Tag Archives: Pipit

Good Fortuna

Wednesday 6 March 2024 – The journey out round and in again was unremarkable in terms of pitching and rolling en route. What was remarkable was the continued calmness and stillness in the waters of the bays we’ve visited.  We parked in Fortuna Bay within reach of two separate expeditions: Anchorage Bay, offering a hike to a land-terminating glacier; and Whistle Cove, whence a one-mile walk takes one to a colony of king penguins. “What? I thought. “More ‘king penguins? Can there be much added value in that?” Misguidedly thought, as it turns out.

The two landing sites had significantly different distances for the Zodiacs to cover – Anchorage Bay was close by, Whistle Cove a longer ride.  We were headed for the former, and there was a bit of a wait for the next bus to take us along; it looked like the steward helping us on to the Zodiac had to flag down a passing taxi.

We arrived to a desultory reception committee from the local wildlife.

There were a few fur seals on the beach, but the life there was mainly penguins, mostly king penguins, which are very handsome creatures.

They quite often stand in groups of three, something we noted a lot during the course of the day. From their behaviours (I have video, of course), we guess that the third in a group seems often to be a gooseberry, trying to muscle in on the action.

As well as these little groupings, some penguins seemed very curious as to what had just arrived.

The glacier appears to be relatively close.

This is a false perspective; when you breast the rise above, you are faced with a veritable Serengeti of mainly fur seals.

They are all young, some very young, and not particularly habituated to human contact – we were indeed fortunate to be able to land here today; not many people get that privilege, apparently.  The team had mapped out a route for us with red poles, taking the path of least disturbance to the wildlife, but still one would quite often get rushed by a pup; if very young, one could simply ignore it, but some of the larger ones required you to face it off by clapping and raising your arms to make you appear bigger and less rewarding as a target.  There was also the occasional penguin, and sometimes the seal pups would try to play with them, in which case they often got short shrift and sharp beaks.

Once across the Serengeti, onto an expanse of rocky terminal moraine, there was no wildlife, but some great landscapery.

As we found at Shingle Cove (goodness me, less than a week ago!), there were some very varied colours among the stones.

We returned to the beach and wandered along it for a while.  There was a lot of wildlife activity – young fur seals frolicking in the surf, and penguins coming and going; all excellent video content – but little of new interest to talk about in these pages.

Particularly in the overall context of the day; the afternoon was exceedingly – and for me, surprisingly – content-rich, even though it really only involved king penguins.

After lunch, then, we took the longer Zodiac ride to Whistle Cove. From the landing area, it’s about a mile, mainly over grass, to the king penguin colony, and you pass some nice landscape.

You can see the colony from a distance

and, at “only” 7,000 breeding pairs, it’s not as large as the one we saw at St. Andrews Bay.  But there, we weren’t allowed to land; here, we could get really very close, and could get some sense of how densely packed the colony is.

King penguins are, we’re told, so named because when they were discovered they were the largest penguins yet seen.  This gave a tiny problem when an even larger species was discovered; that species, though, spends its time in more central, less accessible parts of Antarctica, and so are very rarely seen by punters like us from Hondius. However, they’re larger than king penguins, which is why they’re called emperor penguins.  Emperors, apparently, trump royalty. Really?

Having been told we had over two and a half hours at Whistle Cove, I had been expecting to get rather bored; after all, seen one king penguin, seen ‘em all, yes?


Being so close to the sight, smell and extraordinary sound of the colony was a completely different experience from viewing them from a Zodiac. It was rewarding to start watching for behaviour patterns and other characteristics, rather than just getting nice photos of penguins.  Those were, of course, easy,

(another group of three, see?) but there was a lot else going on. Jane, particularly, was good at spotting points of interest within the colony and alerting me to them so I could take a look and some photos.

We had to be very careful, for example, because some of the penguins were incubating eggs.

These two were particularly charming; they each have an egg in their special brood pouch and balanced on their feet as they sit on their heels – and they’re fast asleep as they incubate the precious egg.

Further round the colony, we could see some chicks, which have such different plumage that at first they were thought to be a different species.  Some are nearly as large as their parents

but the younger ones are smaller and engagingly dumpy.

Jane even spotted an egg; it was such a warm day that the parent will actually release the egg from its pouch to stop it overheating.  It takes patience to wait and spot, but eventually I managed to get a shot of one, too,

as well as catching the parent checking the egg and coaxing it back into the pouch.

Jane also alerted me to some chick feeding activity.  A chick will pester a parent for food,

and eventually will get it, from the store that the parent has managed to accumulate in a special pouch in its craw.

The chick may take more than a year to fledge so king penguins mostly breed biennially. As a result there are incubating eggs alongside newly-hatched and last year’s chicks side by side in a continuously occupied colony. However young need to be fat enough by April to survive the winter when food is very scarce; not all those emerging from the eggs we saw will have time to reach that point.

We also spotted an adult in the late stages of moulting.

Re-growing your entire set of feathers is a very energy-hungry process, so moulting penguins will stay as immobile as possible while the process completes – until moulting has finished, they are not waterproof and so cannot enter the sea to get food.

Nature being what it is, not everything is fine and wonderful.

This is a skua, feeding upon the corpse of a penguin, whilst others wander around, seemingly unaffected by the scene.

Just beside the penguin colony was a group of another local bird, the South Georgia pintail,

with its distinctive yellow bill.

And Jane caught a picture of a South Georgia pipit, which one could just hear singing above the racket of the penguins.

Finally, on the way back to the landing area after an absorbing couple of hours, we saw another leucistic fur seal, obviously very sleepy but equally in need of a good scratch.

So ended an excellent day’s expeditioning – tiring, but rewarding.  We’ve been astonishingly lucky with the weather, which has enabled great progress, granting us four days on South Georgia and still allowing an extra day “in the back pocket” for expeditions in the Falkland Islands, our next port of call.  The weather can be capricious and so that extra day might come in handy in case it’s difficult to get off the ship after we arrive.

Which is in two and a half days.  There will be no scenery now until Saturday, when I believe we’ll be putting into Stanley, all other things being equal.  So, there are two “sea days”, at least one of which will allow some rest and recuperation (and laundry!) after several days of relentless expeditioning.  There may be some wildlife visible from the ship – who knows? We can be sure there will be interesting lectures to educate us more about the area, its geography, oceanography and wildlife, so we still have a great deal to look forward to, even without leaving the ship.



King Haakon Bay

Monday 4 March 2024 – The overnight transit from the eastern side of the island to King Haakon Bay on the western side went smoothly.

So it was that we found ourselves in a place where, almost always, the weather is wild and woolly.  The forecast that Pippa and the team had been working on – for fairly quiet conditions – appeared still to be correct when we awoke, so their non-traditional itinerary gamble appeared to have been a good one.

Plans accordingly continued for two expeditions during the day.  However, we had some excitement even before our first excursion – blue whales spotted off the starboard bow.  Frustratingly, I had just stepped into the shower when this was announced; by the time I could get myself on deck there were no signs of the whales. But Jane had managed to grab a couple of shots from the cabin – just enough to show that a) there was at least one very large whale, and b) that it’s small (relatively) dorsal fin showed it to be a blue, rather than a fin, whale.

In truth there wasn’t much for anyone to see, so Jane did a great job to get these images.  I just wish I’d caught a glimpse myself.

The two expeditions of the day continued the Shackleton thread running through recent days.  In seeking a rescue for the men he’d left on Elephant Island after sea ice destroyed his ship, he and five of his expedition crew sailed a small boat, the James Caird, across the (potentially very stormy and dangerous) Scotia Sea, using dead reckoning, to South Georgia – an extraordinary feat of navigation.  We would first visit the place where they first made ground, at Cape Rosa, and then moved slightly further in to King Haakon Bay to Peggotty Bluff, whence Shackleton and two of the others made their hazardous journey on foot over the mountains to the other side of the island – Stromness – where there was a whaling station whose men could help initiate a rescue operation.

The scenery at Cape Rosa is, as usual, spectacular, and, once again, very different from the other South Georgia locations we’ve so far seen.

As one can infer from the colour of the water, the bay has glaciers pouring into it.

Our first expedition was a Zodiac cruise with a short landing.  The cruise enabled us to potter about the islands that are adjacent to the shore, and the caves that the sea has carved out from the cliffs.

This one had a little beach in it, with some seals relaxing there.

We actually went deep into another one

but it was dark inside – not a rewarding photographic location.

As we cruised on, there were a couple of icebergs in what looked like a really incongruous location

but it soon became clear what the situation was.

There was quite a lot of wildlife, but nothing that I have not regaled you with lots of photos of already, apart from a native bird, the South Georgia pipit, the island’s only songbird.

The central, and one might say main, point of the cruise was to land at Cave Cove.  On the face of it, it’s not at all spectacular.

Its significance is historical and a matter of some ecstasy to worshippers at the Shackleton shrine; this is the sprt where he and five others first made ground on South Georgia in their small boat, the James Caird.  In those days, there was a stream running down into the water, and this was a lifesaver for them, as their reserves of water had turned brackish.  The stream is not very obvious today.

The whole cove is small (so small that only two Zodiacs were allowed in at any one time)

and the six men only stayed a short while before moving to a different location in King Haakon Bay (see later).  We stayed an even shorter while before decamping back to Hondius for lunch.

During lunch, the ship moved a right up into the bay so that we could explore the other locations of Shackleton-related interest – Peggotty Bluff and the Shackleton Gap. We had Adam, Pippa’s no. 2, as our guide and he made the afternoon very interesting, aided in no small part by the wonders of the natural world going on around us.

At the far end of the bay are two glaciers, Morris and Murray.


I was sorely tempted to ask if there was a third glacier called Mint. I manfully restrained myself.

We approached the right-hand one, and if you look closely, you can see an arch or cave towards its right hand side.

As we neared it, we went into a mass of brash ice, and we could hear it fizzing and crackling as bits of it practically exploded in the sunshine.  Adam fished out a lump of it

in which one could see different strata – very clear ice which had formed under great pressure, a well-defined border to a different formation, made under less pressure at the top, and, at the bottom, recently formed ice which still had air bubbles in it, which (a) makes it les transparent and (b) provides the fizzing and popping as it melts.

At this point, things got really interesting.

We could hear the rumblings of the sort that glaciers make when calving, and Adam could see that the arch/cave was home to a lot of ice decay.

Increasingly large chunks of the area started dropping

and before too long a whole great mass came crashing down.

Leaving scant evidence that there had ever been that arch in the first place.

Very exciting!

I have video, of course. Sorry, as ever, that I can’t share it here and now. I’m beginning to think that I will include a page dedicated to some of the video footage that we’ve garnered over the trip; but I’ll need a large amount of unlimited internet data to provide that, and I haven’t got that right now.  Watch this space….

After all that glacier excitement, we pottered over towards the areas of historic Shackleton-type interest.  Peggotty’s Bluff

shields a cove

(the bluff is on the right, above).  This is the second place in the bay that Shackleton and his five companions landed on the island. In the background of the picture you can see that the moraine rises gently to meet a glacier.  That area is called Shackleton’s Gap. Here’s the view from the bay itself.

That is the glacier over which Shackleton and two of his men walked, some 35 kilometres as the crow would fly if there were any crows here, over some 36 hours, to reach the whalers at Stromness, on the east coast.  (They left the other three sheltering under the upturned James Caird.) Apparently there is an appetite among a certain type of foolhardy courageous person for recreating this journey; these days, to preserve the environment better, a permit is needed to undertake the journey.  It’s a very strenuous, demanding and dangerous expedition even dressed in and using today’s advanced technical gear. Shackleton’s party had none of the fabrics and materials available today, and even had screws (from the James Caird) put through the soles of their boots as improvised crampons to enable them to walk on the glacier ice.  Ridiculous, but utterly heroic. And, happily, successful.  He got within earshot of the Stromness factory just as they were blowing the shift start whistle, which enabled him to find the station. The rest is history, with a fair bit of geography entwined in it.

There was more interesting wildlife on this afternoon cruise.  I managed to get satisfactory pictures of a couple of birds in flight: the Wilson’s Storm Petrel

and Antarctic tern.  A whole bunch of juveniles came out and flew around and over our Zodiac, checking us out; it was lovely to see them.

It was a great afternoon’s cruising and so we headed back to Hondius very happy with our afternoon’s experience.

As we waited to go down to dinner, Jane caught a great shot of seals porpoising by the ship, a sight we hadn’t really seen thus far.

And so ended a good day’s Shackletoning.  There’s a final morsel of Shackletoniana promised for the morrow.  If all goes well, we’ll get to Grytviken, where there are the preserved remnants of a whaling station – not the biggest, but probably the best-known on the island. The others are merely disused; Grytviken has had restoration work done in the settlement, and, further, is the seat of the island’s governance group and an important location for the South Georgia Heritage Trust.  We will get to hear more from the Trust – and the government – before we set foot on Grytviken, and between now and then is a journey back out into the wild and woolly waters around the north of the island as we make the journey.  We’ve been cosseted over the last several days with light winds and calm waters.  Tonight promises to change all that.