The one about birds

I have a couple of knowledgeable bird-y friends  (Hello Seb! Jane M!*) who will attest that I do not know a crow from a chaffinch. But I think even they would be pleased with today’s tick.

We left Grytviken and KEP for the last time early this morning. Through the streaming mist we could see Zodiacs full of tourists from the second cruise ship of the season, already zipping across to pay their respects at the Boss’s grave. (Conjugate: I am a traveller, you are a tourist, he is a tripper).

We sailed about 20 miles to Prion Island, a bird sanctuary zealously kept rat-free to safeguard birds’ eggs and maintained by the SGSSI government. And here, after plodding through icy rain along a Galapagos-style boardwalk, we came right up against a wandering albatross chick perched on his nest. This 9-month old colossal infant, the size of a large swan, was on the point of fledging.  His throat and chest were downy with grey fluff like old man’s beard but his back and wings were in mature plumage. His long bill probed irritably into the itchy-looking down, coming up with a satisfying clump of the undesirable baby feathers. From time to time he paddled his feet in the nest and stretched his wings, lined with lacy white feathers like a pair of broken ceremonial parasols, into a crooked span of about six feet. He was clearly longing to get into the air. Once he does so he will not return to land for four years, to breed in his turn. Amazing.

The Albatross

The picture’s not going to win me Wildlife Photographer of the Year but it is my own.

In the course of our tour we have seen huge numbers of birds. I haven’t got my I-Spy Book of the Southern Ocean with me, but they include: penguins – gentoo, king and macaroni; blue-eyed and emperor shags; fairy prion; South Georgia pipit and pintail, which only exist here; light-mantled sooty, grey-headed and black-browed albatrosses, as well as the wanderer. Of the petrels, northern and southern giant, Wilson’s storm, snow, white chinned and cape; and then there are skua, sheathbill, kelp gull, Antarctic tern. This is only an ignoramus’s list, but it’s a satisfying one.

I think that all things considered, I’d better get into birdwatching rather than offshore sailing.

We pushed off in the dinghy from Prion Island beach, leaving behind the now-familiar audience of gentoos, skuas, fur seals and warring elephant seal bulls. It was our last landfall for a few days. We’re now moored in calm but cold and soaking weather at a place called Rosita Harbour. We’re stowing our mountaineering sharps in safe containers, securing our gear and preparing for tomorrow, when we shall head westwards again across the ocean to Stanley.

Follow our progress via the tracker function. There will be posts from various points.

* It was Jane to whom I ran, somewhere in northern Pakistan, to describe the wildly exotic bird I had just spotted. ‘Oh yes, she said kindly. ‘It’s always nice to see a hoopoe’.

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