'Lords of Antarctica' - continued from Page 1

Wednesday 28 November continued
….Along this rocky coastline we saw four albatross species, both the Giant Petrels and an endemic, the Macquarie Shag.

….As we rounded the southern end of the island Lusitania Bay came into view. Here King Penguins were packed tight, from one end of the beach to the other. It was an impressive sight as the penguins crowded together, their golden neck patches flashing in the sunlight. The ship stopped here although we were not allowed ashore (nobody is!) and we marvelled at the penguins all around the ship - some casually swimming by, others attentively looking up at the ship, and others porpoising away to the colony on shore. Amongst them we saw our first Royal Penguins, another endemic species. This penguin is similar to the Macaroni but has a white face and white throat, (but with the same disproportionately huge bill!)

….We started disembarking, boarding the zodiacs, after lunch. There was a heavy swell and we had to be very careful moving between the gangplank and the zodiacs. It was to be a challenging landing as the rise and fall of the inflatables on the water was seven feet and at one point I thought we might have to abort the whole thing. It took a while, but everyone managed to get ashore.

….There were three optional walks; graded as short, medium and long. I co-led a medium walk with one of the station staff. Firstly we visited the digestors – these old boilers, now rusting, were used for penguin and seal meat in bygone days - then we walked along the shoreline to two small hillsides where Light-mantled Sooty Albatrosses were seen in synchronised flight, part of their bonding ritual. Their nesting season was just beginning. We saw five birds here, and put them into the telescope for great views on their breeding ridges.

….We crossed the narrow strip of land towards the base passing many Southern Elephant Seals, including one large male with a well-developed snout, probably about six years old. He was ashore to moult.

….Macquarie Shags were on the outlying rocks and a small colony of Gentoo Penguins was at the edge of the station.

….We followed the 'road' into the base, now looking forward to the tea, homemade scones and cakes that had been laid on for us, but again stopped to look at another penguin species – the Rockhopper, four were on the cliffs alongside the station. The cream teas served in the mess were delicious! Just as we were finishing a shout came from outside that Orcas (Killer Whales) were cruising the bay. By the time we had got ourselves kitted up again, and our boots back on, they had moved further offshore but the distinctive dorsal fins could be clearly seen.

….The zodiacs came to collect us and took a small diversion, along the coastline to a small Rockhopper Penguin colony before returning back to the ship. The swell by now had subsided considerably.

Thursday 29 November
‘The island is dreadfully dreary to the ordinary observer, but to the naturalist it is full of fascinating interest’
                                                                             J R Burton, aboard ‘The Australasian’ 1900, Macquarie Island

….The zodiacs took us to a small colony of Rockhopper Penguins. The views here were better than yesterday, the birds were closer and could be seen at the water's edge and up on a small grassy hillside. Light-mantled Sooty Albatrosses wheeled overhead and we motored close to some Macquarie Shags on the rocks. Brad, one of the zodiac crew, found a lone Subantarctic Fur Seal, which was difficult to see amongst the rocks and kelp.

….Here at Sandy Bay there were colonies of two penguin species, the Royal and the King. The Royal Penguin is endemic to Macquarie Island and so was an important bird for our group. Their colony was in a hollow between two hillside ridges. Below, and leading to the sea, was a constant procession of penguins going to bathe and feed. Everyone was told to cross this highway without any stopping - in this way the least disturbance or stress to the birds.

….Here and there, along the beach, were Elephant Seals. Their dark colour was the same as the sand, and it made several difficult to see even though some were males and huge in size – as we walked by there would be the occasional snort alerting us to their presence (in fact, they did this to excrete salt from their nostrils).

….King Penguins were so photogenic - walking regally along, often head held high, they would come and look inquisitively at us from less than three feet away.

….were on our way again - next stop Antarctica. Hundreds of prions were flying past the ship, most now Antarctic Prions together with a few Slender-billed, but many were simply impossible to identify specifically – even taxonomists cannot agree on how many species there are, some saying three, others six. Four Grey-headed Albatrosses stayed with the ship for some time, although as a species they aren’t generally interested in boats and are not consistent ship-followers.

….Our first diving-petrel of the trip, looking tiny from our upper deck viewpoint, lifted off from the sea in front of the bow and flew off characteristically at great speed with small wings whirring. I have seen them in the past fly through a wave to emerge the other side!

….I was asked by the staff to give a short talk on Orcas, and spoke about the family society within the pod and some behavioural traits of these large dolphins.

Friday 30 November
….We crossed the Antarctic Convergence during the night - water temperature dropped, air temperature dropped and also the fog and mist were indicators of this line where the cold Antarctic waters meet warmer northern waters. We were now sailing in Antarctic waters. The captain's decision yesterday to leave Macquarie Island a little earlier than planned was a wise move as there was a swell at the stern pushing us along, meaning that a cyclone (depression) was to our north and behind us.

….The bird numbers had now decreased…except that is for one species, the Sooty Shearwater - today they numbered thousands! Sometimes, through the binoculars, we would follow stream after stream as they banked between the waves.

….Today we still had a Wanderer and a Southern Royal Albatross follow the boat but generally the albatrosses had now left us.

….Roger saw a group of Long-finned Pilot Whales and got most of those on the deck at the time onto them as the whales surfed a wave.

….During the afternoon we crossed the 60th parallel - we were now in the ‘political Antarctic’, as described by the Antarctic Treaty ratified in 1962.

….seawatching - single White-headed Petrel and Mottled Petrel were recorded before dinner.

Saturday 1 December
….We were now 1400 nautical miles from Hobart, Tasmania. During the morning our first iceberg was sighted to the port side. Southern Fulmars had now begun appearing but only a couple of albatrosses were now this far south.