Nov 24, 2017 - National Geographic Orion
Right after breakfast, we landed on tiny Cuverville Island, a very interesting, rocky island located between Ronge Island and the Arctowski Peninsula, also known as Graham Land. This is a very steep, round island composed of igneous rock that has a permanent snow cap on the top and on one side, and an impressive steep moss-covered flank on the other. Now, however, most of the island is covered with thick snow. Most of the areas of exposed rocks were already filled by breeding Gentoo penguins. Many other penguins were waiting for their nest sites to become exposed, so they also could start breeding. In spite of that, we witnessed lots of courtship displays and several matings out on snow banks and ice floes.
Cuverville is an important breeding site for about 5,000 pairs of Gentoo penguins, making it the largest breeding colony of Gentoo penguins on the peninsula. It is also used for breeding by Southern giant petrels, pintado petrels, snow petrels, Wilson’s storm-petrels, blue-eyed shags, sheathbills, brown and south polar skuas, kelp gulls, and Antarctic terns. On one exposed vertical jumble of rocks, we found several brown clumps of hair grass, one of only two species of vascular flowering plants found in Antarctica.
About 35 of us climbed very high up toward the top of the island over steep snow cover and were rewarded with stunning views of the Errera Channel and surrounding mountains. The bay near the landing contained many large, beautiful, grounded icebergs that created an amazing photographer’s paradise. Weddell seals were sighted lounging on a nearby islet and a leopard seal was observed hunting imperial cormorants (it was unsuccessful).
In the afternoon, we sailed farther into the Errera Channel, and stopped near Danco Island, which was named by Adrian Gerlache during the famous BELGICA expedition of 1897-1899. There once was a British Antarctic Survey hut located here, but it was abandoned long ago and has recently been removed from the island. The place has some nice examples of snow algae on the steep snow slope, and there are numerous species of birds to be seen as well (including more breeding Gentoo penguins). We did not land here but offered Zodiac cruises for everyone to enjoy the ice-choked waters. The weather was very cooperative all day with beautiful sunny conditions, no wind, and great reflections. And, we were all especially impressed with the blue colors found in some of the icebergs and bergy bits).
The day also inspired a haiku by our youngest guest, Autumn Boys, age 8: Gliding albatross / Soaring, wandering, floating / Always travelling.
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