Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Salisbury Plain, S. Georgia

     The last morning we were in S. Georgia, we landed at Salisbury Plain.  For once, the weather was nice the entire time, so we were able to stay ashore the entire time and not have to return freezing.  It was also one of the few landings where my husband and I were together, as often he took the optional hike while I focused on wildlife.  By this point in the trip, we had finally mastered landings - transferring from the zodiac to the ship or to the shore, managing what to bring ashore to be ready for all conditions, etc.  so it wasn't stressful anymore.  It was amazing how 78 passengers and at least 20 staff could be ashore and yet all disappear, with each off doing his or her own thing, taking photos or walking among the animals.  There were always a few people trying to photograph the S. Georgia pippet and people trying to get various photos or angles on the penguin colony. 
     Birders were excited about the S. Georgia pippet as it had been all but eradicated, though endemic, by invasive rats.  Rats brought by ships ate pippet eggs on the mainland of S. Georgia for decades, and the only pippets that survived were on small islands not attached to S. Georgia proper.  However, recently a rat eradication  program was undertaken - a speaker came aboard and explained how it was done.  Essentially poison pellets were dropped on the island to kill the rats, and they made a calculation that although some other species might eat the poison and die, if the program worked and the rats died off, endemic pippets could return - and if they could not return they would go extinct.  Apparently the program was a success and the rats were killed off, en masse, and so in 2015 pippets were seen for the first time on the main island.  Much rejoicing among birders over this success.  I tried not to dwell on the massive poisoning, terrible way to die, and once again the tragedy wrought by careless and idiotic humans by bringing rats in the first place.  Watching the little pippets, I was glad all the same they were where they belonged, and not extinct...what terrible effort we must go through to try to repair the damage we have done.  At least some of it can still be repaired.
     I spent several hours sitting in the tussock grass overlooking the colony and watching behavior.  Individual penguins coming from the ocean searched for their chicks in the colony.  Chicks looked for parents.  There were all kinds of behaviors among the various penguins in groups. I haven't found words to do this experience justice, and my photos don't either, but here are a few glimpses into this incredible experience.
With hundreds of thousands of penguins, it is hard to focus on any one individual, yet each and every one has a personality and a place in the group.  This was a curious chick I watched for some time,

Once again it is hard to capture the scale, but penguins stretched from the shore to the mountain
A chick and parent find each other, and the chick enjoys a meal
Groups of chicks huddle together with rivers of adults intermingled
Skuas and giant petrels chased after some of the chicks and clearly looked for weak ones.  Among the chicks, some go to the middle of the group to hide, and others emerge as little leaders.  This cute little chick is telling the skua to get lost and protecting all his little chick buddies.

Although it is stunning to see all the penguins, there are also many who haven't made it.  In this photo, there is a skeleton of a penguin to the right, a body of a deceased chick in the upper left, and also one at the very top.  It was indeed sad to see all the dead penguins, but it is nature, without intervention.
This lucky chick has a moment with BOTH its parents
A parent affectionately grooming its chick

I never tired of this cute stretch of an elephant seal
This kind of stretch made the front of the elephant seal look flat
A band of adults coming in from the sea
Incredible scenery in addition to incredible wildlife
The elusive S. Georgia pippet
S. Georgia pintail
With all the movement of animals, it seems like there is always a flowing stream
An adult calls for its chick among the masses
     By this stage of the trip I had also gotten better at videos - though I am still way behind the average 12 year old, I'm sure.  I tried to capture a few of the sights and sounds, a few seconds here and there.  I have had a huge objection to video forever - mainly as it consumes real time, and I prefer to capture moments - but I do like that it captures some of the way the animals move and how they sound.  There is enough value in that to outweigh some of my reluctance to video.

And the funny squack of the elephant seal pup:

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