First excursion for the day
The first map below is from Google and the second is from the Poncet/Crosbie booklet.
The crew dropped anchor in St Andrews Bay around 5am (I did wake temporarily around 3am and it was light – we are located about 54 degrees south Latitude) and, out at sea, a large iceberg rested on the horizon. The sea was almost flat calm. The zodiac watercrafts were lowered and whizzed to shore to determine the best entry point on a very busy animal concentrated bay edge; and one where waves broke against a steeper bank than we had experienced yesterday. The more waves and the steeper the bank the more likely I will get a gumboot full of water when I roll off the Zodiac – so I watched the choice of landing sites with great interest.The Expedition team chose the north western end because this was receiving the least swell.At the other end of the crescent, from the ship I could see the forward edges of a glacier where blocks were in the process of falling and making their way to the sea about a kilometre away. Would you believe – these South Georgia Island glaciers are losing 2 metres of length a day on average, and this is considered to be an excessive loss rate.
Between the two ends of the beach/bay were tens of thousands of King Penguins, many thousands of elephant seals and some fur seals. Enjoy a little of the majesty and grandeur of this very large landscape in the video here.
I felt excessively tired after yesterday and almost talked myself out of going onshore (a few of us considered the extra weight, not to mention the inflexible bulk – the additional clothes and heavy boots – and we reckon it could be 5kgs). Of course, I told myself a few home truths in language you might guess at, pulled the gear on and, long after the call for my colour group (four different groups are rostered over the days to be first off, last off, etc) to disembark, I did so. By the time I was in the Zodiac they were all French speakers and yet, when we copped more than a few gallons of thick salty spray over us as the Zodiac chopped through the water, it wasn’t difficult to understand some of their reactions. But I sat comfortably; delighted with my waterproof trousers and jacket and oversized boots. Dry as. Warm as. June – your New Zealand possum fur beanie has been the best!
Immediately off the zodiac – see my view from the northern end of the beach looking southward past the King Penguins and the Elephant Seals, with the main glacier in the far distance.Looking inland from the same starting point you can see my view – over some slumbering elephant seals – and notice the two at the rear who are asserting themselves against each other.Photos, like the next one, give you some indication about the volume of wildlife, and how close we were able to walk past them. The large elephant seals, longer than the length of my loungeroom and weighing a tonne or more, were not to be treated lightly. They can move fast and if we were to be bitten, major problems from infection would result. That’s if you don’t get rolled over and crushed. So, we were seriously on the alert as we walked because when they move the direction they might take, is not always predictable. Even the small seals could cause terrible damage. This is their territory. Not ours. Respect for their environment was in most of our minds. Despite the arrival on their shores of nearly 200 red coated walkers, we tried not to get in their way for both their and our sake.I noticed the antler evidence that reindeer, once introduced by whalers and now eradicated, once walked this island.Watch the King Penguins walking past me and hear the grunting of the elephant seals nearby; the straight backs of the penguins and their regal bearing are a reminder about the importance of posture when walking. You can hear the grunts of some elephant seals off camera.
We crossed a small stream and I didn’t get water in my boots going but did a little on the return – current quite strong as the water rushed to the sea; uneven rocky underfoot.Sometimes it was easy to think the penguins were curious as they wandered close to us, but I wondered if they were simply trying to work out how to say, ‘bugger off’.The sad tale of death, and of the hostility of the environment and life here, is encapsulated in the following photo showing the remains of a baby seal and a couple of scavenging Skua birds watching the carcass. The second photo shows the remains of a baby King Penguin while still decked in brown fur – perhaps the parents did not return in time to feed this one and death came from starvation or perhaps a flying predator caused the death.
I climbed up and down and up several small glacial moraines and finally, when atop the last one permitted by the Expedition team, the panorama was astonishing. Watch these two videos (repetitious but delightful) to see the largest colony of King Penguins (with their brown furry babies) on South Georgia Island; the ship on which I sailed, Le Lyrial sits at anchor in St Andrew’s Bay. Watch two videos here and here.
During the morning we were permitted to walk almost to the glacier; between our landing and the glacier were tens of thousands – some of our Expedition team believe there are in excess of 100,000 breeding pairs of King Penguins, and youngsters in various stages of growth. This colony it is known to be one of the largest in the world. We did not disturb this main part of the colony by walking through.
It is moulting season and little white feathers litter the land, the beach, between the grassy tussacs, and in the creeks.
I wanted to collect a sample of these feathers, flippers from the carcasses of dead penguins, pieces of whalebone that dot the landscape, the occasional rock – but this cannot happen; the British Government and the Conservation Heritage overseers want nothing added or taken away from this natural landscape because the environment is self-supporting and everything is used in some way by the local wildlife. Besides – my chances of getting such animal matter through our customs would be zero.
Here is a photo taken by the ship photographer of a weaner elephant seal.We were allocated up to three hours on land this morning; I used about 2 hours and was more than happy with all that I experienced. Back on board around 8.45am; changed and off for breakfast – the ship had opened at 5.30am for breakfast for those who needed it before embarkation. At that early hour I was fiddling around in my cabin trying to get my head into the right place and to get dressed ready for shore. I wasn’t hungry that early. Besides the excitement of going ashore took away all thoughts of something as pedestrian as eating.