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).

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 www.penguinwatch.org, 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: http://raumzeit-podcast.de. 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