Day 7 |
Jan 19, 2012

Salisbury Plain, Prion Island, Fortuna Bay, South Georgia

By Hans-Peter Reinthaler, Botanist

Co-ordinates: 54° 02`S, 37° 15`W
Weather: sunny in the morning, cloudy and windy in the afternoon
Air Temperature: 7°C

Sunny blue sky and warm temperature received us as the Silver Explorer sailed this morning into the Bay of Islands in South Georgia. Our first day on this island started very early. At 5 in the morning the Expedition Team was on standby and as usual a scout boat was sent out to check the landing site. The conditions on the beach were perfect calm sea, no wind and absolutely nice sunny weather. This way a landing practically 100m away from the King Penguin rookery was possible. On the beach a lot of fur seals, adult males, females, and an uncountable number of pups were scattered along the shoreline.

Shortly afterwards, the first guests arrived at the landing site and the first impressions they had of South Georgia were amazing. Out on the Salisbury Plain they could observe around 200.000 pairs of King Penguins, in between crèches of fluffy brown young chicks (kiwifruit penguins according to our photographer on board).

Due to the fact that King Penguins have an extraordinary breeding cycle of 13 months, one is able to observe molting young, eggs, very young and of course adult penguins. Shortly after 5.30 in the morning the sun reached the rookery and the light of the scenery was phenomenal. It was really a breathtaking view and a unique experience for most of our guests. Naturally where there is such a big colony of penguins the scavengers, like skuas, kelp gulls and giant petrel, are not far away. Constantly these birds were patrolling over the rookery to catch any food item that was available.

A bright blue sky, thousands of penguins, snow and ice-covered mountains in the background falls clearly into the category of unforgettable impressions regarding nature tourism and clearly this morning was one of these unforgettable moments.

After a short repositioning to Prion Island, the second highlight of the day was on our program: The visit to the nesting site of the bird with the greatest wingspan on earth. The Wandering Albatross has a wingspan which can reach up to 3.5m and Prion Island is one of the few places where this magnificent bird breeds.

The landing site showed the same characteristics as Salisbury Plain, lots of Antarctic fur seals this time together with southern elephant seal and some southern giant petrels. A nice calm bay is the landing site and after a short stretch of walking over the beach, a boardwalk leads to the top of Prion Island. In small groups of ten each guided by one of my colleagues from the Expeditions Staff we made our way up to the Wandering Albatross colony not missing out on the beauty of the Tussac Grass vegetation where with some luck our guests could observe the endemic South Georgian Pipit and South Georgian Pin Tail. Up on top of the hill two platforms visitors not only have a magnificent view over the Bay of Islands but also on the nesting sites of the albatross.
We found three individuals sitting on their nests and the nearest bird was just 3 m away from the boardwalk. It was a unique experience to see these majestic birds so close and additionally observe some courtship display in more distant pairs.
Close to the end of the excursion on Prion Island the wind picked up, and, as it happens frequently in this part of the world, clouds came up and the temperature dropped by 4 degrees.

Back on board the Silver Explorer, our guests had no time to relax or rest. In a short briefing Expedition Leader Robin West gave an overview of what is on the program tomorrow and my colleagues Shoshanah, Uli and Peter presented a short recap on whales, and history respectively.

But still this was not the end of this expedition day. The last landing was at Fortuna Bay, famous on one hand for its history, it’s the place where Shackleton reached the north side of South Georgia before he and his two companions went on to Stromness Bay, and on the other for its nature. King Penguin rookeries, elephant seals, fur seals and the introduced reindeer can be found here.

Tired but very happy guests returned to the ship and enjoyed a delightful dinner in The Restaurant after such a fantastic day on South Georgia.