Friday, February 28, 2014

South Georgia day 3 - Prion Island

The landing area on Prion Island is small so the groups were subdivided to either be on shore or an a zodiac boat tour.  We started on the zodiac, so boated our way around the island.

Snowy Sheathbills made their first appearance of the trip:

They look like unfinished chickens with a colorful though scaly bill.

A South Georgia endemic was dabbling in the shallows, the South Georgia Pintail:

Nesting on the top of the cliffs, were Light-mantled Sooty Albatrosses, magnificent birds, this one coming in to land:

Soaring over the cliff:

And just gliding around:

They really are beautiful to behold and to observe, a magical wildlife moment.

Once we'd finished our tour, including sighting South Georgia Pipit (my fellow passengers humoured me with my enthusiasm for seeing this little bird, the last passerine of the trip), however a decent picture eluded me due to the combination of poor light, the motion of the ocean and general user error.

We did get our turn on shore, joining the Gentoo Penguins:

and the King Penguins:

Then climbed the trail, remarkably similar to what you find in UK nature reserves, to approach the nesting Wandering Albatrosses:

As the wind had died right down the birds were sleeping. it would be too wasteful of energy to go out searching for food.  If you look closely you can just see the small pinkish patch of feathers on the face which confirms this as a breeding adult.

Back down on the shoreline I finally got a decent picture of a South Georgia Pipit, a wonderfully golden bird:

Even the insect is in focus in this picture!  Apparently the birds are already recolonising the mainland, where the rats have been eradicated.  It shouldn't be too long before the birds are widespread across South Georgia once again.

From Prion Island we headed back out to sea and South ahead of our final day on South Georgia.  On the way, with calm winds and clear skies I tried some more photography of sea birds, snapping Antarctic Prion:

Black-browed Albatross:

and my personal favourite, the Light-mantled Sooty Albatross.  I am particularly pleased with the first picture here:


South Georgia day 3 - Right Whale Bay

For our third day in South Georgia, we'd headed back North over night with a view to landing on Prion Island though with the prevailing winds it was decided to first land on the shore at Right Whale Bay, another King Penguin colony.

It's another 50,000+ breeding pairs colony, so remarkable in size, sound and smell!

In the middle here you can see Brown Skuas, working as a pair, displaying and harassing the King Penguins.  They are very effective predators:

A fellow passenger recorded the moment when a fur seal broke the neck of a King Penguin that was too close or wrong place/wrong time.  The Giant Petrels and Brown Skuas were immediately in to feed:

There's a small hill you can climb to get a view down onto the main bulk of the colony:

which in turn provides spectacular views.  You can see fur seals and various ages of Penguin in this picture, the brown fluff balls are chicks in the final stages of fledging before they can go to sea.  There were no new chicks though, the eggs the adults were brooding were about to hatch but hadn't as yet:

The penguins learn to find each other by sound alone, displaying when they re-meet or are pair bonding:

They are very handsome birds:

and inquisitive:

Fur seal pups however are just so cute:

They know they've been caught fighting:

At the base of the hill is a snow-melt waterfall, enjoyed by Elephant Seals, South Atlantic Fur Seals together with the moulting Penguins:

It's quite a scene:

From Right Wale Bay it was time to head again to Prion Island.


Monday, February 24, 2014

South Georgia day 2 - Stromness and Grytviken

From our anchorage in Fortuna Bay there was an optional hike across a small section of the walk completed by Ernest Shackleton on his epic journey to seek rescue for his trapped men.  Those who opted not to do the walk (including me as I wanted to see more of the sea life) stayed on the boat which then headed for the whaling station at Stromness.  We'd weighed anchor when a message came that one of the walkers had changed their minds.  We had to go back and re-anchor and then wait nearly 90 minutes for them to make their way back down and be retrieved, cue a lot of unhappy passengers and crew...

You can see the walkers making their way up here:

We finally got round to Stromness with again hastily adjusted plans, this time due to said passenger and their over-estimation of their ability to walk...

The weather was beautiful and the view dramatic:

You can't go into the whaling complex, this is one site where they are letting nature take its course, of course the seals don't know that:

Have I mentioned how cute the pups are?

As well as the fur seals there were Penguins, again including Gentoo Penguins:

And King Penguins, here in their 'catastrophic moult' a process whereby over roughly three weeks they replace all of their feathers in one go, while losing a lot of weight and no doubt feeling utterly miserable too:

From Stromness we set out to sea again headed for Grytviken, enjoying the landscape:

porpoising fur seals:

and the occasional whale sighting, I think I was the only one to see this Southern Right Wale, so called as it was the 'right' whale to kill, as it floated on the surface once killed and was easier to retrieve and process:


The approach to Grytviken:

This is the most populous place on the Islands, with the former whaling station, two museums, the post office all adjacent to the graveyard of Ernest Shackleton and his right-hand man Frank Wild:

The expedition staff were serving a small measure of Irish whiskey to be consumed by the grave or shared with the grave, I found mine surprisingly pleasant.

The view back out into and around the bay was splendid:

We walked to the museum area, seeing our first Antarctic Terns:

Just as noisy as their Arctic Tern relatives and with a display similar to the Sandwich Tern:

The death factory at Grytviken is still haunting:

From various markings on the facilities you can see when they were checked and what was found in terms of residual blubber, engine oil, etc.  The vast quantities of whales killed in this way is humbling, many of the populations are still below 10-20% of what they were before this all started:

Some thankfully decaying whaling ships:

As far as I'm aware only Japan, Iceland and the USA undertake whaling these days.

On the shore more Elephant Seals, this one perked up for a while, had a yawn and then settled down again, managing to look quite snug:

One thing I noticed from the boat and land on this day was the various clouds forming over the mountains, so here to conclude day two in South Georgia a selection of landscapes and cloud formations.  It is a spectacularly beautiful place to visit: