08 Nov 2015

Expedition To South Georgia Island by Maureen

11/23

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Today was another early day! Breakfast at 6:00, zodiacs to shore at 6:45. Fortuna Bay opens to Fortuna Glacier on one side, and Konig Glacier at the very end. Where we landed, we were met by only a few elephant seals and more fur seals. I started my morning here by walking towards the Fortuna Glacier side of the bay. I passed by several groups of king penguins, some pretty waterfalls and streams from the upper regions, and a small gentoo penguin colony way up on a hill. It was very pleasant so long as I kept my distance from the fur seals -- they snort a bit when you get too close.

Top photo: King penguins
Middle photo: Male elephant seal
Bottom photo: Male fur seal

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As I was passing by a sandy/muddy flat at the base of a tussocky hill, Joe -- our bird expert -- grabbed me and asked, "Do you want to see a baby pipit?!" "Yes!" was my reply. So Joe led me back into the tussock grass and then pointed to the snowy base of one tussock lump and there was a big baby pipit, looking mostly like an adult except it still had some fluffy baby feathers and wasn't flying away from its home base. Joe said that its parents are going out and finding food to bring back to big baby.

Pipits are the only songbird on South Georgia and they were almost wiped out by the rat population that invaded the island from the whaling ships way back in the day. Pipits nest on the ground, so rats would come right along to the nests and eat the eggs. After so many years of this, the pipits were close to being no more. The South Georgia Heritage Trust undertook the huge project of eradicating the rat population from the island and thanks to that project, the rats appear to be gone! (The project is still monitoring the island for rats, but there's been no sign of them yet.)

After I wandered back to the muddy flat, I saw a couple more pipits, then one came flying right towards me and landed practically at my feet! It started poking around a bit in the sand, making its way right around me in search of food. Very cool and what a nice experience considering these guys were so endangered just a couple years ago :-)

Top photo: Baby pipit!
Middle and bottom photos: Pipit parent (?)

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This colony wasn't as energetic as yesterday morning's, but they made up for that by displaying some amazing behaviors. Here, it was much more clear who the parents and young belonged to. The oakum boys closely followed mom or dad and we were able to watch mom/dad feeding the "boys."

Top photo: The colony, the oakum boys tend to huddle together
Middle photo: Parent feeding a youngster
Bottom photo: The oakum boy in the background looks so serene, enjoying the snow...

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We headed back to the ship for lunch. After lunch was the Fortuna Bay to Stromness Whaling Station hike that Shackleton, Worsely, and Crean made when they finally made contact with people after 17(?) months. I had signed up to do it, but after the rain this morning, we were told the snowpack had turned slushy on top. The hike was only a little over 3 miles, but up and down steep passes, and I decided that even with the aid of snowshoes, I didn't want to risk a twisted ankle. Really too bad because I was looking forward to this part of the trip, especially after reading the book 'Endurance' about what Shackleton and his men went through. Oh, well. Perhaps I'll be here again someday to complete it :-)

Instead of the hike, I stayed aboard the ship, took a shower, relaxed in the Bar catching up on this travel journal, and then took photos of Stromness from the ship. It's a derelict whaling station that is closed off to visitors now, so very rusty, full of asbestos, and falling apart.