Saturday, November 21, 2009

Last day in Stanley and setting sail…

Today is day four of the cruise across the Drake Passage. Sailing was delayed a day due to bad weather on the Drake. I guess it seems better to weather a storm in the harbor than in the roughest passage in the world. I arose at 6am on Wednesday morning to watch from the Monkey Island (highest deck on the ship) as the James Clark Ross (JCR) left Stanley Harbour. Such a rough, gray, rainy, miserably cold morning, but at least we are on our way. Not many people are up to see us off, but I suppose many on board the ship have made this journey before. As we leave the harbour, two Commerson’s dolphins are porpoising along side the JCR. The ship is now full of people, as this is the first call to Rothera Station since last year. Rothera is verging on summer and I’m sure those that have wintered-over at the station will be glad to see the JCR!

Today the seas are calmer and the sun is shining, but it’s only a matter of time before it gets rough again. We are moving slowly across the Drake, stopping quite often for other scientist to take water samples. We have about a week more until our collecting starts. For now, the days are filled with computer work and reading. In the evening after dinner, everyone gathers in the Officer’s lounge for drinks and board games. I’m looking forward to seeing land again and getting south enough for whale watching.

The last day at Stanley, we spent on the other side of the island searching for penguins and getting a real glimpse of what the Falkland Islands are like. After being met by our tour guide Adriane in a Land Rover, we headed for Kidney Cove. Adriane was quite a character, having lived here since the 70’s. He had many stories to tell and I was eager to listen. There is really something captivating about the Falkland Islands and I feel compelled to know more. Thank goodness we’ve got lots of time, as we start the two hour slow journey over land (no roads!) to see some penguins. After what seems like a blink, filled with tidbits about the geography, rocks, birds, plants, and what life in the Falklands really entails (homegrown veggies, bacon, milk/cheese, homemade bread/jam…basically home-everything), we arrive to the first colony of penguins! Here at the edge of the steep coast, a colony of about 500 rockhopper penguins are curiously watching as we approach. According to Adriane, this breeding colony (on his 20,000 acres of land) is usually off-limits to tourists, but he says since we are “biologists” he decides to take us. Okay, I must remain composed and act like a biologist… don’t get too excited about the penguins! Somehow I manage to remain composed, in awe of these cute and inviting creatures. I crouch down and sit arms distance from a few breeding pairs, just watching and observing them. I can’t believe I’m this close and they don’t even care!! And it’s really cold and windy, but I don’t care. They penguins are so ridiculously cute, slightly clumsy hopping form rock to rock, and so charismatic. But, by the way, they are sooo smelly!

We head to the next colony of rockhoppers, a few minutes down the coastline. Here we witness true nature, as a few skewers (egg stealing birds) attempt to rob a pair of penguins from their eggs. They are unsuccessful, but still maintain a presence, waiting for the next opportunity. After about an hour with the rockhoppers, we head off to find some gentoo penguins and a pair of King’s if we’re lucky. Again we have quite a haul to get to the colony, climbing over rocks and hills, where in some cases, I wasn’t sure the Land Rover would make it. After another history lesson, we arrive at the gentoo colony… sure enough among the hundreds of gentoos, is a pair of King penguins. Just one pair. Apparently, they are slightly lost and find safety in numbers with the gentoos, who don’t seem to notice or mind. It seems funny to see a penguin colony on the green grass, 1000 meters from the sea, but this far up they are safe from sea lions.

After a stop for our packed lunch, we are off to see some Magellanic penguins. There are only a few Magellanics, who are hiding in burrows in the hills. They are the only penguin species that makes burrows. After a bit, we start back to Stanley… two hours later we arrive back in town. What a day!

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