Bay of Isles on the way to Salisbury Plain
A napping King Penguin
A young King Penguin losing his downy plumage
We meet the Macaronis at Elsehul
Grey-headed Albatross resting on the water
Le Boreal - January 09, 2012
Salisbury Plain, Elsehul
Temperature: 5° F
Wind speed: 15 knots
Cloud cover: 80%
Precipitation: None in the morning, afternoon snow and sleet
After fueling up on a light breakfast, we donned our layers, our parkas and our boots for our first outing in South Georgia, Salisbury Plain in the Bay of Isles. This large glacial outwash plain is fronted by a broad black-sand beach, and is home to one of South Georgia's largest king penguin colonies.
Once ashore, our expectations of South Georgia were replaced by its reality, and honestly we had greatly underestimated the grandeur of this place and its wildlife. We walked past snoozing fur seals and molting king penguins to the edge of the rookery where nearly fully grown penguin chicks, dressed in their finest wooly brown garb, were clustered around one another waiting for the arrival of food from mom or dad. Clouds were perched on top of the mountains as we sat quietly and soaked up the peacefulness of this awesome place.
The king penguin is the second largest of the penguins (behind the emperor penguin) and, like that species, incubates its single egg on its feet rather than building and maintaining a nest. We saw numerous penguins with their feet tilted up, and a patch of loose skin and blubber draped on top, carefully protecting their egg from the cold and from predators. Along a stream consisting of a thick ooze of silt, guano and shed feathers, we encountered large groups of adult penguins going through their annual catastrophic molt.
Back onboard Le Boreal, we spotted some wandering albatross nesting on some of the small islands we passed on our way out of the Bay of Isles. Snow-capped peaks rose above plains filled with fur seals and king penguins, both of which also could be seen swimming in large numbers around the ship as we made our way towards our afternoon stop at Elsehul.
The swell at the marina was quite substantial, so we had to be extra careful getting in and out of the zodiacs, and listen meticulously to instructions from the crew and naturalists. Once off the ship and out in Elsehul Bay, curious fur seals darted in front of us while macaroni penguins porpoised to and from the steep rocky shoreline. We sat quietly listening to raucous calls of the macaroni penguins high on the hillside above us, their guano staining the slope around the rookery.
Albatrosses soared overhead, coming and going from their nests high in the tussac-covered hills. Giant-petrels were sitting in the water absolutely everywhere, scattered evenly outside the line of kelp, nodding off for a time when they weren't busy taking a birdbath. The shoreline was like something out of a Gary Larson cartoon: fur seals play-fighting, elephant seals making burping sounds, giant-petrels extending their wings as a threat display to keep skuas and other giant-petrels away from their kills. This was South Georgia at its finest.
At Recap, Historian Bob Burton gave us a detailed history of penguin names, and Naturalist Rich Pagen provided some background on skuas and a hilarious look at dive-bombing terns. After dinner, we stepped out on our balconies before bed, watching the scores of white-chinned petrels and prions fly alongside under diminishing light.