Day 13 |
Nov 24, 2009

Antarctic Sound, Brown Bluff, Devil Island And Weddell Sea

By Rich Kirchner, General Naturalist

Co-ordinates: 63°30.8S, 056°52.8W

Weather: Clear, Sunny and calm seas in the morning; strong winds and snow in the evening

I woke up this morning at 5:00 am to incredibly calm and sunny conditions, as the Prince Albert II navigated its way across Antarctic Sound toward Brown Bluff. Just after 6:00 am the Expedition Team loaded into a Zodiac and headed for shore, ready to set up for our morning landing. It was special, not only because of the fabulous weather, but it would be a landing on the Antarctic continent itself.

By 6:30 the first guests were arriving on shore, and after some short instructions, they were ready to go on a walk toward the penguin colonies with one of the lecture staff. This particular site has a small number of breeding Gentoo penguins and a large Adelie colony. This early in the season, we see a lot of nest building activity and courtship behavior. If you’re really lucky, you may actually some mating taking place.

After landing the boats and greeting guests at the shore, it was my turn to lead a group down toward the penguins. I stopped at the Gentoos and talked about their natural history, and then moved onto the Adelies, and did the same with them. Soon everyone was busy either photographing or observing these endearing little birds.

The penguins weren’t the only point of interest in this lovely spot at the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula. There is dramatic scenery, with the volcanic cliffs, from where the site got its name, and glaciers on both sides. While some of us were leading walks to the penguins, Stephan Kredel, one of two geologists onboard, was setting up a flagged route for a walk on the glacier. Soon we were standing on top of this frozen sheet of ice looking around at more spectacular scenery. 

All good things must end, so by 10:30, the last of the guests were back on board, and the ship set sail toward our afternoon landing site at Devil Island, in the Weddell Sea. Our course took us through massive tabular icebergs and ice floes, where we saw seals and penguins resting on the ice, and more incredible scenery.

Soon after lunch the weather started changing, with grey skies and an increase in the wind. By the time we started our operation at Devil Island, we were seeing the other side of the Antarctic weather.  Myself and the rest of the Expedition Team, had to do some quick adjustments to get the guests ashore and onto an ice ledge that was more than four feet high. Robin West, our Expedition Leader, came up with the perfect solution to this problem – to use one of the snorkel ladders that are used in the warmer climates for getting guests back into Zodiacs from the water. It was almost as if it was designed to do this job! 

Again, myself and the other lecture staff took groups over the snow and ice to another large Adelie penguin colony. It was intriguing to watch the birds along the beach, trying to negotiate this tall ice shelf that guarded the shore, and created a formidable obstacle for these small flightless birds. Amazingly, they found ways to get up and down over this ledge and back to their nests.

Toward the end of the landing, the snow started to fall and the visibility was slowly dropping. Time to head back onboard, and sail toward our next morning’s landing on Deception Island, in the South Shetland Islands.