This was our second millennium trip from late December 2000 through January 2001. Since there was debate about the actual millennium year (my opinion, watching all the digits turn is what matters), this was considered to be a millennium trip.
Anyway, into the more important points. We took a trip through Cheeseman’s Ecology Safaris, a small Mom and Pop, literally, travel specialist in California. Actually, Doug and Gail’s son Ted was also on the trip. The Cheesemans are wonderful people. Our only complaint, if it can be called a complaint, was that they were a bit too nice and too trusting. There were times when we would have liked to see them reign in some of the guests a bit more sternly.
The truly excellent things about the Cheeseman’s trip were that it was 100% wildlife focused, that it was significantly longer than other comparable trips, and that it was less expensive than most, especially when the per day rate is considered. Remember, if you are planning a trip to Antarctica, much of the best wildlife on the trip is in the Falklands and South Georgia. If your finances and schedule can possibly allow, definitely get to these places.
Also, when planning a trip there, it is very important to look at your schedule of days at sea. We compared at the time we went and found that the Falklands, S. Georgia, S. Orkney, and the Antarctic Peninsula take about 11 days at sea. So, if your trip is 19 days, you only have 8 days of landings. Our trip was 25 days, giving us 14 days of landings. Each day that you add to a trip like this is a land day rather than a sea day. At sea, you will see birds flying around the ship and whales, though mostly distant. An ice-strengthened ship weighs a lot and cannot turn on a dime to watch whales.
This photo was taken near the end of the trip at the southernmost point we reached, about 66 degrees 11 minutes south latitude. We did not cross the Antarctic Circle. Though the scan is not as good as the print from film, I should say that of all the photos on our walls, this is the one we blew up to the largest size, 16×24.
Click on the more link to see the rest of the images from the trip, or at least the small subset I scanned and uploaded.
Rockhopper Penguin with Chick in the Falklands on New Island.
Striated Caracara on Steeple Jason Island in the Falklands. These birds are highly intelligent, mischievous and serious predators preying on the penguins, albatross, and shags (a.k.a. cormorants), especially the chicks. A British couple was there to film them. They searched the island only to find them back at camp completely trashing their tents and all of their stuff. I let one get close while I was sitting on the ground. I was wearing my first pair of Chota Mukluks, which make great wet landing boots, and had to move a tad to scare the bird off. I was worried that that beak and strong talons might get through the rubber on my boot.
Also on Steeple Jason, we went to a colony of about a half million Black Browed Albatrosses. Here’s a photo of one coming in for a landing. Of cours, all of the other black and white blobs behind are more albatrosses.
Stanley Island has the bulk of the human population of the Falklands. I seem to remember the total being about 5,000 people. The people there are Brits and were not at all thrilled about the prospect of becoming Argentine. Britain fought to keep the islands. Among other things they did there, they planted land mines. They have since refused to remove these mines. IMHO, the purpose of land mines is to sit in the ground for 30 years and then blow kids legs off.
Salisbury Plain on South Georgia Island had another of our half million bird colonies. This time the birds were King Penguins. I hope you’ll excuse me if I’m a bit King Penguin centric here. They really are incredibly beautiful birds with adorable enormous chicks, called oakum boys, which I believe has something to do with their coloration. This is an oakum boy.
Here are a few king penguins. OK, more than a few. This is a partial view of the colony. In the background, the entire flat land mass is penguins.
Here’s a King Penguin head shot.
King Penguins come in a variety of colors. Some have backs a tad more silvery like this one. Some are more black. A small number are leukistic, which means tending towards white. These are lighter than the others, some being almost blond, but mostly being a medium brown. In fact, the leukistic penguins of any species are typically the mechanism by which colony size is estimated. Once the incidence of leukistic penguins is known, counting the leukistic ones can approximate the total size of the colony with fairly decent accuracy. (Note to self, scan a photo of a leukistic penguin since I bothered with this long explanation)
Here is a very different and much rarer color variation though. They call this penguin a dalmatian.
I’ve got the negative of the above photo, so please, no questions about photoshop.
On appropriately named Albatross Islet, we saw a colony of Wandering Albatrosses. These are tied with Royal Albatrosses for the longest wingspan of living birds at about 3.3 meters. Here is a male impressing two females with the length of his wings. They do seem duly appreciative.
Here’s a fur seal pup from the shore of the same island. Fur seals are actually sea lions or eared seals. True seals do not have any visible ears and cannot lift themselves off the ground to the same extent. Sea lions can actually pull their hind flippers underneath them and get quite high up on their flippers. Seals on land are much less agile.
This Elephant Seal is a true seal. I think if Rodin had been a seal, this would have been his Thinker. This was in Grytviken on South Georgia. There is a human couple living in a small sale boat there and caring for the museum. They are the total human population of South Georgia.
At Cooper Bay, still on South Georgia, we saw Macaroni Penguins like this one.
Sometimes, the camera catches things I never see. Since we were still using film at the time, I did not see this until I got home. Most of the time penguins feed their young, the chick will insert his/her head completely into the parent’s mouth and the parent will regurgitate to them. This time, the Chinstrap Penguin chick’s head was outside of the parent’s mouth and the regurgitated food shows. Note the pink color of krill. What’s up Chuck?
Here is an Adelie Penguin carrying a rock for nesting material on Paulette Island. Adelies will prostitute themselves for rocks, which are highly valued as nesting material since there is little else there. Note that sometimes the prostitute will simply take the rock and not provide the sex.
Contrary to popular belief, penguins can fly, sort of. This adelie is popping out of the water fast enough to be significantly airborne. It should also be noted that penguins swim using their flippers, which is very much like flying underwater. Most diving birds swim with their feet not their wings. Penguins and alcids use their wings underwater.
The cute wide smile on this Leopard Seal allows him/her to open his/her mouth very wide. Leopard seals grab penguins and shake them side to side until they literally come out of their skin. Then they eat the high fat skin. We were fortunate not to be among the two people on the trip who actually saw this happen.
I am posting the same photo twice here. Once for the head shot and once for just the eye. If you look closely at this leopard seal eye, you can see human shapes in a zodiak boat reflected. Again, I have the negative. This is not photoshop.
Here is a zoom of the eye from the photo above.
We saw many Gentoo Penguins along the trip. I saved this best photo for last since it actually is near the end of the trip. This was around 10 or so at night. The photo on the front page of the mountains was taken from the ship in this same location soon after this at around 10:30 PM.