OK, where did I leave this last? Oh yeah, we were heading to Peterman Island. We did make it to Peterman on December 4th. We first made a landing at Pleneau Island. We managed to make our way through the thigh deep snow to the top of the island and then began counting our way back to the landing area. I was really wishing I had those snowshoes that are sitting in Ushuaia. I haven’t had that good of a workout in a long time. It was exhausting pulling my legs out of the hole I had just created in the snow, only to make another one just as deep – uphill. We managed to count all the Gentoo Penguin nests on the island just in time to catch the last Zodiac back to the beach. The we headed a bit further south to Peterman Island. Peterman was the site of an Oceanites field camp for the last few years and I haven’t had to count penguins here in a long time because there were always staff on the island. That project ended last year and this time I had to count. And count and count.. The island has been divided into two sections and we picked one section and headed off to count more nests. We had hoped to go to the nearby Moot Point, but a snow squall moved in about that time and we couldn’t get over to that area. Gentoo populations are exploding on the Antarctic Peninsula in response to the changing environment and it certainly seemed there were more than the last time I visited It seemed that everytime I finished one count as I worked the back side of the island, there would be one more Gentoo colony just around the corner. All of this took place in snow conditions similar to those on Pleneau Island. By the time I we finished up as the last boat was heading back to the ship, I was pretty wore out.
That evening we tried to head south, but there was very limited visibility due to snow and fog, which makes it tough for the crew to navigate so we headed outside of the islands and continued south in open water. By 7:30 the next morning (December 5th) we had crossed the Antarctic Circle and we continued just a bit farther south before heading east and then north into the Crystal Sound area. That morning we had a large number of Antarctic Petrels following the ship, along with one Light Mantled Sooty Albatross and a few Cape Petrels, Giant Petrels, and Black-browed Albatross. We had hoped to make a landing at the Fish Islands in the area but fast ice and dense pack ice around the islands canceled those plans. We wound up moving the ship through some areas of pack ice and had numerous Snow Petrels following the ship along with a few Crabeater Seals, one Leopard Seal, and another Leopard Seal and pup on the pack ice. We also tried to stick the ship into the fast ice but it when one of the crew stepped off the ship he sank to the top of his hip waders in snow and rotten ice so we canceled those plans too. We then opted for Zodiac rides along the ice edge where we found a few Adelie Penguins but little else. We did have a number of Snow Petrels flying around the ship though and a small group of Cape Petrels and one Antarctic Fulmar readily approached the Zodiacs as we idled near the ship, even picking at something on the side pontoons as we looked down on them. Conditions had improved a bit by then and we headed north through the night through the ice and wound up this morning in the Argentine Islands. This morning Elise and I headed out to a small group of islands called the Yarlour Islands. This series of small islands had approximately 8000 Adelie Penguin nests in 1982. This morning we counted nearly 2000 (again in very deep snow and again very tiring). As much as Gentoo Penguins are increasing on the peninsula, Adelie Penguins are declining even faster. We had a bit of a break this afternoon when we visited Vernadsky Station, a Ukranian base formerly run by the British as Faraday Station, where the ozone hole was originally discovered. We visited with the guys on station a bit and then headed out to count a small Gentoo Penguin colony that recently formed at the station and then around the corner to another small Gentoo colony. Again in deep snow. My legs are now quite sore but thankfully all of this is happening at sea level so I have gained a bit by coming for a bit of elevation in Montana. Not much though. This evening we traversed the LeMaire Channel, a very scenic, narrow passage with towering mountains covered with glaciers lining both sides. The setting sun cast a nice light on the mountains as we moved through. We are heading to Couverville Island tomorrow and we will be counting Genoo Penguins there again. Undoubtedly in deep snow again!