Sunday, 28 November 2010

A penguin day

We left windy Deception Island last evening and made our way across the Bransfield Strait. In the very early morning we cruised down the Gerlache Strait with the beautiful morning sun shining the meringue pie, that was the ice covered mountains on each side of us.

Our morning landing was at Cuverville Island. There over 20000 pairs of Gentoo Penguins nest. The heavy snows from the winter persisted over the colony, and is preventing the penguins from building their nests. Gentoos will try to seek higher, more exposed ground where the snow is thinner. This may mean a long hike up the hill for these 45 cm tall poor walkers with a very short gait.
We noticed that a few eggs had been laid by females who could not hold them in. These were laying on the snow unattended, and were easy prey to local Skua pairs. The snow will cause very late breeding and poor production of chicks. Foraging trips from the colony to gather krill produced a constant stream of birds coming and going.

Over the course of the morning the various bergy bits and smaller chunks of ice in front of our landing site drifted slowly ashore, blocking our way out. However, the Polar Cirkel Boats were able to push through the heavy ice and pick up remaining passengers. The last two boast to leave the beach were very fortunate to have great looks at an inquisitive Leopard Seal, who was in her element in the icy water.

We then moved to Paradise Bay to attempt a landing on the mainland of Antarctica at the Argentinean Base Almirante Brown. The approach to the landing was impeded by heavy ice to the point that we had to turn back and attempt an alternative mainland landing at Neko Harbour.

The ice conditions were excellent in the harbour so we made our mid-evening landing at Neko. We were glad we made this important landing on the continent. Some members of the expedition staff used this opportunity to try out a new product and set up camp to spend the night.

Conditions at this incredible glacier amphitheatre setting were peaceful and serene all night, the glaciers rumbling intermittently.  The camping trial was completely successfully, and the team learned first had that the gentoos continue to be active throughout the night, courting, trumpeting and staking out their nesting sites. An incredible experience which perhaps some lucky passengers may be able to undertake in seasons to come. Perta, we were thinking of you!!!!!!!!