Voyage Journal 7105 Day 3

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Day 3 - February 23, 2011 - Drake Passage and Barrientos Island

By by Will Wagstaff Ornithologist

Co-ordinates: 62 24S, 59 47W
Weather: Stiff NW wind; overcast with foggy mist in afternoon with occasional sunny interludes.
Air Temperature: 0 C


It was a colder morning than expected, as we had crossed the Antarctic Convergence during the night. As often happens in these latitudes, we were joined by a flock of Cape Petrels. These birds were effortlessly gliding around the ship, landing on the sea every now and again. A short spell on the back deck after breakfast also saw us watching a Southern Fulmar plus a few Wilsons Petrels, as we would expect, and an Antarctic Prion and lastly a Southern Giant Petrel.

The next stage in our morning was the Bio-security check in preparation for our first landing. This ensures that we are not bringing any stray seeds from outside the region on our clothing. As many of the guests had new or very clean gear, there was not much vacuuming to be done and it was all over in no time at all. Robin, our Expedition Leader, then rearranged the schedule so that Claudia was able to give her lecture on ‘Ice, Wind and Waves’ in late morning rather than later in the day, as originally planned.

The other change to the day’s plan was that as we had made such good speed across the Drake Passage, we were able to squeeze in an extra landing. This was to be on Barrientos Island in the Aitcho group, which forms part of the South Shetland Islands. Therefore, after an early lunch, groups one and two were getting ready for their first landfall of the cruise.

After a short Zodiac ride to the shore, we were soon enjoying superb views of our first Gentoo Penguins, followed a little later by the Chinstraps Penguins that also breed on this island. Ken, Claudia, Luke and I took the various groups along the island and then up over the ridge to the far beach. A good number of Gentoo Penguins were returning to the shore, marching up the beach and feeding their well grown young. There were many food chases going on where the adult runs away from the young birds until only its own young is with it. The young then tap the bill of the adult until they are fed. Any spillage was soon cleaned up by the numerous skuas, gulls and Sheathbills that were always on patrol.

Many of the actual nest sites were now deserted as the young were gathering nearer to the water’s edge waiting for their parents to return. It will not be long before most of these birds will be gone from this site as winter approaches. The Chinstraps were at a more advanced stage, as many of the young had already departed and most of birds were adults that had come back to moult, having been away feeding up at the end of their breeding season.

A young Fur Seal made an appearance close inshore before coming onto the beach and going to sleep in the midst of all the moulting Gentoo Penguins. A male Elephant Seal poked its enormous head out of the water to see what was going on but did not stay for long.

By mid-afternoon we had swapped over the groups on shore and it seemed that in no time at all we were clearing the beach and heading back to the ship, which was soon underway en route to our next destination.

As there was some time ahead of the Recap & Briefing before dinner, Juan was able to give his lecture on ‘Ice and Rocks’, which gave us some understanding of how the landscape through which we were now travelling had been formed.

Just prior to recap, the Captain brought us close to the first big iceberg of the voyage. After the cloudy skies earlier in the afternoon, the sun came out to light up the glistening ice. Away to the north of us, the mountains of Livingstone Island with their snow-clad slopes looked spectacular in the sunshine. As the wind was picking up a little, there were plenty of white-topped waves to add to the scene.

During recap tonight Aiello tallied the number of nationalities on board in the crew and among the guests before giving good reasons why we all use one language when on board. I then spent a while talking about the two species of penguin we had seen this afternoon and answered a series of questions about these and other birds. Claudia came up next to talk about the flight of albatrosses known as “dynamic soaring”. Ken then gave us some information about the various ways there were to cross between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, starting with the North West Passage and finishing with the Drake Passage we had just crossed. Juan ended the recap session by talking about the Antarctic Convergence and how the colder waters of the world’s oceans created this effect.

Robin then showed us the weather chart for tomorrow showing very strong winds had been forecast for our area. He then went through the various options available to us and where he and the Captain planned to take us to make the most of our day.

It was then time for dinner at the end of a busy first day in Antarctica with another exciting day ahead.

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