Monday, December 07, 2009

Albatross, Rock Hoppers, Changeable weather. Saturday, December 5

This morning we’re at Steeple Jason Island. It is one of the chain of Jason chain of islands stretching 40 miles northeast of the main Falkland Islands. It is owned by a nonprofit that is starting to restore it. It is usually not included in cruises--even by Lindblad because of the difficult landing conditions. However, today the wind is right for a reasonable landing. We hike about two kilometers up a ridge. When we get over the ridge, we are treated to the world’s largest black-browed albatross colony, containing about 157,000 breading pairs (over 300,000 birds). The colony is over three miles long along the rocky beach. The number in the air is amazing. A few of us make our way through the tussuc grass mounds down to the edge of the colony. We end up right under the flight path of the albatross.

Nesting among the albatross are rock-hopper penguins. These are the smallest of the penguins we’ve seen. The lichens are amazing--orange, brown, red, green. Some really cool green lichen that forms ribbons.

At lunch we are at the same table as Melissa--one of the people from Oceanities. Her real job is working for Rathyon’s Antarctic Services division. They have the contract with the National Science Foundation to provide all the logistical support and manage the three US research stations on Antarctica as well as the two research ships. Melissa’s job there is project manager for research projects that work away from the three bases in tent camps. She takes vacation and leave to work with Oceanities in Antarctica. She gave us a feeling for the complexity of getting materials to the Antarctic bases for research.

That afternoon we land at Saunder’s Island. Landing was easy but as we walk toward the rock-hopper colony the wind picks up. Sand is blowing across the beach. I’d guess it was about 40 miles per hour. Then it gets cloudy and we’re in a driving sleet. The sleet lasts only about 10 minutes and the sun comes out. Wind is still strong but the sleet at least stopped the sand from blowing. Just another case of the weather changing very quickly and very often in the Falklands.

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