Saturday, January 6, 2007

For a Few Penguins More!

Returning from our field trip on the 3rd we learnt about an additional delay in our team’s flight from Christchurch – they wouldn’t be flying until this evening. Also, Jan 5th brought more stormy weather. Liz and I had initially planned on making another trip early yesterday morning. We reported as usual at Helo Ops and discussed the situation with Gifford and Marko, who would be the pilot for our trip. Marko wasn’t certain that he would be able to land in case of turbulence in the valleys and even if did, whether he would be able to get us later in the day was another uncertainty. We chose to cancel. Wisely so; as in a couple of hours the wind picked up to blowing in gusts over 50 miles per hour and carried the snow from the ice into town. It covered the sea-ice in a fog-like blanket of blowing snow probably few tens of feet tall! From town, I could look over Hut Point and barely see the Oden, which was now just a couple of miles out in the ice.

Jan 5th; the Oden is almost hidden in the blanket of blowing snow off Hut Point ridge.

Jan 6th; a few brave folks venture out in the winds at Hut Point to get a closer look at the Oden.

Today, Jan 6th, continued to be windy and overcast, although much less than yesterday and the flight arrival from Christchurch was delayed till late in the evening; but it wasn’t canceled! Finally, they were on their way to McMurdo. The Oden had moved in all the way to McMurdo and was moving back and forth keeping it from refreezing.

After lunch, I was headed back to the Crary lab, when I noticed a large number of black dots far out on the ice. I could bet they were penguins and they were moving away from town. I hurried into the lab and went up to the library from where, looking through the spotting scope I saw about twenty Adélie Penguins actually following the trail marked by flags on the ice leading away from town! Then miraculously, I spotted another smaller group of penguins right at the edge of the ice coming ashore just behind the Helo pads!

I couldn’t wait! I grabbed my cameras and rushed out towards the ice, where a few other lucky folks sat relaxing on the ground while six Adélies walked right up to them and started exploring the ground a few feet in front of them. I joined the group and members of both the avian and mammalian groups made observations about the others activities. We watched the birds call out to each other, excavate some stones and groom themselves. The show lasted for almost an hour until finally the done of a returning helicopter sent the penguins scampering off to the ice around Ob Hill, where they found a good spot to settle down for a rest.

It was indeed an incredibly lucky event. I had never imagined getting so close to a penguin that I could almost reach out and touch it!

The Penguin Gallery!

The Adélie Geologists!

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