Georgia , Dec. 2, 2001
Isn't life wonderful sometimes?
A tourist ship, the MS Endeavour radioed in on Thursday night offering
a trip to Fortuna Glacier and Stromness harbour for Friday. I "volunteered" to
go as it was my duty to do so! The aim of the trip was to follow the
last leg of Shackleton's epic crossing of South Georgia, the part where
down the waterfall. When we got onboard, I enquired if there was a chance
of visiting the King Penguin colony on the far side of Fortuna Glacier.
Unfortunately, due to time constraints, I was faced with the choice of
the hike or the Kings - guess which won? As it turned out, four others
also wanted to see the Kings, so we were first ashore as we would only
twenty minutes there, but what a twenty minutes that turned out to be!
We were ferried ashore by Brent Houston (he of Penguin Ranch photos on
some of the postcards I've sent out). He was onboard as a tour leader
and had generously offered to take us ashore. We landed on a beach of
black sand and piled ashore, cameras in hand. A pair of full grown buck
reindeer were grazing nearby so we headed for them expecting them to
flee, but they were so tame, we were close enough for head only shots!
Well, I thought they were tame until one charged at John, one of the
Swedish contingent working here! Fortunately it was only a mock charge
and not carried through! John was facing the other way when all this
was going on and didn't realise what had happened!
From here we could see the King Penguin colony
with 11,000 pairs and well grown chicks. Unfortunately, they
were too far away to go and investigate further, so we had to
be content with the groups of birds gathered along the beach
or swimming in the rivers. Brent shouted from the boat and pointed
along the beach to where some skuas and giant petrels were gathered.
I walked up to them and saw that they were actually eating an
unfortunate King Penguin alive! The bird was struggling to get
to the sea while being attacked from all sides, eventually it
made it into the water, still being harassed by the other birds.
It finally managed to get away from its tormentors, only to be
grabbed from underneath by a big bull fur seal! Incredible to
see all this happening from so close! But not so good for the
penguin. Nature at its harshest I guess.
We then headed back to the ship for the cruise into Stromness where we
were to pick up everyone who went on the hike. The trip took us offshore
where I had the chance to bird from the back of the ship (coincidentally,
this was also near to the bar and draught Guinness on tap!). Good views
headed and Black-browed Albatross, with Light-mantled Sooty Albatross
also seen. Lots of Antarctic Prions, one Blue Petrel, Wilson's Storm-Petrels,
Black-bellied Storm-Petrels, Cape Petrels,White-chinned Petrels etc.
Once ashore at Stromness, I spent most of my time watching the fur seals,
who were just starting to pup. All the bulls were spread out evenly along
the beaches on territories, 130 along the beach front on prime territories,
with three times that number on secondary territories further up the
beach, or in the tussock behind. At least 28 pups were counted, a good
figure as the main pupping time is the first week of December. I sat
on a rusty propeller, discarded by the old whalers when the whaling industry
collapsed, right in the middle of two territories, and waited for the
big males to get used to me. It was great to be back amongst old friends!
I think some people believe I'm mad, as furries have a bad reputation
and are avoided by most people who visit here. They are just brilliant
animals with lots of character and good fun to be around as they get
up to all sorts of squabbles, serious fighting or just play, either chasing
each other along the beach, or porpoising in the water.
After an hour ashore, we returned to the ship for a late lunch and sailed
back to K.E.P. A great day out with some great people.
I'm on cook duty today, it's gloriously sunny, calm and warm!
Typical! Mind you, there's a white fur seal nearby, so if I can
persuade someone to peel the potatoes for me......???
Bye for now,
Dutchess County, NY