Category

South Georgia Island

Stock Photo Gallery: Penguins!

Antarctica, Falklands, Galleries, Penguin, South Georgia Island, Southern Ocean

Stock photography of Penguins

I’m gradually revisiting my website galleries and improving them, removing images of lesser quality (unfortunately a lot of those!) and updating existing galleries with new material. If you enjoy penguins please take a look at my collection of Penguin Photos. With one exception**, all of these penguin photos were taken on a single long trip I made to the Falkland Islands, South Georgia Island and the Antarctic Peninsula (see my lengthy PDF trip journal if you want the deets, or you can view the same info as a series of blog posts). I was thrilled, nearly everyday of my trip to the Southern Ocean, to see penguins in the wild, sometimes in vast numbers, and I cannot wait to return to those places again. Within a few months of returning, one of the images was selected as the cover and inside spread in Nature’s Best, which was a real treat as I had not had an image published in that great magazine in some years. Thanks for looking!

Stock Photos of Penguins

King penguin colony. Over 100,000 pairs of king penguins nest at Salisbury Plain, laying eggs in December and February, then alternating roles between foraging for food and caring for the egg or chick.

** The exception is the Galapagos Penguin underwater photo which was made in, you guessed it, the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador.

Antarctic Fur Seal Photos, Arctocephalus gazella

Fur Seal, South Georgia Island, Southern Ocean

Antarctic Fur Seal Photos, Arctocephalus gazella

I love photographing fur seals. (I love diving among them even more, but that is not always possible.) Fur seals are one of the “eared seals”, similar to the gregarious sea lions familiar to my friends on the West Coast. In my opinion, however, fur seals are more elegant and appealing in their behavior and appearance than sea lions. On my trip to South Georgia Island last year, I was looking forward to seeing Antarctic Fur Seals (Arctocephalus gazella). We saw plenty of them. Our timing (early January) coincided with the peak of their presence on the island and with their mating and courtship behavior. At this time, the fur seals are gathered ashore in huge numbers on beaches and rocky shorelines. At some of the landings we considered, the beaches were so crowded with fur seals we could not safely go ashore. During the breeding season, the fur seals’ hormones are raging, which causes adult male fur seals to become quite territorial. The bulls (males) have assembled small harems of females, attempting to mate with each one. The bull fur seals guard access to their females closely, defending the harem against interlopers. For many weeks the bulls remain ashore, guarding their harem, without going to sea for forage for food. They lose weight, and they are often seriously injured in bite-laden conflicts with other males. The fur seal bulls are easily agitated and will take a run at, and even try to nip, a passing human, so it was important for us to keep our eyes on the fur seals and make sure we did not encroach on their space. Even those unfortunate males who were too small or too old to win or maintain a harem were testy, probably as a result of their elevated hormones coupled with no way for them to release that pent up procreative energy. Making my way along a large sand beach near fur seals on the beach was not difficult, but there were times when I was walking through waist-high tussock grass that I would encounter a fur seal unexpectedly. That was exciting. I love these animals.

Antarctic fur seal, Arctocephalus gazella, Hercules Bay

Antarctic fur seal.
Image ID: 24392
Species: Antarctic Fur Seal, Arctocephalus gazella
Location: Hercules Bay, South Georgia Island

Antarctic fur seal colony, on a sand beach alongside Right Whale Bay, with the mountains of South Georgia Island in the background, sunset, Arctocephalus gazella

Antarctic fur seal colony, on a sand beach alongside Right Whale Bay, with the mountains of South Georgia Island in the background, sunset.
Image ID: 24315
Species: Antarctic Fur Seal, Arctocephalus gazella
Location: Right Whale Bay, South Georgia Island

Antarctic fur seals, adult male bull and female, illustrating extreme sexual dimorphism common among pinnipeds (seals, sea lions and fur seals), Arctocephalus gazella, Right Whale Bay

Antarctic fur seals, adult male bull and female, illustrating extreme sexual dimorphism common among pinnipeds (seals, sea lions and fur seals).
Image ID: 24324
Species: Antarctic Fur Seal, Arctocephalus gazella
Location: Right Whale Bay, South Georgia Island

An antarctic fur seal pup plays in the water, Arctocephalus gazella, Fortuna Bay

An antarctic fur seal pup plays in the water.
Image ID: 24605
Species: Antarctic Fur Seal, Arctocephalus gazella
Location: Fortuna Bay, South Georgia Island

Leucistic juvenile antarctic fur seal, young pup, juvenile, blond.  A leucistic animal is one that has pigmentation levels far below normal and is thus much more lightly colored, Arctocephalus gazella, Fortuna Bay

Leucistic juvenile antarctic fur seal, young pup, juvenile, blond. A leucistic animal is one that has pigmentation levels far below normal and is thus much more lightly colored.
Image ID: 24617
Species: Antarctic Fur Seal, Arctocephalus gazella
Location: Fortuna Bay, South Georgia Island

Antarctic fur seal, adult male bull (right) and female (left) confirm their identities via scent, Arctocephalus gazella, Right Whale Bay

Antarctic fur seal, adult male bull (right) and female (left) confirm their identities via scent.
Image ID: 24325
Species: Antarctic Fur Seal, Arctocephalus gazella
Location: Right Whale Bay, South Georgia Island

The Antarctic fur seal (Arctocephalus gazella) is found only in Antarctic waters, with 95% of the world population breeding at South Georgia Island. Male Antarctic fur seals are considerably larger than females, growing to 2m (6.5′) in length and weighing up to 450 lbs. Probably due to the stresses they encounter during the breeding season, males live only about 15 years while females live up to 25 years. Antarctic fur seals breed polygynously, meaning that a single bull (large adult male) mates with up to 20 females in a season. The female groups are often referred to as harems, which the bull guards in a aggressively territorial manner. Breeding territories are established on beaches in October and November. Females give birth to their single pups in November and December. Shortly after (7 to 10 days) they give birth, the females will mate and then sustain a gestation that is about a year long. The pups are weaned after about four months. During the six to eight weeks that they are establishing and maintaining their breeding territories, bull Antarctic fur seals fast and lose up to 3.5 lbs each day. Once the breeding season has ended, the fur seals will leave to spend much of the year at sea, foraging for food. Krill is the most common food source for Antarctic fur seals. Krill stocks around South Georgia Island vary from year to year. Below average amounts of krill stresses the Antarctic fur seal population, which can lead to high mortality, especially among juveniles and pups.

Photography Expedition to Antarctica, South Georgia Island and the Falkland Islands

Antarctica, Downloads, Falklands, South Georgia Island, Southern Ocean, Wisdom

I’ve finally gathered blog posts and select images into an informal report of my trip to the Antarctic Peninsula, South Georgia Island and the Falkland Islands in January 2010, which is available along with my other articles, reports and downloads. This trip was so much fun, and so rich in wildlife and photography possibilities, that I am already planning two more trips to southern waters to see more. The blog posts from which this article originates are filed under “Southern Ocean“.

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
All “Southern Ocean” entries

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
All “Southern Ocean” entries

Drygalski Fjord, South Georgia Island

South Georgia Island, Southern Ocean

Photos of Drygalski Fjord, South Georgia Island

The weather today continued to turn for the worse after we departed Godthul, so a decision was made to travel to Drygalski Fjord at the south end of South Georgia Island in lieu of an afternoon land visit. So, after lunch and a few few hours of travel down the coast of the island, we found ourselves sailing into the narrow gorge that is Drygalski Fjord. The fjord pierces the island dramatically, cutting deep into the interior. High peaks, of which we could occasionally get glimpses through the heavily overcast skies, tower above. As we approached the terminus of the fjord, we found the water clogged with brash ice. Occasional small chunks would calve from Risting Glacier, the obvious source of all the floating ice. It was beautiful. At one point a “shooter” broke the surface with a big splash, and its wave cleared an opening in the brash ice. A “shooter” is a chunk of ice calved off the submarine portion of the glacier, sometimes very deep, which then accelerates as it floats upward to the surface. By its very nature, a shooter is a complete surprise and can easily damage a boat, so the captain kept a safe distance from the Risting Glacier.

M/V Polar Star approaches Jenkins Glacier (left), Risting Glacier (center) and a third glacier (right) at the end of Drygalski Fjord

M/V Polar Star approaches Jenkins Glacier (left), Risting Glacier (center) and a third glacier (right) at the end of Drygalski Fjord.
Image ID: 24688
Location: Drygalski Fjord, South Georgia Island

Drygalski Fjord, passengers on icebreak M/V Polar Star.  The water is packed with brash ice which has broken away from Risting Glacier at the end of the narrow fjord

Drygalski Fjord, passengers on icebreak M/V Polar Star. The water is packed with brash ice which has broken away from Risting Glacier at the end of the narrow fjord.
Image ID: 24684
Location: Drygalski Fjord, South Georgia Island

Drygalski Fjord, packed with brash ice which has broken away from Risting Glacier at the end of the narrow fjord

Drygalski Fjord, packed with brash ice which has broken away from Risting Glacier at the end of the narrow fjord.
Image ID: 24743
Location: Drygalski Fjord, South Georgia Island

Next: Cooper Bay, South Georgia Island
Previous: Godthul, South Georgia Island
Trip Index: Cheesemans Antarctica, Falklands and South Georgia
All “Southern Ocean” entries

Godthul, South Georgia Island

Penguin, South Georgia Island, Southern Ocean

Photos of Godthul and Gentoo Penguins, South Georgia Island

Our plans to visit St. Andrews Bay this morning are scuttled. There is a strong SE wind that is sending big waves onto the beach at St. Andrews making a landing ill-advised. We move north a short ways to Godthul and find the conditions are calm enough to land, so after breakfast we do. Godthul, named “Good Hollow” by the Norwegian whalers who once anchored here, is a well protected bay surrounded on several sides by steep grassy slopes and the omnipresent South Georgia snow-covered mountains. There are kelp beds along some of the shoreline. We land at a derelict old whaling facility. There some small old buildings, in, on and under which fur seals are lounging — they appear to have reclaimed this area now that the whalers who used to maintain a floating processing platform here in the early 1900’s have long since departed.

View of Godthul, from the grassy slopes of South Georgia.  The name Godthul, or "Good Hollow", dates back to Norwegian whalers who used this bay as a anchorage

View of Godthul, from the grassy slopes of South Georgia. The name Godthul, or “Good Hollow”, dates back to Norwegian whalers who used this bay as a anchorage.
Image ID: 24745
Location: Godthul, South Georgia Island

The beach here is narrow and long, littered with decaying old whale bones, and is populated by Southern Elephant Seals (Mirounga leonina), King Penguins (Aptenodytes patagonicus) and Antarctic Fur Seals (Arctocephalus gazella). There are enough elephant seals and fur seals to make walking the length of the beach difficult, so after a short while I elect to head up the bluff to see the plateau above. The bluff is choked with tussac grass, and many fur seals, so many that finding a path through the waist-high grass without getting bitten is a challenge. I take it slow, making sure there is no fur seal laying under a tuft of grass where I am about to step. After some time I am through the tussac grass maze and onto the higher ground, which is clear and easy walking. Some Gentoo Penguins (Pygoscelis papua) are descending from the plateau, a clue that there must be a colony above.

Gentoo penguin stealing nesting material, moving it from one nest (hidden behind the clump on the left) to its nest on the right.  Snow falling, Pygoscelis papua, Godthul

Gentoo penguin stealing nesting material, moving it from one nest (hidden behind the clump on the left) to its nest on the right. Snow falling.
Image ID: 24721
Species: Gentoo penguin, Pygoscelis papua
Location: Godthul, South Georgia Island

Gentoo penguin, walking through tall grass, snow falling, Pygoscelis papua, Godthul

Gentoo penguin, walking through tall grass, snow falling.
Image ID: 24722
Species: Gentoo penguin, Pygoscelis papua
Location: Godthul, South Georgia Island

I go higher and as the terrain begins to flatten, sure enough I find the first of several gentoo colonies, set on a spectacular expanse of open land, with broad views of the ocean and bay below and mountains above. The colony is totally exposed to weather but high enough above the beach that there is no risk to the gentoos from aggressive fur seals. I think I can hear the sharp calls of terns echoing off the sides of the mountains, and see some small white birds flittering about in the distance. I walk further until the land crests to a plateau and am pleased to find a lake set below the steep snow-covered flanks of the peaks above. The lake is wide and appears shallow and has several small groups of gentoos nesting around it, and swimming in it. Then gentoos enter the water dirty and emerge clean and white. Beyond the lake the mountains rise steeply, and a waterfall of perhaps 400-500’ drops from the cloud-strewn heights. I settle down beside one gentoo colony for 90 minutes or so, laying in the grass and watching their activities at the nest. There are some courtship displays (I think that’s what I am observing) and there is much nest building and tending. Some penguins walk to and from the lake, while others head off down the hills to the ocean. A few gentoos stay beside their humble nests and then, when noone else is looking, brazenly steal nesting material from their colony-mates and add it to their own nest. I realize this is one of those seminal moments were all have when travelling: here I am, laying down in soaking wet grass, freezing my ass off, thousands of miles from home, trying to make photos with wet gear, laughing at the seemingly comic behaviors of the stout little penguins that are going about their business as if I am not even there. I attempt to videotape the scene but not sure whether I succeeded, the sound of wind and snow is filling the microphone. The weather is now pretty grim again, but not yet harsh enough that we must leave. The wind blows snow sideways one minute, then abates letting the snow fall softly the next. After some time my fingers are too cold to operate my camera. I pack up my gear and head down to the beach, choosing the wrong path several times before finally finding the route that has few enough fur seals that I can get back to the zodiac. I’m the last passenger on board, ready for lunch.

Gentoo penguins, calling, heads raised, Pygoscelis papua, Godthul

Gentoo penguins, calling, heads raised.
Image ID: 24690
Species: Gentoo penguin, Pygoscelis papua
Location: Godthul, South Georgia Island

Next: Drygalski Fjord, South Georgia Island
Previous: Prion Island, South Georgia Island
Trip Index: Cheesemans Antarctica, Falklands and South Georgia
All “Southern Ocean” entries

Prion Island, South Georgia Island

Albatross, South Georgia Island, Southern Ocean

Photos of Nesting Wandering Albatross (Diomedea exulans) on Prion Island, South Georgia Island

We wait out the bad weather that arrived while we were on Salisbury Plain on the icebreaker M/V Polar Star, which is anchored in the lee of a nearby small island. Although the weather is cold, dark and snowing, it is also gradually improving. A warm and hearty lunch, and some time reading a book, recharges me after the cold morning and I am hopeful we make another landing today in spite of the weather. After dinner, Ted Cheeseman makes the decision to go ashore at Prion Island to see nesting Wandering Albatross (Diomedea exulans).

Wandering albatross, on nest and the Prion Island colony.  The wandering albatross has the largest wingspan of any living bird, with the wingspan between, up to 12' from wingtip to wingtip. It can soar on the open ocean for hours at a time, riding the updrafts from individual swells, with a glide ratio of 22 units of distance for every unit of drop. The wandering albatross can live up to 23 years. They hunt at night on the open ocean for cephalopods, small fish, and crustaceans. The survival of the species is at risk due to mortality from long-line fishing gear, Diomedea exulans

Wandering albatross, on nest and the Prion Island colony. The wandering albatross has the largest wingspan of any living bird, with the wingspan between, up to 12′ from wingtip to wingtip. It can soar on the open ocean for hours at a time, riding the updrafts from individual swells, with a glide ratio of 22 units of distance for every unit of drop. The wandering albatross can live up to 23 years. They hunt at night on the open ocean for cephalopods, small fish, and crustaceans. The survival of the species is at risk due to mortality from long-line fishing gear.
Image ID: 24428
Species: Wandering albatross, Diomedea exulans
Location: Prion Island, South Georgia Island

We had seen Wandering Albatross in flight over the open ocean when we made our crossing from the Falklands to South Georgia, but since then I had not seen one. Wanderers have the greatest wingspan of any bird, up to 12′ from wing tip to wing tip. They are at their most impressive when in flight. The birders on the trip are eager to see more of them, and consider the Wandering Albatross a very special bird. Only small groups of visitors are permitted, and only on a restricted walking path, to avoid disturbing these highly endangered birds. It is dark, and stormy looking, but the seas are reasonably calm and we experience an easy zodiac ride and landing. Once ashore, a short walk amid fur seals brings us to the summit of the small island. A dozen or so nesting albatrosses are seen, including one which is only about 10’ from the walkway. My long lens, brought in anticipation of more distant nests, is overkill but at least I get some tight portraits of the huge, snow-white seabird. In spite of being in the presence of these noble albatrosses, the condition make Prion Island seem forlorn to me right now. Snow patches surround the albatrosses, wet snow falls occasionally, the wind is blowing and the skies are dark and ominous. If I had to stay here with the gear I have with me I would die in a few days. These elegant birds are incredibly hardy.

Next: Godthul, South Georgia Island
Previous: Salisbury Plain, South Georgia Island
Trip Index: Cheesemans Antarctica, Falklands and South Georgia
All “Southern Ocean” entries

Salisbury Plain, South Georgia Island

Penguin, South Georgia Island, Southern Ocean

Photos of Salisbury Plain and King Penguins in the Bay of Isles, South Georgia Island

Usually I am somewhat reserved in my written descriptions of places and things. In the following post, I am sure I have failed to communicate the profound depth of emotion that I experienced standing beside the King Penguin colony at Salisbury Plain. At times it was just overwhelming for me, all I could do was stand, watch, listen and soak it in. I tried to burn what I saw into my mind, because I realized at the time that what I was seeing was really special, and I did not want to ever forget it. I’ve seen a lot of fantastic natural history in my 20 years as a professional photographer, so when I say that something is a “must see” spectacle I do not say it lightly. Suffice it to say that Salisbury Plain is one of the must-see wildlife spectacles. I can’t wait to return.

This morning the weather is overcast but calm. The light is beautiful. The water is glass smooth and small waves lap along the edges of the Bay of Isles in which we are anchored. Snow-covered mountains line the horizon in almost every direction. We are offshore the long sand beach that fronts famous Salisbury Plain, site of one of the world’s major King Penguin (Aptenodytes patagonicus) colonies. To the left of the plain is Lucas Glacier, to the right Grace Glacier. A quarter of a million king penguins occupy Salisbury Plain, in various stages of nesting, molting, preening and egg laying. There is a constant flow of penguins into and out of the water. A broad plain extends in from the beach on which penguins and fur seals reside. While the fur seals and elephant seals are here in large numbers too, they are simply overwhelmed by the teeming masses of penguins. The king penguin colony itself seems to have fairly distinct margins that can be easily seen from afar, but as one nears the colony the boundary is less easily discerned.

Salisbury Plain on South Georgia Island is home to an immense rookery of King Penguins.  It is a spectacular wildlife location, unequaled in all the world

Salisbury Plain on South Georgia Island is home to an immense rookery of King Penguins. It is a spectacular wildlife location, unequaled in all the world.
Image ID: 24682
Location: Salisbury Plain, South Georgia Island

We make a 6am landing and walk across the grassy plain toward the colony. The beach itself is so densely covered with animals that we cannot traverse far on the sand. As we approach the mass of penguins, we take a winding path to avoid the many single and small groups of animals, penguins and seals, that are scattered widely on the fringe of the main colony. There is a deep buzzing sound, separate from the sounds of the individual animals near us. The buzzing is the cacophony of the colony itself, and grows louder as we grow closer. Eventually we find the edge of the colony, and view it from the perimeter, standing in tussoc grass.

King penguin colony. Over 100,000 pairs of king penguins nest at Salisbury Plain, laying eggs in December and February, then alternating roles between foraging for food and caring for the egg or chick, Aptenodytes patagonicus

King penguin colony. Over 100,000 pairs of king penguins nest at Salisbury Plain, laying eggs in December and February, then alternating roles between foraging for food and caring for the egg or chick.
Image ID: 24388
Species: King penguin, Aptenodytes patagonicus
Location: Salisbury Plain, South Georgia Island

Icebreaker M/V Polar Star anchored in the Bay of Isles,offshore of the vast king penguin colony at Salisbury Plain, Aptenodytes patagonicus

Icebreaker M/V Polar Star anchored in the Bay of Isles,offshore of the vast king penguin colony at Salisbury Plain.
Image ID: 24397
Species: King penguin, Aptenodytes patagonicus
Location: Salisbury Plain, South Georgia Island

It is a sea of penguins. Adults sitting on eggs (the eggs are not often visible, tucked below the penguin for protection from the cold), adults and juveniles moving toward to the beach or returning to find their spot in the colony after a foraging session at sea, and “oakum boys”, the yearlings that are covered in a thick, light brown plumage that clearly distinguishes them from the adults. The colony occupies a vast area of the plain and also extends up the shoulder of an adjacent hill. I walk to the back of the hill and hike up to the top. I had read that the climb through tussac grass was treacherous and tiring, but in truth the effort is not difficult and I reach the top in 20 minutes or so. The tussac grass on the steeper areas is actually helpful, providing a handhold for balance.

King penguin colony and the Bay of Isles on the northern coast of South Georgia Island.  Over 100,000 nesting pairs of king penguins reside here.  Dark patches in the colony are groups of juveniles with fluffy brown plumage.  The icebreaker M/V Polar Star lies at anchor, Aptenodytes patagonicus, Salisbury Plain

King penguin colony and the Bay of Isles on the northern coast of South Georgia Island. Over 100,000 nesting pairs of king penguins reside here. Dark patches in the colony are groups of juveniles with fluffy brown plumage. The icebreaker M/V Polar Star lies at anchor.
Image ID: 24402
Species: King penguin, Aptenodytes patagonicus
Location: Salisbury Plain, South Georgia Island

King penguin, mated pair courting, displaying courtship behavior including mutual preening, Aptenodytes patagonicus, Salisbury Plain

King penguin, mated pair courting, displaying courtship behavior including mutual preening.
Image ID: 24438
Species: King penguin, Aptenodytes patagonicus
Location: Salisbury Plain, South Georgia Island

On the summit, the view is astounding. I can see the entire colony from above. While individual penguins can be discerned in the mass, the impression from here is abstract, a canvas of silver, black and white penguins edged with green tussac grass. Veins of brown flow randomly through the expanse – these are oakum boys congregating in groups distinct from the adults. The Polar Star lies at anchor offshore. I shoot some photos and a few videos. It is now about 9am and the wind has started in earnest. I move to a few different vantages atop the hill to see the colony and surrounding bay and mountains from different angles. The wind increases and snow begins to fall. I’m glad I skipped breakfast and made the early landing, since from the whitecaps in the bay it is clear the visit may be terminated early due to the declining weather. I make my way down to the plain and again stop alongside the colony, listening to the buzzing. I’ve taken plenty of photos, and prefer to just stand here and admire the scene.

Oakum boys, juvenile king penguins at Salisbury Plain, South Georgia Island.  Named 'oakum boys' by sailors for the resemblance of their brown fluffy plumage to the color of oakum used to caulk timbers on sailing ships, these year-old penguins will soon shed their fluffy brown plumage and adopt the colors of an adult, Aptenodytes patagonicus

Oakum boys, juvenile king penguins at Salisbury Plain, South Georgia Island. Named ‘oakum boys’ by sailors for the resemblance of their brown fluffy plumage to the color of oakum used to caulk timbers on sailing ships, these year-old penguins will soon shed their fluffy brown plumage and adopt the colors of an adult.
Image ID: 24405
Species: King penguin, Aptenodytes patagonicus
Location: Salisbury Plain, South Georgia Island

Oakum boys, juvenile king penguins at Salisbury Plain, South Georgia Island.  Named 'oakum boys' by sailors for the resemblance of their brown fluffy plumage to the color of oakum used to caulk timbers on sailing ships, these year-old penguins will soon shed their fluffy brown plumage and adopt the colors of an adult, Aptenodytes patagonicus

Oakum boys, juvenile king penguins at Salisbury Plain, South Georgia Island. Named ‘oakum boys’ by sailors for the resemblance of their brown fluffy plumage to the color of oakum used to caulk timbers on sailing ships, these year-old penguins will soon shed their fluffy brown plumage and adopt the colors of an adult.
Image ID: 24406
Species: King penguin, Aptenodytes patagonicus
Location: Salisbury Plain, South Georgia Island

Oakum boys and juveniles are curious and often approach within a few feet, standing next to me and looking me over. A couple even give me a soft tap on the leg, flap their wings and cluck softly. I doubt they understand the difficult life that they will undertake soon. I feel priviledged to simply have them appraise me and find me interesting enough to occupy their attention and warrant their approach. By midday it is time to return to the landing. Snow is blowing horizontally and covering my camera to the point I can no longer see through the viewfinder. The staff is challenged to get everyone into zodiacs and through the waves to the boat. It is a wet ride and we take a wave or two over the bow of the small inflatable, but no real danger. Back on board I dry my cameras off and warm up with a hot lunch. It continues to snow, although the wind has lessened. Our afternoon visit to see Wandering Albatross at nearby Prion Island is looking iffy. The serious birders on the trip consider seeing Wanderers a high priority and will be disappointed if we have to scrub it. Perhaps we can go ashore after dinner if the weather improves. All I can say is that the weather here is changeable. We’ll see.

Next: Prion Island, South Georgia Island
Previous: Grytviken, South Georgia Island
Trip Index: Cheesemans Antarctica, Falklands and South Georgia
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Grytviken, South Georgia Island

South Georgia Island, Southern Ocean, Time Lapse

Photos of the Grytviken Whaling Station, South Georgia Island

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!

Mountains, glaciers and ocean, the rugged and beautiful topography of South Georgia Island, Grytviken

Mountains, glaciers and ocean, the rugged and beautiful topography of South Georgia Island.
Image ID: 24580
Location: Grytviken, South Georgia Island

Antarctic fur seals, on tussock grass slopes near Grytviken, Arctocephalus gazella

Antarctic fur seals, on tussock grass slopes near Grytviken.
Image ID: 24414
Species: Antarctic Fur Seal, Arctocephalus gazella
Location: Grytviken, South Georgia Island

Grytviken Chapel, at the old whaling station of Grytviken, South Georgia Island

Grytviken Chapel, at the old whaling station of Grytviken, South Georgia Island.
Image ID: 24415
Location: Grytviken, South Georgia Island

Grytviken whale station, abandoned storage tanks

Grytviken whale station, abandoned storage tanks.
Image ID: 24464
Location: Grytviken, South Georgia Island

Next: Salisbury Plain, South Georgia Island
Previous: Hercules Bay, South Georgia Island
Trip Index: Cheesemans Antarctica, Falklands and South Georgia
All “Southern Ocean” entries