Saturday, January 17, 2009


Probably the most commonly observed bird throughout a trip to the Antarctic is the Cape Petrel (Daption capense). This species has been known by many names including Pintado, Speckled Haglet, and Damero. R. C. Murphy, in his classic "Oceanic Birds of South America" called them Cape Pigeons and had "small patience with the pedantry that would alter it to "Cape Petrel"".

They seem to delight in playing in the winds around the ship, often cruising within arms reach, hanging in the updraft on the windward side. They join the ship shortly after entering the open ocean and are a fixture at the stern until we return to the Straits of Magellan. Every year they are a welcoming committee for me, greeting me to the open ocean and a preview of upcoming sights to be seen further south.

They nest in cliff areas throughout the peninsula, tucked into cracks and crevices. These were on Deception Island.

Deception is a volcanic island where the cauldera has been breached by the ocean and the interior of the island forms a natural harbor. The interior of the island was once home to a shore based whaling station and the processing of whale carcasses provided a massive food source for many seabirds. Murphy also described the harbor at Deception as "often hidden under a raft of petrels of various sorts." He also notes that the pioneer Antarctic aviator Sir Hubert Wilkins described having to drive a power boat back and forth through the birds to clear a lane to allow the airplanes to take off and land.

The Antarctic Petrel (Thalassoica antarctica) is not as common and usually only found close to the continent in the vicinity of ice, often in the company of Cape Petrels. This year was good for observing Antarctic Petrels with large numbers found in early December north of King George Island. They are about the same size as the Cape Petrel but look as if the black and white checkered pattern of the Cape Petrel has been organized into pure brown and white sections.

The Southern Fulmar (Fulmarus glacialoides) seems to be much more local, particularly early in the breeding season. We didn't see many this year, but at one point there were a few that were feeding just off the stern of the ship amongst the zodiacs as we arranged a zodiac tour. They foraged with some Cape Petrels right up to the edge of the zodiacs as we were waiting to board the ship.

My favorite of the distinctive Antarctic petrels is the Snow Petrel. These however, deserve their own post so more photos to follow tomorrow.

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