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nature, Travel

Visiting South Georgia

In March 2020 I went for an expedition cruise on MS Fram, an explorer ship run by Hurtigruten. We visited the Antarctic Peninsula, South Georgia and the Falkland Islands.

This is the second of the accounts of that trip, showing the pristine nature of South Georgia.

We were two days at sea for the journey from Antarctica to South Georgia. During our time at sea we saw lots of birds including white-chinned petrel, diving petrel, prion, light-mantled sooty albatross and my favourite, the wandering albatross. We’ve also seen whales.

Wandering albatross
Wandering albatross

We had to clean our boots meticulously in preparation for South Georgia, picking out any stones and tiny bits of grit from the soles of our muck boots. They were inspected by the expedition team. We had to hoover out rucksacks and the velcro from our clothes – all to ensure we weren’t taking any foreign organic material onshore. My boots were rejected first time as I had several bits of grit left, and then again after I’d washed them as I’d left some penguin poo behind. Once boots and clothing were passed we had to sign that we had read and complied with the regulations for South Georgia. They were later inspected by officials from South Georgia before we were allowed on shore.

First sighting of South Georgia
First sighting of South Georgia

Eventually we arrived at South Georgia, coming from the south and seeing Cooper Island, then passing by the coast northwards to Grytviken, the capital of South Georgia and our first landing place.

Grytviken
Grytviken

As soon as we were in South Georgia waters there have been many more birds from albatrosses, to blue-eyed shag, to macaroni, king and gentoo penguins in the water. We also saw a whale diving close to the ship and lots of seals.

Penguins swimming
Penguins swimming

Outside the harbour at Grytviken was HMS Forth, an Offshore Patrol Vessel (OPV) of the Royal Navy.

HMS Forth
HMS Forth

There were lots of seals ashore at Grytviken among the ruins both on the grass and on the paths. They were mostly pups as the parents had gone fishing. Some of the pups came quite close to us and barked at us.

Seals among the remains of the whaling station
Seals among the remains of the whaling station

Grytviken is an old whaling station. Dotted around were the remains of the equipment they had used. There was also an excellent museum and a post office and shop.

The grave of Sir Ernest Shackleton is in the cemetery at Grytviken. In a building near the museum is a replica of the John Caird boat that he travelled from Elephant Island to South Georgia on, to get help for his expedition team.

Replica of John Caird
Replica of John Caird

The next, and last, day in South Georgia, we anchored in Fortuna Bay. There is a massive king penguin colony here with approximately 7000 breeding pairs. There were also hundreds of fur seals that we had to walk through to get to the penguins. They were mostly young pups and kept coming towards us, not worried by our presence at all but seeing what our reaction would be as they came closer. The penguins just carried on their walks ignoring us.

Seal pups in Fortuna Bay
Seal pups in Fortuna Bay
King penguin colony
King penguin colony

In the afternoon the ship moored the other side of Fortuna Bay so that those of us who were going on the Shackleton trek could go ashore.

As we landed, we saw a South Georgia Pipit, the world’s most southerly songbird. It nearly became extinct but the numbers are rising after a rat eradication programme was successful on South Georgia. It is only found on South Georgia.

South Georgia pipit
South Georgia pipit

I took part in and completed the 6 k Shackleton trek. We climbed up to 300 m over tussac grass and slate. This was the last part of the trek that Shackleton did in South Georgia when he was finding help for his shipmates. We walked half way up and stopped for a break, then stopped again at the highest point.

View back to the bay
View back to the bay

While we were on the trek the ship went around to Stromness to pick us up. It was good to see the MS Fram waiting for us when we got to the other side. It was a very steep slope down to the shore. The weather was perfect – sunny skies and a couple of clouds. At the top there was a cold wind but apart from that the temperature was perfect for walking.

MS Fram waiting for us at Stromness
MS Fram waiting for us at Stromness

Stromness is an abandoned whale factory but you couldn’t look inside the buildings as they were unsafe and also had asbestos in them. There were loads of seal pups around.

We left South Georgia. The next morning there were a group of fin whales around and coming close to the ship. I counted six of them at one time. There have been many albatrosses flying round the ship all day and several seals in the water. It was reported that dolphins have been seen but I didn’t see them.

Fin whales near the ship
Fin whales near the ship

In the distance were some pointed rocks – Shag Rocks – 250 k from South Georgia and 1000 k from the Falklands. As we got nearer South Georgia shags (blue-eyed shags) flew over; more and more as we got closer. Looking at the rocks there were thousands of shags standing on the rocks and flying around.

This was our last sight of land until we reached the Falkland Islands two days later.

You can see more pictures of South Georgia through my YouTube video:

nature, Travel

Antarctic adventures

In March 2020 I went for an expedition cruise on MS Fram, an explorer ship run by Hurtigruten. We visited the Antarctic Peninsula, South Georgia and the Falkland Islands.

This is the first of the accounts of that trip, showing the spectacular scenery of the South Shetlands and The Antarctic Peninsula.

I flew from Heathrow to Buenos Aires, staying overnight before flying down to Ushuaia at the southernmost tip of South America. I had a tour of Tierra del Fuego National Park before boarding MS Fram in Ushuaia.

Tierra del Fuego National Park
Tierra del Fuego National Park

The ship headed through the Drake Passage to Antarctica. The Drake Passage is supposed to have either the ‘Drake Shake’ or the ‘Drake Lake’. We had both: it started off very rough and then became calm the next day.

We had several landings in the South Shetlands, our first was at Yankee Harbour on Greenwich Island where we met with a colony of Gentoo penguins and a few seals.

Penguins playing in the water in Yankee Harbour
Penguins playing in the water in Yankee Harbour

Our next port of call was Orne Harbour, part of Graham Land on the Antarctic Peninsula. The morning was misty and there were several icebergs floating on the water. On the way to Orne Harbour we sighted many humpback whales going past. You see the blow, then the back and when they dive you see the fluke. There were between eight and ten whales in the bay where we were moored so we could watch them.

Whale swimming near the ship
Whale swimming near the ship

We landed on a narrow stony beach at Orne Harbour and walked along to see a couple of penguins and seals. The beach had big chunks of ice and big boulders. The conditions were too icy for a climb, but if we had kept walking south we would have eventually reached the pole. We also passed cliffs with chinstrap penguins nesting high up.

The beach at Orne Harbour
The beach at Orne Harbour

In the afternoon we went towards Damoy Point through spectacular scenery of mountains and ice – the ice was both pink and green caused by algae growing on it. Damoy Point is a rocky isthmus off the west coast of Wiencke Island, Antarctic Peninsula. We had some rain and snow on the journey.

Damoy Point with the ice pink from the algae
Damoy Point with the ice pink from the algae

Damoy Point had a large Gentoo penguin colony – you could smell them as soon as you got near land. I was lucky enough to see one of the young penguins being fed by a parent. There was also an historic British Antarctic Survey hut that you could go inside. It was very interesting seeing the artifacts left there.

Young penguin being fed by parent
Young penguin being fed by parent

Early the next day we went down the Lemaire Channel and landed at Petermann Island, our southernmost point.  It was very misty and as we waited to go ashore the weather deteriorated going from rain to snow and the sea became rougher. Not many people went ashore because of the weather but I did, and was glad I had, as it was wonderful seeing the penguins with the snow falling. The fresh snow covered the rocks and made the landscape pristine.

Penguins enjoying the snow
Penguins enjoying the snow

On the way back through the Lemaire Channel the sky cleared and we could see the stunning cliffs at the sides with many glaciers. None calved while we were there although we heard several booms from other places where they had calved.

Cliffs in Lemaire Channel

Our last landing in the Antarctic was Whalers Bay on Deception Island. Deception Island is formed from the remains of a volcanic caldera. When we first went ashore in Whaler’s Bay it was misty but the mist soon cleared. There were the remains of a whaling station and also huts used by the British during the second world war. One of the huts had been demolished by a landslide during the eruption in the late 1960s, so the volcano is still regarded as being active.

Seal among the remains in Whalers Bay
Seal among the remains in Whalers Bay

There were several seals around, both in groups and singly. They were hard to see and were the colour of rocks. Some of the seals were young males and they kept fighting and annoying each other. They were quite happy to be among the remains of the buildings and the whaling station.

There were several penguins including a couple swimming close to shore. They came out the water while I was there. Seeing penguins in the water reminded me that they are sea birds and only come on land to breed.

We walked up the slope to Neptune’s window which gave a good view over the bay. On the way back there was a ‘fog bow’, like a rainbow but without the colour.

Fog bow
Fog bow

When the mist cleared and the sun came out it was sunny and warm, giving us wonderful views as we left Deception Island. The sun stayed with us as we saw huge flat icebergs, some over a mile long, that had come from an ice shelf.

Leaving Deception Island
Leaving Deception Island

It was time to leave Antarctica and spend the next two days at sea as we traveled to South Georgia.

You can see more of my pictures from this Antarctic Adventure through my YouTube video:

There are information sheets on the various landing places we went to available as Antarctic Treaty visitor site guides:
Yankee Harbour
Orne Harbour
Damoy Point
Petermann Island
Whaler’s Bay

nature

Bird watching on a February morning

Today the weather was perfect: sunny, no wind and warm. Snowdrops, crocuses and the first daffodils are out. I went for a walk to the riverbank and saw several birds that appeared to be posing specially for a photo.

These first birds were in the trees and bushes.

two collared doves in tree
Collared doves
Robin on gorse
Robin on gorse
robin on bramble
Robin on bramble
goldfinch
Goldfinch

Then at the waterside were curlews, gulls, turnstones and other water birds. The water itself was like a mill pond, so still with brilliant reflections.

wading birds
Dunlin wading
TUrnstone
Turnstone
another turnstone
Another turnstone
Black-headed gull

I need to learn what the different birds are especially ones by the water. If you know what these are do tell me.

It was indeed a beautiful day for birdwatching.

recipe

Kedgeree

I’ve just made a kedgeree, a dish I enjoy but don’t make often. It takes some preparation but freezes well. I usually make enough for four, eat a couple of portions and freeze a couple. The frozen ones can be thawed and then heated in the microwave.

Ingredients

  • 500 g (approximately) smoked fish; choose thick fillets; usually this is made with haddock but smoked cod works just as well; I prefer fish that is smoked but not dyed, however when I went to the fish counter this time they only had smoked, dyed haddock so that is what I used
  • 100 – 150 g prawns; not tradionally in a kedgeree but I think they add extra taste and texture
  • 200 ml wholegrain rice; measure the rice in a jug
  • 1/2 teaspoon curry powder
  • small onion finely chopped; if you are intolerant to, or dont have, onion then a finely chopped stick of celery is a good substitute
  • 100 g butter
  • 3 hard boiled eggs; although eggs are found in kedgeree recipes they can be ommitted
  • 3 heaped tablespoons chopped fresh parsley; I prefer curly-leafed parsley as it chops more finely

Start by putting the smoked fish into a saucepan, if the fillets don’t fit easily then use kichen scissors to cut them smaller. Cover the fish with plenty of water (approximately 400ml) and put onto boil. Once it boils it only needs a few minutes to cook, you can tell by putting a knife in and seeing if it easily flakes.

Cooking the smoked fish

Rinse the wholegrain rice in cold water.

While the fish is cooking, melt some butter in another saucepan and gently soften the onion (or celery), add the curry powder and cook for another minute or two. Remove from the heat and add the rice.

Soften the onion in a saucepan with curry powder

The fish should be cooked by now. Drain the liquid that the fish was simmered in and use this for the rice mix. Pour the liquid over the rice, return to the stove and cook as normal. Keep any spare liquid in case the liquid boils away before the rice has cooked. Cook until the rice is soft to eat.

Cook rice using fish liquid

If using eggs, hardboil them. Then peel and chop them.

While the rice is cooking, flake the fish removing any bones and discarding the skin.

FLake the cooked fish
Flake the cooked fish

Put the flaked fish into a large mixing bowl. Chop the parsley finely and add to the bowl. If using them, add the chopped hard boiled eggs. Next cut the prawns into three and add them to the bowl.

Add flaked fish, prawns and parsley to bowl
Add flaked fish, prawns and parsley to bowl

Once the rice is cooked, put this into the bowl as well and mix all togther thoroughly using a wooden spoon.

Divide the mix into four or five portions. Add slivers of butter to the top and enjoy with steamed vegetables.

This recipe was adapted from Delia Smith’s Buttery Kedgeree recipe found in her Complete Cookery Course. My version was printed in 1996.

Kedgeree with smoked haddock, prawns and parsley
Kedgeree with smoked haddock, prawns and parsley
recipe

The icing on the Christmas cake

The Christmas cake was iced a couple of days ago. I used royal icing and bought a couple of packs of it rather than making it from scratch.

I had help from my daughter and grandson – the same ones that made the cake with me.

To make the royal icing you just add water and beat it until smooth using a wooden spoon. We then poured it onto the top of the cake, trying out adding a ski slope but then just smoothing it on the sides using a round-ended knife.

using a round bladed knife to smooth the icing

Then the decorations. I had some modelling icing paste and we used that to make snowmen. We made a pond for the snowmen to stand around using icing sugar and blue food dye. Unfortunately we made the icing too thin so what started as a pond became a waterfall.

a pond on the top of the cake
the icing pond started to turn into a waterfall

I had also bought some ready-made icing decorations.

As you can see we found it hard to stop adding more and more decorations – I don’t know who added the most – my daughter or my grandson!!

the finally decorated cake

The cake is now in a cardboard cake box with the icing drying, ready to cut and eat on Christmas day. I can’t wait! Happy Christmas to everyone.