Last night we sailed down the Lemaire Channel a second time, after a visit to Peterman Island. This morning we awoke in Paradise Bay. We would remain here for a few hours while we ate breakfast. As I was below in the galley enjoying eggs, cheese, fruit and coffee (the food was great on the M/V Polar Star), I left my camera alone out on the deck shooting one frame every 4 seconds. I slapped them together into a time lapse video, which you see below thanks to Youtube!
My dad and I spent a great several days hiking around Tuolumne Meadows and Vogelsang High Sierra Camp. Vogelsang is one of my favorite areas of the Sierra Nevada, a series of 10,000′ basins filled with beautiful lakes and boasting many 11,000′ and 12,000′ peaks. We had spectacular weather, no mosquitoes, and bagged a new peak and at least a half dozen lakes. I shot this video with a Canon 5D Mark II and the time lapse was shot with a Canon 1Ds Mark III camera, 1300+ frames over two hours to produce about 25 seconds of time lapse video. The video was an exercise to test the function of the Sennheiser MKE 400 mic in an outdoor setting. It worked reasonably well. You can tell I did not get my video perfectly level on some shots — live and learn. Life is good!
Arriving at Devil Island, the morning presented the most spectacular blue-sky weather we experienced during our entire voyage. Devil Island rose above us after we anchored, twin peaks about 800’ high framing a saddle about half that. On the slope of the island before us was a broad colony of penguins. Many grounded small bergs were nestled up against the side of the island, having become caught there at a previous low tide and remaining trapped. Some were cracking and breaking under their own weight as the tide dropped through the morning, producing occasional loud popping sounds following by waves radiating out from the busted up piece of ice.
I elected to hike to the summit of the Devil Island, foregoing any time in a zodiac, since I figured the view was too good to pass up and I wanted to bag a new peak. I shot some great video of the colony on the shoulder of the island, and then followed Ted, Ross, Markus and Jo up to the top. Many others got up there too. The view from the top of the right horn of the island was superb, a full 360 degrees including the channel separating Devil Island from the Antarctic continent on one side, and clear across the Gerlache Strait on the other side. Nothing but blue sky and sun, finally, after weeks of crap weather. It was warm, only the thinnest fleece was required, and sunglasses and sunscreen the order of the day. Not much to say beyond that. I spent as much time at the top as I could, watching the tiny zodiacs far below slowly circumnavigate Devil Island, dodging bergs as they did so. In many places, one could see down through the clear, still water to the ocean bottom below. This would definitely have been a good place to hop in the water with drysuit and camera housing for some u/w shots of bergs, but that will have to wait for next trip. About lunch time we left Devil Island in our wake, motoring further down the channel for our first step on the continent proper at Brown Bluff.
We arrive early in the morning at Paulet Island, our first taste of the Antarctic Peninsula. As we navigate our approach through ice-filled channels around the island, large groups of Adelie penguins (Pygoscelis adeliae) are seen swimming in the water and gathered on the edges of bergs and fast ice. While the day dawns cloudy, it will clear periodically later today, with broken clouds and beautiful Antarctic weather on and off. Strong currents roil the waters about the Paulet Island, moving bergs and brash ice constantly. It takes the captain of the icebreaker M/V Polar Star some time to make a firm anchor.
When the boat is securely anchored, we venture out in zodiacs for some cruising among the ice. Adelie penguins abound. The island is literally covered with Adelies and their curious stone nests, while groups of them are found on the beautifully sculpted ice everywhere we look. When they leave their ice perches and take to the water, their porpoising across the glassy sea is marvelous to watch. They are like small speedy footballs leaping out of the water, only to disappear and reappear again every few seconds as their sturdy wings propel them forward. They are nearly impossible to photograph while porpoising, for me at least, and I resign myself to admiring them and trying to photograph the ones standing still on the ice. Simple photos for simple photographers.
After returning to the big boat, I gather my gear and take a second zodiac ride to land ashore on Paulet Island. It is still morning, but I decide in advance to skip lunch and just stay onshore all day, knowing that each hour with my feet on the ground in Antarctica is exceptionally valuable and is my motivation for making this journey. What a place, so much life here! A cacophony of penguin sounds fills the air, for the many hours that I am ashore. The colony sections themselves are so dense and vast that we stay along the perimeters, in the thin strip of ice- and boulder-covered beach the penguins traverse as they make their way between the ocean and their nests. In the colony itself, the birds are spaced in a highly-regular fashion, with their nests just a few feet apart from one another. I am struck by this aspect of the colony, having seen it earlier in the trip at the phenomenal black-browed albatross colony at Steeple Jason in the Falkland Islands. It seems that each member of the species has exactly the same tolerance for others of its kind, needs exactly the same room to maintain its sanity, leading to the spatial pattern before me that is repeated as far into the colony as one can see. Indeed, when viewed from the boat, the colony takes on an almost abstract look. Mother Nature employs her wonderful mathematics again, producing yet another example of regularity and order out of the chaos that is Life.
I move to the edge of the island to watch the penguins that are departing to forage at sea. They are not unlike a little river: birds constantly “flowing” from their nesting areas on the plateau above down into the water. Hanging over the cobblestone beach on which I sit is a small cliff of melting ice. Every 30 seconds or so a group of penguins approaches along the edge of this ice, using well-worn paths left behind by thousands of small feet, until they reach a gap in the ice cliff through which they can jump down onto the cobblestone. From there they gather at the water’s edge into nervous groups of 10 to 50 before rushing en masse into the water, strategically using their numbers to foil any predatory leopard seal that may be waiting underwater. I setup my camera and tripod in a location where I am sure the penguins will come by. I then move away, and wait. Soon a curious group gathers around the camera, looking at it inquisitively, clucking softly and gently pecking at it to discover what it might be. As they do so, I use my wireless trigger ($20 on Ebay) to take a few pictures of them — from 50′ away. The camera is set to operate as silently as possible to avoid startling the little birds, and the technique works great. When the penguins finally leave, I am able to go inspect my camera and see the images I got; a few look like keepers. I try my remote-cam technique a few more times and am happy with the results. Here are a couple examples; I could have been sipping a margarita in a beach chair while taking these, if it were not so cold:
As the day passes, I realize that the movement of the penguins here cannot be conveyed in a single image. So I spend my last two hours on shore arranging several time-lapse sequences, composed of hundreds of photos that together are arranged into a short movie. One never really knows how the result of a time-lapse effort will appear until the final product is finished on the computer. I did not finally see the result of these efforts until now, some six months after my day on Paulet Island:
This is a time lapse video of the Milky Way rising in the south east sky, viewed from Death Valley. The Milky Way is our own galaxy, a thick spinning disc of stars with arms that thin as they spiral outward. Our Sun is located in one of the arms. When viewed from our Sun’s location, the Milky Way is viewed “on edge” and so appears as a broad band across the sky. The Milky Way is not aligned with the plane of the ecliptic, so it is not parallel with the paths that the moon and Sun follow across our sky. The central core of the Milky Way, which is the thick disc-like center of the galaxy, lies on the right side of this video. Some satellites and planes can be seen briefly in the video, along with a few shooting stars (meteors) near the bottom of the frame just before dawn. This was shot with two Canon digital SLR cameras over a period of about six hours, and is composed of about 500 photographs.
Following our morning at Hercules Bay, we motor during lunch to Cumberland Bay and the whaling settlement of Grytviken. Grytviken lies below – you guessed it – scenic mountains that rise almost straight up. It is insanely windy at times today, and snow flurries fall on and off all afternoon. A visit to the remains of the whaling town, and the museum, is interesting. I finally have a chance to set up my first time lapse shoot of the trip, of clouds moving over the mountains across Cumberland Bay. I find a spot out of the wind in the lee of an overturned boat on the beach, and walk away from my camera as it click-click-clicks away every five seconds. Back in the comfort of the boat, I enjoy a glass of wine with Doug Cheeseman while my camera stays outside in the cold and does it work. We enjoy a fine barbeque on deck tonight. A small group of Grytviken residents, including researchers from the British Antarctic Survey who offered a short presentation earlier in the day, join us. After dark I fetch my camera. The computer stays up all night processing the 2000 images into a short video. It turns out pretty neat!
Timelapse video of dusk and sunset at the Oceanside Pier, California, as tourists play on the beach and surf fish. Shot with a still camera, my lucky flipflops, and a pack of Altoids. Finished on our new iMac. Gotta love coastal Southern California.
After spending a long day ashore on Paulet Island in the northern reaches of the Antarctic Peninsula, the captain took us on a sunset cruise through some nearby waters. Most of the guests were outside enjoying the mirror-flat waters and moody light. We passed one of the most beautiful tabular icebergs we saw during the entire trip (you’ll see it on the far right of this movie). I lashed one of my cameras to a stanchion and let it record about one hour of the cruise. I took one look at this time-lapse clip and was immediately struck by how it resembles skating on ice.