Category

Southern Ocean

Brown Bluff, Antarctica

Antarctica, Penguin, Southern Ocean

Photos of Brown Bluff, Antarctic Peninsula, Antarctica

Our approach to Brown Bluff took us across a broad sound complete with blue sky and many scenic bergs, then into a thick fog bank as we left the sound and entered a narrower passage with clouds and cold air pouring down to the water from the glaciers on each side (glaciers make their own weather).

Tabular iceberg in the Antarctic Sound

Tabular iceberg in the Antarctic Sound.
Image ID: 24783
Location: Antarctic Sound, Antarctic Peninsula, Antarctica

Tabular iceberg in the Antarctic Sound

Tabular iceberg in the Antarctic Sound.
Image ID: 24784
Location: Antarctic Sound, Antarctic Peninsula, Antarctica

Brown Bluff, an aptly named large rock promontory situated between two glaciers, appeared before us as we approached through a clearing in the fog. Many small bergs were floating just offshore of the bluff, so the big boat was anchored a ways off and we accessed the bluff and its cobblestone beaches with a half mile zodiac run. Several types of penguins nest below the bluff, and are constantly leaving and arriving via the beach. I headed away from the penguins and people to a swath of beach that fronted a long, rolling edge of an ice field.

Horizontal striations and layers in packed snow, melting and overhanging, seen from the edge of the snowpack, along a rocky beach, Brown Bluff

Horizontal striations and layers in packed snow, melting and overhanging, seen from the edge of the snowpack, along a rocky beach.
Image ID: 24782
Location: Brown Bluff, Antarctic Peninsula, Antarctica

Brown Bluff, the eroded remains of an extinct volcanic structure, below which many penguins and seabirds nest, Antarctic Sound

Brown Bluff, the eroded remains of an extinct volcanic structure, below which many penguins and seabirds nest.
Image ID: 24809
Location: Antarctic Sound, Antarctic Peninsula, Antarctica

The 30’ ice field ended abruptly almost at the water, leaving a strip of about 50’ of cobblestone beach upon which to walk. The edge of the ice revealed horizontal striations about a foot apart. Were they created by seasonal accumulations of dark dirt blown on top of white snow, or where they perhaps picked from the soil below? I think this interesting “wave” of ice overhanging the beach was the edge of an icefield, rather than a glacier proper, but am not sure. I set about trying to photograph it with my widest lens, contrasting the undulating striations in the wall of ice against the more uniform dark of the beach and the water. It grew cloudy. Water dripped off the ice, wetting the cobbles that would otherwise be dry. I waded out into the water to inspect a few small bergs that had grounded on the shore. Penguins would occasionally swim by me, nearly bumping my legs as they zoomed through the shallows to exit the water onto the beach. Sometimes one would notice me and stop, sticking its head above water and giving me a look-over, swimming about my legs once before moving on its way. Curious little guys.

Adelie penguin on an iceberg, Pygoscelis adeliae, Brown Bluff

Adelie penguin on an iceberg.
Image ID: 25006
Species: Adelie Penguin, Pygoscelis adeliae
Location: Brown Bluff, Antarctic Peninsula, Antarctica

Adelie penguins walking on a stone beach, Pygoscelis adeliae, Brown Bluff

Adelie penguins walking on a stone beach.
Image ID: 25012
Species: Adelie Penguin, Pygoscelis adeliae
Location: Brown Bluff, Antarctic Peninsula, Antarctica

After scrambling over the rocks to get back to the landing site, I rejoined some others and looked about the bluff area to get a sense of all the different bird activity that was happening. Vic was lying down on the cobbles, allowing groups of penguins to pass him by as they walked along the beach. I joined him and soon had a group of 20 or so birds approach far too close for me to take any pictures. They chose a spot 3’ in front of me to make their mad dash into the water. I did not see any leopard seals so I think their concern – and their panicky group entrance into the ocean – was unwarranted, but they must use that method always out of habit or instinct.

Adelie penguins leaping into the ocean from an iceberg, Pygoscelis adeliae, Brown Bluff

Adelie penguins leaping into the ocean from an iceberg.
Image ID: 25005
Species: Adelie Penguin, Pygoscelis adeliae
Location: Brown Bluff, Antarctic Peninsula, Antarctica

Icicles and melting ice, hanging from the edge of an blue iceberg.  Is this the result of climate change and global warming?, Brown Bluff

Icicles and melting ice, hanging from the edge of an blue iceberg. Is this the result of climate change and global warming?
Image ID: 24803
Location: Brown Bluff, Antarctic Peninsula, Antarctica

Later we hopped in a zodiac with Hugh and cruised around among the bergs. This was the highlight of the day. Hugh managed to find a group of Adelie penguins (Pygoscelis adeliae) that were diving into the water from a sloping edge of a berg, and we got some nice shots. He then topped that with a group of 14 birds on an even-more-scenic berg, all of whom entered the water from a 5’ ledge. Some of the photos that others (with widers lenses than I) got in that instance were stunning, really suitable for fine art. I got a couple keepers too. Finally he drove our boat into the basin of a hand-shaped berg, with all five fingers protuding 10-20’ out of the water. A 50’ wide basin about 10’ deep was formed between the fingers, large enough for us to take the boat into and slowly maneuver. The whole thing glowed with that cool iceberg blue glow. It sounds simple and unremarkable but the colors were simply out of this world and everyone in our little group was moved by how stunning the color and shape of this berg was. By now the fog had returned and we could see neither beach, nor boat. We were zipping on grey water upon which no horizon could be discerned, between white and blue bergs. Eventually we found the big boat, and the landing, and reclaimed our stuff from the beach before returning to the big boat for dinner.

Visitors enjoy an inflatable ride through the strange environs of a bizarrely-shaped iceberg, on a cloudy day, Brown Bluff

Visitors enjoy an inflatable ride through the strange environs of a bizarrely-shaped iceberg, on a cloudy day.
Image ID: 24995
Location: Brown Bluff, Antarctic Peninsula, Antarctica

Next: Bailey Head, Deception Island, Antarctica
Previous: Devil Island, Antarctica
Trip Index: Cheesemans Antarctica, Falklands and South Georgia
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Devil Island, Antarctica

Antarctica, Penguin, Southern Ocean, Time Lapse

Photos of Devil Island, Antarctic Peninsula, Antarctica

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.

Adelie penguins at the nest, part of the large nesting colony of penguins that resides along the lower slopes of Devil Island, Pygoscelis adeliae

Adelie penguins at the nest, part of the large nesting colony of penguins that resides along the lower slopes of Devil Island.
Image ID: 25013
Species: Adelie Penguin, Pygoscelis adeliae
Location: Devil Island, Antarctic Peninsula, Antarctica

Adelie penguin, Pygoscelis adeliae, Devil Island

Adelie penguin.
Image ID: 25044
Species: Adelie Penguin, Pygoscelis adeliae
Location: Devil Island, Antarctic Peninsula, Antarctica

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.

Ice, ocean, clouds and sun, Antarctica, Antarctic Sound

Ice, ocean, clouds and sun, Antarctica.
Image ID: 24814
Location: Antarctic Sound, Antarctic Peninsula, Antarctica

Summit of Devil Island with portions of the Erebus and Terror Gulf region of the Weddell Sea in the background

Summit of Devil Island with portions of the Erebus and Terror Gulf region of the Weddell Sea in the background.
Image ID: 24816
Location: Devil Island, Antarctic Peninsula, Antarctica

Adelie penguin, adults feeding chicks, part of the large nesting colony of penguins that resides along the lower slopes of Devil Island, Pygoscelis adeliae

Adelie penguin, adults feeding chicks, part of the large nesting colony of penguins that resides along the lower slopes of Devil Island.
Image ID: 25042
Species: Adelie Penguin, Pygoscelis adeliae
Location: Devil Island, Antarctic Peninsula, Antarctica

Next: Brown Bluff, Antarctica
Previous: Zodiac Cruising in Antarctica
Trip Index: Cheesemans Antarctica, Falklands and South Georgia
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Zodiac Cruising in Antarctica

Antarctica, Penguin, Southern Ocean

Photos of Zodiac Cruising in Antartica

I was able to spend quite a bit of time sightseeing and photographing from a Zodiac (inflatable) while in Antarctica. These hours were some of the most special of the trip. In some ways, one has more freedom of movement while in a zodiac than one does on land in Antarctica. Certainly the perspective one gains, while moving about at the water’s edge, is appealing. After spending the day ashore at Paulet Island, I elected to join Hugh Rose and Patrick Endres in a zodiac that they were driving, to look for penguins on small icebergs and just enjoy the surroundings before we departed that evening. We came upon some beautiful small bergs that afternoon, the most interesting of which was this pockmarked chunk:

Iceberg with scalloped erosion.  The eroded indentations on this iceberg were melted when this portion of the iceberg was underwater.  As it melted, the iceberg grew topheavy, eventually flipping and exposing this interesting surface, Paulet Island

Iceberg with scalloped erosion. The eroded indentations on this iceberg were melted when this portion of the iceberg was underwater. As it melted, the iceberg grew topheavy, eventually flipping and exposing this interesting surface.
Image ID: 24789
Location: Paulet Island, Antarctic Peninsula, Antarctica

Later, we had the very good fortune to raft up alongside an iceberg that was carrying some inquisitive Adelie penguins, who immediately walked across the berg to meet us and seemed as if they wanted to hop in our boat! (See my blog entry about the penguin encounter.) The sun cleared some clouds and cast low, warm, flat light on the little birds, while the clouds in the distance remained dark — a photographer’s dream. I was able to shoot some fun images of them, including the one below as well as one that became the recent cover of Nature’s Best Magazine.

A curious Adelie penguin, standing at the edge of an iceberg, looks over the photographer, Pygoscelis adeliae, Paulet Island

A curious Adelie penguin, standing at the edge of an iceberg, looks over the photographer.
Image ID: 25015
Species: Adelie Penguin, Pygoscelis adeliae
Location: Paulet Island, Antarctic Peninsula, Antarctica

Patrick was keen on photographing the ice, so the rest of us in the boat took notice (at least I did) and made some photos too. It is just like photographing snowflakes, no two views are alike. I knew I was never going to be able to photograph even a tiny fraction of the beautiful Antarctic ice that surrounded us, and resigned myself to just trying to make a few good ones.

Photographer Patrick Endres works alongside an iceberg near Paulet Island

Photographer Patrick Endres works alongside an iceberg near Paulet Island.
Image ID: 24996
Location: Paulet Island, Antarctic Peninsula, Antarctica

Iceberg detail, Paulet Island

Iceberg detail.
Image ID: 24900
Location: Paulet Island, Antarctic Peninsula, Antarctica

After we returned to the icebreaker M/V Polar Star, the captain took us on a long cruise through some nearby channels, offering us sunset views that I will never forget. I lashed one of my cameras to the ship’s wheel house and shot a cool timelapse of our sunset cruise.

Tabular iceberg, Antarctic Peninsula, near Paulet Island, sunset

Tabular iceberg, Antarctic Peninsula, near Paulet Island, sunset.
Image ID: 24778
Location: Paulet Island, Antarctic Peninsula, Antarctica

The edge of the fast ice along the shore, near Paulet Island

The edge of the fast ice along the shore, near Paulet Island.
Image ID: 24788
Location: Paulet Island, Antarctic Peninsula, Antarctica

Next: Devil Island, Antarctica
Previous: Paulet Island, Antarctic Peninsula, Antarctica
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Paulet Island, Antarctic Peninsula, Antarctica

Antarctica, Penguin, Southern Ocean, Time Lapse, Video

Photos of Paulet Island, Antarctic Peninsula, and photos of Adelie penguins

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.

Icebergs floating in the ocean near Paulet Island

Icebergs floating in the ocean near Paulet Island.
Image ID: 24834
Location: Paulet Island, Antarctic Peninsula, Antarctica

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.

Adelie penguins, in a line, standing on an iceberg, Pygoscelis adeliae, Paulet Island

Adelie penguins, in a line, standing on an iceberg.
Image ID: 25018
Species: Adelie Penguin, Pygoscelis adeliae
Location: Paulet Island, Antarctic Peninsula, Antarctica

Paulet Island, near the Antarctic Peninsula, is a cinder cone flanks by lava flows on which thousands of Adelie Penguins nest

Paulet Island, near the Antarctic Peninsula, is a cinder cone flanks by lava flows on which thousands of Adelie Penguins nest.
Image ID: 24824
Location: Paulet Island, Antarctic Peninsula, Antarctica

Enormous colony of Adelie penguins covers the hillsides of Paulet Island, Pygoscelis adeliae

Enormous colony of Adelie penguins covers the hillsides of Paulet Island.
Image ID: 24836
Species: Adelie Penguin, Pygoscelis adeliae
Location: Paulet Island, Antarctic Peninsula, Antarctica

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.

Adelie penguins, nesting, part of the enormous colony on Paulet Island, with the tall ramparts of the island and clouds seen in the background.  Adelie penguins nest on open ground and assemble nests made of hundreds of small stones, Pygoscelis adeliae

Adelie penguins, nesting, part of the enormous colony on Paulet Island, with the tall ramparts of the island and clouds seen in the background. Adelie penguins nest on open ground and assemble nests made of hundreds of small stones.
Image ID: 25024
Species: Adelie Penguin, Pygoscelis adeliae
Location: Paulet Island, Antarctic Peninsula, Antarctica

Melting ice along the shore of Paulet Island

Melting ice along the shore of Paulet Island.
Image ID: 24833
Location: Paulet Island, Antarctic Peninsula, Antarctica

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:

Adelie penguins navigate a steep dropoff, to get from their nests down to a rocky beach, in order to go to sea to forage for food, Pygoscelis adeliae, Paulet Island

Adelie penguins navigate a steep dropoff, to get from their nests down to a rocky beach, in order to go to sea to forage for food.
Image ID: 25020
Species: Adelie Penguin, Pygoscelis adeliae
Location: Paulet Island, Antarctic Peninsula, Antarctica

A group of Adelie penguins, on packed snow, Pygoscelis adeliae, Paulet Island

A group of Adelie penguins, on packed snow.
Image ID: 25021
Species: Adelie Penguin, Pygoscelis adeliae
Location: Paulet Island, Antarctic Peninsula, Antarctica

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:

Next: Zodiac Cruising in Antarctica
Previous: Nature’s Best Photography Cover Shot
Trip Index: Cheesemans Antarctica, Falklands and South Georgia
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Nature’s Best Photography Cover Shot

Antarctica, Penguin, Southern Ocean

The cover image of the current issue of Nature’s Best Photography is my photograph of an Adelie penguin taken earlier this year in Antarctica:

Adelie Penguin, Antarctica, Nature's Best Photography Spring/Summer 2010. Click to see more images from Antarctica

Adelie Penguin, Antarctica, Nature's Best Photography Spring/Summer 2010. Click to see more images from Antarctica

The photo also appears in the interior of the issue, since it was fortunate to be given an honorable mention in this years Ocean Views photography contest.

Adelie Penguins, Antarctica, Nature's Best Photography Ocean Views 2010

Adelie Penguins, Antarctica, Nature's Best Photography Ocean Views 2010

This image was taken at Paulet Island on the Antarctic Peninsula, made with a Canon 5D Mark II camera and 24-105mm f/4 lens (at 24mm), from a zodiac as we were idle alongside an iceberg. If you want to see what the situation was like when I took this shot — and you should, since it will make you want to visit Antarctica yourself! — see my blog post about this encounter from earlier this year. Several Adelie penguins (Pygoscelis adeliae) walked to the edge of an berg to get a good look at us as we cruised around Paulet Island at sunset, and allowed me to rattle off a series of “close/wide” images of them. Honestly, while the encounter was one of the most special moments of the trip for me, Adelie penguins are so numerous and inquisitive that I think situations like this — and photos like the above — are probably rather common in Antarctica. It is one of the reasons I intend to return as soon as I can.

Next: Paulet Island, Antarctic Peninsula, Antarctica
Previous: Pack Ice at the Edge of the Weddell Sea
Trip Index: Cheesemans Antarctica, Falklands and South Georgia
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Pack Ice at the Edge of the Weddell Sea

Antarctica, Southern Ocean, Video

Photos of the Weddell Sea, approaching the Antarctic Peninsula.

“The Weddell Sea is, according to the testimony of all who have sailed through its berg-filled waters, the most treacherous and dismal region on earth.” — from The White Continent by Thomas R. Henry (1950).

This morning finds us on the northern edge of the Weddell Sea, approaching the northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula from the northeast. We had been told that these waters can be choked with ice. The ice originates in the Weddell Sea, where enormous ice shelves produce tabular icebergs which in turn break apart into vast spreads of ice pieces. I wake up about 5am and peek outside the window and see nothing but ice. Big chunks, small chunks, periodic chunks big enough to be called bergs, and a few huge distant tabular bergs. I have waited a long time to see a seascape like this, and the sight of this much ice is awesome.

Pack ice, a combination of sea ice and pieces of icebergs, Weddell Sea

Pack ice, a combination of sea ice and pieces of icebergs, Weddell Sea.
Image ID: 25025
Location: Weddell Sea, Southern Ocean

I go out on deck. It is quite cold. I walk up to the bow and take some fisheye photos, and shoot some video clips, including a time lapse of the boat pushing through the ice. (The resulting video is interesting but if watched too many times the novelty wears thin and the jitteriness becomes irritating.) We are moving somewhat more slowly than yesterday, but nevertheless the icebreaker M/V Polar Star is able to push aside or split the ice pieces easily, and it seems to me that we make good progress through the morning.

Video made with Canon 5D Mark II and 15mm fisheye lens.

However, we have a long way to go yet before reaching Paulet Island in the Weddell Sea, and the captain decides to speed our passage by avoiding the pack ice, changing course to take us through the Antarctic Sound to reach Paulet from the west (rather than the more direct approach through the Weddell Sea from the northeast). Eventually our course change takes us out of the pack ice and our speed increases. We continue to see occasional tabular bergs, along with a few whales including two orca. Albatross sightings are now on the wane, and we won’t see many more until the Drake Passage at the end of the trip.

Next: Nature’s Best Photography Cover Shot
Previous: Shingle Cove, Coronation Island, South Orkneys
Trip Index: Cheesemans Antarctica, Falklands and South Georgia
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Shingle Cove, Coronation Island, South Orkneys

Elephant Seal, Penguin, South Orkney Islands, Southern Ocean

Photos of Shingle Cove, Coronation Island, South Orkney Islands

Midway through our crossing from South Georgia Island to Antarctica we pass the South Orkney Islands, a small group of islands that lie almost exactly between South Georgia and the Antarctic Peninsula, making them a natural place to pause during our crossing and make a landing to stretch our legs a little. After our sunrise approach to Coronation Island, the icebreaker ship M/V Polar Star anchors and we go ashore at Shingle Cove to visit a colony of Adelie penguins (Pygoscelis adeliae). The colony is set atop a bluff above the ocean, subject to blasting wind and snow. The wind is so strong that it knocks a chick over now and then.

Adelie penguin chicks, huddle together in a snowstorm for warmth and protection.  This group of chicks is known as a creche, Pygoscelis adeliae, Shingle Cove, Coronation Island, South Orkney Islands, Southern Ocean

Adelie penguin chicks, huddle together in a snowstorm for warmth and protection. This group of chicks is known as a creche.
Image ID: 25026
Species: Adelie Penguin, Pygoscelis adeliae
Location: Shingle Cove, Coronation Island, South Orkney Islands, Southern Ocean

Many of the chicks are huddled together for warmth in creches. Adjacent to the bluff is a snow covered slope that the penguins descend to reach a cobblestone beach. The thousands of birds in the colony have worn dirty winding poop-covered paths in the snow. I spend most of my time on the cobblestones, watching the penguins pass back and forth. Entering the water is a dangerous proposition for a penguin, since leopard seals often patrol the shallows waiting to strike.

Adelie penguins rush into the water en masse, from the cobblestone beach at Shingle Cove on Coronation Island, Pygoscelis adeliae

Adelie penguins rush into the water en masse, from the cobblestone beach at Shingle Cove on Coronation Island.
Image ID: 25028
Species: Adelie Penguin, Pygoscelis adeliae
Location: Shingle Cove, Coronation Island, South Orkney Islands, Southern Ocean

So the penguins gather in nervous groups at the water’s edge, making a few false starts before one of the braver individuals finally commits and dives in. Immediately the rest of the group follows suit, rushing into the water in a chaotic sprint. As the waves washing in and out are hard to judge, some penguins mistime their dives and land head first on the rocks, only to pop back up quickly and try again. In a few seconds it is over – the rocks are empty. The departing penguins can now be seen porpoising at great speed out to sea to spend time foraging for food. Penguins returning to shore arrive in smaller groups or individually, but speed through the water in the same nervous way, ending their swim with a leap and an agile stand-up landing onto the rocks.

Southern elephant seal, juvenile. The southern elephant seal is the largest pinniped, and the largest member of order Carnivora, ever to have existed. It gets its name from the large proboscis (nose) it has when it has grown to adulthood, Mirounga leonina, Shingle Cove, Coronation Island, South Orkney Islands, Southern Ocean

Southern elephant seal, juvenile. The southern elephant seal is the largest pinniped, and the largest member of order Carnivora, ever to have existed. It gets its name from the large proboscis (nose) it has when it has grown to adulthood.
Image ID: 25029
Species: Southern elephant seal, Mirounga leonina
Location: Shingle Cove, Coronation Island, South Orkney Islands, Southern Ocean

After a while I spot an elephant seal lounging in a pool on rocky reef. I spend some time laying on the rocks (uncomfortable) trying to photograph it at its eye level. I’m not sure I succeeded. After that, a visit to the nesting area is in order, to see the chicks and especially the adults feeding their young. On the snowy slope between the beach and the rookery I witness a southern giant petrel’s attack on a chick that ventured too far from the nest. The result is gory and tough to watch. The giant petrel does not dispatch its catch quickly. It takes about 10 minutes for the chick to die, during which time the skua consumes a good part of it.

Southern giant petrel kills and eats an Adelie penguin chick, Shingle Cove, Macronectes giganteus, Coronation Island, South Orkney Islands, Southern Ocean

Southern giant petrel kills and eats an Adelie penguin chick, Shingle Cove.
Image ID: 25027
Species: Southern giant petrel, Macronectes giganteus
Location: Shingle Cove, Coronation Island, South Orkney Islands, Southern Ocean

Afterward, all that is left is a tattered penguin carcass lying on the dirty snow and a blood-covered skua guarding its kill. The scene is not enjoyable to watch, but I do feel privileged to have witnessed it. It drives home the fact that the dramatic wildlife spectacles we are here to observe are a perpetual and unforgiving struggle for the participants. We leave Shingle Cove about midday, sailing along the South Orkney Islands for a while. Icebergs large and small pass by, set against the snow covered mountains of Coronation Island. One tabular berg that we encounter is measured by the ship’s radar at over 3 miles long. The thing is so large that it takes much longer to reach that expected, distance and size being quite difficult to judge in the clear dry air.

Adelie penguin, adult feeding chick by regurgitating partially digested food into the chick's mouth.  The pink food bolus, probably consisting of krill and marine invertebrates, can be seen being between the adult and chick's beaks, Pygoscelis adeliae, Shingle Cove, Coronation Island, South Orkney Islands, Southern Ocean

Adelie penguin, adult feeding chick by regurgitating partially digested food into the chick’s mouth. The pink food bolus, probably consisting of krill and marine invertebrates, can be seen being between the adult and chick’s beaks.
Image ID: 25008
Species: Adelie Penguin, Pygoscelis adeliae
Location: Shingle Cove, Coronation Island, South Orkney Islands, Southern Ocean

Next: Pack Ice at the Edge of the Weddell Sea
Previous: Coronation Island, South Orkney Islands
Trip Index: Cheesemans Antarctica, Falklands and South Georgia
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Coronation Island, South Orkney Islands

South Orkney Islands, Southern Ocean

Photos of the Coronation Island, South Orkney Islands

We arrive at Coronation Island, the largest of the South Orkney Islands, around dawn. This is our first opportunity to really see some impressive icebergs at close range. While we are here to visit Shingle Cove, the approach to the island on its own is magnificent. Coronation Island is largely covered in snow and glaciers, with mountainous slopes and jagged peaks, reaching 4,153′ above sea levels at its summit. It is really a rugged place.

Coronation Island, is the largest of the South Orkney Islands, reaching 4,153' (1,266m) above sea level.  While it is largely covered by ice, Coronation Island also is home to some tundra habitat, and is inhabited by many seals, penguins and seabirds

Coronation Island, is the largest of the South Orkney Islands, reaching 4,153′ (1,266m) above sea level. While it is largely covered by ice, Coronation Island also is home to some tundra habitat, and is inhabited by many seals, penguins and seabirds.
Image ID: 24850
Location: Coronation Island, South Orkney Islands, Southern Ocean

Iceberg, ocean, light and clouds.  Light plays over icebergs and the ocean near Coronation Island

Iceberg, ocean, light and clouds. Light plays over icebergs and the ocean near Coronation Island.
Image ID: 24779
Location: Coronation Island, South Orkney Islands, Southern Ocean

Iceberg detail, at sea among the South Orkney Islands, Coronation Island, Southern Ocean

Iceberg detail, at sea among the South Orkney Islands.
Image ID: 24794
Location: Coronation Island, South Orkney Islands, Southern Ocean

Iceberg detail, at sea among the South Orkney Islands, Coronation Island, Southern Ocean

Iceberg detail, at sea among the South Orkney Islands.
Image ID: 24795
Location: Coronation Island, South Orkney Islands, Southern Ocean

Iceberg, ocean, light and clouds.  Light plays over icebergs and the ocean near Coronation Island

Iceberg, ocean, light and clouds. Light plays over icebergs and the ocean near Coronation Island.
Image ID: 24796
Location: Coronation Island, South Orkney Islands, Southern Ocean

Next: Shingle Cove, Coronation Island, South Orkney Islands
Previous: Scotia Sea, En Route to South Orkney Islands
Trip Index: Cheesemans Antarctica, Falklands and South Georgia
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Scotia Sea, En Route to South Orkney Islands

Antarctica, South Georgia Island, Southern Ocean

Photos of the Scotia Sea, en route to the South Orkney Islands

Soon after ending our land visit at Cooper Bay, we leave South Georgia Island in our wake and begin sailing southwest towards the Antarctic Peninsula and the Weddell Sea. I am somewhat melancholy. South Georgia Island is fantastic, rich with wildlife and spectacular terrain, surrounded by open ocean on all sides, and so remote. I will return. There is so much I have not seen here that I am already thinking about when I can schedule the time for another trip out to this remarkable island.

Our next destination is the South Orkney Islands, a natural stopping point since it is almost directly inline with our route to Antarctica and roughly halfway. We should be there in about 36 hours. As we sail, we are passing through some significant open ocean weather, which means clouds! There are beautiful, ever-changing cloud formations on all points of the compass, some dark, ominous and threatening. We also begin to see our first icebergs of the trip, massive tabular bergs that hint at the riot of ice that is to come as we make our way south in the days ahead. I spend much of my time on deck, bundled up against the wind and increasing chilly weather, trying to make appealing photographs of the clouds, icebergs, sea and sky.

Clouds, weather and light mix in neverending forms over the open ocean of Scotia Sea, in the Southern Ocean

Clouds, weather and light mix in neverending forms over the open ocean of Scotia Sea, in the Southern Ocean.
Image ID: 24758
Location: Scotia Sea, Southern Ocean

Tabular iceberg.  The edge of a huge tabular iceberg.  Tabular icebergs can be dozens or hundreds of miles in size, have flat tops and sheer sides, Scotia Sea

Tabular iceberg. The edge of a huge tabular iceberg. Tabular icebergs can be dozens or hundreds of miles in size, have flat tops and sheer sides.
Image ID: 24793
Location: Scotia Sea, Southern Ocean

Clouds, weather and light mix in neverending forms over the open ocean of Scotia Sea, in the Southern Ocean

Clouds, weather and light mix in neverending forms over the open ocean of Scotia Sea, in the Southern Ocean.
Image ID: 24756
Location: Scotia Sea, Southern Ocean

Clouds, weather and light mix in neverending forms over the open ocean of Scotia Sea, in the Southern Ocean

Clouds, weather and light mix in neverending forms over the open ocean of Scotia Sea, in the Southern Ocean.
Image ID: 24757
Location: Scotia Sea, Southern Ocean

Iceberg, Scotia Sea

Iceberg.
Image ID: 24848
Location: Scotia Sea, Southern Ocean

Next: Coronation Island, South Orkney Islands
Previous: Cooper Bay, South Georgia Island
Trip Index: Cheesemans Antarctica, Falklands and South Georgia
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Cooper Bay, South Georgia Island

Penguin, South Georgia Island, Southern Ocean

Photos of Cooper Bay and Macaroni Penguins, South Georgia Island

This morning we are again presented with difficult weather. Our plans had originally been to visit Gold Harbor or St. Andrews Bay, two of the most notable and popular locations on South Georgia Island, but these locations are exposed to open ocean wave energy and we are thwarted by rough seas. Ultimately will not see either one this trip, but not for lack of trying. The staff makes the decision to try for Cooper Bay. Conditions are marginal, but because they know how disappointed we are at missing Gold Harbor and St. Andrews, the staff and crew work very hard, coping with large swells at the gangway, to ferry those who wish to go ashore. Some choose not to make the landing, staying onboard for the morning. I know that I will probably not see anything this morning that I have not already seen elsewhere on the island, and there is a good chance it will be too snowy and wet for me to do any meaningful photography. I will not pass up this landing, or any landing on this trip, as the exhiliration of simply being ashore in such a wild and remote place is too good to pass up. I love being on this island, and only wish we had more time here. After a bumpy and very wet zodiac ride, we arrive in a pocket cove protected by rocky outcroppings and covered with cobblestones. Wave energy surges into the cove so timing the landing of the zodiac is important, and we quickly scramble out of the inflatable before the next wave arrives. The shore and slopes of Cooper Bay are covered with snow. It is beautiful. It is snowing, a wet and heavy snow, and it is cold.

Snow covers tussock grass and macaroni penguins, above Cooper Bay, Eudyptes chrysolophus

Snow covers tussock grass and macaroni penguins, above Cooper Bay.
Image ID: 24695
Species: Macaroni penguin, Eudyptes chrysolophus
Location: Cooper Bay, South Georgia Island

Macaroni penguin, amid tall tussock grass, Cooper Bay, South Georgia Island, Eudyptes chrysolophus

Macaroni penguin, amid tall tussock grass, Cooper Bay, South Georgia Island.
Image ID: 24733
Species: Macaroni penguin, Eudyptes chrysolophus
Location: Cooper Bay, South Georgia Island

We make a short hike to a bluff-top colony of Macaroni Penguins (Eudyptes chrysolophus). The birds are preening and resting, singly or in pairs. They are nestled in — what else? –waist-high tussac grass. I do not see any nests or chicks and suspect they are hidden by the snow and grass. We are on a shoulder of the island, looking down at the colony below. Beyond the penguins and grass is a rocky promontory covered with many more macaroni penguins that overlooks the sea. M/V Polar Star is anchored a ways out, and periodically a zodiac passes between the landing cove and the big boat. The inflatables sure look small in these conditions. This is a short visit since the weather continues to worsen, and I am thankful we came ashore when we did or we may have had no opportunity to visit here at all today. When I return to the beach to return my gear back into my dry bag, I find a fur seal pup lying atop it. The tiny furball, which looks like a sweet little stuffed animal, may grow into a big gnarly bull one day. Once back onboard, the staff decides to leave South Georgia. It is not clear that we will gain any additional time on the Antarctica Peninsula by leaving South Georgia early, but the weather is such that there is no point is staying the remainder of the day. So off we go, heading south for our long-awaited introduction to Antarctica.

Next: Scotia Sea, En Route to South Orkney Islands
Previous: Drygalski Fjord, South Georgia Island
Trip Index: Cheesemans Antarctica, Falklands and South Georgia
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