Saturday, January 14, 2012

A quiet count at a familiar place (December 22, 2011)

This morning we sailed to Damoy Point for the guests to visit their first penguin colony of their trip.  As Paula and I had counted the Gentoo penguins at Damoy on our previous trip (somewhere around 2,000 nesting pairs) we took a short zodiac ride around the corner to Jougla Point.  

Gentoo penguins on Jougla Point with
Port Lockroy in the background
The Gentoo penguin colony at Jougla Point is right next to the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust site called Port Lockroy.  Port Lockroy is by far one of the most frequently visited sites in the Antarctic Peninsula.  It is a designated historic site at which guests can meander through a restored British base to see how early Antarctic explorers weathered their seasons south.  This site is manned during the austral summer (click here for the Port Lockroy diaries) and also functions as a post office.

It was actually a nice treat to be zipped over to Jougla Point today, Paula and I were looking forward to a few hours alone.  Working on a ship is very exciting and extremely busy; spending a few hours in a slightly raucous penguin colony alone was certainly something we always looked forward to.  This was my fourth time at Jougla Point and I always like visiting sites that I am familiar with, it makes dividing up the work easier and the counting go faster as I already know where all of the penguins are.  

It was pretty cold and dreary out as I hiked towards the top of the island to begin my count.  On my way I came across a gold mine of eggshells--a little spot where skuas had been eating eggs and discarding the shells.  I was able to collect nearly half of the eggshells I needed at this one spot.  Skuas are always helpful in this regard.     

As I made my way up a steep embankment, bare hands plunged into the snow for balance, I realized (as my hands were freezing) that one of my gloves had fallen out of my pocket.  I was so mad, I had just bought those darn gloves (rather, my parents bought them for me for my birthday becaue I lost mine last year).  So I slid back down the hill and re-traced my no avail.  That glove was no where to be found.  How was that possible??!!  I was the only person on this side of the island, only my foot prints were in the snow so I could see exactly where I walked.  Yet the glove, which I had on when I started my hike, was no where to be found.  So, I plowed back up the hill to check up there again.  Now completely out of breath and sweating in all of my gear I slid back down the hill and re-traced my steps again.  This went on for about 15 minutes until I was so tired and had wasted so much time that I just gave up and went on to do my counts.  I was starting to lose my mind.
The only thing that salvaged my now horrible mood (because I couldn't believe I lost a single glove...again) was finding chicks in some of the nests.  I heard that characteristic "peep peep" as I walked by and started scanning all of the nests.  When the chicks are just hatched they fit completely under the parent brooding them making them very difficult to see.  But, if you hear the "peep peep" you know to look around because the parent stood up to re-adjust or to feed them.

After a quick two hour count, and another failed attempt to locate my glove (I swear a skua or kelp gull now has it in their nest), I met back up with Paula with enough time to take a few photos and sit down and relax amongst the well-dressed inhabitants in this quiet cove.

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