Dinosaur of the week: Brown Skua


brown skua

Skua taxonomy is a wee bit confusing, but I think this is a Stercorarius antarcticus which I saw on King George Island on my trip to Antarctica a few years ago.

Skuas seem to have amazing cognitive abilities. Like crows and pigeons, they can recognize individual humans (doi: 10.1007/s10071-016-0970-9).


Through the Lemaire Channel

Lemaire ChannelIt was a bit foggy in the Lemaire Channel. Navigating through this narrow piece of geography in between the Antarctic Peninsula and Booth Island, trying to evade the icebergs can’t have been easy, in the past or now.

The weather conditions successfully prevented big landscape pictures, but there was enough to discover close to the ship. tracksPenguins tracks covered several of the ice floes.

The penguins themselves porpoised through the water. porpoisingOr, when the fog lifted somewhat, we could see small colonies and the highways in between them.colony The ice floes were also good places to spot seals. This is a Weddell seal, I unfortunately missed the Leopard seal. Need to go again!seal

The ice itself was always worth a second look. Sometimes, it was possible to see the underwater-bit.ice

When we left the Channel, the weather cleared and we were also reminded that we were not completely bereft of other humans.cruiseship

Amongst the Ice

mapWe had been cruising somewhere between the Antarctic Peninsula and Wiencke Island, when we hit ice. ice 4Its peculiar shape has led to its name, pancake ice. There was no continuous ice surface, just small floes and slush in between.

The ship had also been built to deal with exactly this kind of condition. Every now and then we could hear a loud, low-pitch bang – must have been biggisher pieces of ice.

So we spent time on deck, watching the ice, when someone pointed out a penguin swimming close to the ship. This was in itself quite rare, they tend to swim away. Then I took a picture of the penguin and won the bird jackpot of the trip.emperor penguin An Emperor, completely out of place. Their colonies are in other places on the continent. Birders pay tens of thousands of dollars to see them. I was the only one lucky enough to take a photo, and shared that on the Fram’s blog: http://mvfram.blogspot.com.ar/2014/12/a-busy-day-at-cuverville-and-almirante.html.

There was, however, a lot more to be seen, also some wildlife. Wilson s storm petrelWilson’s Storm Petrels kept swooping by. On some bergs, penguins had settled down for a ride (look right). ice 5ice 2Blue ice could be seen more often. Further afield, big icebergs loomed, and ice 6sometimes you couldn’t really tell the difference between them and islands. Glaciers were everywhere. ice 3What I found, again, most fascinating were the sections of calm water, where the mountains and the ice mirrored in the sea.ice 1 cloudsCan you find the ship in both photos?

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: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brown_Station). 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

Meet the Expedition Team

Hilde John Line and InaThe expedition team consisted of about a dozen people hailing from three different continents. They were basically the people we could approach about anything and everything. We could visit their lectures at ‘Fram University’. Topics reached from photography via the history of whaling to navigation and all kinds of biological and geological topics.


They also had to do a lot of paperwork with passengers booking excursions or flights.



At every landing site, they kept in touch with each other and the ship. It never felt like Big Brother, though, and passengers knew they were safe.


We could always approach the team with whatever silly question there was to be asked. They had answers to the most outlandish query! (How many feathers are there on one square centimeter of penguin body? Up to 46000!)Steffen


They also made sure that we were safe from fur seals, and vice versa that the wildlife was safe from us. We had to follow red flags for guidance and keep our distance from animals and birds according to IAATO guidelines. Just sometimes the wildlife didn’t stick to the guidelines, and then it got really exciting!Tessa

On excursions, like hikes or kayaking, the team were our guides and had extra rations of chocolate with them. Just in case.Steffen2


At landing sites, their life was not always sunshine. We had lots of elderly passengers, 80 or more years old, so the team had to prepare paths. Depending on the site, they also had to stand in 1°C cold water to help people entering or leaving the polarcircle boats. Of course they were well equipped for those conditions, but standing knee-deep in icewater for three or four hours is not fun.Rudolf

But then, there are certain perks that come with the job, the weather and the wildlife.

Thank you, expedition team! You were the icing on the cake.