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Published: February 3rd 2019
Monday morning found us through the Antarctic Sound and into the Weddell Sea. It is here that we expected to see the large, tabular icebergs. However, once again there was a lot of fog around and we hadn’t seen any yet.
The morning’s excursion was to Paulet Island and another Adelie penguin rookery. This one, though, was absolutely huge. As we lined up to board the zodiacs, the sun came out and I had to run back to the cabin to get my sunglasses. However, we could see the fog rolling in across the water, so it was debatable if I needed them.
The zodiac ride to the landing site was a long one, through lots of small icebergs and sea ice. Obviously the large ship would not have been able to get closer because of the ice and with the limited visibility of the fog. On the way we passed a few more seals lazing about on icebergs. They were Weddell seals again though, so I had yet to see a Leopard seal and possibly would never do so if I didn’t see one today.
The rookery was huge, which of course meant that the smell was
correspondingly bad. As we approached the landing zone, it was impossible to comprehend the number of penguins onshore. They covered the rocky hills in all directions and amazingly high up the hill. It must be a massive amount of effort to come down from the top to get food. You’d think they would almost expend all the calories they had taken in just to get home.
We landed and found that our viewing area was quite small. This was because there were so many penguins. Thankfully, they seemed to respect the boundaries of our viewing area for the most part, although I did see one come inside and then realise the errors of its way because it couldn’t see a clear way out. Thankfully someone eventually moved, and it was able to escape.
One of the first photos I wanted to take was of the nearby hill, looking almost like a pyramid but with penguins all over. I thought the shot needed me to get down as low as possible, so I squatted. However, I had to steady myself and promptly placed my gloved hand directly into a patch of fresh, red, krill-diet, guano. Cursing myself, I took
the gloves off and had to put up with cold hands until I could wash and dry them.
I then moved down and sat on a relatively clear patch of ground down by the water where penguins were entering the water to go feeding. I sat there for ages, trying to put Jonathan’s tips into practice by not trying to capture the entire rookery but focussing on one or two. Ideally, they were looking in my direction. I snapped hundreds of photos of penguins there and a spot on the other side of our viewing area where the penguins were exiting the water. Those exiting the water were significantly cleaner but were a little further away so I’m not sure which photos were better in the end.
I had another pale-faced sheathbill come and peck at my boots as I was sitting still. Or perhaps it was the same one, who knows? But this time I managed to get a photo of him doing it. But when he decided to peck at my waders, enough was enough and I shooed him away.
After taking about 700 photos there, I hopped into the next zodiac for a scenic
cruise back to the ship. We saw some more Weddell seals and penguins on icebergs but alas, no leopard seal despite there being an absolute smorgasbord of penguins in the water.
We returned to the ship for lunch and it moved to our next location, Active Sound. During the journey, we passed a tabular iceberg which looked huge to me but was apparently just a medium-sized one. Still, it was very impressive, and I made sure to get some photos from the top-deck along with everyone else.
When we headed out for the afternoon’s zodiac cruise, the fog was well and truly with us. But the sea was amazingly still… almost like glass. We were on the second last zodiac to leave and the photographer, Jonathan, came aboard. The driver of the last zodiac offered to take him because there would be more room but he said no, there was a photographer on our zodiac he wanted to catch up with. Which was me, of course, and I greatly appreciated that.
The cruise was the most surreal experience I’ve ever had, with glass-like water, plenty of sea ice, icebergs and fog surrounding us. Along the way, I
Off Paulet Island
had plenty of opportunity to talk with Jonathan and he gave me some great tips. Especially about the problems I was having focussing on moving wildlife. He taught me how to use the 3d continuous tracking focus, which should help a great deal with photographing birds, particularly the petrels and albatrosses that were expected to follow us as we cross the Drake passage to the Falkland Islands.
At one point, we had a giant petrel fly across in front of us and I tried to capture it in flight. As it flew past, Christopher, who was driving the boat, turned us at exactly the right rate to match the bird. Although many shots were still out of focus (I need plenty more practice!) the boat turned at the exact right rate to give a neat panning effect.
There were also plenty of opportunities to play around with more arty shots due to the conditions. I really enjoyed the experience, especially getting advice from Jonathan. But eventually it was time to head back to the ship. We were all starting to get a bit cold – especially gloveless me!
Christopher decided to cut through the sea ice rather
than follow our paired zodiac around it. It was a great move because just as we approached the ship someone saw a seal on an iceberg.
We moved in, expecting another Weddell. We crept closer and it looked up, so we saw the size of its head. Weddells have really small heads for their bodies, but this one had a head in the correct proportions… it was a Leopard seal! I can’t believe we saw it on pretty much the last possible opportunity. It was huge and had some seriously gnarly scars and wounds on it. Clearly it had been in a scrap or two.
With that, we headed back to the ship thoroughly chilled but very happy. Back at the ship they told us that tonight was barbecue night on the stern deck. While the food was cooked out on the deck, we had the option to eat on the deck or to take our food inside. As I had chickened out on the camping, I thought I should definitely give eating outside a go.
The food was delicious, and once I sat down at a table with similarly stupid people, the cold really wasn’t that
Off Paulet Island
bad. Eating warmed us up, I guess. But at least we had done it. Although I will mention that Dad chickened out and ate inside. Dessert was only available inside and while I may have vocally complained, I wasn’t really that upset!
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