The plan, which is our intentions of the moment, although there are flights booked, rental cars, rental RV, hotels, airshow, etc that we hope are very firm. The rest depends on luck, fate and good health.
Not quite as frenetic as 2023, but that was mainly because the Falklands, South Georgia and Antarctica cruise was a very last minute decision.
The next stop on the Antarctica Dream Expedition was Fortuna Bay on South Georgia Island. I had been waiting for this location as reports, reputation and photographs gave high expectations that this was a true jewel in the Antarctica Crown.
Octantis had arrived in Fortuna Bay during the night so this was the first sight from our stateroom window. We lower the powered window in order to photograph without glass in the way. As usual, the outlook was cold, but it was comfortable in the room
Early morning mist
After breakfast and getting “suited up” for the bio security, we were on one of the first zodiacs to make the landing. The ground was snow covered and the sun was beginning to burn off the mist, revealing a lovely blue sky with some white puffies – just as I like it.
As we moved around Fortuna Bay we come across semi frozen lakes (it is the beginning of Summer after all) and I love capturing reflections. The glaciers just made it a must.
As the mist had cleared away, the clouds were developing around the mountains giving a slightly eerie effect in contrast to the beautiful blue sky.
The many glaciers and mountains on the opposite side of the fjord to the landing area were resplendent, reflecting in the almost calm waters.
Ensuring that we neither stress the wildlife or get in it’s way, it was great to slowly meander along the path laid out by the expedition team. Being an early landing there were less people on the land to get into photographs.
Another great benefit, in my mind, to our early landing was the carpet of snow upon which to photograph the wildlife. We were heading into the Antarctic summer, so by midday the snow had melted and was replaced by a lush green cover.
However, this was the first time the size of the boat was a distinct disadvantage. From this landing and all of the coming landings on the Antarctic Peninsula there was a limit of no more than 100 people ashore at any time. With 360 guests on board that meant a maximum time of one hour on land. This limited the time to study the subjects, absorb the landscape to tell the story of the wildlife and position for good lighting.
Just a couple going for a strollNever mind the audience, the ritual is needed
The elephant seals were intermingled with fur seals, primarily along the shore. But no sensible fur seal was going to aggravate any of the elephant seals.
Elephant seal sunning himself
Fur seal amongst the very large tussock grassFur seal mediating its body temperatureFur seal enjoying the mountain viewThe Predator
It is always fascinating to see Gentoo penguins walking as they tend to flap their wings a lot, probably maintaining their balance. The Gentoo tolerate the Kings and there are no territorial disputes.
Gentoo penguin walks between a pair of King penguinsGentoo penguin walking as the snow starts to melt
Impact of the arrival of summer
Here is a group of predominantly King penguins towards the rear of the cove. A view of the image in great detail shows that they are in various stages of molting. In this state they cannot go to sea for food as their compromised coat will not protect them from the cold and they would die. So they have to wait for approximately two weeks before they can feed themselves again once their new coat of feathers has grown
A group of molting King penguins away from the water
A Giant Petrel in the shallows, the melting snow is clearly visible
The Snowy sheathbill (Chionis albus) is the only bird native to the Antarctic continent. It has a reputation for hitching rides on ships in order to move around the continent. This is because they do not have webbed feet and cannot land on the cold water. They migrate from Tierra del Fuego and the Falkland Islands, a trip too long for them to make in one flight. They come to Antarctica and feast on the droppings of penguins. While this sounds pretty awful, it is noted that the penguin scat comprises 50% digested Krill, which leaves plenty of nutrients in their droppings.
This was our first encounter with the species.
Snowy sheathbill (Chionis albus) hitching a lift on Octantis
Previous Antarctica Posts
If you have missed the previous entries pleas click on the appropriate link below
The next visit on the Antarctica Dream Adventure was South Georgia, an island in the South Atlantic Ocean that is part of the British Overseas Territory of “South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands”. The first landing was by Captain James Cook from his ship HMS Resolution on 17th January 1775. The island is part of Antarctica.
With many bays and fjords there are numerous safe harbours which eventually attracted the sealing trade followed by the whaling trade. During the height of whaling in the area, there were seven seasonal whaling stations on South Georgia, but Grytviken was the most important.
Entrance fjord to Grytviken
Grytviken Whaling Station on South Georgia
Grytviken was where the first permanent whaling station was established on South Georgia. Frank Wild of the 1914-17 Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition said that it was “the finest natural harbour in South Georgia”. By understanding the weather and ocean conditions as well as the remoteness of South Georgia it can provide a strong sense that you are walking through history.
Preserved decay of the Old Whaling Station at GrytvikenApproaching GrytvikenDecaying boat used to ferry whale parts from whaling shipDecaying boats
However, the Station was abandoned in 1965 as there were too few whales to make the industry viable.
Wildlife on South Georgia
Sorry there are no images of reindeer in South Georgia, but not because Father Christmas requisitioned them. The Whalers, largely from Norway, liked as much fresh meat as they could find. There is little that is native, so they brought down reindeer because it is easy for them to survive in the climate. They had freedom to roam.
However, when the whalers packed up in 1965 they did not take their reindeer with them. So the population continued to grow as there are no predators for reindeer in South Georgia.
Their numbers were now creating environmental damage, so it was decided to eradicate them. The belief was that there could be as many as 2,500. The program was conducted between 2013 and 2015 resulting in over 4,400 reindeer processed.
I am a Poser (a photographer’s delight)“Aren’t I Cute?”
A narrow gully up from the beachThe narrow gully also goes down to the beachNot much snow – Summer is comingSome King Penguins will always find some snowAntarctic Shag
Ernest Shackleton and South Georgia
Ernest Shackleton led the 1914-17 Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition. Shackleton’s ship Endurance became trapped in ice, crushed and sank. (It is noted that the well preserved wreck of the Endurance was found in March 2022, a hundred years since Shackleton died.) The 12 member expedition team salvaged the lifeboats and used them to get to inhospitable and uninhabited Elephant Island.
It was obvious that a rescue would not happen so Shackleton and some of the group made the 800 mile journey to South Georgia in an open boat “James Caird”, one of the boats rescued from the Endurance.
Replica of the James Caird boat
Shackleton left his second in command, Frank Wild, in charge who made an excellent job of keeping the 21 marooned explorers alive and motivated. On reaching South Georgia Shackleton eventually, after three failed attempts, organized a rescue of the rest of the group from Elephant Island. Everyone survived.
At the time the expedition was perceived as a failure, but in hindsight it is now heralded as a successful and well led rescue.
In 1922 Shackleton died on board the Quest and is buried at the Grytviken whalers’ cemetery.
Ernest Shakleton’s Grave
Frank Wild’s Grave.
Present Day in South Georgia
Grytviken has no permanent residents. As Grytviken has become a popular stop for Antarctic cruises it has been designated an Area of Special Tourist Interest. During the summer tourist season the Museum of South Georgia and the Post Office are staffed.
The church at Grytviken is the only building that operates as originally defined. On occasion a service will be held in the church.
The Church at Grytviken
King Edward Point
This is a permanent British Antarctic Research station. It is the Capital for the British Overseas Territory of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands and as such it is the smallest capital in the World when measured by population. Currently twelve British Antarctic Station personnel overwinter at the station, rising to around 22 in summer. Two Government Officers plus partners are stationed on King Edward Point, overlapping by about three months during the busy winter fishing season. This is important since South Georgia’s main income is from selling fishing licenses for these incredibly rich waters.
If you look at the image above “Decaying boat used to ferry whale parts from whaling ship” the buildings of King Edward Point are visible to the rear of the boat.
If you have missed the previous entries pleas click on the appropriate link below
Having had two great shore excursions, Octantis now gets underway for South Georgia Island. The journey will take two days, but we will be moving into Antarctica as the Island is classified as part of Antarctica.
The Antarctica Dream always included South Georgia as it is ofter referred to as the Jewel of Antarctica with amazing landscapes.
So, during the voyage we encounter many birds. As usual flying just above the waves and circling around the ship. South Georgia is known for very large numbers of birds and we learnt that the cruise ships are quite a hazard for the birds – they are drawn to the lights in the ship windows and crash into the side of the ship.
Viking Octantis takes extra precautions in an attempt to reduce and prevent this from happening. As we mentioned in the initial blog, our large windows are motorized to lower them for photographs. They also have motorized blinds so we can lower them, especially as the days get longer in the Antarctic Summer.
However, at dusk, the captain can lower all of the blinds from the bridge, turn off all outside lights, thereby hardly showing any lights outside. In the morning some of the Expedition Staff, together with passenger volunteers, would tour the decks to remove any dead birds. We did not have any. So the policy for prevention absolutely worked.
During the transition to South Georgia Island we also saw some marine mammals. The strange sighting was of the Fur Seals. They were floating on their backs managing their temperatures and apparently asleep. The bow was really upon them by the time they decided to dive and get out of the way.
Fur Seal (Arctocephalus pusillus)
We saw lots of Whale blows, often in the distance, but we did see the tail of a Humpback Whale nearer to Octantis.
Humpback Whale (Megaptera novaeangliae)
During these two days we started to see Icebergs floating by. Not many were enormous at this stage, even bearing in mind that we only see 1/9 th of the total mass.
Gear: Nikon Z 8, Nikkor 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VR S, Z TC-1.4X, iPhone SE
We left Octantis by Zodiac and landed on the dock at Port Stanley. Port Stanley is the capital city of The Falkland Islands, an archipelago in the South Atlantic Ocean. As a British overseas territory, the Falklands have internal self-governace, but the United Kingdom takes responsibility for their defence and foreign affairs. This explained why Octantis took our passports as we checked in to the ship. At first we thought it unusual, but we were going to land in part of the United Kingdom.
The Drive to Volunteer Point
We then boarded the off-road vehicles in groups of four. The first third of the drive was on a finished road.
We had an excellent driver who gave us a good commentary during the drive. When we passed a curio, Louise asked what it was and he stopped so that she could take a photograph and he explained that when people leave the Falklands they come to this spot and, if they want to come back they leave one shoe and if they do not want to come back they leave two shoes.
The shoes curio
The second third was a dirt road. Not rough and definitely not true off-road, that was still to come. At the end of the dirt road there was a gate which just opened on the day we were there, 1st November, as the beginning of the visitor season.
Entry to the true off-road section
From this point the going was much slower and rather bumpy. Our driver very nearly got bogged, but made a good recovery.
After the long and sometimes bumpy drive, the first strange or unexpected thing you see are sheep with their “this year” lambs grazing and completely oblivious to the penguins and their cacophony.
Sheep and lambs grazing in the Penguin colony
The beach at Volunteer Point makes an excellent background for taking pictures of the King Penguins and the Gentoo Penguins. The sand is very light colored and can give the impression that the penguins are on snow. The very strong wind blows the sand at a low level giving the impression that there might be a ground mist.
King Penguins (Aptenodytes patagonicus)
King penguins (Aptenodytes patagonicus) are the second largest species of penguins. They walk very upright and at a steady pace. However, they do appear to have a problem deciding where they, as a group, want to go. Apart from individuals, they tend to be in smallish groups or in a very long line – following the self appointed leader.
King Penguin a lone walkerSmall group of King Penguins
Here we come, this is our highway!King Penguin column
King Penguins to the sea then back again. A demonstration of their confusion.Where shall we go conference?Which way did they decide we should go?
They are just so adorable and great fun to watch
The Threat- their only predator at The Falklands
A Sea lion was swimming up and down along the beach
A few times a long column of King penguins were marching to the sea, to find and eat their lunch. Then the dark head of a sea lion would pop up, they would hesitate, stop, then turnaround and head back up the beach to the sand dunes.
Occasionally a brave penguin returned by itself after being out feeding. The penguin would launch out of the water on its stomach pushing itself up the beach away from the water, then stand up and walk inland.
King Penguin returning from lunchthen stands up
After a slightly inelegant entrance, albeit avoiding the predator, after standing the walk is very nonchalant.
At this time of year the King Penguins are moulting. This process means that as their feathers are shedding their protection layer from the cold is being removed, thereby they cannot survive the temperatures of the water. This lasts for two to three weeks, but it means that the penguins cannot go to sea for food and that they are fasting for the entire period. It also means their chicks are fasting and do not really know why.
King Penguin in the Molt
By this time the chicks are almost as tall as the adults and their fluffy fur coats make them look bigger than the adults. In a month or two the young will shed their “baby coat”, which has kept them warm during the harsh winter, and get their adult plumage. At this point they can go into the sea for the first time and start to feed themselves.
King Penguin chicks
Gentoo Penguin (Pygoscelis papua)
The Gentoo penguin is smaller than the King Penguin and is black and white with no other colored feathers. It has a bigger tail which swings from side to side as it walks.
The Gentoo Penguins build a nest for the incubation of their eggs, usually two eggs a season. The nest is usually built as a circle of small pebbles. However, at Volunteer Point the beach is sand and there are no pebbles so the Gentoo use mud.
Gentoo Nesting Area.Nearly ever Gentoo Penguin is on their nest incubating the eggs.Incubating the eggs.
Rufus-chested Dotterel (Zonibyx modestus)
Remembering that we are in the Southern Hemisphere, at the start of Summer, this is probably a breeding pair that have just arrived. They are not yet in full breeding plumage as the rufus on the front will develop down to the black band. The Falkland Islands are the southernmost and easternmost limits of their migration range.
Pair of Rufus-chested Dotterel
It is always great to see Shorebirds, wherever we are and it was somewhat unexpected here.
Gear: Nikon Z 8, Nikkor Z 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VR S, Z TC-1.4x, iPhone SE