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08
Sep
0

Wrangel Island

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Polar Bear

I am writing this blog from Wrangel Island, Russia, as my third visit unfolds.  Wrangel Island is a Russian national protected area and for this reason there is a large density of polar wildlife.  It is difficult to get to because in the past wide fields of sea ice and fierce weather usually surrounded it.  I have been on Wrangel Island on two previous expeditions to the northern Siberian coast but the ice was often nearly impenetrable making it dangerous to land.  The Island has a detachment of Park Service Guardians, Rangers, who have 1 high-wheeled rough terrain vehicle and a number of ATV’s.  One can only travel on the Island in the company of a Ranger who is familiar with survival and the wildlife on the island.  They will only take five people with them to the interior where you are invited to sleep in one of the huts strategically placed around the island.

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09
Jul
0

Steeple Jason Island

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1._Portrait.jpg

My introduction to the family of Albatross was while visiting the Sub-Antarctica Islands south of New Zealand, South Georgia Island and the Falkland Islands.  Among the nesting locations of Albatross Steeple Jason Island was mentioned as where the largest colony of Black-browed Albatross, about 70% of the population, nested.  We often encountered Black-browed Albatross when in the Southern Atlantic into the Southern Ocean.  Watching any airborne Albatross became for me one of the main joyful poems on the many expeditions getting to “somewhere” from “where we started.”  The Black-browed Albatross became one of the easiest for me to identify identify under all weather and sea conditions.  There are 21 other species of Albatross and I found it difficult to become as comfortable in identification with many of the rare ones as I have become with the Black-browed Albatross. 

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14
Apr
0

Harp Seals

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Harp Seals: Iles de la Madeleine, Quebec, Canada

At the beginning of March 2014, I was invited to accompany another nature photographer to take images of the annual birthing of Harp Seals on the sea ice. I met him on Iles de la Madeleine in northeastern Canada in the Gulf of St Lawrence. Locating the Harp Seals and their pups required a helicopter to take us wherever the sea ice drifted from day to day. The first helicopter in the morning could search an hour or more out at sea before sighting a group of seals that the helicopter could land near. When making our arrangements for this expedition we decided it best to reserve rooms in the hotel that was connected with the helicopter company and provided an experienced expedition guide. It was a good thing we did this because when we arrived the snow was several feet deep and almost nothing was open for the winter. 

I was as cold as I had ever been anywhere including Antarctica. The helicopter company provided a beautiful yellow “mustang” survival suit. The suit helped to keep me “almost warm” in the -38 degree weather that did not include the wind chill factor. Thank goodness I was wearing some of my Antarctica gear under my suit!

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12
Jan
0

Fiordland Penguins

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Fiordland Penguins

For several years I have been searching for Fiordland Penguins (called "Tawaki" in Maori and by some New Zealanders).  I had been along the southern coast of the South Island and Stewart Island, New Zealand, where it was reported some small groups of Fiordland Penguins could be found.  I found Little Penguins but never Fiordland Penguins. Fiordland Penguins are some of the rarest of the penguins and generally restricted to the wet, mountain forests of southwestern South Island, New Zealand.  They are not found in rookeries but more like colonies.  They prefer to build a solitary nest in the forest, under roots, fallen trees or branches and live in pairs.  They are reputed to be shy, secretive and difficult to find in the forest.  However they do depend on the Tasman Sea for their food and I had been told could best be observed in their treks from the forest edge crossing the narrow beaches of their territory to the sea.  In researching the most likely way to successfully observe Fiordland Penguins I was presented with persons, Anne Saunders and Dr. Gerry McSweeney, a place, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. , and a time of year, August to December...no guarantees, but most highly recommended.  It actually turned out to be a resounding success.

 

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09
Jul
0

Revisiting the Ross Sea

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Revisiting the Ross Sea

The late season voyage (February thru March 2013) of the Ortelius, with Oceanwide Expeditions, from Bluff, New Zealand to Ushuaia, Argentina, following the west coast JJ w Heliof Antarctica from Cape Adare to the Antarctica Peninsula was not only a first for the operators and me, but I believe for almost all of the passengers who were fortunate to be on board. We found ourselves unable to land as often as we would have liked because the ice and weather conditions had become more difficult with dropping temperatures and increasing wind velocity. Sign 2Grease Ice (Grease ice: when ice crystals have coagulated to form a “soupy” layer on the surface. Grease ice reflects little light giving the sea a matt appearance. See image), Pancake ice and eventually Sea Ice was nearly everywhere on the entire journey. In most respects the ice determined our course and in many places prevented safe landings. Sometimes the accumulating ice created a nearly impassable barrier and a noisy cacophony as it banged and scraped along the ice-hardened hull at normal speeds. The noise produced impressions of the difficulties faced and written about by the early explorers, but especially Shackleton when the Endurance fought its way north only to be caught fast and crushed by the developing winter ice. For me Antarctica has almost always been on its best weather behavior. Grease IceThere has been extreme cold for a day or two, or high winds, even catabatic winds, for short periods of time. We did land several times by zodiac, Cape Hallet, Discovery Hut and Shackleton’ Hut to name a few locations. Fortunately we were able to reconnoiter by helicopter and land at places like the Taylor Dry Valley and Peter 1st Island. At several places the Captain became concerned about the developing ice conditions and we would head out of the pancake ice for more open sea. He was being cautious, but reasonably so because no one in their right mind would want to become locked into the ice at these late dates. Antarctica can expand from a summer 4,000,000 square kilometers of ice to 19,000,000 square kilometers during the winter. Freezing seawater can happen very quickly in the extremes of Antarctica temperatures. I feel as though this was one of the best-executed adventures for the prevailing conditions I have had in Antarctica.

 

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17
Dec
0

Russian Far East to the Arctic: Spoon-billed Sandpiper & Wrangle Island

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Russian Far East to the Arctic:  Spoon-billed Sandpiper & Wrangle Island

1 Stellar EagleThis summer I spent nearly six weeks on the Eastern Frontier of Russia along the Kamchatka Peninsula and the Siberian coast above the Arctic Circle.  This was my first expedition in these northern latitudes.  Initially I was there to search for the habitat of the very rare and endangered Spoon-billed Sandpiper for The Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT) of Slimbridge and the London Zoo under the auspices of Bird Life International and the Academy of Sciences, Russia.  My fellow searchers and I walked dawn to dusk on sections of the Kamchatka tundra that had been identified as potential habitat by satellite searches of the region. We walked in a line across the landscape over hills; through streams and around snow melt marshes for days without finding a single encouraging sign of the birds.  Later we did visit the one known nesting area near the village of Meinypil’gyno  (spelling) that serves the only few birds known in the region.  Even there I only glimpsed two of these three-inche tall birds on the fly from a distance.  Maybe I will be more successful next summer.  Getting to these sites requires a ship and lots of time to walk miles across the tundra.  There are no roads in the entire country except around the two towns that are separated by approximately 1,100 miles, as the Stellar Sea Eagle would fly, with some of the most rugged and beautiful landscape in the world.  Getting to and from the potential “Spoonie Sites” gave us great opportunities to see some of the other wildlife and habitats.  For example, I had my first encounters with colorful Puffins2 Nest building crested puffins along this coast.    

 

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02
Apr
0

Ross Sea (8) - Shackleton’s Hut, Cape Royds, Ross Island

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Shackleton’s Hut, Cape Royds, Ross Island

Image aAfter leaving Scott’s Cape Evans hut we set off for Shackleton’s hut built during his Nimrod Expedition, 1907-1909, at Cape Royds. This Cape Royds hut was built in 1908.  Shackleton and 9 of his men occupied the building for nearly a year.   Shackleton’s hut is about 23 miles north of Scott’s hut and both expedition leaders had agreed not to use each other’s equipment and supplies during their attempts to reach the South Pole.

 

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31
Dec
0

Ross Sea (7) - Scott’s Hut, Cape Evans, Ross Island

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Scott’s Hut, Cape Evans, Ross Island

image aRobert Falcon Scott’s Cape Evans Hut was full of “ghosts” and an emotional visit for me.  A number of the passengers had relatives that accompanied Scott on his expedition starting in 1910.  During our journey to Cape Evans they shared photos, diaries and stories from and about their relatives making this building a real place and not just another story.

 

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26
Oct
0

Ross Sea (6) - Great Ice Barrier

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Great Ice Barrier

image aThe Great Ice Barrier is the largest ice shelf on the planet and is about the size of France or Spain.  It is the convergence of several main glacial tongues coming off the Antarctic continental ice cap through the Trans Antarctic Mountains. In many places the continental ice cap that covers most of Antarctica is more than 2 miles thick.  Individual glacial tongues of this continental glacier flow through several mountain passes.  These tongues have created the Ross ice-shelf that is about 600 miles long and 400 miles wide at the face.  The face is the most obvious element of the Great Ice Barrier.  It is variously 40 to 50 feet vertically above the ocean surface across the entire 600 mile face.  In some measure the entire shelf floats on the ocean, but can be up to 1,250 feet thick under water.  This massive, ice-shelf structure is constantly pushing into the sea at the face.  Icebergs are always being calved the entire length of the Barrier. A few years ago the largest known calf broke off and was about the size of Rhode Island.  These calves may give no notice they are about to break off and hence it is extremely dangerous to get too close to the face of the barrier as millions of pounds of ice crash into the sea.  Only sea birds and penguins seem to prosper in the sea close to the barrier.

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08
Sep
0

Ross Sea (5) - Terra Nova Base

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Terra Nova Base

image aOn the second day out from Cape Adare no one was answering Rodney’s radio calls at the Italian Base, Terra Nova Bay, formerly called Zuchelli Station.  Rodney was not sure but thought the Italians were still in residence and decided to continue on to Inexpressible Island, one of the locations of Scott’s northern party.  The two days down from Cape Adare had been in smooth seas, no wind with the most panoramic, beautiful Admiralty Range topped out by Mount Melbourne, (2732 meters high) a massive volcano dominating the view.  The days had been clear and the sea alive with numerous minke whales but for me at too great a range to get good images of them.  We landed on the ice near the former Cape Hallet Base.  This was one of the first modern year around research stations jointly operated by the United States and New Zealand from 1956-1964 when a fire destroyed the main buildings in 1973.  From the pack ice we could see an enormous Adelie Penguin colony that has re-colonize where the base was. This Adelie Penguin colony had been removed in the 1950’s so as not to be trampled by the base personnel, buildings and landing strip.  The site of the base has been under clean up and removal from 1973 until the present.  The last year numbers are available from 2007 when an Antarctic Italian ship took away 20 tons of oil products, building refuse and miscellany.  It is a BIG DEAL in Antarctica that nothing is to be left behind by anyone, nor taken away for that matter as “collectibles.”

 

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07
Aug
0

Ross Sea (4) - Cape Adare

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Cape Adare

image aSitting here writing about “Cape Adare” I know that I want to return to the Ross Sea. The Ross Sea has recently been called the “last pristine Marine Ecosystem on Earth.”  See the two websites, “Penguin Science: Losing the…,” and “Last Ocean.”  Our arrival, 5 days at sea after leaving the wild waves around Macquarie, in the vicinity of Cape Adare was peaceful.  A day or two from the Cape we met our first ice that grew from growlers and bergy bits, to wider brash ice and numerous tabular icebergs.  For more than 24 hours the ship had to find safe channels through the vast amount of floating ice.  We awoke shortly after midnight in calm waters, overcast sky with the promise of an incredible first day on the continent of Antarctica, perhaps I should say Cape Adare since it is an appendage reaching out into the ocean that like a punctuation mark helps define the separation of the Ross Sea from the Greater Southern Ocean. 

 

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24
Jul
0

Ross Sea (3) - Auckland Islands, Carnley Harbour, to Macquarie Island

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Auckland Islands, Carnley Harbour, to Macquarie Island

3aThe next stop on the journey from New Zealand to Antarctica is a very short trip south of Enderby Island.  The Auckland Islands are the craters of 2 extinct volcanoes.  This largest of the Sub Antarctic Islands has an interesting human history full of shipwrecks and unsuccessful farming.  Many ships were wrecked on these islands. The causes of these wrecks were almost always weather related where the visibility can be nonexistent for weeks. The islands are surrounded by strong ocean currents which in a few heart beats could carry sailing ships crippled by the roaring weather onto the rocky shorelines, where they are to this day and none, as far as I know, recovered.3b

 

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07
Jun
0

Ross Sea (2) - Leaving Port Chalmers and Enderby Island

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Leaving Port Chalmers and Enderby Island

image aOne hundred years ago Admiral Robert Falcon Scott and his South Pole, Cape Evans, expeditionary team departed from Port Chalmers, near Dunedin, New Zealand, for his attempt to be the first person to the South Pole.  He was racing Roald Amundsen for the fame and honor that comes from being “First.”   Much more about Scott and his route as we spent the next 32 days following Scott’s route as far as the Ross Ice Shelf.

 

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16
Mar
0

Ross Sea (1) - Introduction

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Introduction

1aI have returned from the most arduous expedition to the Ross Sea, Antarctica.  This particular trip was specifically organized to honor Robert Falcon Scott’s attempt with his team to be the first to the South Pole 100 years ago.  It was a privilege to be traveling with a number of descendants whose relatives had been part of the original ill-fated Scott Expedition. Besides having the keys to Scott’s Cape Evans Hut and Shackleton’s Cape Royds Hut there were a number of environmental firsts for me.  For example our robust Russian ship had to land on the west side of Macquarie Island because the normal howling westerly winds completely changed direction and made the safe east side of the island impossible this year.

 

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29
Jun
0

Revisiting New Zealand (6) - Snares Island

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Snares Island

image aBetween Campbell Island and Snares we had a full day and a morning at sea.  Time at sea, as I have said, goes by quickly because there is so much to do.  There were final talks to attend, attempts to get the perfect images of the several different albatrosses soaring over the vessel, and of course, getting organized and partially packed, as immediately after Snares we would be back to Bluff and departure.  When the Southern Ocean is as it normally is, rough…it adds degrees of difficulty to every action like Olympic high diving.

 

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19
Jun
0

Revisiting New Zealand (5) - Campbell Island

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Campbell Island

image aThe winds were rising as we made our way back to the Spirit of Enderby; the zodiacs were loaded and lashed down.  We were directed to “secure” our cabins, hatches and portholes.  To those of us who had been through this drill before it was clear we were probably in for a difficult crossing to Campbell Island.  It was rough seas throughout the night, but I was tired and slept in short spells of two or three hours, then something would start moving around the cabin that needed to be repositioned.  On the bridge in the morning I discovered that we were making about 2 knots into the headwind when normal progress was usually at least 12.  The waves were cresting and crashing over the bow and sending cascades of spray back over the ship sometimes making it nearly impossible to see out of the bridge.  I do not come to the Southern Ocean to have a rough seas experience or to be tossed about like a leaf in a tornado, but if you have never had a truly turbulent and extended time on a harrowing ocean…I highly recommend it.  The events are much better than any rollercoaster can provide you.  The “Roaring Forties,” in this part of the world, and “Drake’s Lake,” between the tip of South America and Antarctica, are probably a “toss up” as to which might provide the best base experience to judge others by.

 

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03
Jun
0

Revisiting New Zealand (4) - Macquarie Island

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Macquarie Island

image a[NOTE:  Last year I described my first visit to the Sub Antarctic Islands, including Macquarie Island in “S.B. 2008-BLOGS 5-6” on this site.  In order not to subject readers to a rehash of information included in those BLOGS I invite you to go to them if you are interested in earlier outlined information about Macquarie.]

 

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05
May
0

Revisiting New Zealand (3) - Enderby Island

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Enderby Island

image aSix am and the ship was headed for Enderby Island.  The last time I had been to Enderby Island it was overcast with periodic drizzle turning to snow and sleet, so windy I was knocked down along with others, cold in the morning and throughout the day…I was only able to get a third of the way around the island.  I am sure that I comment on the conditions throughout the Southern Ocean all the time but I also emphasize that the weather should be of concern only for safety reasons.  I think these places are mostly dominated by what we would call “bad weather” but for these places it is the weather of the flora and fauna.  I have also developed Southern Oceanic “good weather” preferences, for example, I would rather have snow than horizontal rain…overcast and cold is better than fog…too warm and one sinks into seemingly safe places to step. Sunshine, no clouds and light breezes is something one would expect to find all the time in paradise but Southern Ocean paradise is rare and to be relished…such paradisiacal weather has produced most of my best photo images. 

 

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05
May
0

Revisiting New Zealand (2) - Hardwicke, Port Ross, Auckland Island

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Hardwicke, Port Ross, Auckland Island

After leaving Bluff on the Spirit of Enderby we set course for Snares Island but it soonimage a became apparent that the weather was not going to be cooperative and the Heritage leadership with the ship’s captain decided to bypass Snares Island and go straight to the Auckland Islands.  They announced the decision with the hope that on the return trip the weather would be more amenable to zodiac exploration around The Snares.

 

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19
Apr
0

Revisiting New Zealand (1) - Stewart Island & Ulva Island

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Stewart Island & Ulva Island

image aSeasons are reversed in the Southern Ocean and Antarctica.  Fall in the Northern Hemisphere is Spring in the Southern and the time to return to projects that are curtailed for the winter.  I would take any opportunity to travel to different sites in the winter but all forms of travel, except emergency military aircraft on life saving sorties, are halted.  There are perhaps 1,000 or 1,200 people sprinkled throughout my areas of interest that work and study through the winter in the Southern Ocean environs, the islands and Antarctica itself, with the largest concentration of about 150 people at McMurdo Station.  There are many other research stations but none as large as McMurdo.  Hence, I begin my image taking and location research trips in October and must finish them before March. 

 

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