Sunday, December 21, 2008

Deception Island

On Wednesday morning the 17th of December we woke up just off of Deception Island, one of the most famous of the South Shetland Islands. Deception is a volcanic island and the collapsed caldera forms a wonderful sheltered bay with entrance to the bay through a narrow passage known as Neptunes Bellows. But before heading into the center of the island we visited one of the most famous Chinstrap Penguin colonies - Baily Head. Baily Head is a smaller bowl on the outside edge of the island with Chinstraps nesting on the slopes around the bowl. To get to the center of the colony you must walk along a small meltwater stream around a rocky outcrop and when you make the corner into the bowl, the sound becomes something you can feel (the smell of the colony you can detect on the ship well offshore). Although this colony is still very large, those on the staff who have been doing this for years recall many more birds here in previous years. This year we were in for a very special treat. The landing here, which normally is very challenging with a usual heavy surf, was very calm. The staff loved that since it can be quite challenging getting people out of the zodiacs before the next wave breaks over the stern of the boat or pushes it way up the beach. Aileen and I heading up the slope to count nests at a few colonies we regularly monitor and right away we noticed that many of the nests had newly hatched chicks. We also found nest where the chicks were still hatching. We completed our counts then headed to the edge of the rim to take reference photos of the colony to have a record of the extent and distribution of the colonies. Baily Head is such a great place to observe Chinstraps with so much going on all over the place. We watched penguins coming and going in black (outward bound) and white (incoming) streams or loafing and preening on the black volcanic soil. There are also great materials for teaching penguin anatomy scattered throughout the site with the recent penguin remains to show people penguin feathers and feet, mixed in with older remains where we can show the skeletal structure of penguins.
In the afternoon we moved into the caldera and walked around the remains of a shore based whaling station in Whalers Bay. I hiked up to the edge of a cliff and found some nesting Cape Petrels tucked into the rocks. Later I stopped to look at an old Leopard Seal hauled up on the beach near the cliff. There are no penguin colonies in the interior of Deception so we looked for banded Brown Skuas at a meltwater pond near the landing site where the birds like to bath. We found one banded bird that had been banded at a nearby Spanish station. Many of my fellow passengers took the opportunity of a bit warmer water than is typically found in Antarctica to take a quick dip just before we headed back out of the inside of the island and may our way towards the Weddell Sea.

No comments: