-shirts and thin jackets.
This perfect weather was fitting for a new landing. None of us had ever visited D'Hainaut Island in Mikkelsen Harbour before. Mikkelsen Harbour is on Trinity Island, in the Palmer Archipelago. The island was charted by a Charcot expedition, 1908-10, and named by the sixth Chilean Antarctic Expedition (1952) for Lt. Ladislao D'Hainaut.
The island is an exquisite place, surrounded by Trinity Island and farther in the distance, the mainland of Antarctica. On D'Hainaut we found Gentoo Penguins breeding in several different sub-colonies, with of course, an attendant pair of skuas, which had evidently been active eating penguin eggs.
Clearly a lot of snow had fallen the previous winter because most of the Gentoos were still standing on snow and some had even started to make their nests and lay eggs. This is not a good proposition because the snow and ice forms an unstable platform for the nest. As the spring thaw occurs so the snow and ice melts unevenly and the nest falls apart. However, lots of penguin "hoochy-koochy" (technical term) was seen (sorry Manuel, that's how you spell it).
After a wonderful landing we head out into the Gerlache Strait for our second destination for today, Cierva Cove. As we sailed south we came upon a pod of Orcas. The male was lagging behind the main group and came quite close to the ship.
Cierva Cove is another gem, apparently infrequently visited. We saw only penguin footprints there today. It is the location of the Argentinian station “Primavera” but it seems we got there before any Argentinians. Gentoo Penguins bred all over the place, and unlike D'Hainaut this morning, there was lots of open ground. Many Gentoos were incubating. Cierva seems to be something of an Antarctic oasis. Despite the snow still covering extensive areas of ground, in the bare patches we could see moss beds and lots of Antarctic Hair Grass. By the way, this grass is one of only two flowering plants growing in Antarctica.