Saturday, January 14, 2012

A long day on Cuverville Island (December 23, 2011)

This morning we attempted to make a landing at Neko Harbor, one of the most scenic spots in the Peninsula.  We loaded into the first zodiac off of the ship to make our way to shore, but were foiled by too much ice surrounding the landing site.  There was simply no way to make it to shore to do our count. 

The Gentoo penguin colony at Neko Harbor is on the
exposed rock in the center of the photo.

Zodiacs getting ready to take guests out for a morning cruise

So while guests piled into zodiacs to do a bit of cruising around the ice Paula and I took advantage of the empty ship deck to clean some eggshells.  It was bright and sunny so we sat outside and got caught up on our samples.  We finished just as the guests came back on board and the galley staff had prepared an Antarctic BBQ for lunch!  
View of Cuverville Island (on the right) from
Danco Island
After lunch we set sail for Cuverville Island in the Errera Channel.  Cuverville is home to the largest Gentoo penguin colony in the Antarctic Peninsula.  
Paula and I had big plans for Cuverville this day, we were going to do a complete site-wide count.  The ship had planned to anchor near Cuverville that night which meant Paula and I could stay out on Cuverville Island as late as we needed to complete our count.  We began our count around 4:00pm in one of three regions on this island by counting nesting Gentoo penguins and Blue-eyed shags using binoculars from the zodiac.  These birds nest in a fairly inaccessible location and it was easier and faster to count from the zodiac than climb through the colony.  We then made our way to the landing beach.  Paula took Region A and I took Region B and we each went our own way to start this epic count.

View of about 1/3 of the penguins nesting on Cuverville Island with the ship in the background.  All of
the red on the rocks and snow is from the penguin guano.  You can even see the little "penguin
highways" that the birds carve into the snow as they move from one colony to another.
Holy cow were there a lot of Gentoo penguins at this site!  Sometimes it was difficult to keep track of which small colonies I had already counted as every where I turned there were penguins!  Lucky for us, today was one of the warmest days we had in the Peninsula.  The sun was out and I was walking around in just a long-sleeve shirt and fleece vest until the sun began to set.  After several hours of counting my eyes did get pretty tired, and so did my clicker thumb!  We finished the count by 9:30pm, as the sun never sets here it was still plenty light out to do our work.  Our count came to about 6,336 Gentoo penguin nests at this site!  

We called the ship and had one of the staff members come and pick us up; lucky for us the One Ocean staff were wonderful enough to save us each a plate from dinner.  We ate dinner, completely exhausted and went right to bed.  For there were more penguins to count in the morning.

Though it was an incredibly long day, it was one of those days that reminds me how lucky I am to have the job that I have.  In the few moments when I stopped to catch my breath atop a colony I had the chance to see this place from vantage points few others experience.  I was the only person to see penguin chicks on the island today.  The sky was a color of violet-blue I had never seen before as I waited on the beach on this now chilly Antarctic evening.  I had long forgotten that my day started at 6:30am, with the sky still aglow from a sun nearing the horizon the days seem to last forever...and when in the Antarctic you never really want the day to end.  For the end of this journey was already too close.

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