SOUTH SANDWICH ISLANDS AREA AND RETURN TO
After a last day with beautiful sunny and calm weather in the Weddell Sea,
enlivened by a group of five large penguins on the water at some distance
from the ship, that surely must have been Emperor Penguins, we arrived
during the night at our first sampling station just east of the S.Sandwich
Islands, at ca 58*S and 23*W. As earlier explained, we being crew and ca 40
scientists on the German research vessel Polarstern, during the Antarctic
Deep-sea Expedition ANDEEP II.
During the night the weather changed radically, and even though the
forecast gale fortunately did not materialize, winds of force 7-8 still
churned up waves of 5-6 m, and the sea looked entirely different from the
day before. (Also, no icebergs were in sight, for the first time in many
days). Another difference that soon became evident, was that the sea around
us was alive with Chinstrap Penguins; everywhere you looked small groups
porpoised through the waves, floated unconcernedly ?upside-down? in order
to clean their feathers, or called their hoarse duck-like quaacks. The
latter came as a surprise for me; I somehow had thought that these penguins
were largely silent at sea, I don?t know exactly why. Some of the penguins
were already quite heavily moulting and showed unexpected light fields on
back and sides.
Of other birds the normal Fulmars and Cape Petrels were still there,
although not in any numbers, and a number of large dark and probably
immature Giant Petrels circled the ship. I saw both species of storm
petrels, Wilson?s and the Black-bellied, and two gadfly petrels that I
could not identify, whizzed past in the brisk wind: medium-sized, brownish
above, underwing white framed in dark (I think dark brown). A few
albatrosses were also around, and I saw here i.a. my first ever Sooty
Albatross, together with Black-browed and Light-mantled Sooties.But the
stars of this morning were undoubtedly the penguins!! (Our own stowaway
Chinstrap was washed overboard this morning, hopefully to join his friends.)
Later in the day, still on station and with the same kind of weather (maybe
a somewhat heavier sea), all the birds had mysteriously disappeared, and 15
minutes gave just one single penguin! A later similar stint yielded 1
Fulmar, 1 Giant petrel and an unidentified Storm Petrel.
The next morning, still at the same station, as we had had to interrupt our
collecting activities because of the weather, the bird activity was a bit
larger again. There were as many penguins around as the day before, but
there were considerably more Antarctic prions and fulmars than yesterday
morning, several Blue Petrels, both a Light-mantled and a ?normal? Sooty
Albatross, and a few Giant and Cape Petrels. A very impetuously and high
flying gadfly petrel must have been a Kerguelen Petrel; I find these
Pterodroma petrels difficult.
For a few days after this, as we sampled a succession of nearby stations in
uncharacteristically calm and sunny weather, the Chinstrap penguins
completely dominated the scene. Not only they were everywhere around the
ship, but a number also climbed aboard and they turned out to be hard to
dislodge. A colleague saw a single Gentoo Penguin, but otherwise birdlife
here is little diverse: the normal hangers-on Fulmar and Cape Petrel, and
now and then storm petrels (both species) and a lone Giant Petrel.
Curiously, not a single whalebird or Blue Petrel was seen these days.
On Saturday the weather again changed to force 8 winds, and albatrosses
returned, in first instance a pair of Light-mantled Sooty Albatrosses. For
the first time this week, there was also a White-chinned Petrel. Later
somebody reported a Wandering Albatross, while I was asleep. Too late to
check out; dark falls here already early in the afternoon, while it dawns
at 3 am, because of the ?wrong time?zone? we are in.
.The next morning, on station at ca 58*50'S and 24*W, there are
surprisingly few birds around, in spite of high seas and strong winds. That
is, if you forget about the Chinstrap penguins, that also today surround
the ship in their hundreds. Their definitely unmelodious voices are the
first thing one hears, as soon as one comes out on the deck.
After the week east of the Sandwich islands the Polarstern returned linea
recta to P. Arenas, crossing the Scotia sea midways between S.Georgia and
the S.Orkney islands. ?through the middle of nowhere?. This crossing took
six days. We had a bit more wind during this crossing (westerlies 7-8), so
that it was good weather for albatrosses. The first day there were still
Light-mantled Sooty Albatrosses, together with the always present
Black-browed, but from the second day they were replaced by Wandering
Albatross (never more than one at the time though), and on three occasions
a Grey-headed Albatross followed the ship for a while. Giant Petrels were
present in small numbers most days; most were southern, but one
unmistakable Northern was seen on 29 March. One Giant Petrel was attacked
and forced down on the water through repeated divebombing by the first
South Polar Skua of the entire trip (There was another one the next day);
after which the skua seemed to lose interest.
The other birds of the crossing were the always present hangers on, mostly
Cape Petrels, with a gradually diminishing number of Fulmars (Last Fulmars
29 march, last Cape petrels 30 March), and Antarctic prions, that were
common on 27-28 March and then disappeared. White-chinned petrels were
scarce, and a single Great-winged Petrel was once more observed.
On 31 March we steamed through a by now very calm sea across the shelf east
of Tierra del Fuego, on our way to the Straits of Magellan. This was a
balmy day by our standards (11*C), and also the water temp. had risen to
8-9'C. This gave a scarce, but clearly different seabird fauna:
Black-browed Albatrosses were still quite common, but usually sitting on
the water, and a single White-chinned Petrel followed the ship for hours.
But the other ?sailplanes? now were Greater and Sooty Shearwaters, a few
Magellan Penguins porpoised away from the ship, and we also saw
regularly Magellanic Diving Petrels. Unfortunately, it was dark before we
entered the Straits themselves, so I have no observations from there.
1. April we left Polarstern, our home away from home for more than a month.
I am very grateful to AWI in Bremerhaven, DFG and prof. Angelika Brandt for
the chance to take part in this most interesting cruise, and for the
possibility to use so much time looking up instead of down.
1-2 April 2002
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