Albatross Chicks and More

Nov 4

Our last day in South Georgia. In the morning we visited Prion Island to see Wandering Albatross chicks on the nest. When you think of chicks, you think of small, cute, cuddly things. In this case, the chicks are closer to the size of a turkey and are only a month or two away from flying. The Wandering Albatross, with its 11-12 ft wingspan, is the largest sea bird in the world. We are lucky enough to see two chicks and two adults up close this morning, and several others in the distance. It is rare to see adults as they spend most of time away gathering food, and only stop by for a few hours to feed their chick and then they are off again for a few days at sea.

It takes about a year to raise their single chick until it has lost its baby feathers and is ready to fly. At this point the parents simply don’t come back to the nest anymore, and junior has to figure out that the only way it is going to get any more food is to fly off and find some. The parents take a year off before returning to the same nesting site to start over again. These birds live at least 50 years — it really isn’t known what their maximum life span is.

Since Prion Island is rat-free, it is also home to the rare South Georgia Pipet, the only songbird to live in the Southern Ocean. There are quite a number out this morning singing and flitting around. It has been suggested that we go home and tell all our birder friends that we have seen this bird, just to make them jealous — now I just need to find a birder friend…

As we were returning back to the beach, Tyler was right behind our naturalist. All of a sudden one of the nasty fur seals (picture below) leaped at the naturalist with fangs bared ready for a fight. Rather than defending the guests, the naturalist dashed to the side leaving Tyler in the direct line of fire, but he immediately defended himself and saved all the others in the group. Well… that’s not exactly what happened. Tyler took a couple of steps backwards and slipped on a rock and fell on his butt…

In the afternoon we visited Elsehul Inlet, which was a great final spot. A beautiful bay surrounded by cliffs and small beaches, this area is home to quite a number of species. Three albatross: black-browed, grey-headed, and sooty light-mantled all nest here and fly gracefully around showing off their soaring skills. We also saw blue-eyed shags and three penguin species: king, gentoo, and macaroni. Then there are the elephant and fur seals hanging out of the beaches. We took a long ride on the zodiac watching the birds, seeing their nests, and watching the young seals play in the water and on the shore.

As has been true just about every day of this trip, the skies are clear, the ocean is calm, and the mountains are beautiful. No one on board has ever seen such great weather for a whole week in South Georgia. We have been very fortunate.

Now we begin our journey back to civilization. A couple of days at sea, a day in the Falklands, one more day to Ushuaia, and then the long flights due north to Raleigh.

This is our second visit to South Georgia, the first was in 2001. It is one of the most amazing places we have ever seen. It’s so rich in wildlife, snow-covered mountains and glaciers beyond compare, and few visible signs of human influence. It has been said that we should call our home Planet Ocean rather than Planet Earth, since from space you see a blue world, 70% water and 30% land. In South Georgia, you see an ecosystem where virtually all of the wildlife gets all its nutrition and spends almost all its time over or in the ocean, only coming to land produce offspring. As you cross the oceans to get here, you encounter an uncountable number of sea birds stretching from horizon to horizon, soaring over the waves searching for food. This place reminds our soul of the value of wild places and our duty to maintain them.

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