Day 8 |
Feb 05, 2010

Port Lockroy/Jougla Point And Danco Island

By Will Wagstaff, Ornithologist

Weather: Overcast to start the day with a cool breeze but gradually clearing during the morning.

We moved from our overnight point near Vernadsky Base and dropped anchor just before 7am in the scenic bay close to Goudier Island, home to the old British Base originally known as ‘Base A’ but now called Port Lockroy. The scout boats took us ashore just before 8am, half to the base and half to nearby Jougla Point, so that we were ready for the first guests disembarking a little later. Zodiac groups Four and One headed for Port Lockroy before Zodiac Groups Two and Three were taken to Jougla Point where Peter, Kara and I led walks around the site.

On Jougla Point, the young Gentoo Penguins were at their inquisitive best, with some of the young walking across to see who and what we were. Many of them were busy flapping their wings to build up the muscle they would need to ‘fly’ underwater when they left the colony in the next few weeks. There were a few late-breeding birds that were still incubating eggs or very small young. Their chances of survival were not high, as it was now quite late in their breeding season. There are always predator/scavengers about, with Southern Giant Petrels gliding by every so often and Kelp Gulls, Antarctic Skuas and Snowy Sheathbills also nearby.

Some of the young Antarctic Shags were now at the flying stage although still being fed by their parents. One of the young seemed to have its head a very long way down its parent’s throat when being fed which seemed rather painful. Those young that had learnt to fly were still identifiable, as they had retained some of the grey downy feather on their throat – a difficult area to scratch if you are a bird!

There was some wildlife on Goudier Island in the form of a Gentoo Penguin colony and a family of Snowy Sheathbills with some quite large young, but it was the base that was the main attraction.

The majority of the building was now a museum, illustrating how life must have been for the men stationed here when it was an active base. There were many items that were utilised in those days that are similar to those we use today and others that we remembered from many years ago.

The second part of the base contained the very popular shop to judge by the number of guests I later saw carrying bags coming away from the island. It seems that many of the guests also managed to buy and get some postcards written whilst ashore, so as to be able to send a card from Antarctica.

It was then time to up anchor and cruise to our next site through some magnificent scenery of the Neumeyer Channel.

Early afternoon saw us dropping anchor close to our destination this afternoon, Danco Island, named after Emile Danco a Belgian geophysicist who had been a member of the Belgian Antarctic Expedition that had charted the island in 1897-1899. A short walk from the landing site was the foundations of the British Base ‘O’ but the main aim of the visit was to climb to the top of the hill for the superb views and to admire the stamina of the Gentoo Penguins that nest right on the top of the hill. There were many colonies all the way up the western side of the hill but one had to admire those that walked all the way to the top. Their routes through the snow were still being used even thought there were many much easier walks over the stones available. It was hot work, walking up, but the cool breeze at the top early in the afternoon ensured one did not stay hot for long. The occasional penguin could be seen wandering down the snow field with a great deal more ease than we managed, although those of us that came down at the end of the afternoon made use of the steeper slopes to have a slide, which was a great deal quicker and more fun.

A Weddell Seal asleep on the rocks on the way back to the boat was not far from an equally inactive Leopard Seal, although the Crabeater Seals were not taking any chances as they chose to sleep on two of the nearby icebergs. Our Recap & Briefing was postponed, as it was such a glorious evening it would be a shame to be inside.

The seals were not to be the end of our wildlife viewing, as four Humpback Whales were seen only a few minutes into our cruise towards tomorrow’s destination: Deception Island. As the weather was so calm, the Captain allowed us out onto the foredeck from where we could see and hear the whales as they blew only a short distance from us. We followed them for a while, cameras clicking and whirring every time they blew or dived showing us their distinctive under tail patterns.

Dinner was a little later than usual tonight, and even as we dined, the mountains of Antarctica were lit by the evening sunshine in an ever-changing panorama viewable from The Restaurant windows. As the light began to fade, a scattering of Snow Petrels could also seen, as these partially nocturnal birds began their hunt for food at the end of yet another amazing day in Antarctica.