Posts Tagged ‘Antarctica’

Back Home Once Again On Bonaire

March 13th, 2010 at 4:59 pm (AST) by Jake Richter

After almost exactly five weeks of travel The Traveling Richters finally made it back home, in a trip that spanned the South American continent twice, touched below the Antarctic circle, and went as far north as Atlanta, Georgia, where we connected from Miami this morning.

It’s going to take a while to get used to the humidity and heat here on Bonaire, but it will be welcome.

Even more welcome will be hooking up with friends visiting Bonaire this week, including new friends Doug and Erin whom we met in Charleston around New Year’s, and old friend Todd with his significant other Jenna (whom we’ve not met in person but corresponded with) when they come in via a cruise ship later this week.

I had hoped to post a GPS track from Miami to Bonaire, but we didn’t have a window seat from Atlanta, and our GPS wouldn’t read satellites from the middle of the plane.

I am still planning on getting more photos from our travels posted here in the coming week. Now that I have a real Internet connection I should be able to get more photos on Flickr too. So please stay tuned.

And for those of you who asked about our next big trip – no idea yet. Krystyana is off to China for most of July with National Geographic, and we’re not sure what we’ll be doing, but if you have suggestions, let us know.

 

Hercules Bay – Jumping Macaroni Penguins

February 28th, 2010 at 10:16 am (AST) by Jake Richter

February 25, 2010 – After our spectacular morning on the plains at Fortuna Bay, we took a short voyage up to Hercules Bay. During late afternoon, we enjoyed a private Zodiac tour – just us four Traveling Richters with staff photographer Mike Nolan as our guide and driver.

The light wasn’t great – it was already quite dark as far as our cameras were concerned, but that didn’t prevent us from being delighted at seeing a number of small colonies of Macaroni penguins. Better yet, there was constant Macaroni penguin traffic off and on small cliffs as the penguins leaped into the water to go feed, and fed penguins leaped out to feed their chicks.

Macaroni penguins plunging into the ocean

Macaroni penguins plunging into the ocean

The Macaroni penguin in the foreground has just leaped out of the water and appears suspended in mid-air

The Macaroni penguin in the foreground has just leaped out of the water and appears suspended in mid-air

The landscape in Hercules Bay was also stunning, with amazing rock formations showing evidence of the strong forces which shaped South Georgia eons ago.

Here the rock striations are colored by lichen, algae, and mosses

Here the rock striations are colored by lichen, algae, and mosses

And lest we forget, the glaciers and snows atop South Georgia’s impressive mountains also produce their own form of terrain change.

Snow melt creates this impressive cascading series of waterfalls at Hercules Bay

Snow melt creates this impressive cascading series of waterfalls at Hercules Bay

All in all, a very pleasant afternoon in the middle of a beautiful nowhere.

More photos available on my Flickr pages.

 

Penguins and Seals Don’t Just Live Atop Rocks and Ice

February 28th, 2010 at 10:06 am (AST) by Jake Richter

February 25, 2010 – One of the things that our current trip through Antarctica and the sub-Antarctic has made us realize is that the mental images we grew up with about the habitats of penguins and seals are just plain wrong. Maybe not entirely wrong, as such animals can in fact live on top of ice floes, ice-covered beaches, and rocky shores, but wrong enough that we were just stunned to find penguins and seals living on grassy plains, tall cliffs, and hills, distant from water.

The view of the beach at Fortuna Bay from our balcony in the morning

The view of the beach at Fortuna Bay from our balcony in the morning

As we anchored in Fortuna Bay, on the island of South Georgia, we took in this environment, so different from what we had come to believe as the sole reality of penguin and seal existence. From our balcony, we could see green, grassy plains extending from the shore, and liberally dotted with Antarctic fur seals, wandering King penguins, and even reindeer. The white specks that were King penguins stretched out even into the foot hills a mile or more from shore (and even further than that as we later observed).

We had already seen penguins climbing to nest at stupendous heights, but not with all the greenery involved as well.

The plains at Fortuna Bay are covered with King penguins and Antarctic fur seals

The plains at Fortuna Bay are covered with King penguins and Antarctic fur seals

Upon landing on shore, we also discovered the skeleton of a leopard seal – dried out, leaving only leathery skin, bones, and teeth. Yet another species of critter to dot the landscape.

Close-up of the desiccated skull of a leopard seal we found on the beach

Close-up of the desiccated skull of a leopard seal we found on the beach

As we wandered inland, for well over a mile, to find the large King penguin colony (7,000 nesting pairs, we were told) at Fortuna Bay, we had to continually dodge around fur seals and King penguins wandering about – mostly to or from the colony.

Three Stages of King Penguins - Adult, juvenile with no fuzz, chick losing fuzz

Three Stages of King Penguins - Adult, juvenile with no fuzz, chick losing fuzz

The King penguins have cute little tails

The King penguins have cute little tails

The fur seals were especially interesting – there were a lot of aggressive young males of all ages that would first growl at us and then charge. However we just stood our ground, stared them down, and occasionally told them to stop in a stern voice, and that took care of the problem. Much like dogs in that way. The fur seal pups, though, were just too cute when they tried the whole growling thing, and would always stop charging and then sulk off when we told them how adorable and cute they were. I hope they survive the emasculation of our comments.

One of the countless fur seal pups on the plain

One of the countless fur seal pups on the plain

The King penguin colony we ultimately saw was not nearly as impressive as the one back at Salisbury Plain, but we were interested to see that surrounding the colony were several herds of reindeer, apparently unperturbed by our presence. And seeing the penguins wandering near the reindeer gave the scene a rather surreal atmosphere.

A reindeer buck with tatters of velvet on his antlers - and King penguin in the foreground

A reindeer buck with tatters of velvet on his antlers - and King penguin in the foreground

As we slowly wandered back to the shore we spent time communing with the King penguins there as they exited and entered the ocean. King penguins feed exclusively in the ocean, and thus they spend a lot of their time in the water. But their chicks are in the various small colonies spread out across the hills and plains, so they spend a lot of time walking back and forth as well.

King penguins charge into the surf

King penguins charge into the surf

We set off for our Zodiacs, and the penguins around us wandered off to whatever engagements faced them.

A lone King penguin leaves tracks in the sand after exiting the water

A lone King penguin leaves tracks in the sand after exiting the water

Many more photos are available on my Flickr pages.

 

Stromness – A Playground for Antarctic Fur Seals

February 27th, 2010 at 9:52 am (AST) by Jake Richter

February 24, 2010 – After our interesting morning with reindeer in Jason Harbour, we moved on to Fortuna Bay, where a couple of dozen hardy souls were dropped off to walk the last four miles of Ernest Shackleton’s incredible trip across South Georgia. The hike was a one-way trip, ending at Stromness, the next bay over to the east of Fortuna Bay.

It was snowing, it was cold, and we just were not feeling quite ambitious enough for such exertion so we instead opted to take the ship over to Stromness.

The former whaling station at Stromness

The former whaling station at Stromness

Stromness was a major whaling station on South Georgia, and the relics of the whaling station are still present on shore, but due to asbestos and a lack of structural integrity, humans are no longer allowed to get close to the structures there.

When we arrived at Stromness, Captain Kruse surprised us by running the National Geographic Explorer aground into the soft sand near the beach. This made for a very short trip to shore by Zodiac. The other surprise awaiting us were hundreds of fur seals on the beach, and more particularly, in the water. In fact, one particular area of the surf we could see from our balcony was literally alive with Antarctic fur seals, playing in the water.

Masses of fur seals observe us and the ship with only minor curiosity

Masses of fur seals observe us and the ship with only minor curiosity

It was snowing and raining quite strongly, but we needed to check out these fur seals for ourselves.

The seas are alive with the sounds of playing fur seals

The seas are alive with the sounds of playing fur seals

Once on land we discovered the fur seals were not particularly interested in us, and even the few older male fur seals didn’t waste energy on trying to intimidate us with growling and charging like we had experienced elsewhere on this trip.

Fur seals like body surfing as much as we do, but also in really cold water

Fur seals like body surfing as much as we do, but also in really cold water

Most of the fur seals were young pups – thoroughly adorable and curious, and readily approached us to check us out (and then ignore us when we proved to not be interesting enough).

Bas checks out his temporary fur seal pup companion while Linda videos him

Bas checks out his temporary fur seal pup companion while Linda videos him

Other critters were present too, including some elephant seals – one of whom came close enough to decide we were not something it wanted to spend more time with.

An elephant seal juvenile came in for a look at us, but ended up leaving again

An elephant seal juvenile came in for a look at us, but ended up leaving again

We also found two species of penguins – Gentoos and Kings. Watching the interchange between the seal fur pups and penguins was comical, with the fur seal pups being playful and the penguins being a bit disconcerted and huffy about the whole thing.

This Gentoo penguin appeared a little out of place when it came out of the water and found itself surrounded by curious fur seal pups

This Gentoo penguin appeared a little out of place when it came out of the water and found itself surrounded by curious fur seal pups

We spent a couple of hours on shore, completely soaked, but also very happy we had visited, and even happier we had not done the long hike.

Our King penguin greeting committee wishes us a good journey to our next stop in South Georgia

Our King penguin greeting committee wishes us a good journey to our next stop in South Georgia

More photos and larger version of those above can be found on my Flickr pages.

 

GPS Tracking – Final Day on South Georgia

February 26th, 2010 at 3:08 pm (AST) by Jake Richter

We overnighted in Rosita Harbor and around 5:30am made for Right Whale Bay. Unfortunately the bay was not protected enough for us to be able to get off the ship without serious complications due to swells, and we headed for Elsehul instead.

It was a gorgeous, sunny day, and we took lots of photos of macaroni penguins and other birds. Also got to hear glacial ice crackling as it melted.

We left Elsehul during lunch, and stopped for a bit at Trinity Island, the second to last bit of land considered to be South Georgia.

We’re now on our way to the town of Stanley in the Falkland Islands. Should be arriving very late on Sunday, or early on Monday morning. Two days at sea should mean lots of photo editing time, and thus a bunch of blog posts, providing the seas don’t get too rough (scant chance of that though).

And providing my computer works. My Alienware M17x notebook stopped being able to read from one of the two memory slots on the motherboard at noon today, so I’m running at half RAM (and noticeably slower).

I should also mention that my GPS batteries died leaving Right Whale Harbour (unbeknown to me), so the cross country track on the GPS map below is incorrect. The ship did not cross the mountains, but instead followed the coast to get to Elsehul. In case you were wondering. GPS batteries have been replaced, but from this point forward the track will probably be pretty darned boring – a nearly straight line for 900 or so miles. Next update on Monday for GPS.

 

GPS Tracking – Jason Harbour to Stromness via Fortuna Bay

February 24th, 2010 at 8:14 pm (AST) by Jake Richter

Another snowy day here in sub-Antarctic paradise. We started our day in Jason Harbor with a landing (see other post), and then headed off to Fortuna Bay after lunch to drop off folks who wanted to hike the last few miles of Shackleton’s trail to Stromness. None of The Traveling Richters felt like exerting themselves quite that much, so we stayed on board and instead made landfall at Stromness, the location of another old deserted whaling station and the place where Shackleton finally reconnected with civilization back in 1916.

We’re staying in the waters of Stromness tonight and then heading back to Fortuna Bay in the morning for more exploration.

Our GPS track is below: