Saturday 10 November 2018 – schools of Penguins swim by

Morning excursion

We have been anchored all night at the entrance to Gold Harbour, towards the southern end of South Georgia Island.  The first map is from Google and the second from the Poncet/Crosbie booklet.Gold Harbour2.jpg

Gold Harbour

Snowflakes were powdering my balcony rail and outdoor furniture this morning and several small ice chunks were strewn across the floor.  As I looked out through the blurred air towards the horizon and the soft whiteness on the mountains edging Gold Harbour, a slip of black arced in the water. And there were more.  And more. A cluster of penguins were swimming and swimming very fast towards shore.  I noticed a second pod. Streamlined. With bodies that flex in the buoyancy of the sea. Slipping quickly through the ocean.  A breathtaking privilege to see this – creatures going about their business without fear of our ship. A white scavenger bird flew past.

Then a Zodiac prepared to leave with its first passengers for the day. IMG_4100.JPGI am writing this at 5.30 am so as not to miss a thing; I am not due to disembark until 8am, but before then there will be plenty to do and see.  Front Cover.JPG

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Back Cover.JPG

Snow and rain persist outside, and we wonder if our Black disembarkation group’s luck with getting reasonable weather will continue. We are due to disembark in 15 minutes; the snow is being driven almost horizontally right now. I am wondering if I need more clothes this time.  I wave to the people returning and they seem happy, so my decision is made – I won’t talk myself out of going ashore.

While waiting to disembark a new-found friend Judy from Sydney, took my photo.  June – you can see that possum is still on my head.  My head is always warm even when I let the hood drift off.  The possum never let me down.IMG_4103.JPGOnshore, the beach was thronged with Elephant Seals of every size. Incredibly noisy. Few spaces remained so that walking safely was an issue – added to that, the weaners were curious and inquisitive and kept moving to check us out.  Enjoy this video of a weaner’s curiosity about a fluttering flag. With no trees growing on South Georgia Island and without the opportunity for leaves to flutter or for anything to flutter, the concept of fluttering/the fact of fluttering would be completely novel to the local animals.  The guide explained that every time she planted the red flag, this weaner would come and eventually knock it over. Then she would reposition the flag and again the weaner’s curiosity would bring him/her to the flag. The naturalist/guide also talked about the nature of their opaque eyes – they are glassy black orbs without an apparent iris.  Apparently, this is an adaptation which allows the seals to dive deeply into the sea during the search for food, and to see better in weaker or no light (they can see the fluorescence of squid and other marine creatures in the deep).   Their eyes don’t suffer with the depth.

Our naturalists created pathways onshore for us to navigate in small single file groups until we reached an area behind most elephant seals and we could enter into King Penguin territory.

I stopped for ages watching a colony of thousands of King Penguins in various stages of youth and age.  Enjoy their interaction in this video.  Did you listen to their whizzing songs and other sounds; a cacophony?  How cute are the fluffy baby penguins? How about the big eyes of the weaner Elephant Seals – sad but adorable?  What did you think about the scavenging Skua birds stomping through the territory?  This close view – and I was perhaps 6 feet from the fluffy browns – is the highlight of my South Georgia Island experience and that is saying a great deal because each onshore excursion has offered sensational views and memories.

Rather chuffed.  An Australian came up to me, while I was communing with/becoming a whisperer to the penguins and invited me to join a dinner table he was making this evening to help celebrate his birthday.  Had to tell my pack group not to count me in for dinner with them this evening.

One half of a recently married couple took my photo with that King Penguin colony behind.IMG_4112.JPGYesterday, he and his spouse had dressed up in their suits under their Antarctic clobber and walked to the high point looking down over the 100,000+ penguin colony, disrobed down to their special clothes and had honeymoon photos taken.  What a gift to give themselves.  Marvellous.

I could see waterfalls in the distance.IMG_4109.JPGNotice the dark fur seal in the foreground of the photo. He is an early arriver.  At the moment, the elephant seals are in the last stages of their breeding cycle (one person watched a baby being born yesterday) and they will leave the beach in a few weeks. Then it will be the turn of the fur seals to occupy the beach and plain, for their babies to be born and for the females to be impregnated.

Occasionally a Gentoo Penguin landed on the beach and wandered around. At one point three could be spotted but they didn’t create a community. There were no pebbles around for nesting, so we wondered if they needed to be elsewhere.

This was our last onshore excursion on South Georgia Island and already I am feeling a little sad. Without doubt this visit has exceeded all expectations – the itinerary for which I booked offered 3 stop offs if weather permitted. We have participated in five onshore excursions that will culminate with a Fjord cruise in about an hour – all organised and managed seamlessly with superb competence.

We are already sailing south and by midday will begin to come through a small strait, Cooper Sound and into the Drygalski Fjord. The ship will cruise around for us to look at the glaciers and much more.

Then we have been warned to expect 7 metre waves when we curve around the southern end of South Georgia Island and begin to battle towards the Antarctic peninsula. Balcony furniture has been removed on Level 3 in anticipation the balcony might be swamped by high seas. I am on Level 4 and have retained my outdoor table and chairs. My cabin housekeeper warned me to stow all toiletries in drawers and to pour my papers and other odds and sods that layered this working bench, into drawers – anywhere where material can’t fall.  I have taken the precaution of swallowing a heavy-duty seasickness tablet.  Fingers crossed the next 24 hours will be fun and not a trial.

From a window I watched a massive chunky glacier.20181110_104801.jpgOthers went out on deck, but it wasn’t safe with the swell; I wasn’t wearing my Antarctic jacket or my boots with tread and the deck was slippery with snow.  However when I leave the cabin in a short while, I will be totally dressed and equipped for the elements.

 

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