Day 3: Landfall Antarctica: Lots of Ice and Penguins

On Day 3 of our trip, we approached the Aitcho Islands archipelago, which is located in the northern part of the English Strait near the South Shetlands. We landed on Barrientos Island for our first visit with penguins! Here are 20 photos that capture the major highlights of the day.

1. First sight of the Antarctic Peninsula which is actually a series of islands that jut up and outwards from the continent itself as if aimed at South America. The area at which we arrived is known as the South Shetland Islands and is a popular stop for Antarctica tourists traveling from South America.
2. My mother Maureen and I sitting on the Bridge of the ship and enjoying the sunny weather. The Bridge is where the Captain and his Officers navigate the ship. On this journey, the Bridge has been open 24/7 to all passengers who would like to learn more about the ship.

 

3. A pair of Kelp Gulls in flight over the Bridge. The Kelp Gull is the only seagull found in Antarctica.
4. Fellow expedition members on Barrientos Island visiting the penguin colonies.
5. Arriving at Barrientos Island on an inflatable boat known as a Zodiac. The boats have about six different inflatable components, so that if one or two (or even three) are punctured, the boat will still float and function.
6. Mating season has is just finishing up. Here, two Gentoo penguins are in their nests, sitting on top of their eggs to keep them warm from the still relatively cold Antarctic summer.
7. Our ship, the National Geographic Explorer, anchored off of Barrientos Island. Fellow expedition members are walking around seeing their first penguins of the trip. That is a Gentoo colony in the foreground.
8. Two Chinstrap penguins ambling around. The one on the left has red stains on its belly. It looks like blood but in fact its guano (penguin shit) which it picked up from surfing the snow. (I also picked some up on my snow trousers as I was lying on the ground taking photos.) The colour of their droppings depends on what they have been eating. Since this guano is red, we know that these penguins have been eating krill. Penguins also eat shrimp (in which case their guano would be white/yellowish).
9. A Chinstrap penguin intent on the road ahead.
10. Two Gentoo penguins tending to their eggs. The ground around them has a reddish tone because it is covered in guano. It is unusual to have two penguin species co-habitating in an area as they were on Barrientos Island. Gentoos have a less aggressive nature than the Chinstraps, a very different call and the Chinstraps have the distinctive black line on their face.
11. A popular pastime among penguins is stealing stones from other penguins to fortify their nests. Here, the challenger on the left creates a distraction in order to allow his co-conspirator to steal one. Smart!
12. A Gentoo ambling along in a familiar pose: wings spread back, head forward.
13. A Gentoo penguin earning an honest living from the rocks on the beach.
14. Two Chinstraps fresh from a swim in the ocean.
15. A Chinstrap scratching its head. The underside of its wings is a reddish colour – penguins apparently have a mechanism that allows them to cool off in hot weather by sending increased blood to their wings where they can air out (sort of like our sweating).
16. A Chinstrap having fun in the water!
17. A Gentoo taking a nap, cooling off by exposing as much of his body to the snow as possible.
18. A penguin egg that was stolen and eaten by a Chilean skua (a type of bird).
19. The first iceberg sighted during the trip. A prize was offered to the first passenger who saw one. The winner was a 10-year old boy who was given a free t-shirt. :)
20. View of the bow of the ship heading out of Lindblad Cove through a field of berger-bits and growlers (icebergs smaller than 25m and icebergs smaller than 5m, respectively).

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