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Port Lockroy, Southern-Most Post Office, Feb. 15,2010

February 23rd, 2010 at 11:53 am (AST) by Krystyana Richter

On this day, we met our first gentoos and saw krill, which is one of the most important food sources for the wildlife in Antarctica.

Regurgitated Krill

Regurgitated Krill

We arrived in Port Lockroy in the morning waiting for officials to board from the base only to find that they thought we were coming in the afternoon. The internet is very unreliable and so they did not get the email saying we were arriving early.

At the beginning of our journey, everyone wrote down their names on one of six pages indicating what group we would be in. This is because of a 100 person limit onshore; you could be on a zodiac or kayaking without breaking this limit because you are technically not on shore. In this case, groups 1 & 2 stayed on board, groups 3 & 4 went to Jougla (think French), and groups 5 & 6 went to Lockroy. The groups rotated places every hour and 15 minutes (mind you, this is not very precise, because people stay longer in some locations and lose track of time quite easily).

We had been waiting to see the penguins after watching a leopard seal chase some zodiacs. Almost the minute we set course for Jougla, my dad asked how you would pronounce the name, turns out there is tons of mispronunciations from other languages and Lockroy is actually a mangling of a French name by the English.

Penguin watching the strange blue penguins

Penguin watching the strange blue penguins

I stepped on shore and was amazed to find that the gentoo penguins were absolutely everywhere and if we were supposed keep 15 feet away from these penguins we would be in the water. The penguins walked along the same paths us humans were using and the penguins had right of way. If you were in the way the penguin would not even look at you and either brush right past your legs or just waddled off onto another path. The rocks that we stood on were slimy with penguin poop and so keeping one’s balance with penguins in every direction was a challenge.

The chicks were at a stage where they chase adults to feed them and humans seemed easier to catch, they would squawk until they lost their patience and then looked for their next victim. The penguins had the tendency to be right behind you, so we had to watch where we walked more so than we had to with the Adelie penguins.

gentoo penguin feeding chick

gentoo penguin feeding chick

Man cornered by two gentoo chicks

Man cornered by two gentoo chicks

Feed baby penguin!

Feed baby penguin!

Port Lockroy was once a place where Norwegian whalers would anchor and they did so from 1911-31. What is left from those days are whale skeletons above and below (David Cothran, the trip’s undersea specialist had been diving there and took video, which included the video of whales’ skeletons). These date from before the whalers learned how to get oil from the bones and so they just left the rest of the whale to drift or sink after they were done.

Someone, who had a lot of time on their hands, put together a makeshift whale skeleton (makeshift because the bones are mostly from different whales, like one is blue, sperm, or right whale and some are in the wrong position) from all the bones lying around. This skeleton had penguins wandering through the bones and one was even trying to use it a windbreaker.

Makeshift whale skeleton and the human comparison

Makeshift whale skeleton and the human comparison

Antarctic blue eyed shags were nesting nearby the gentoo colony and they did not seem bothered in the least by the other being present, unless they came too close to the other’s nest.

Pair of Antarctic blue eyed shags

Pair of Antarctic blue eyed shags

On a lonely little hill, there was an adult gentoo on a nest that contained a small chick and an egg. Many photos were taken but the likely hood that the chick would survive is very low, because it is too late in the season.

Adult gentoo, baby, and egg

Adult gentoo, baby, and egg

After taking many photos of a Jougla and its inhabitants, I found myself near the landing station without a clue where the rest of my family was. I guessed my mom and brother had gone off to Lockroy and that my dad was somewhere on Jougla and he would take his time getting to Lockroy. So, I headed off to the Lockroy base to see the very small museum.

The signs that indicate that you are in Port Lockroy

The signs that indicate that you are in Port Lockroy

I walked through the museum rapidly and bumped into my brother, who then brought me over to my mom. They had been sitting on the porch outside of the museum and were being entertained by the poop and vomit eating snowy sheathbills and their chicks that had a particular interest in the poop-laden bottoms of our muck boots.

Snowy sheathbill chick and bottom of muck boot

Snowy sheathbill chick and bottom of muck boot

People that arrived from a yacht had caught the interest of some gentoo chicks and the chicks started trying to tunnel, headfirst, between the legs of one of the men. My mom’s theory is these penguins like the color orange because the boots the man was wearing were bright orange.

Penguin chick tunneling between legs

Penguin chick tunneling between legs

At the end of our visit of Port Lockroy, we finally found my dad.

For more photos go to Flickr.

 

Southern Right Whale on the Starboard Bow – Announcement

February 19th, 2010 at 2:40 pm (AST) by Krystyana Richter

February 18, 2010 – We had just finished lunch, when we heard exactly what I titled this blog. The table we had been eating at was on the starboard side, so I looked out the closest window to see it. I was not able to see it, Plan A failed. Plan B, meaning, I ran to my cabin and grabbed my camera and jacket, then immediately headed towards the bow. At the time that I started snapping photos of the Southern Right whale, my mom was in the chart room, my dad was in dining room, and my brother was in the bridge talking to the captain about the whale. We all saw the whale dive, but all from different angles.

Southern Right whale's fluke

Southern Right whale's fluke

My mom had seen me on the bow without my parka and decided that the whale would take its time resurfacing, and so she went to get my parka. My dad figured the same thing and headed in to get his parka and cameras. Bas stayed where he was.

The right whale is named such because it was the right whale to hunt, it was slow and it floated after it died. It is also extremely rare because they were hunted so much and for a longer time than most of the other whales and they did not get protection until the 1930s. The V-shaped blow is unique to the right whale and the callosities on the head are unique to each individual.

Sort of V-shaped blow

Sort of V-shaped blow

Okay, we had seen the whale in the distance and were catching up to it again. I had no idea where the rest of my family was…until my brother handed me my parka which meant my mom was involved somehow because Bas would not naturally do so. I heard my dad’s voice somewhere behind me but not quite sure where.

The right whale reappeared first on the port side but then came back to starboard for the true performance. I could see the small white spot (compared to rest of the whale) as it surfaced and the whale opened its mouth to gather copepods, and at the same time lifted its tail (one fin was bent). The Whale sank back into the water but returned back for the final perfect, photo opportunity, a dive.

Right whale starting to eat

Right whale starting to eat

The Southern Right whale is eating

The Southern Right whale is eating

We see the Southern Right whale's fluke a second time

We see the Southern Right whale's fluke a second time

We saw it again further out but I was firm in my belief that nothing could beat what I just seen. Plus, it was declared that the ship was not going to continue following the right whale.

Bas started talking about other things we could be seeing that would be “so much better”, the blue whale and the sperm whale. Preferably the blue whale, and then tried to “convince” me of this. I would be happy with either one and I was and am pretty happy about just seeing the right whale……

We saw blue whales the next day.

 

Hello, Macaroni Penguins at Cape Lookout

February 19th, 2010 at 2:15 pm (AST) by Krystyana Richter

Well, the day started with a landing at what would have been the preferred site for Shackleton and his men, Cape Lookout. They attempted to land at Cape Valentine, but the real place where they stayed and Shackleton sailed from to South Georgia, is Point Wild.

Cape Lookout is mostly rock and barely any beach, but the rock is very interesting due to the layers and layers that are each about an inch thick on average. We separated into groups and took a zodiac cruise, with a 15 minute stop on a small beach. The main penguin species were chinstrap but a few macaroni penguins were hopping among them.

chinstrap penguin

chinstrap penguin

two macaroni penguins

two macaroni penguins

The macaroni’s interesting features are an orange crest that connects in the middle, red eyes, and an orange beak. The macaroni penguin comes by its name from the nickname given to the hats with a feather on them, think of the song Yankee Doodle “he stuck a feather in his cap and called it macaroni” like the macaroni penguins’ crest.

Macaroni penguin shaking off water

Macaroni penguin shaking off water

macaroni penguin with rock in beak

macaroni penguin with rock in beak

This was the first day we saw elephant seals (by the way, that’s why the island is called Elephant Island, because that is what the discoverer of the island saw…elephant seals and incidentally, if you look at a map of the island, it sort of looks like the head of an elephant).

Elephant seal male pup winking

Elephant seal male pup winking

Pintado petrels were in the hundreds and the small Wilson’s storm petrels were hopping above the water in among the crowds of petrels as they flew from one section of ocean to another. To add to the excitement, a penguin had died (or was killed) and all the petrels were scrambling to get piece of it, as well as other species of petrel. The Pintado petrels were like piranhas and they were loud.

Pintada petrels eating penguin remains

Pintada petrels eating penguin remains

Wilson's storm petrel

Wilson's storm petrel

Pintada petrel taking off

Pintada petrel taking off

Wilson's storm petrel hopping on water

Wilson's storm petrel hopping on water

Pintada petrels taking off

Pintada petrels taking off

The hotel department provided hot chocolate on our zodiac cruise by sending out a zodiac with hot chocolate and alcoholic fixings. The zodiac they used had a flag waving above that said “Hot Choco” in red.

The Hot Choco Pirates

The Hot Choco Pirates

The funny thing today was that many of the penguins seemed to be very clumsy. First we saw a chinstrap slip and fall on a cliff face, another chinstrap kept on slipping into the ocean because of the waves, and a macaroni penguin slid off a steep rock face after desperately trying to stay up right, and splashed into the ocean. My mom was putting into the little virtual speech bubbles above their heads “I meant to do that”.

 

Deception Island, Feb. 17, 2010

February 19th, 2010 at 1:31 pm (AST) by Krystyana Richter

It was cold, rather dark, and windy…in the volcanic caldera of Deception Island. The caldera contains the remains of the Norwegian Hektor whaling station and the British base B (used for both military purposes during the 40s and scientific purposes during late 50s and well into the 60s). The people that had worked at the base and the base itself had suffered from small eruptions, mud slides, stormy weather, and the like. They finally gave up and abandoned the base in 1969.

Today, the roofs have sagged in or there are none at all, parts of the buildings have been buried by mud slides and the silos that once held whale oil now rust, and you can still make out some of the words on them.

Rusting Silo used for storing whale oil

Rusting Silo used for storing whale oil

Molting gentoo penguins were huddled near a cement base where a building once stood and all that remains now is a stove, some cupboards, and a few weathered planks.

Molting Gentoo penguin next to cement block base

Molting Gentoo penguin next to cement block base

There is a hanger further out and the wind tore at my face as I hiked to it. It used to contain an airplane (an American tourist decided to restore it but the British protested and commissioned a ship to go pick it up for a lot of money) but now all it holds is snow covered with ash.

this hanger is far out and a windy path to get there

this hanger is far out and a windy path to get there

Door to the hanger

Door to the hanger

Inside the hanger containing more snow covered in ash

Inside the hanger containing more snow covered in ash

On the other side of the beach, the skeletal remains of boats are abundant, with Skuas resting nearby.

Boat and skuas

Boat and skuas

Skua

Skua

I love taken pictures of old buildings and you can get some amazing shots if the lighting is just right.

Former room in a now collapsing building

Former room in a now collapsing building

Building on Deception Island

Building on Deception Island

The snow covered with ash looked a lot like dirt pie; Oreos crumbled on top of ice creamy stuff (my dad suggested that I was hungry).

snow covered by ash

snow covered by ash

The caldera is open to the ocean and the only way in and out via Ship is through Neptune’s Bellows, which may seem large but contains rocks in the middle of the opening, so our ship had to stick one of the sides of the opening.

My family and I, had all brought our bathing suites thinking of a natural hot tub, but….The heat from the volcano may have once heated the waters in the caldera but now it provides a slightly warmer (or not even that) polar plunge!

 

Drake Passage, Feb 12, 2010

February 13th, 2010 at 9:16 pm (AST) by Krystyana Richter

I have not recently posted anything for the blog, but I thought had gotten some great shots of birds and killer whales and my dad is trying very hard not use many of my photos, so I might as well show them. This for the showing of some great photos but also for birds we actually saw, identified and got photos of on our first full day on the boat.

Southern Giant-Petrel

Southern Giant-Petrel

My mom, Bas, and I were sitting in the lounge of the National Geographic Explorer and listening to a lecture about the different species of sea birds we would be seeing as we head to Antarctica (not including penguins), which was given by Tom Ritchie. We got as far as the Cormorant, after hearing about the Petrels and the Albatross along with photos, when we heard the announcement over the speakers…”We have just spotted killer whales off the starboard bow” I immediately grabbed my bag and took my camera out. Bas and I headed to the bow of the ship with mom close behind. I heard yells and saw pointing fingers in the direction of the killer whales, and so, I immediately started snapping photos of the killer whales with my camera, zoomed in as far as it could go. The ship started turning into the direction of the killer whales to get closer to them.

Killer whale with mist from their spray hovering above

Killer whale with mist from their spray hovering above

Whoops…had to go for a few minutes. My mom and I just saw Humpback Whales off the back of the ship! Bas and my dad did not see it but I got a few photos of the whales. It’s actually Feb 13 as I write this.

So, continuing…When the killer whales were submerged, it gave me enough time to get some shots of birds. My mom had offered to get my parka and gloves so I could keep on shooting and so she had left to get it. By the time she came back with the warm clothing, my hands were stiff and cold, but I sure did appreciate the parka and gloves when they came. The killer whales were not really cooperating when my parka arrived and they kept appearing for pictures, so I kept on taking photos while my brother helped me put on my parka.

Wandering Albatross butt

Wandering Albatross butt

I managed to get photos of: Wandering albatross, Wilson’s storm petrel, Southern Giant-Petrel, Black browed albatross, and of course, the killer whales.

Black-browed Albatross

Black-browed Albatross

Wilson's storm-petrel

Wilson's storm-petrel

Of the killer whales, one of the adults had a mangled dorsal fin and 2/3 of its fin was bent over. There were two calves and two adults.

Three Killer Whales with One having a Mangled Dorsal fin

Three Killer Whales with One having a Mangled Dorsal fin

The lecture did not continue after the interruption and we were told that we new enough of the basic information.

Feb. 13
This morning, we saw Chinstrap penguins and Southern bottle-nosed whales (I did not actually see the whales). I did get some photos of the penguins as they were porpoising, or basically jumping in out of the water while heading towards wherever they are going and they were sort of zigzagging. And the Humpback whales…

Humpback Whales off the stern of the ship

Humpback Whales off the stern of the ship

Chinstrap penguins

Chinstrap penguins

Other pictures can be seen on Flickr at a later date when we actually have a strong internet to upload them.

 

Costa Rica – Day 1

October 3rd, 2008 at 3:46 pm (AST) by Krystyana Richter

My dad’s and my first whole day in Costa Rica started with waking up at 6:00am; thirty minutes after my alarm went off. And the person who woke me up was my dad, who would later use this as an annoying nag. We walked down to the hotel’s restaurant and ate from the breakfast buffet that was included with our room package. The buffet included Gallo Pinto (traditional beans and rice in Costa Rica) and cheese platter that had a cheese like the Mexican Queso Blanco (translation: white cheese). The buffet had all the other regular continental breakfast components, but the tea, coffee, and water had to be ordered through a waiter.

After breakfast, my dad and I hurried to our room to pack our day bags and cameras. We rushed to the lobby in haste due to being five minutes late! The Costa Rica Expeditions mini-van (the tour company we used in the entire trip in Costa Rica) was waiting for us and my dad was quick to use the Yana-waking-up-late-by-30-minutes nag as our “excuse” for being late. Our guide’s name was Jonathan and our driver’s name was Mauricio.

Nice vistas at 11,000 feet atop Cerro de la MuerteWe started our drive to our high altitude destination atop Cerro de la Muerte while Jonathan talked about the history and the area that we were passing through. I slowly started nodding off and finally sleep came.

When we reached our destination, Jonathan got out of the minivan and walked to the back of the vehicle to get a large telescope on a tripod. There appeared to be a few buildings of the government on top of the mountain we were on.

Jonathan pointed out a bird after dad and I put on sweatshirts and got out of the van. There were several birds, and many flowers and plants. After having some birds come up close and taking many photos of our new feathered friends, Jonathan led us across a dirt road to the side of the mountain we were on. I was the first to see an emerald colored skink skitter through the bushes. We followed the little skink for photos for as long as it kept our interest and then headed to higher grounds to look for more creatures. We found more than just animals. The view of the mountains against the morning sun was breathtaking but my dad had his eyes on the weird fungi, lichen, and mold.

Well camouflaged spiny lizard atop Cerro de la MuerteA really cool lizard type creature that took a few moments for us to see it, due to its amazing camouflage, was pointed out to us by Jonathan. Many other skinks and lizards were also pointed out to us – some of them had a rocky look while others blended well into the green grass and plants. We saw a very few animals and the only mammals I saw were humans (my dad, the guide, and driver). And so, came the time to leave for a lower altitude destination known as “the cloud forest”.

Birds could easily be heard as we zigzagged down through the cloud forest into a valley, we could occasionally see a lizard trying to avoid the van. The minivan passed small lodges that all seemed to be in this one valley. Our search was for the rare quetzal, the national bird of Guatemala (not Costa Rica), and in order to find a quetzal, you usually had look for their food source, a fruit tree.

The rare quetzal - found in a tree hundreds of meters away in the valley of San Gerardo de Dota-3Our driver spotted one, but it was at least a kilometer away and behind a few trees. It took me a good fifteen minutes to even see the back of the bird without the help of the telescope. It was hard to take photos of the quetzal from where we were and so I wandered off to look at the other animals and trees nearby. My dad was trying to take a picture of the quetzal through the telescope but we had to leave with a photo that was not quite what we wanted, and so Jonathan was nice enough to give us photo of a quetzal he saw last time. The front of the quetzal was red and green, while the back was a few different shades of green, including emerald. The tail was two to three time his body length. We were told that the quetzal we saw and the quetzal in the photo were both males.

Hummingbirds enjoy the feeder at the Savegre Mountain Hotel in the valley of San Gerardo de Dota-4It was lunch time and that was just down the road at a lodge that grew their own fruit and had a trout farm. The restaurant had many choices but I ordered the steamed trout, which my dad and I both agreed was pretty good. After lunch we went out onto the porch of the restaurant to see hummingbirds of every shape and color fighting their way to a hummingbird feeder. Many photos were taken but Jonathan thought we might like to see the smallest hummingbird in the area and so we walked up hill to where the grounds were the lodge grew its fruit. We passed a few birds of interest but they flew off and so we continued up the hill to see a view of the part of the valley we were in.

A very chubby but pretty bird in the valley of San Gerardo de Dota-2We passed a few trees with epiphytes (plants that attach themselves to trees in the high branches and even the trunks). The apples grown in the area were a species not native to Costa Rica and had been an attempt at growing them. The people of Costa Rica that we had talked to about this, called them slightly sour but my dad and I did not think they were that sour. There were a few guavas on the ground, which gave “fruit” to the idea of buying some fruit for our hotel room.

After looking through the apple trees, we walked back down and came across the smallest hummingbird near the minivan. The bird claimed our attention for a while until rain started coming down on us. Even though it was raining cats and dogs we walked on to see more birds and squirrels.

Jonathan and Krystyana use umbrellas to keep the rain off them in the valley of San Gerardo de Dota

Jonathan was going to take us on a trail which had a terrifying bridge that looked as if could collapse any second and additionally, mud had already started forming from only thirty minutes of rain! After crossing the bridge we found our way blocked by construction of some sort. We soon had to leave to get back to our hotel and so we took a few more photos of the hummingbirds at the feeder and returned to the minivan.

My dad asked for a possible stop at a grocery store for fruit when we came close to San Jose. We stopped at a store where we bought a papaya that was cut in half but still quite big and some limes to go with it. The store had a reasonable selection of items but it felt a little unclean and uncomfortable, though nothing like the grocery stores of Tahiti or Fiji.

Back at the hotel, my dad and I thanked Jonathan and Mauricio for our day of exploration of the wild life of Costa Rica, and hoped that our remaining tours with Costa Rica Expeditions would be as pleasant and educational as the one we just went on.