Day 9 |
Dec 29, 2009

Cooper Bay Gold Harbor

By Marylou Blakeslee, General Naturalist

Co-ordinates: 54˚37.4’S 037˚56.1’W

Weather: Moderate temperatures, partly cloudy with wind in the afternoon and evening

It was a day of abundance. This morning’s sky was overcast but bright. The winds were quiet as we began our morning with a Zodiac tour of Cooper Bay. So far I had seen 5 species of penguins and there was a possibility of adding the Macaroni Penguin to my list for this trip. This brightly decorated bird loves the rough rocky places so weather has a huge influence on our ability to see them.

The day proved to be perfect. Daniil drove the Zodiac I was on and we toured the shoreline watching Southern Elephant seals wallow, Antarctic Fur seals bicker, King penguins standing regally aloof while Gentoo penguins popped out of the water for a brief rest.

One of my special delights was the South Georgian Pintail duck. It is not a striking looking bird but it is the only duck in the world that eats meat! The shortage of vegetation on this high latitude island caused this strange adaptation for a bird with no teeth nor sharp pointed bill. Somehow it manages to bite off and swallow remains of seals and penguins that wash ashore.

High on a steep, weathered rock stood a Kelp Gull with two fluffy beige chicks clumsily holding onto their roost. Then we rounded the rocks, swung over the waves and pulled into the Macaroni Rookery. Hundreds of penguins stood on the sharpest incline the island offered. It seemed impossible that an egg would balance there long enough to hatch, however this is the home of the Macaroni. Red and orange tuffs blowing in the wind, they stood their perches or watched the waves on the shore. I was struck by how quiet they were in comparison to their close-looking relative, the Rockhopper Penguin. It seemed almost tranquil on the rookery so close to the tumultuous sea. That quiet didn’t last long as we spun across the inlet to the Chinstrap colony. Raucous and feisty, the Chinstrap penguins were very busy with the business of the nesting season. Their cobbled beach also provided sounds as the waves caused a rock-hitting-rock percussion.

Back to Gold Harbor for the afternoon, we went. Embarking and disembarking the Zodiacs was an adventure unto itself. The swell was the largest we had encountered so far at a landing but all went well with only a few of us getting wet. The beach was a carpet of Elephant seals. One would move and the reverberation could be seen moving through the blubber of the four next surrounding seals. I watched a fur seal climb on top of the elephant seals and run around, disturbing the sleep of the seals underneath. The King penguins and their chicks covered the rest of the beach and I again walked at penguin speed to not disturb them.

All of this life was happening surrounded by the most spectacular scenery. The glacially carved valleys, the ice still standing in them and the folded rocks held a mystery of their own. It was the crescendo to an awe-inspiring time on South Georgia Island.