Day 7 |
Feb 25, 2012

Port Lockroy and Base Brown, Paradise Bay

By Will Wagstaff, Ornithologist

Co-ordinates: first 64 68 29S, 63 31 27 W
Weather: Some sunshine but otherwise cloud in morning with increasing sun during afternoon.
Air Temperature: -0.3C
Pressure: 1010 hPa
Wind: 15mph NW

As I woke this morning we were gently cruising just off Port Lockroy where the sun was shining on the snow-capped mountains in the background, but there was a line of cloud covering us. After so much sunshine in the last two days it was almost a surprise to see some clouds.

The scout boat with all the expedition staff was off the ship at 0730 and we were ready for the first group of guests by 0800 at our destination: Port Lockroy. This had been a British base from late in the Second World War and was the earliest example of a British scientific research station on the Antarctic Peninsula. It was then known as Base A and was used for many years until closed in 1962. It was reopened as a museum and post office in 1996 and this was the reason for our visit. There is also now a shop which is a very popular stop as there are so many items for sale, most of which have a penguin motif!

My initial task was to help guests off with their lifejackets and then back on again when they left, so it gave me time to have a quick look around in the quiet periods between the arrival and departure of the different zodiac groups during the morning. Coming from the UK, the museum is almost a home away from home as many of the products on display have labeling very similar to that still used today. Also some of the implements are just like the ones I knew from home as a child.

Outside the buildings there is always a hive of activity as there is quite a large colony of Gentoo Penguins that now breed here and the associated predators and scavengers one comes to expect. Many of the young penguins were quite large with only a little of their fluffy down left and were, as ever with this species, very interested in our comings and goings. The gulls and skuas tended to keep their distance but the Pale-faced Sheathbills were much more in evidence. One nest, underneath the stairway to the building, contained two well grown young sheathbills that every now and then wandered out to have a look around but spent most time with one of their parents on the nest. Sheathbills have developed a method of obtaining food by flying at a Gentoo feeding its chick, thus making them jump and drop the food, which is then quickly gobbled up by the Sheathbill. We could see this going on close to where I was stationed during the morning but with little success as far as this particular Sheathbill was concerned.

All too soon it was time to move on and head towards our afternoon location. As the sun had come out, the views from The Restaurant as we cruised the narrow channels were superb. There was quite a lot of ice, which meant we had to take our time picking our way through, but it did give us time to enjoy the superb scenery even more.

Early afternoon saw us dropping anchor close to the Argentine station known as Base Brown at the entrance to Paradise Bay. The first two groups of guests headed out on Zodiac tours whilst Jarda, our Assistant Expedition Leader, and I headed ashore to take in all our gear before I set off up the hill to mark out the route we would use when the first guests came ashore. Upon landing, we met the chaps from the Argentine Coastguard who were doing some maintenance at the base.

When the guests came ashore they were full of stories of the Leopard Seals and Humpback Whales they had seen as well as the spectacular scenery. They were able to get more of the latter as we made our way up the hill overlooking the base. From here we could see the second group of guests heading out on Zodiac tour in one of the most picturesque bays in Antarctica. The sun was lighting up the distant hills and its heat was having an effect on the nearby glacier as we saw some huge chunks of ice give way and fall into the sea below. The noise they make is incredible as they crumble and fall into the water. Once those guests from the first group had gone back down the hill by sliding or walking, the second group was on its way up to enjoy the panorama. From the hill we had good views of the skuas and terns as they made their way from one bay to another. Many of us tried our hand at photographing birds in flight with variable success.

All too soon the afternoon came to an end and we headed back to the Silver Explorer to meet up again in the Theatre for Recap & Briefing. Conrad, our Expedition Leader, began by showing some of the photos taken over the last couple of days before giving us some information about our plans for tomorrow when we would be returning to the South Shetland Islands. He also gave us an idea of what the weather would be like over the next few days as we were starting to think about crossing the Drake Passage again.

It was then our turn to talk about some of the things we had seen recently. Robin Aiello, our Marine Biologist, began by talking about the three species of whale we had seen. She gave us information about the breeding biology and feeding strategies of the Fin, Humpbacked and Killer Whales we had seen. Peter Damisch, our Historian, then talked about the Charcot expeditions here from many years ago as we had been in the same areas yesterday before I began to give some information about the Pale-faced Sheathbills we had been watching this morning. Sadly I was not able to finish, as a pod of Killer Whales appeared in front of the Silver Explorer so that The Theatre emptied rather fast. We then spent a few minutes watching these enigmatic animals before they moved on, by which time dinner was beckoning at the end of an amazing day in Antarctica.