07 Nov 2015

Expedition To South Georgia Island by Maureen

10/23

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This morning, we were supposed to have a 4am (!) wake-up call, a quick, cold breakfast, and then be on the Zodiacs to shore at 4:30 for sunrise. (I guess the photographers had been asking when they'd get their sunrise-on-land shots...) Well according to Ted, we had anchored off of Gold Harbour last night around bedtime, but the winds got way up around 1-2am and starting pulling the ship from its anchor, so they had to head to shelter. This part of the island isn't very sheltered and there are multiple glaciers that come down off the mountains into the sea, carrying very strong, cold winds with them. Heading away from Gold Harbour meant that we were no longer near enough the beach to make landings at 4:30am. Instead, Ted woke us up at 6:30am, explained the situation, and said that breakfast would be from 7-8 and then we could head to the beach at 8. That plan worked!

Today's weather was very blustery and snowy, but that didn't stop us! The fore of the beach was covered in elephant seals made up of many harems and pups/weaners making the usual racket. The rear of the beach was covered in King penguins, including the super cute Oakum Boys, also making their usual racket. I stayed for 3 hours, taking in the sights and behaviors of the wildlife and there was always something interesting happening in any direction you faced. The elephant seal weaner pups are so cute with their big, glassy eyes, playing with each other and biting faces and flippers. The Oakum Boys in their puffy, fur coats will mostly stand around, walk a bit, flap their flippers, and then one will go crazy and start running amok amongst the group -- that scene made me laugh aloud every time. They are so stinking cute! And every now and then, a group of the Boys would get brave and wander very close to us, within a foot or so. Such an amazing experience, and makes me wonder what's going through their little bird brains.

Weather turned back to nasty by 11am and the Ortelius started having trouble maintaining its position again. By then, Hugh and Ted decided to call everyone back before the weather got worse. My Zodiac ride back to the ship was a bit wet -- waves were splashing over my back and unfortunately, into my waterproof gloves... seems I needed to put the ends UNDER my waterproof jacket, not over.

Top photo: King penguins everywhere!
Middle photo: King
Bottom photo: Molting king

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We were supposed to land at St. Andrew's Bay -- the holy grail of king penguins -- but we were experiencing 70 knot winds, so it wasn't possible to Zodiac on the ocean, nor would we want to stand on a beach during such blustery weather. Instead, we header to Godthul (translates to Good Harbour) for the afternoon. What a difference in weather from the morning! As Ted has told us, South Georgia has many microclimates, so this little bay was very protected from what was happening on the ocean (and from what we experienced this morning) -- at beach level, there was no wind and so much sun I almost started stripping layers; a short hike up the ridge made for windier weather and some small snow balls blew in our faces.

As with all the beaches we visit, we were welcomed by elephant seals. I finally took some photos of the "small" pups who still have their black fur.

Top photo: Young elephant seal pup
Middle photo: A "weaner" pup -- mom has abandoned the young and now the weaner fends for him/herself
Bottom photo: Godthul beach

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After I finished hanging out with the ellie pups on the beach, I hiked up the tussock grass slope to the grassy/mossy slopes where the gentoo penguins had set up their nesting colony. Here, I was able to sit on a rock and watch gentoo penguins laying upon their nests, which are raised slightly above ground. Gentoos lay 2 eggs about this time of year and the mom and dad take turns daily to incubate the eggs. I watched out for but didn't see the changing of the guard. I did see a parent rise up off the eggs for a minute while it stretched a bit before going back down on top of the eggs. I also saw a penguin chase another one off a nest site (and chased it pretty far), only to eventually wander off after laying on the empty nest a few minutes -- jerk penguin...