Thursday, February 02, 2017

Antarctica IV.

1-19-17 NELE HARBOR, ANTARCTICA: We motored down Gerlache Strait to Orne Harbor where we landed for a hike. It was a fairly steep climb, in spots, from a chinstrap rookery on the beach to rookeries higher up the slope. The high point was a sharp ridge over looking a lake. While we were there two skuas attacked and killed a penguin chick.

This was our first landing on the continent of Antarctica, the northern part of the peninsula, to be sure, but an actual visit to the actual continent. The weather remains warm and sunny with little wind. There was hot chocolate waiting for us when we returned to the ship, Baileys was optional.

Big ship. We occasionally saw other ships, but the tour operators try to avoid each other. A huge ship like this one with more than 500 passengers is not allowed to let people off the ship.

The chinstraps are at the base of the hill, here, halfway up and on the top. Chicks like these look like gray stuffed animals.

Chinstrap penguin.

Hiking up to the ridge, the penguins do it all day, up and down.

On the ridge, there's a lake on the other side, partly frozen.

Skuas, this one is a South Polar Skua, I think, prey on the penguin chicks.

Skua at rest after a kill.

Two researchers from Stony Brook U. are on the boat, one studying penguin populations and one doing shag diets. Both are young doctoral candidates.

After lunch, we had moved on to Nele Harbor for another climb to a rookery. These are Gentoo penguins, again there are rookeries at the beach and more scattered up the hill all the way to the top. There were Weddell seals sleeping on the beach. The penguins at the top of the hill need to get up and down to and from the sea to feed and feed the chicks. They have established penguin highways, paths worn into the snow, some for down hill traffic and some for uphill. We are not allowed to intrude on their routes, but make our own.

On the beach the water is clear enough to watch the penguins swimming and feeding. Other birds included kelp gulls and shags.

Overnighters left after dinner, they are sleeping out on the ice, in warm camping gear. They dig holes in the snow for shelter from the wind. Neither Judy, Val, nor I availed ourselves of the opportunity.

Nele Harbor from the bridge of the Vavilov.

Blue-eyed Shag, a cormorant in penguin disguise.

Gentoo penguin has red lipstick and white earmuffs. This one has a chick and an egg. Penguin species number two.

Gentoo swimming on the beach sometimes look like ducks.

Kelp Gull, another penguin chick predator.

Ice formations.

Weddell seal afternoon nap.

Crabeater seal on the left, two Weddell seals on the right.

And another sunset. That's a research station on that little island, unused at present.

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