St Andrews Bay

glacierThe King Penguin colony in front of the Ross Glacier is also connected to the Zooniverse project http://www.penguinwatch.org and to http://www.penguinlifelines.org.

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 (http://www.sgisland.gs/index.php/%28h%29Welcome_to_South_Georgia). 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.

Grytviken

Our third day at South Georgia started with a lecture about rats and how to kill them. More information can be obtained here: http://www.sgisland.gs/index.php/%28e%29Eradication_Of_Rodents?useskin=env. 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 (http://www.antarctica.ac.uk/about_bas/our_history/stations_and_refuges/kep.php) 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

 

Salisbury Plain

Before the passengers could go on shore, the Expedition Team prepared the landing site. At Salisbury Plain that included spotting the bit of the beach that was not entirely occupied by Fur Seals.choosing landing site Boat groups of passengers took turns in who was allowed to go first, and as a result I was the first of only a few lucky ones to make it. The landing had to be aborted and turned into a drive-by on the polarcircle boats because of the swell. FramAnyway, there I was, being utterly happy. Coming to this place had been a secret hope (the surprise came on the evening before the landing) because this colony is part of a project hosted by the Zooniverse, http://www.penguinwatch.org/.

This meant I had seen pictures similar to mine below before, but was still gobsmacked by the reality. King colonyIn the project, members of the public, called Citizen Scientists, help to identify juvenile and adult penguins from different colonies. Give it a try! Or go to http://www.penguinlifelines.org/ for more information.

Although the King Penguins are the main attraction, given the fact that there are hundreds of thousands of them not difficult, there was a lot more going on.Giant Petrel hunting Giant Petrels were always around. We had to be very careful around young male adult Fur Seals, but the Elephant Seals were much more pleasant.Elephant Seal The penguins and the seals seem to exist following a ‘live and let live’ idea. King walkingKing juvenileThe colony is just one of several on the island, and the peculiar breeding cycle of the Kings gave us a chance to see chicks in all their brown fluffiness, moulting adults and courting adults.

Penguin communication involves a lot of body language. Kings communicatingThey also spend a surprising amount of time on their bellies or standing on their heels.King swimming King baskingOn a sunny day at Salisbury Plain, life is definitely good.