Received from Chris Lester...
Sent: Friday, 6 July 2007 11:20 AM
To: Bill Stent
Subject: Chile and Antarctica - October / November 2006 - Part 3 of 4
CHILE & ANTARCTICA October / November 2006 - Part 3 of 4
Then in the afternoon of 14th November, we boarded our boat, the
Grigoriy Mikheev, and set off for Antarctica on our "In Search of
Emperor Penguins" trip, which was organised by Oceanwide Expeditions.
Ro and I had decided we wanted a "superior" cabin for this trip as we
wanted to be comfortable when we ran into bad weather. Our cabin was
quite large and spacious with a nice sitting room and a separate
"bedroom" and private bathroom. We headed down the Beagle Channel again
in the late afternoon. When we awoke the next morning, we had left
South America and were steaming across the Drake Passage. It was fine
and sunny, but pretty brisk.
Initially, the Drake Passage did not live up to its reputation as the
roughest waters in the world. The first day out was idyllic and the
second was calm despite thick fog. However, at lunchtime, a sizeable
storm blew up and the adventure really did begin. We had been expecting
to make our first Antarctic landing on Aitcho Island in the South
Shetland Islands at the end of the second day, but that possibility
disappeared in the storm as we bashed our way south.
We did see a good selection of southern seabirds as we were crossing,
including King Penguin, Wandering, Royal, Grey-headed, Black-browed and
Light-mantled Sooty Albatrosses, Southern Giant-Petrel, Southern Fulmar,
White-chinned and Blue Petrels, Antarctic and Slender-billed Prions,
Wilson's Storm-Petrel, Brown Skua and Arctic Tern. Two highlights for
me were Kerguelen Petrel at the top of the Passage and the Antarctic
Petrel we saw from our porthole in the middle of the storm. We also saw
Minke Whales on the way south.
On the third day out, we arrived at the islands next to the Antarctic
Peninsula, saw Snow Petrel near the icebergs and visited Paulet Island,
our first Antarctic experience and an Adelie Penguin breeding colony.
On a fine and sunny morning, wandering among the penguins was terrific
as there was lots of activity with birds pairing up and mating and with
some penguins already on eggs. We also saw Gentoo Penguins, Antarctic
Shag, Snowy Sheathbill, Kelp Gull and Antarctic Tern as well as Weddell
and Crabeater Seals. The seals were only present in small numbers as
most of the breeders were not there yet.
In the afternoon, we headed down the east side of the Peninsula and into
Weddell Sea. We were trying to get to Snow Hill Island where several
small colonies of Emperor Penguins have been discovered in the last few
years breeding on the pack-ice. We were going to park ourselves next to
the ice and watch them walk over to the sea to feed - or, at least, that
was the theory.
After dinner that night as we approached James Ross Island, Jan spotted
two Emperors standing on the ice, which caused quite a commotion
onboard. We launched the zodiacs and spent a fabulous couple of hours
on the ice watching them and then a terrific sunset. Now, this was
really bird-watching - a life highlight.
Next morning, we learnt that the boat had tried to go further south to
Snow Hill Island and more Emperors, but had failed miserably as the
pack-ice was still too thick. We headed further north to visit other
sites leaving the possibility of more Emperors behind. I think we were
The panorama as we steamed north was amazing. Lots of ice and snow on
islands we passed, icebergs large and small in all shapes and sizes
floating by, pack-ice and the occasional island where we could see some
brown land with snow. Jan saw some Killer Whales early that morning.
In the afternoon, we visited Devil Island, another Adelie Penguin
On 18 November, we set foot on the Antarctic mainland at Brown Bluff,
which had a third Adelie colony. The highlight of this visit was the
basking Leopard Seal. This is one fearsome predator and a great sight
on the ice.
In the afternoon, we went to the Esperanza Argentinean Antarctic Base,
where the locals showed us around. They are a bit different to the
Australians in Antarctica as the Argentineans overwinter with their
families, including children. It was a fascinating insight into how a
base runs. We were able to get an Antarctica stamp for our passports.
Next day, we went to Deception Island, which is a submerged volcano that
is still active. It provided a contrasting experience to the rest of
our time in Antarctica as the weather was awful - freezing cold and
snowing with a fierce wind. Even all rugged up, it was cold. We
visited an old whaling base with some remnants still lying around and
saw our first Chinstrap Penguin and our only Southern Elephant Seals.
Our final destination was the Gerlache Strait down the west side of the
Peninsula. We stopped at Orne, Danco and Melchior Islands. Orne was a
Chinstrap colony and Danco a Gentoo colony. We finally identified South
Polar Skua, which is quite a difficult task on the Peninsula as most of
the birds are the dark race.
We headed back into the Drake Passage for home and had a wonderful
experience with two Humpback Whales. There seemed to be fewer seabirds
and we saw no new ones, but the whole trip over the two days was fine
and calm. We made land in the light this time and saw Cape Horn and
quite a lot of seabirds inshore, including Sooty Shearwater, Magellanic
Diving-Petrel, Imperial Shag and South American Tern.
Early on 23 November, we steamed back into Ushuaia at the end of a
memorable 11 days. The scenery had been stunning, the wildlife amazing,
the boat and its crew excellent - all in all, a major life highlight.
We then spent the day in Ushuaia. We revisited the Tierra del Fuego
National Park and walked out to the border with Chile but we did not
find many birds and did not add anything new to our list. Next morning,
we left Ushuaia and were driven to the border at San Sebastian in the
north of Tierra del Fuego to resume our Chilean trip.
Part 4 follows .......... <M
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