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.
March 2, 2011