Day 4 |
Mar 03, 2012

At sea in the Chilean Fjords

By Will Wagstaff, Ornithologist

Co-ordinates: 52 01 03 S, 73 16 02 W
Weather: After a grey start a few blue patches were visible in mid morning but rain began falling at lunchtime and continued off and on until dusk.
Air Temperature: 9.8 C
Pressure: 985 hPa
Wind: 20mph southerly

It did not look too promising when I looked out early in the morning, as many of the mountaintops were covered by low cloud, but by the time I had breakfasted in The Restaurant it was much brighter with even a glimpse of blue sky.

I had time to step outside before my lecture at 10:00 and found it to be relatively mild. There were a few Imperial Shags flying by and we also passed some in their feeding flocks. They looked very black and white against the reflection of the trees that came right down to the waterline on either side of the Silver Explorer.

I was first up to lecture today and was talking about some of the birds we would be looking for on this cruise. As Chile has such a diverse habitat and is such a long country, there were more than enough species to talk about. So, in this lecture I concentrated on those species we would see at sea and along the coastlines. I began by talking about the albatrosses we would hope to see and finished with the wading birds that frequent the more open shorelines.

As I finished we turned into the long fjord called Los Montanas, which was one of the most scenic areas I have seen in Chile. The high mountains on either side were snow-capped with the lower slopes showing many signs of glacial erosion. As we continued further inland we passed several hanging glaciers that ended many hundreds of feet up the hillside before we saw some that came right down to the water’s edge with some small pieces of ice floating just offshore. We could tell when we were coming to a glacial outflow, as the water colour changed to a milky colour.

The small flocks of Imperial Shags were scattered along the fjord with a few Chilean Skuas in attendance looking out for one of the shags with a bellyful of fish. Along the shore we could see the white dots of the male Kelp Geese but the more camouflaged females were much harder to see. We also saw some distant Flightless Steamer-Ducks before we came across a pair swimming in more open water that decided they wanted to get out of the way of the Silver Explorer by showing their ‘steaming’ rather than diving. As they cannot fly they flap their way low over the water, paddling as hard as they can and thus make a lot of spray so giving the appearance of an old fashioned paddle steamer crossing the water.

Once we reached the end of the navigable water we stayed for a while looking at a glacier coming down the mountainside to the sea that had some amazing blue colouration in its middle section. Sadly the rain, which had looked to be on its way in the last few minutes, finally arrived. This led to a steady reduction in guests from my lookout point on deck six to the dry Panorama Lounge. As the view began to disappear and the clouds lowered, our Expedition Leader Conrad announced that we would be turning around and heading back the way we came.

Hans-Peter, our Botanist, gave the next lecture in the early afternoon, entitled ‘Biodiversity: Counting Life on Earth’. In this lecture he tried to answer the question of how many plant and animal species there are on the planet. He also talked about how the wide diversity of species adapts to the challenges in surviving around the globe and what biodiversity deals with and how important it is for mankind.

At tea time in the Panorama Lounge Stefan, one of our two geologists, was the host of the Team Trivia in his inimitable style to the amusement of all present. Recap & Briefing today was at 5pm in The Theatre where Conrad gave us the details of our plans for tomorrow: visiting the Pio XI glacier. Members of the Expedition Team then came up to talk about subjects as diverse as the importance for shipping of the Magellan Strait, jellyfish and about the geography of the tip of South America.

In early evening we again gathered in The Theatre for the First Timers Cocktail party, which gave us a chance to talk to some of the guests we had not yet met. A pleasant way to end the day before dinner in the Restaurant again looking out over some spectacular but rain-drenched scenery.