As the first group arrived at the base jetty we were greeted by the base inhabitants and a small number of birds and seals. In summer this beach would be crammed with seals. However most of them had left for sea again. Nevertheless grim reminders of the struggle for life caused by a bad krill year could still be found on the beach. The reason that these cadavers are not removed is because they are part of this protected ecosystem and form a food resource for birds like skuas and giant petrels.
The first job was getting of all the frozen goods we had brought with us, followed by José’s gear and the fresh batteries. As some people started helping stocking all the frozen goods, other commenced changing the emergency batteries. Other started getting rolling and dragging al the waste drums to end of the jetty. As a mater of fact the work went so well that we had time for a short walk away from the base. José who has already wintered on the island was our guide.
First we went to the next bay where the gentoo penguins can be found. After that we started to make our way uphill towards Wanderer ridge. As we went up we had to navigate through the tussock grass which is quite an intensive exercise. While the centers of these lumps of tussock grass are quite firm, in between there are cracks filled with mud (some would say seals shit), making the hilly terrain ideal for ankle injuries and very smelly dirty pants and shoes. (didn’t get the first the latter on the other hand…) Additionally you always have to keep an eye out for animals such as fur seals that could be hiding in this high grass. Since fur seals are territorial animals and have a nasty bite, you always have to take care with them and understanding their behavior is vital. They are by nature curious animals and will be keen on checking out any strange intruders. Often they’ll bark at you and hop-bounce towards you.
Despite the way this looks his is not an act of aggression but rather: “Hi who are you? Wanna play?”. It is only when they start making more of a hissing sound that one should worry. Luckily, clapping your hands while moving slowly away from the animal generally does wonders. Of course you have to take care you’re not retreating towards another fur seal.
As we made our way up to the ridge we finally say the namesake of this ridge: the Wandering albatross. With a wingspan between 251–350 cm these magnificent animals have the largest wingspan of all flying birds. When at sea the size of these animals is often not evident, but one the land you only realize it to well. Their footprint is almost the size of that of an adult man (well in this case me). Slowly and carefully we made our way through the colony not to disturb any of the nests. On top of the ridge there was an unexpected sighting as well: a flock of cattle egrets. Obviously these had made it to land. I wonder if they would manage to find the right food around here. Then it was time to head back to the base, get a lunch and then back to the ship. Or would there be other things awaiting us?