Day 6 |
Dec 17, 2011

Neko Harbour and Cuverville Island, Antarctica

By Franz Bairlein, Ornithologist

Coordinates (Neko Harbour): 64°51’ S, 62°33’ E
Weather: sunny, little wind
Air temperature: 0.3°C
Air pressure: 996 hPa
Wind: 8 km/h; 194 degree

While sailing into Andvord Bay on our way to Neko Harbour, we passed scenic snow and ice-covered mountains and several big icebergs in bright early morning sun, which gave a brilliant light and was greatly appreciated by all the early-riser photographers on the outer decks. After the last day in rather rough seas, we all looked forward to a wonderful landing at Neko Harbour. When approaching the landing site we were confronted a lot of drift ice, which took us a while to go through in order to find an appropriate landing site. After setting up the shore party, we started to bring the guests ashore, which took quite some effort because of the ice and the cobble beach. However, the outstanding scenery with the snow-covered terrain surrounded by glaciers and icebergs on the bay satisfied not only the guests but the whole Expedition Team as well.

I was assigned to guide guests to the rookeries where the gentoos were sitting on their eggs. The rookeries were the only snow-free sites, and the lower parts of the rookeries were quite muddy but nicely showing why the gentoos need to build elevated stony nests. On our way to the rookeries we passed a Weddell seal, which had hauled-out on snow. Most guests took the walk onto the slope to appreciate the scenery from the top, but also to have the opportunity to slide down the snow-slope.

Several kelp gulls and brown skuas were hanging around the rookeries waiting for an opportunity to grab penguin eggs. Snow petrels and Antarctic terns could be observed as well. While half of the guests were ashore, the others were taken on a Zodiac cruise in the bay. We swapped the groups midway through the landing operation. On the Zodiac tours a humpback whale could be observed very close to the Zodiacs. At around noon we cleared the landing site and all Zodiacs returned to the Silver Explorer.

During lunchtime the Silver Explorer repositioned across the scenic Erera Channel to Cuverville Island, North Errera Channel (64˚41’S, 62˚38’W; wind 23 km/h, 119 degree; sunny, partly overcast, 0.6 °C). In contrast to Neko Harbour the landing site was clear of ice while the entire site was still covered by snow. From the rookeries above the landing site the penguins created very nice “penguin highways” down to the beach where many gentoos were waiting for us.

At 14:30 we first disembarked the guests who wanted to join the mountain walk. Later on, the other guests came ashore and joined us at the rookeries. As at Neko Harbour there were no signs that the gentoos have already had chicks, and there was still a lot of nest building going on. Brown skuas and kelp gulls were quite active and even successful in taking penguin eggs. Along the cliffs, several snow petrels and at least two Wilson’s storm petrels could be observed. Other birds at the landing site were Antarctic terns, a blue-eyed shag and a snowy sheathbill. Above the western rookeries, areas of moss and colourful lichens attracted many of us.

At 17:30 we cleared the landing site and returned to ship where I prepared a recap on the recent discovery of serious declines in emperor penguin populations, which can be linked to warming in the region, in particular the warming-induced decline in the seasonal duration of sea-ice.

After Recap & Briefing during which the Silver Explorer anchored close to Port Lockroy, I briefly joined the Venetian cocktail party before re-dressing and going ashore with Peter Damisch to bring the Port Lockroy staff aboard Silver Explorer to join us at our Venetian Dinner. Our fascinating day ended by bringing back our Port Lockroy guests in the beautiful evening light.