A Guano-Load of Penguins


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January 27th 2019
Published: February 3rd 2019
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Overnight the ship had steamed up the Antarctic peninsula, through the Gerlache and Bransfield straights, and close to the Antarctic Sound (named after a ship that sank there, not because of the continent, funnily enough).

After breakfast, we headed out on another excursion, this time to Gourdin Island. Unlike the previous two days, the weather was not sunny. In fact, it was extremely foggy. As we lined up at the gangway, waiting to get into the zodiacs, we watched each pair disappear into the fog. We could not see more than 100 metres away, so I was hoping the zodiac drivers today had better navigational skills than ours did on the first day.

Thankfully, they did. Our zodiac driver eschewed the use of a gps and had a compass instead. He said he doesn’t trust gps’s. We headed into the fog and soon enough the Akademik Ioffe had disappeared behind us. It wasn’t long before we knew the landing sight was ahead of us… because of the smell! I had been warned about the smell of Antarctica before I came, but smelling it is something else.

When we reached the landing point, there was a bit of a wait for the zodiacs ahead of us to disgorge their passengers, but we soon got ashore. The staff had marked out where we could go, and it was clearly not going to be as tough a hike as the day before. Also, there was very little ice. The ground was very rocky and looked quite muddy. But I can assure you, it was not mud. Those cute little penguins just poo everywhere and don’t seem to care about being covered in it.

I started out by heading to one side of the designated area and sitting down on a rock to watch the penguins. I hoped that if I kept still enough, a penguin or two might come close to me. However, no matter how still I was there were always people not too far away making plenty of noise.

That wasn’t enough to scare away a pale-faced sheathbill though. One came right up to me and started pecking at my boots. At first I thought it was funny, but as he kept going I wondered whether he was capable of breaking through. I managed to move my foot enough that he lost interest and went over to
So Many Adelie PenguinsSo Many Adelie PenguinsSo Many Adelie Penguins

That's not mud! Brown Bluff
peck at the plastic poles used to designate our viewing area.

Anyway, I took plenty of photos of the Adelie penguins at the Gourdin Island rookery and even saw a Gentoo heading down from further up the hill. There were Chinstrap penguins around too and try as I might, I was unable to get all three into the one photograph. There is such a photograph hanging in the dining room of the Akademik Ioffe and I would have like to emulate it, but it was not to be.

I walked around the area some, taking plenty of photos and talking to Matt and Christopher, the two biologist guides. But the area was pretty small, and I had more than enough pictures of pooey penguins so I headed back to the landing area and boarded a zodiac. As we headed back to the ship, I couldn’t help but be a little concerned. The driver was the same one that got lost on the first day but thankfully she had a gps this time. But still, the fog was so thick that we actually cheered when the ship came into view. This time, our driver was spot on.

After lunch we had a photography 101 presentation by the onboard photographer. As I sat down next to them, one of the Swiss ladies said to me that I probably already know everything he was going to talk about. I said, I’m pretty sure I will have heard much of it before, but I find things like this are great to remind me what I should be doing when I shoot. The presentation was very good as it didn’t focus on the technical aspects too much and there was a lot of information about composition which I consider to be my weak point. Sure enough, there was little I hadn’t heard before but as I’d been out shooting that morning, I realised things I should have been doing and resolved to do better.

It was then time for our second excursion for the day. While they were hoping to make it a shore landing, there was so much sea ice around Brown’s Bluff that any landing sight without ice was full of penguins entering and leaving the water. The plan was to start off as a zodiac cruise but to head ashore if a suitable landing site presented itself. As it turns out, it didn’t, but I didn’t mind. I really enjoyed the zodiac cruises amongst the sea ice and icebergs and this time our driver was Matt the biologist, and he is so enthusiastic and knowledgeable, it was great just to hang out and listen to him.

Matt was dead keen to find a leopard seal, however. He knew a couple of spots that were really good for finding them apparently. He said there should be some around with so many penguins in the water, but it was not our day.

We saw a few Weddell seals lounging on icebergs and a few giant petrels flying about. But the most enjoyable part of the cruise was watching the penguins jump out of the water onto icebergs, or at least, attempting to. Matt was telling us they put air between their feathers and force it out when they jump onto an iceberg, like a jet boost. It was amazing to watch how far they could jump up, but it was hilarious when they didn’t make it. Quite a few underestimated the distance required, hitting the iceberg beak first. We saw one do a triple backward somersault after slamming
Adelie PenguinAdelie PenguinAdelie Penguin

Gourdin Island
beak first into the ice.

Another funny aspect to watching the penguins on the icebergs was the way they jumped in. Worried about predators such as Leopard seals, none of the penguins wants to be the first to jump in. Therefore, they try to jump as groups, and it takes a critical mass of penguins wanting to enter the water before any do. However, sometimes they will run up to the edge and let one jump in while everybody else decides against it. It was hilarious to watch.

That was pretty much it for Sunday. Once again, I spent time in the bar processing photos. This time I hoped I would definitely be in bed before midnight as I had processed some of the photos during the day. And I did! I walked into the cabin at 11:58pm. Later than I was hoping, but I’d had an enjoyable conversation with a fellow passenger so it was all good.


Additional photos below
Photos: 60, Displayed: 26


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Chinstrap PenguinChinstrap Penguin
Chinstrap Penguin

Gourdin Island
Pale-Faced SheathbillPale-Faced Sheathbill
Pale-Faced Sheathbill

Gourdin Island
Adelie PenguinAdelie Penguin
Adelie Penguin

Gourdin Island
Adelie PenguinAdelie Penguin
Adelie Penguin

Gourdin Island
Chinstrap PenguinChinstrap Penguin
Chinstrap Penguin

Gourdin Island
Adelie PenguinAdelie Penguin
Adelie Penguin

Gourdin Island
Adelie PenguinsAdelie Penguins
Adelie Penguins

Gourdin Island
Adelie PenguinsAdelie Penguins
Adelie Penguins

Gourdin Island
Adelie PenguinsAdelie Penguins
Adelie Penguins

Gourdin Island
Gentoo PenguinGentoo Penguin
Gentoo Penguin

Gourdin Island
Adelie PenguinsAdelie Penguins
Adelie Penguins

Gourdin Island
Chinstrap PenguinChinstrap Penguin
Chinstrap Penguin

Gourdin Island


3rd February 2019

Life aboard ship
I liked hearing about processing your photos and enjoying the people you are meeting. It sounds like the guides are knowledgable. Extraordinary photos and the trip of a lifetime.
3rd February 2019
Adelie Penguin

Adorable
Nothing else to say. MJ

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