I am a native in this world And think in it as a native thinks

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Ice in the sunlight

We did see the sun, but not often, and in the changeable polar climate, never for very long. But it's interesting that icebergs are much more beautiful when the sky is overcast -- that's when they seem to glow from within, and you get those amazing blues.

In the sun, all of the ice is mostly white, with a blue cast. (Picture taken near the Lemaire Channel.)

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Astronomy Tuesday

I feel like some color, and we haven't had a galaxy in a while. So here is NGC 6946, also known as the Fireworks Galaxy.

Composite Image Data - Subaru Telescope (NAOJ) and Robert Gendler; Processing - Robert Gendler

A few more Petermann Gentoos

Having an opportunity to see these wonderful creatures going about their penguiny lives was definitely worth a little poop on my pants.

Monday, February 26, 2018


A better look at some of the Adelie penguins still stubbornly sticking it out on Petermann Island. Those white eye rings make them look endearingly astonished by all the goings on around them.

Welcome to the working week

An adult and a juvenile Gentoo trudging -- there's no other verb for it -- along on Petermann Island. I wish I'd managed to get them more in the frame, but I love this picture anyway.

This was the day we had the option of camping out on shore overnight, which I had always expected to do. But after spending an afternoon chasing after penguins in the blowing snow on Petermann, I really wanted a good night's sleep in my warm berth more than I wanted to be able to say I'd camped out in Antarctica.

Plus I slipped in the snow on the way back to the zodiac and had to spend half an hour trying to scrub penguin poop off my waterproofs. That's enough adventure for anyone.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Bonus penguin blogging

Penguins -- they're just like us!

One minute everyone is getting along fine, just chillin', and then Mom and Dad start squawking and the kids try to pretend they've never seen these birds before.

(That black fuzzball behind the Gentoos is a juvenile Adelie. This was on Petermann Island, where the Gentoos have largely displaced the Adelies.)

Sunday bird blogging

Two skuas in a tug of war on Petermann Island.

Better not to think too much or look to closely at the morsel they're fighting over.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Saturday reflections

Another Chilean interlude: looking through the window into the bar at La Chascona, Pablo Neruda's house in Santiago, on a sunny summer afternoon.

If you're homesick for Kyiv, it's thataway

Signposts to home, for the staff and the visitors.

The southernmost souvenir shop on the Earth

The snow-covered ramps and stairs in the previous posts will explain why I spent my money in the souvenir shop rather than in the bar -- getting back to the zodiacs was a little like doing a giant slalom without wearing skis.

More buildings at Vernadsky

The tiny building on the top left is the chapel.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Always look on the bright side of life

You have to love the sunny optimism of that sign.

Vernadsky Station

These are some of my favorite pictures -- the combination of manmade structures with snow and penguins adds some variety to the endless parade of icebergs, beautiful as they are.

This was originally another British base (F, at first, and then Faraday after the scientist.) Antarctic environmental regulations are much stricter than they used to be and abandoning bases once you don't want them anymore is no longer allowed, so instead of tearing the base down and removing every piece, it was sold to Ukraine for one British pound.

In addition to their scientific research, the Ukrainians welcome tourists. They have a thriving business stamping passports, mailing postcards, selling souvenirs, and making their own vodka, which you can sample at the southernmost bar in the world.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018


Not Crystal Sound, but earlier that day, we spent time chasing a group of orcas. This isn't a great picture, but it's the best one I got.

More Crystal Sound critters

These are Weddell seals. I love that face!

Crystal Sound critters

My ability to distinguish one species of seal from another is still pretty rudimentary, but I'm confident that these are crabeaters. I do know that Weddell seals and leopard seals have spots (and leopard seals have a weird upturned smiling mouth -- like crocodiles, and just as inappropriate) and crabeaters tend to be pale.

But crabeaters are also by far the most abundant seal species in the Antarctic, and since they love to lounge around on icebergs and floes, they're easy to spot. If you see them up close, most crabeaters that have survived to adulthood also have visible scars from leopard seal attacks when they were pups.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Astronomy Tuesday

Cassini, of course. The probe took this picture of Saturn's moon Enceladus backlit by the sun in 2009. The tiny moon underneath and to the right is Pandora.

Image Credit: Cassini Imaging Team, SSI, JPL, ESA, NASA

Welcome to the working week

Counting penguins on Detaille Island.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Crystal Sound panorama


The mountains around Crystal Sound are covered in snow, and so are many of the icebergs floating through the water.

And there were icicles like these decorating much of the ice.

Crystal Sound

The water north of Detaille Island is also bleak and beautiful, full of ice and birds and seals.

I keep calling it otherworldly, but the wonderful thing is that it isn't. This is our world, our planet. How lucky are we?


More of the Adelies on Detaille Island.

We saw many more Gentoo than Adelie or chinstrap penguins on this trip. Part of that is just luck, but part of it is due to global warming.

Adelies prefer colder weather. On Petermann Island, the penguin colonies used to be almost all Adelie; now in the space of only a few years, they're almost all Gentoo.

Life below the Circle

One more view looking out from Detaille Island.

The story of Steve

During the evacuation in 1959, as the sled dogs were being loaded onto the relief ship, one of them, Steve, got loose and ran back towards Detaille Island. They were running out of time to be able to get out through the ice so they had no choice but to let him go.

Maybe Steve was worried there would be insufficient oatmeal and mayonnaise on board the Biscoe, or maybe he didn't want to leave Joan Collins behind. He apparently got tired of being on his own, though, because three months later he turned up, alive and healthy, at a base on Horseshoe Island, 100 kilometers to the south of Detaille.

(You can see our ship hiding among the icebergs to the right in this picture.)

Food. Sort of.

In case you weren't already full of admiration and sympathy for the men who stuck it out for months at a time here, the pantries seemed to consist mostly of oatmeal and mayonnaise (and that 60 year old mayonnaise must be practically a biological weapon by now.)

These two shelves are like the Greatest Hits of British mid-century cuisine -- coffee, tea, brown sauce, Horlicks (the English version of Ovaltine), custard powder, and piccalilli. Plus canned cheese, which I never saw before and hope never to see again.

Dreaming of Joan Collins

I hope that smoldering photo of Joan Collins on the cover of the Sunday magazine gave the men sweet dreams.

Sunday, February 18, 2018


There were bookshelves, piles of magazines, and a hand-drawn scrabble board. The books seemed like a random selection from a small-town library sale, with a suspiciously high percentage of titles that sounded like romances.

The cans on the shelf next to the books are Gold Flake tobacco, along with matches and rolling papers.

View from the hut

The view looking out through one of the windows in the main hut on Detaille Island. Beautiful, but bleak.

What they left behind

Detaille Island

The British established Base W on Detaille Island in 1956, intending to use it to launch dog-sledding expeditions across the ice to the Antarctic Peninsula, and conduct geologic and meteorologic research.

The problem was the ice. It wasn't stable enough to allow the planned crossings to the Peninsula, but there was too much of it to allow the station to be maintained. In early 1959, ice prevented the relief ship from getting closer than 50 kilometers away, despite the assistance of two icebreakers. So the station had to be abandoned, with the men leaving behind almost everything and using dogsleds to reach the ship.

They left in a hurry and everything has remained mostly untouched -- cans of food rusting on the shelves, magazines scattered over a table, long johns hung up to dry. It's eerie.

Sunday bird blogging

A few of the Adelie penguins who live on Detaille Island.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Saturday reflections

Here's a change of mood, and country: reflections in the Pre-Columbian Art Museum in Santiago.

Friday, February 16, 2018

The non-persistence of memory

I have many, many more pictures of snowy mountains and penguins and icebergs to review and eventually share. (The Cuverville Island pictures are from January 24th; we flew back to Chile on the 31st.)

On the 25th we crossed the Antarctic Circle, and had champagne on deck to celebrate. That afternoon, we landed at Detaille Island, which is seldom possible on this itinerary and which we were really lucky to be able to visit. (One of the expedition crew said that in ten years of coming to Antarctica, he'd gone ashore there three times.) I was looking for the pictures I took of the abandoned British station there when I came across this picture, which I must have taken not far below the circle -- somewhere after the champagne but before Detaille Island.

That's a pretty spectacular iceberg. And I had no memory of having seen it before finding this picture. Admittedly, I saw a lot of icebergs on this trip, hundreds of them, but still.

I think it shows just how extraordinary this trip was, the state of constant amazement I was in, that this iceberg didn't even register as something out of the ordinary.

A change in the weather is known to be extreme

If the weather in Antarctica was often more mild than you would expect -- I frequently went out on the ship's deck in just a fleece sweater and was perfectly comfortable -- it also could and did change in a matter of minutes.

On Cuverville Island, we had the option of going for a zodiac ride to look at the icebergs in the bay before heading back to the ship. While I was waiting for the next boat, I noticed that the wind had picked up and it was starting to snow. By the time the zodiac arrived, the scenic cruises were cancelled and we were all being taken back to the ship, where the now giant waves made getting out of the zodiac and onto the walkway steps even more challenging than usual. And just twenty minutes earlier it had been calm enough to make going for a ride on the water sound like fun.


The beach at Cuverville Island was littered with whale bones. Here's a Gentoo with two enormous vertebrae.

Penguin highway

These furrows in the snow are penguin highways. It's easier for humans to walk if the snow is packed down, and that's apparently true for penguins as well. We were told not to get between any animal and the water, and not to stand on penguin highways. If the penguin gets distressed because you're in his way, and he has to go around you, he's going to burn unnecessary calories when he may really need to get into the water and grab something to eat.

On Cuverville Island, the path to the colony we could observe was through the snow, and by the time I walked back, all of the human traffic going back and forth had created a nice firm path. Which was now full of penguins, who saw no reason not to use the new highway just because it had been created by the funny tall creatures in the red jackets.

I'm just resting

See previous post re: captions.

If penguins sometimes look a little silly to human eyes when they're vertical, they're a laugh riot when they're horizontal.

That's only when they're on land of course. In the water they're balletic, fast and graceful and occasionally arcing out of the water like dolphins.

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