My 5th Continent – Brown Station

Dear Reader, we’ve made it to 64°53′43″S 62°52′15″W, welcome in Antarctica proper, continental, at Brown Station (wikipedia: The station is manned only during summer. Otherwise, it belongs to Gentoo penguins, Snowy Sheathbills, Kelp Gulls and Blue-eyed Shags.station

And to tourists, who slide down the hill. slidingThe view of the surrounding glaciers is magnificent. I loved the calm water and the mirror images. glacierice

It’s always good to know where you are in the world.

signsHere, we also came a bit more into contact with Blue-eyed shags, which were breeding perched precariously on the cliff side.blueeyed shagsblueeyed shags breeding

As ever, if you don’t know what to do, go and fetch a pebble.pebble hunt And since I have now ‘ticked’ five continents, I can think about the missing ones – North America and Australia & Oceania!


Highways on Cuverville Island

Cuverville Island is a small island in the Errera Channel just off the Antarctic Peninsula. ice in iceIt is home to a lot of ice and several thousand Gentoo penguins, who have built highways in the snow. highwaysYou can clearly recognise the penguin paths.

They are used by most of the inhabitants.highway up highwayThe Gentoos were sitting on their nests, stealing and re-stealing pebbles and sometimes presenting their eggs. egg

The Imperial or Blue-eyed shags were more interested in the kelp. ShagYet another group of passengers went kayaking, and could admire the ice from very close up.kayaking On some icebergs, you could see icicles!ice 2

Mikkelsen Harbour on Trinity Island

Trinity Island is part of the Palmer Archipelago. It’s an important breeding area for shags, but we went there to see Gentoo First we had to negotiate a wet landing amongst the ice. Then there was a little hill to be climbed. lone gentooNot the one in the background. nesting areasGentoo penguins, like almost all other ones, build a nest which must be free of ice and water. For this, they need pebbles, and acquiring pebbles is an endless undertaking.on the nest pebble transportfemale gentooBoth males and females sit on the nest, but females have the dirty back from mating.spitting I have never seen penguins spitting before, but maybe someone annoyed someone else by stealing their pebble.Kelp gull Above all this mayhem, Kelp gulls keep a watchful eye for food opportunities. sunshineIt was yet another excellent landing.

Inside a Volcano – Deception Island

Welcome inside the caldera of an active volcano! Visiting Deception Island (wikipedia article had been top of my wishlist, and there I found myself wrapped into all my layers and an additional overall on a geological cruise on a polarcircle boat. Expertly guided by Steffen from the Expedition team, we drove through wind and snow to see what there was to be seen. The mountains looked as if they had been part of a watercolour painting.not aquarell

Deception Island has the shape of a doughnut with a small opening on one side, called Neptune’s Bellows. This is where ships get into what is seen as safest harbour in Antarctica. Apart from the fact, that the volcano underneath is due to erupt soon. The seabed inside the caldera is apparently rising, the water tourists used to take a dip in too scolding hot. And we found some fumaroles, guarded by a lone Gentoo penguin.gentoo


In some places, hyaloclastite has formed.

HyaloclastiteThe whole island is under close scrutiny by geologists, living in a couple of bases scattered along Whaler’s Bay. summern base

During our tour, fog and snow got heavier, my feet got colder (in spite of my wearing the fabulous rubberboots) and by the time we reached the youngest craters on the rim and could have admired some fine layers of ash from different recent and older eruptions, all I wanted was a cup of hot chocolate and warm feet. The couple opposite me looked exactly how I felt. Then from somewhere a kind of snowball was blown against my nose. They confirmed, yes this has just happened. I love geology, and Steffen did a marvellous job, but icy cold feet, and the muscle pain from the kayaking … I felt more like crying at that point.

This was perfect timing for three Humpback whales to come out of the water right in front of us.Humpbacks They were headed for Neptune’s Bellows. I was so grateful, because the narrowness of the exit meant we would leave them to it and not go out there too, as originally planned. Before the whales followed this plan, however, they decided to come a bit closer, say hello to the ship, and then swim out into the open ocean again.humpbacks 3 humpbacks 2Who cares about cold feet when you can have an active volcano and Humpbacks together?!

Half Moon Island

The weather was fantastic, the water clear and absolutely calm, so I went kayaking! I didn’t take a camera, but there are going to be photos on the husband’s blog: It was just marvellous to spend more than two hours so close to bits of ice (smallish and biggish) in the water, with Chinstraps and Gentoos porpoising by. Because I’m a lazy sod who doesn’t exercise, I also had the muscle pain of my life and could not lift the glass with orange juice for breakfast the next morning.

The Chinstrap colony on Half Moon Island is like so many others part of and I was a bit sad that I didn’t see it, but after the kayaking I was exhausted, even missed going swimming in the dry suit. Yet, it was breathtaking and something I would really like to do again some day.kayaking

King George Island

mapshetlandsFirst of all, here is an overview of our landing sites on the South Shetland Islands. The first stop was at King George Island, where there are a number of research stations. We visited this one:Arctowski station

Its official name is sign stationthis.

For everyone who does not speak Polish, it is Arctowski Station, named after a Polish geologist. People there must think a lot about home. signs

If one follows some simple rules, even the ordinary tourist is welcome. signI found the station very exciting, but had forgotten to cover my camera lens – condensation – no pictures. Sorry. Their penguin origami and DVD-collection were both impressive, but best of all was how warmly the researchers welcomed us!

Outside, I experienced a few ‘firsts’. My first Weddell Seal.Weddell Seal Peaceful.

My first Adelie penguin. The rookery there is also study ground, so we had to stay a bit away. Which is fine, Adelie penguins are in decline on the Antarctic Peninsula, so as little disturbance as possible is very good as far as I’m concerned!Adelie

I also saw my first Chinstrap penguins. Both species feature often on, but I don’t know if this particular project on King George Island is part of the Zooniverse one. ChinstrapThe Chinstraps here were looking for pebbles for their nests.

The last of my firsts was, well, a reminder that the station is manned by humans.Mary and Skua

The Gate to Antarctica – Elephant Island

We had fair weather on our way from South Georgia. The sea was calm enough to spend some minutes on deck when a pod of Fin Whales was spotted. Fin whaleBeing a landlubber, I went into the cabin again fairly quickly. tabular icebergThe next time I ventured out was to admire this tabular iceberg. We had reached the outer regions of the South Shetland Islands! It had not been possible to go to the South Orkney Islands because of ice conditions. I was fascinated by the fact that we learned this from data from the Sentinel-1 satellite, which I had heard about here: lenticular cloudElephant Island arose mighty out of the sea, slightly covered by clouds. I fancy the lenticular ones, and I’ve never seen so many before.

The island’s significance is best explained in the words we found on our daily information sheet on Fram:

A name steeped in legend, Elephant Island is an icon for “Antarctics” the way Cape Horn is for mariners. This imposing and desolate island was home to 22 marooned members of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s fabled 1914 Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition for four and a half months while they awaited rescue. Led by one of Antarctica’s greatest unsung heroes John Robert Francis (known as Frank) Wild, the men barely survived living in horrible conditions beneath two overturned lifeboats. Named for Frank, Point Wild was originally known as Cape Wild and “Cape Bloody Wild” by the men stranded there. –
It is the triangular rock in the middle and the small strip of land to its left.

Cape Wilde

Point Wild is home to a small colony of hardy chinstrap penguins and a single bronze bust incongruously watching over them. The bust is of Captain Luis Pardo master of the Chilean Navy ship Yelcho that eventually rescued Shackleton’s men. Pardo’s was no mean feat; taking the underpowered Yelcho without permission he risked his command, his rank, and his very life on a mission where three other superior craft had failed.

where the men stayed

We did not land, but sailed by slowly. The ever-changing antarctic weather meant there were some beautiful displays of light when we reached Cape Lookout, the southern tip of the island. Welcome to Antarctica! light


St Andrews Bay

glacierThe King Penguin colony in front of the Ross Glacier is also connected to the Zooniverse project and to

The number of inhabitants is in the region of several hundred thousand, depending on time of the year. It was stunning to see even from the ship. The tiny Snowy Sheathbills were getting almost no attention.snowy sheathbill

At the landing site, female Elephant Seals defied all rules of keeping a distance, and the Kings were not any better. landing siteI think they liked using the path the humans had created. Elephant sealsBut we really did keep away from the Elephant Seal bulls. Luckily, they were in much better mood than the Fur Seal bulls. If they were around, we had a system of one taking pictures and the other one guarding and, if necessary shooing the teenage bulls away. I got quite good at that! You just make yourself big, and then let out an almighty ‘HAAA’ coming from deep down in your guts. It’s a bit like Tai Chi.

Along the way we saw several reindeer skeletons. The animals had been introduced by humans, and now they are being culled ( reindeer

The Skuas have to hunt for themselves. They are rather good at that. Skua feeding

The way to the colony was scored with two rivers. The penguins were decidely better in crossing them than the humans, but we made it. riverriver 2

Finally, the joy of not a flock, but a carpet of penguins.colony KingsI found it overwhelming. I was, after all I had seen so far, still unprepared for this. I can deal much better with smaller numbers. But for the penguins and all the scavengers like the Snowy Sheathbills a healthy big colony is what we should wish for and help to protect!

So we said good-bye to South Georgia and started sailing past the South Orkneys to the South Shetland Islands, just off the Antarctic Peninsula.


Our third day at South Georgia started with a lecture about rats and how to kill them. More information can be obtained here: Shackleton graveBeing the capital of South Georgia, Grytviken’s deceased inhabitants include Shackleton, whale boneswhales and the equipment to kill them with. whaling ship

Very much alive are the scientists from the BAS ( modern stationin their research station. small Elephant sealsThe Elephant Seals, watched by Scottish tourist, are only sleeping. viewThe view over the bay is really spectacular, and I also managed to get my first picture of a Snow Petrel.Snowy Petrel



Stromness is known because of its connection to Ernest Shackleton and his hike ( That is why the little waterfall at the end of a small valley behind the landing site was a popular destination, particularly for the Brits amongst the passengers.Shackelton waterfall To us it did not matter that much, so we rather enjoyed the lifting clouds and the scenery.Lake Fram in StromnessThe local wildlife consisted mainly of a big Fur Seal colony which had made its home, oh irony, in a former whaling station. Fur Seals in stationI find it vindicating to see how the animals are thriving – there also used be sealing, and Fur Seals came close to extinction. Fur Seal and relicsHowever, one reason for the seals growing in number is lack of competition for food from whales.

‘Intensive commercial hunting of whales removed hundreds of thousands of whales in 60 years and reduced the Southern Ocean stock, once the largest in the world, to less than 10 % of their original numbers and some species to less than 1%.’ (copied from I find the word ‘removed’ a spectacular euphemism for ‘murdered’.

Visitors must keep a distance of 200m from the station because of debris and asbestos.Stromness station

Other species which are living around this area are Elephant Seals, Elephant seal snotSkuas and King Penguins.Skuamoulting Kings