King Edward Point Diary – February 2014

18 February, 2014

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Following on from Daniel’s nature-based post I’m going to try and mix it up… though given the wildlife on South Georgia that’s not as easy as it might sound. Being one of the boatmen I get out and about quite a lot so hopefully introduce you (regular readers) to some new parts of the island.

From what I gather from people who have spent several summers here we have had quite a poor one, weather wise. February turned out to be a good month and heralded the unofficial start to summer.

A fur seal pup having a nap in Grytviken whaling station. He must have seen tourists, almost daily, around the station as he spent the ten min before this having a good sniff of my lens and hands.

Dickie changing the lens on his camera. Wildlife photography in South Georgia doesn’t always require a telephoto (long) lens, as the wildlife is more inquisitive than afraid! Great hat Dickie!

An adult male fur seal just beneath the surface next to the wharf.

A young Tern feeding just off the track to Grytviken. Not that I’m an expert but the odd white feather amongst it’s black ‘hat’ is a give away to it’s age.

Coming in to land

Nearly there… I had to take about 100 photos to get half a dozen good ones. They are fast and even a fast shutter speed isn’t always enough to get a sharp edge on their wings.

Some visiting scientists from the Australian Antarctic Division getting a tour of Moraine Fjord after spending the day on the Greene Peninsula. All that good weather I was talking about meant the glaciers had been very active and had left a lot of ‘brash’ ice at head of the fjord – snail’s pace is best in such conditions.

One of the Jet boats crossing Cumberland Bay East on it’s way to pick up some holiday makers from Corral on the Barff Peninsula.

One of the last cruise ships of the summer ‘Akademik Vavilov’ in King Edward Cove after spending the afternoon visiting Shackelton’s grave and the whaling station. We decided to have a BBQ that night to celebrate the end of the Reindeer eradication project. A friend/colleague from my days in Hong Kong was on board working as a sea kayak guide (yes, small world!) and managed to get a couple of hours off, before they departed, and join us for a reindeer burger.

James and I managed to get a few days holiday on the Barff Peninsula in the middle of the month. As it turns out, it was by far the best week of weather we had all summer! Apparently base recorded temperatures of 19 degrees while we were away. James and I set of with the intention of getting up some mountains and finding half a million penguins. James coming off ‘Ellerbeck’ peak with the Nordenskjold Glacier and Allerdyce Mountains behind.

Not far from Sorling hut there is fairly well hidden stream with a lovely warm pool that’s just perfect for a bath at the end of a hard day in the mountains. It’s heated from magma that gets unusually close to the earths surface though a ‘breach’ (essentially a pocket) in the tectonic plate. ‘Tectonic Breaches’ are a rare and brief occurrence, some even doubt their existence, but have been known to produce ‘Kaiju’ when the breach reaches the surface…Ah who am I kidding, the water is bloody cold but that story might trick me into thinking it’s a couple of degrees warmer next time.

After walking 16K from Sorling we arrived at St Andrews bay. Having quickly put our kit in the hut we grabbed the wellies and crossed the river to have a look at the king penguin colony.

Good weather = a lot of melt water from the glaciers = more water in the rivers = flooded wellies.

I’d been here before in 2009 when I worked on a cruise ship as a boat driver. It’s still just as impressive! What the photo doesn’t give away is the noise and the smell! The hut, where we camped, is only a couple of hundred meters away from the center of the colony, luckily the noise drops at night…the smell stays.

Our last night at Sorling before heading back. The weather was due to change so we cut our trip short by a day to make sure we could be picked up.

Sure enough it was a little grey the next day, but calm enough for quick look at the front of the Nordenskjold Glacier before heading back to base.

Returning to base in the boats we noticed something in the water following the RIB, I was fairly sure it wasn’t an Elephant seal as I’d seen another type follow my boat when I worked on the ship years ago. Sure enough it was a Leopard Seal, the first one of the year.

It had a good look and the RIB and then turned it’s attention to the Jet boat. It seemed more interested than hungry/looking for food – not that I was going to try to stroke it.

The end of the month saw both Jet boats out for servicing etc. You can see the weather has turned again! The hull needs to be jet-washed once it’s out the water to remove any growth that’s developed while it’s been in the water. On a nice sunny day it’s quite a nice job… on a miserable day the one hour job might as well take all day.

With winter approaching and the nights closing in it meant that the stars were becoming more and more impressive. This is one shot from a time-lapse I took near Hope Point. The three crosses are from the military days at KEP. I had intended to go all the way to Shacks cross and take it from there but there are lots of fur seals up there, who are just as aggressive at night it seems and a lack of night vision goggles on base meant this was the better option.

Matthew Phillips,
Boating officer.

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