Day 13 |
Jan 25, 2012

 Brown Bluff; Antarctic Sound before heading towards the Lemaire Channel  

By Will Wagstaff, Ornithologist


Co-ordinates: 63 07 42S, 57 42 26
Weather: A beautiful calm sunny morning with light grey clouds arriving late morning that thickened to heavy snow by mid afternoon.
Air Temperature: 0.4C
Pressure: 979 hPA
Wind: Light southerly in early afternoon.

It was a most beautiful sunrise over Antarctic Sound on an almost mirror-like sea. The distant snow hills were faintly tinged with orange as we steamed towards our first destination of the day, one of my favourite sites, Brown Bluff.

The staff was ashore in the scout boat just after 0530 having had a quick breakfast in The Restaurant before getting on our cold weather gear. Once ashore we soon found that we didn’t need all our layers, as it was that warm. It was hard to believe that we were in Antarctica. Juan and Uli set off towards the glacier to mark out a safe route up to a suitable viewpoint so I had a few minutes spare to photograph some nearby nesting Kelp Gulls before the arrival of the first zodiac full of guests.

Once I had my group we set off towards the huge Adelie penguin rookery that this site is famous for. We did not have to look far as my favourite penguins were marching towards us along the beach. This species is famous for appearing to make group decisions as they charge along the beach parallel to the water’s edge before stopping. Sometimes they do an about turn and head back again, whilst at others they become more vocal and then plunge into the sea. They disappear for a few moments as they swim as fast as they can away from the shore before beginning to porpoise their way out to fish. The reason for this indecision and speed away from shore became apparent later in the landing as we had several good views of a Leopard Seal working its way back and forth along the beach looking for any unwary penguins.

In recent years this site has been colonized by Gentoo Penguins that nest in small groups a little further up the beach. However our first stop was not to look at these birds but to wait for a rather reluctant Antarctic Fur Seal to decide that we were not worth arguing with and head off out to sea. These Gentoo chicks would later prove to be very popular as they were extremely inquisitive and were not averse to marching up to the guests to inspect their gear.

Our path took us between the Gentoo colony and the marching Adelies before we stopped at the edge of the main Adelie colony. On this beautiful clear day we could see to the top of Brown Bluff above us and to all the low hills populated by Adelie Penguins away in front of us, seeming to go as far as the distant glaciers.

I was stationed at this colony for the morning, showing each group of guests what was going on in this vibrant rookery. Many of the young were just losing their down so were changing from brown fronts to white in preparation for heading to sea next month. Some of these birds were learning to swim for the first time but one seemed to have not quite grasped the idea as it kept using one flipper and as a result was going around in circles!

Once the guests had visited my end of the landing site, many opted to walk up Juan’s route up the glacier and had superb views out over to Joinville Island on the far side of Antarctic Sound. For many guests, this continental landing was their magical seventh one and therefore cause for a celebration.

All too soon it was time to go, but we had another treat in store as we did a slow ship’s cruise out of Antarctic Sound past many of the large tabular icebergs that often occur here. In the sunshine these enormous bergs were very impressive and each one was greeted with another flurry of cameras clicking as everyone was out on deck, either on the especially opened foredeck or other deck. I also added yet more photos to my collection but as the light was superb it was too good a chance to miss.

Eventually we had to tear ourselves away as we had many miles to go to reach our destination tomorrow. So it was back inside to download all those photos and a warm drink.

Following lunch in The Restaurant it was then time for Peter’s lecture about some of the less known Antarctic explorers who were a very diverse bunch of characters to say the least. However without those brave souls we would not be able to explore as we were now doing.

Later in the afternoon Juan gave his lecture on Oceanography entitled ‘Water – The Restless Sea’ in which he covered the basic tenets of this subject looking at the vast circulation systems that power our oceans as well as wave formation, tides of this fascinating subject.

We again met in The Theatre for Recap & Briefing where Robin outlined our rather exciting plans for tomorrow before the Expedition staff gave short recaps on many of the themes of the day which were varied, to say the least, although Robin Aiello’s one about what comes out of penguins and how far they can fire it caused most attention.

Once recap was finished it was time for dinner, as we had another early start in the morning and were hoping for another beautiful sunrise.