Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Magic of Macquarie

Greetings All,
We were up early this morning in anticipation of our landing on Macquarie Island. The seas were calm enough to safely disembark in the Zodiacs. The Zodiacs are lowered from the top deck to the water where we board them from the back of the Orion. They bob up and down so you have to time your entry when the Zodiac is level with the ship.

A quick ride and we were at the Isthmus, a thin strip of land at the north end of the island and also the site of the Australian Antarctic Program Expedition station. We were greeted by massive Southern Elephant Seals lounging in the tussock grass. Other than breeding, the only reason adult elephant seals come ashore is to molt. Over a 3 week period they shed both their old fir and skin. During this time they are particularly cranky and we had to walk gingerly past them.

We climbed up to a viewpoint overlooking the isthmus and the station. The wind was howling and the skies gray but at least it wasn't raining.

We climbed back down and explored the other side of the Isthmus. There were two massive bull elephant seals in our path. You can see from the next photo how they got their name. The bulls have a proboscis resembling an elephant's trunk.

Small groups of Gentoo Penguins were on the beach. Like the elephant seals they were in the process of molting. Once their new feathers come in they'll head out to the ocean for the winter. We've seen these penguins on the peninsula in 2008 but here their bills are more orange than red.

There were also small groups of King Penguins about. They waddled along the beach trying to avoid the huge mounds of kelp that had washed up during a recent storm. One poor fellow got ensnared in a strand of kelp and struggled to get free.

We returned to Macquarie after lunch, this time landing at Sandy Bay. We had to make our way past mounds of elephant seals and throngs of Royal Penguins to reach a boardwalk. It was a thrill to be so close to such a rare and beautiful bird.

Macquarie is the only place in the world they breed. As I approached the colony, the smell of ammonia almost overwhelmed me.

 There were already 2 people on the viewing platform but I still got a prime spot. The Royal Penguin is the largest of the crested penguins. They have bright yellow feathers sticking out of their head and a red eye and thick red bill.

The colony contained adults and chicks of various ages. Some of the chicks had yet to molt all their fluffy brown down.

There was a lot of squabbling and pecking going on. If a chick strayed from it's parent, he would get pecked by the other adults. There was a lot of head waving going on. I'm not sure what it means. Other birds were preening themselves or a mate

while others fed their chick by regurgitating into the chick hungry bill. We watched and photographed the colony for about an hour. We returned to the beach and through the Royal Penguin Gauntlet to other end of the beach where there was a large King Penguin colony.

It was great seeing them again after visiting them 5 years on South Georgia Island. They are such curios birds, approaching closely and checking out the green rope on the ground, the boundary we could not pass. There were brown woollies or chicks in the colony. Alas, it was time to go.  It has been an incredible day experiencing the magic of Macquarie.
We hope all is well back home.
Peggy and Marc

1 comment:

Fred Jaquish said...

Great pictures...I could almost smell them...