Antarctica Adventure - 2002

The seals do not actually menace the birds, but they do take up more than their fair share of the extremely limited spots to roost. After climbing up the slippery, muddy, tussock lined streamlet, we reached the heights of the island and there were saw 9 nesting wandering albatross. They are magnificent birds, much larger than they look following the ship and riding the drafts caused by our wake. We were amazed by their 11-foot wingspan as we watched them perched atop their foot high nests of dried grasses, kelp and mosses. We looked into their lovely faces and knew why they captured the imagination of sailors and poets alike. No wonder the sailors wanted to believe that if they died at sea their souls would enter the bodies of the great bird and be borne to heaven. In a more earthly vein, however, we learned that they return to the same nest year after year with the same partners. Their sinuous and wonderfully varied “dances” bind the couples together for that first mating and then every time they return from the sea they repeat the steps to “identify” one another. We saw some of the “return greetings” going on as one bird would relieve the other on the nest. Klemens told us that the birds sit their eggs for two weeks and then frantically feed the chick for a month and then actually abandon it for the 5 months of winter. The bereft chick sits and waits for the parents to feed him for that long period: some parents never return to provision their chicks, some come back once or twice only during that long fast. So the chick waits—perhaps in vain for its parents but with surety and spring will come again. He/she exercises those enormous wings and then sets sail for the open ocean where it will remain for as much as seven years without ever touching land during that time. These youngsters are not taught how to fly, how to soar, how to feed, how to rest, how to find their way back to land when the time is right. Mother Nature is apparently their only true parent after one month of age. Wandering albatross, black-browed albatross and lightly mantled albatross all nest here in the environs of South Georgia. The “wandering” is the only species whose numbers are going down andmuch of the cause has been learned by the dedicated scientists and observers. We met two ladies who conduct counts yearly of the birds who return and then of their successful breeding. They live on a tiny yacht and, again, as is the Antarctic reality, they were well known to Dave and Klemens with whom we were hiking. They all fell into conversation as easily as they would if they had dinner together the night before.

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