Tony Beck - Photography, Nature and Birding Tours, Local Birding Excursions

On the Shores of South Georgia

King Penguins pair bonding

King Penguins pair bonding

Warm amber halos skirt the mountains to our east. Golden beams break through the peaks, cascading down to a dark gravel beach. Deep trails in the emerald moss carry troops of trumpeting King Penguins, waddling their way to the shore. Processions cautiously sidestep feisty Antarctic Fur Seal pups, aggressive and annoying obstacles blocking a clear path to the ocean. In the icy waters, waiting to come ashore, hundreds of penguins splash through the shallows, shiny and colourful as the sun enhances their contrasting orange, black, and silvery-blue plumage. Marauding Brown Skuas persistently circle overhead, quarrelsome and opportunistic, ready to scavenge any innocent casualty. The piercing aroma of ammonia cuts sharply through the morning mist – a stark reminder that you’re walking beside a colony of King Penguins, hundreds of thousands strong.
Such is the dawn on the Salisbury Plains of South Georgia.
This remote location in the Scotia Sea of the South Atlantic, north of the Weddell Sea and Antarctic Peninsula, is relatively untouched. It’s a sanctuary for an abundance of sea life, mainly penguins, albatross, petrels, Southern Elephant Seals and Antarctic Fur Seals. Recent estimates tell of 30 million individual birds breeding here.
For the photographer, it’s a gold mine, revealing dramatic and beautiful images around every corner.
For the birder, the island provides glimpses into the lives of rarely seen creatures, some breeding in enormous rookeries, plus two endemic species to the archipelago.
Most encouraging was to learn of conservation efforts. The South Georgia Heritage Trust is involved in a massive project to eradicate the invasive Brown Rat – stow-aways arriving here on old whaling ships. The rats have since dramatically reduced native bird species by ruthlessly preying on chicks and eggs.
The endemic South Georgia Pipit, a tiny streaked songbird that has vanished from most of it’s limited range, is expected to be one of the first indicators revealing the success of this project.
For more information about South Georgia, and conservation efforts, visit this site: http://www.sght.org/
The abundance of life, the rugged scenery, the unrelenting weather, the tenacity of fearless creatures, the warmth of courting birds, and the effortless grace of gliding albatross – South Georgia is a wilderness spectacle unparalleled in this world.

King Penguin rookery - Salisbury Plains

King Penguin rookery - Salisbury Plains

Antarctic Fir Seals - mother and pup bonding

Antarctic Fur Seals - mother and pup bonding

South Georgia Pipit

South Georgia Pipit

Subantarctic (Brown) Skua

Subantarctic (Brown) Skua

male Southern Elephant Seals in territorial dispute

male Southern Elephant Seals in territorial dispute

pair Light-mantled Sooty Albatross

pair Light-mantled Sooty Albatross

6 Comments so far

  1. On March 2, 2011 at 11:06 am

    Thanks for sharing these funtastic pix! Just gr8!
    The bonding penguins are my favourite :)

    kind regards

    Tom

  2. On March 2, 2011 at 5:27 pm

    Thanks for sharing Tony. Amazing photos! You certainly illustrate the essence of wherever you go.

  3. On March 4, 2011 at 11:04 am

    Hi Tony
    Your pictures are fantastic. I was planning a trip to Falkland isl and South Georgia, but I know now for sure I have to go there.
    I had an amazing trip to Antarctica, and next year hopefully too.
    Thanks for sharing your pictures and maybe I will see you next year somewhere there.
    Ingrid Kleve

  4. On March 4, 2011 at 12:59 pm

    Thanks Tom, Gord and Ingrid

    Like a press photographer, I try to capture the “essence” of my travels. But, the experience goes beyond my senses. Yes, I need to see what’s happening. But, I also tune into the rhythms, and feel what’s around. I like to sense what’s beautiful, dramatic, animated, and meaningful. If only I could place myself in the right place at the right time. And, if only I could control the sky…

    Ingrid
    You will love South Georgia. Next year, I plan to conduct photography workshops as a part of One Ocean Expeditions.
    Stay Tuned

  5. On November 13, 2012 at 7:16 am

    Tony, just noticed you work with One Ocean. We are going with them on the Vavilov, leaving Dec 28th. Can’t wait.

  6. On January 19, 2013 at 6:00 am

    We make a short hike to a bluff-top colony of Macaroni Penguins ( Eudyptes chrysolophus ). The birds are preening and resting, singly or in pairs. They are nestled in — what else? –waist-high tussac grass. I do not see any nests or chicks and suspect they are hidden by the snow and grass. We are on a shoulder of the island, looking down at the colony below. Beyond the penguins and grass is a rocky promontory covered with many more macaroni penguins that overlooks the sea. M/V Polar Star is anchored a ways out, and periodically a zodiac passes between the landing cove and the big boat. The inflatables sure look small in these conditions. This is a short visit since the weather continues to worsen, and I am thankful we came ashore when we did or we may have had no opportunity to visit here at all today. When I return to the beach to return my gear back into my dry bag, I find a fur seal pup lying atop it. The tiny furball, which looks like a sweet little stuffed animal, may grow into a big gnarly bull one day. Once back onboard, the staff decides to leave South Georgia. It is not clear that we will gain any additional time on the Antarctica Peninsula by leaving South Georgia early, but the weather is such that there is no point is staying the remainder of the day. So off we go, heading south for our long-awaited introduction to Antarctica.

6 Responses to “On the Shores of South Georgia”

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

By submitting a comment here you grant Tony Beck a perpetual license to reproduce your words and name/web site in attribution. Inappropriate comments will be removed at admin's discretion.

Please leave these two fields as-is: