|King Penguins with their chicks at Gold Harbour|
The morning of Nov. 7 we were supposed to have a super early landing at St. Andrews Bay, a famous and huge colony site, but due to bad weather (no longer a surprise) we could not safely land there. So instead we headed to Gold Harbour, beach with loads of King penguins and loads of elephant seals. This was a great, great, awesome, super cool landing - despite the really windy, snowy, cold, and terrible-for-photography conditions.
|A penguin chick gets a meal from its parent; they find each|
other by their calls, despite the many penguins
|Two "Oakum Boys" King Penguin chicks in the snow|
Although I am tragically bad at video, I wanted to try and capture the way these fat chicks (often bigger than the adults in their girth) walk - or waddle. This super brief clip gives you some sense of sound and movement.
After walking the length of the beach and seeing the amazing numbers of seals, penguins, and penguin chicks, I sat in the sand and low and behold - you betcha - a weaner elephant seal pup came up to me. The approach was slow, the rolls of blubber flopping my way in the sand, the seal pup sniffing in my direction. He (or she) called to me, had a kind of snotty nose, and seemed really interested in milk, nudging me the way a nursing critter does to try and release milk. I sat still and savored the moment.
|Sitting in my Adventure Barbie/Michelin Man hideous pink|
clearance price raincoat, waiting for the elephant seal pup to
check me out
And the little bugger decided to sample-taste my polar boot. That boot is tough so I never felt a thing, really. Apparently it did not taste like milk, so the pup moved on. I hope that he or she is still alive and well, and enjoying the southern ocean and all the things elephant seals like.....but I will never know.
|Elephant seal "weaner" sampling my polar boot|
|A "weaner" pup literally on my husband's lap|
The beach was long, with the penguin colony on one far end. The trip passengers spread out, each doing their own thing, so although you could look up and see other people here and there, it was mainly like being alone with the animals, dropping in on them as they went about their business. I saw penguins molting, seals nursing, penguins exiting the surf and making their way to the colony through a thick barrier of seals. It snowed the entire time we were there, making photography very challenging indeed. Every photo from this landing has snow flying through it. I struggled with the plastic bag covering on my camera and the lens hood.
I made my way to the colony and spent time there trying to get a good photo of one of the chicks - which was quite challenging. This is my favorite close-up image.
|I wonder where this little chick is now?|
At one point when I was near the middle of the beach, a huge male elephant seal decided I was too close to him or his harem and he raised himself up, taller than me, and bellowed at me, steam coming out of his mouth as he balanced on his flippers. I did as instructed and backed away from him, with one of the staff telling me how many steps I could take before tripping and falling over another seal. I wasn't afraid, I thought he was warning me to back away and I was, but it was super handy to have someone telling me what was behind me as I backed up. I could see myself falling on another seal or stepping on a penguin, neither of which I would ever want to do.
|There is no good way to capture the density|
After about 3 hours or so, the weather deteriorated such that we needed to get back to the ship. Despite the fact we all wanted more time with the animals, everyone cooperated with getting lifejackets on, grouping into zodiac sized lines, and loading up for the trip back to the ship. The zodiacs staggered themselves so that we could unload without waiting around, and by this time, I was getting the hang of the boarding and unboarding enough that - although always cautious - I was no longer actually expecting a dislocation or injury. Everyone lined up for the disinfectant dip and very efficiently, in what seemed no time at all, everyone was back on board and warming up with lunch.
As I said, not a birder - but two photos from this landing I couldn't help but take were a skua and a giant petrel.