Let the Penguin Come to You

Chinstrap penguins at Half Moon Island. Photo by Stephen Porder.

Months ago, when I was Googling things like “Antarctica photography tips” and “how to photograph penguins,” I remember reading an interesting piece of advice: Let the penguin come to you. Penguins tend to be curious and unafraid, and sometimes if you sit still, one of them may come up close to you.

One of my colleagues on our just-completed Antarctic trip practiced a variant of that approach at Half Moon Island, and got some terrific images as a result. Stephen Porder was the lecturer accompanying the Brown University contingent (he’s a faculty member at Brown), and brought his 12-year-old daughter along on the trip. Toward the end of our visit to Half Moon Island—site of a large colony of chinstrap penguins—Stephen and his daughter decided to head down the hill from the penguin colony and just hang out for a while at the beach, where a few stray chinstraps were bathing. That’s where he got the photo of the chinstrap pair at the top of this page. Then he shot the sequence of six images below, showing a single chinstrap swimming in the shallow water, emerging from the water, and shaking itself off just a few feet away from him.

Really sweet images, and unlike any others I’ve seen from the trip. Nice work, Stephen. I’m jealous!

We Hit the Jackpot at Half Moon Island

The lousy weather of two days ago messed up our itinerary bigtime, but everything worked out great in the end. The original plan called for us to land at Whaler’s Bay on Deception Island on Friday morning, then head north to Half Moon Island to see the chinstrap penguins in the afternoon. From there we would head through the Antarctic Sound and visit a colony of Adélie penguins at Paulet Island on Saturday morning, in the afternoon visit Brown Bluff and make a true continental landing.

But the snowstorm and high winds on Friday stranded us at Deception Island for most of Friday. The captain had to cancel the Half Moon Island visit, and then had to cancel the Paulet Island visit, but we still held out hope we could at least visit Brown Bluff.

But then when we entered the Antarctic Sound yesterday morning (right around the time I was visiting the bridge), the winds kicked up ferociously. The expedition leader later showed us a visual of the Beaufort Scale and pointed to the worst possible category—hurricane force—and said that that’s what we experienced. Trees would have been flying, he said Read more

A Very Long Stay at Deception Island

We were told at the beginning of the Expedition to Antarctica that “flexibility” would be the word for the trip, and that’s proving to be especially true today. Our itinerary for today called for us to visit Deception Island in the morning, then sail about three hours north to Half Moon Island to see a colony of chinstrap penguins. (Most of what we’ve seen so far have been Gentoo penguins, which are definitely cute, but chinstrap penguins are flat-out adorable.) We accomplished the Deception Island part just fine, but that’s where things stalled out. A weather front came through with a lot more strength than expected, and we’ve been experiencing snow and strong winds—so strong that we’re stuck here until the storm passes.

At right is a shot (click on it to see it larger) of what the scene looked like out our dining-room window at lunchtime. The weather in Antarctica is so changeable. We’ve seen fog, rain, bitter cold, and bright sunny days where we were sweating like crazy in our ship-issued red parkas. But I think even the crew is surprised at today’s all-day snow in the middle of the Antarctic summer.

We did have a more or less successful landing at Deception Island this morning. The island is actually Read more

Antarctica Dreaming

I spent a little time yesterday looking in detail at where, exactly, in Antarctica we’ll be going. I looked at the itinerary and did a little Googling about each of the places we’ll visit. Then this morning I got out the Antarctic Explorer map that our editorial assistant at the magazine, Barb Fries, got me for Christmas and tried to plot our path. I’ve got it all figured out! So much so that I’m sure the captain won’t mind letting me steer the ship.

We really don’t go deep into Antarctica—we spend all of our time around the Antarctic Peninsula, a tendril-like slice of land and islands that extends about 800 miles north from the continent. Most of our stops are on islands; only once, I think, do we actually set foot on the mainland.

Below is a section of my Antarctic Explorer map that zooms in on our first few stops (I’ve underlined them in red):

At Port Lockroy, our first stop, we should be able to see the skeleton of a blue whale, as well as Gentoo penguins and blue-eyed shags (the latter being a bird I took for granted on my last trip, but do a Google Images search and you’ll see just how beautiful they are). I think this is also where Read more