Day 8 |
Dec 28, 2009

St. Andrews Bay Cold Harbour

By Franz Bairlein, Ornithologist

Co-ordinates: 54°26’188S, 36°10’162W (St. Andrews Bay)

Weather: Calm but overcast at first; 8° C at 5 am, sun breaking through later, then sunny

After a rather rough ride during night, the Prince Albert II arrived at St Andrews Bay around 5 am. A scoutboat was sent ashore to check for landing conditions. The swell was moderate so it was decided to prepare landing at the northern edge of the beach. I was assigned to the beach party taking responsibility for the landing. After the landing site was set, including all survival gear, disembarkation of group two and three started at 05:45 am. After the first two subgroups were taken for walks it was decided to move the landing the other side of the river because river charge was too strong to pass with guests. All groups were called back and moved by Zodiac to the new landing site. Despite the early hour for the first two disembarkation groups, almost all guests went ashore.

The wildlife at the beach and on land was impressive. Hundreds of Elephant seals with many young bulls fighting, southern Fur seals and hundreds of thousands King penguins were ashore. All these animals in front of downstream glaciers was an extraordinary scene for me as well as the guests and filled all of us with great appreciation, though the wet landing was quite tough for some of them, and for me holding the Zodiacs as well.

I was most impressed by the large king penguin colony on the southern edge of the beach, in front of Cook Glacier. Many already fledged birds were around, some of them already starting to molt into juvenile plumage. Interestingly however, no eggs or very young birds were encountered at the edge of the colony. Southern skuas and Snowy sheathbills were hanging around in the colony waiting for opportunities to get food, as well as several Giant petrels. Antarctic terns were carrying food to a small colony at the river banks. A group of 17 reindeer were grazing on the slopes at the northern end of the bay.

The first two groups were taken back to the ship at around 7:30 am, and when finished the other two groups were taken ashore. At around 8:15 am these guests were ashore as well. As the swell at the beach increased, the walking groups were called back for an earlier transport to the ship. At around 10:30 am the last Zodiac returned to the ship.
At around 10:50 am the ship departed towards Gold Harbour, leaving St. Andrews Bay behind us, but with extraordinary memories of that fantastic Bay and landing in our minds.

At 10:50 am the Prince Albert II departed towards Gold Harbour, our second landing site for today, and one of the most spectacular one of the cruise so far. In front of hanging glaciers and vertical cliffs, the scene is like an ancient amphitheatre. Hundreds of elephant seals were lying on the beach, and a few fur seals were around, mainly at the rocky island close to the beach. King penguins were numerous, but quite a few gentoo penguins were around as well. Light-mantled sooty albatrosses were hanging around the cliffs. At least one breeding bird was discovered in the cliffs above the tussock grassy slopes.

Soon after our arrival offshore Gold Harbour beach at around 13:45, the Expedition Team went ashore and prepared the landing site in between the many Elephant seals hanging around at the sandy beach. Again, I was part of the beach party. Landing was rather challenging due to quite some swell. At around 14:00 disembarkation started for groups three and four. Soon after these groups got ashore and walked around, increasing katabatic winds forced us to abandon the site. Thus, the walking groups were called back and we took the guests back to the Prince Albert II at 14:40. Much increasing swell made loading the Zodiacs challenging as well de-loading at the side-gate. Wind gusted up to 65 knots/hour. After all guests and staff had returned to the ship, the Prince Albert II departed towards Drygalski Fjord.

While sailing, a briefing for the coming day and a recap was held in The Theatre at 17:00, during which I gave a brief introduction to the breeding biology of King penguins and their diet and foraging behavior.

When reaching Drygalski Fjord, the Captain invited us to the Bridge, as wind conditions prevented us from going on the outside decks. As the vessel entered the interior of the fjord there was light rain as well as some spray due to the strong katabatic winds. Nevertheless, the Captain brought the vessel rather close to the impressive Risting Glacier calving into the sea. 

At 19:00 repeat Silversea guests were invited to a Venetian Society cocktail party in the Observation Lounge, followed by the Venetian Dinner at 19:30, to which I was invited by guests and which closed an outstanding day in South Georgia.