Orne Harbor: a second climb to the chinstraps

At the moment we’re parked in one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen, the Errera Channel, between the small Cuverville Island and Danco Island.  The ship’s map (below) shows that the channel runs between Rongé Island (the large island on the left) and the west coast of Graham Land, part of the Antarctic peninsula to the right.

I haven’t yet downloaded my photos from yesterday, but the view we had in the evening is similar to this one shown on Wikipedia, but better, as it extended 360° around us (my photos tomorrow).

We are almost completely surrounded by glaciers, high snowy mountains, and placid seas studded with icebergs, big and small, calved from the nearby glaciers. At about 9 pm last night, when it was still light, we could hear cracks as the glaciers calved and one loud boom as we saw a big avalanche above the glaciers. Here’s a view from the ship’s Panomax camera this foggy morning:

In fact, it’s so amazing here that I must count it among the four loveliest places I’ve ever seen, taking its place beside the view of Mount Everest and Ama Dablam from the Thyangboche Monastery in Nepal, Machu Picchu viewed from the hill above, and the Taj Mahal under a full moon. I know my photos won’t be able to convey the splendor of this site, but I’ll put them up tomorrow anyway.

Last night was also “Amundsen Night,” when a group of applicant passengers, chosen by raffle, spent the night ashore. I wasn’t keen to do that, as it wasn’t cheap and the experience wasn’t one on my bucket list, but I couldn’t imagine a nicer place to spend the night.

Today we’re headed to Andvord Bay and Neko Harbor for a tour around the bay in Zodiacs (no landing), and, in the afternoon, a real landing on the Peninsula at Damoy Point on Wiencke Island,which harbors an abandoned British research station operated for two decades after 1973. All of this, like the Errera Channel, will be stuff I haven’t seen before.

But on to yesterday’s activities. I awoke to find this view from my cabin window. I never know down here what I’ll find when I open the curtains at about 6 a.m. What a fine view!

The day before yesterday we cruised from Half Moon Island, part of the South Shetlands, to Orne Harbor on the mainland (the Peninsula), where yesterday we repeated our Great Climb to the Chinstrap Rookery (see here). Here are some landscapes I photographed along the way (I note again that all photos are de-pixillated by at least 75% to be able to post them from the ship.

A beautiful iceberg in the morning, before the fog lifted:

And a few hours later, showing the surroundings:

Part of Half Moon Island:

The kind of views you get constantly as you cruise along the Peninsula:

Half Moon Island again; to the center right you can see the Argentine research station with its twin antennas:

Below: approaching Orne Harbor in the morning. When we stopped it was overcast and foggy, but by the time we climbed to the rookery it was sunny and beautiful. When we descended, it had become so warm that the snow was slushy, making walking a bit hard:

More of the Antarctic Peninsula:

Orne Harbor with its glacier:

And some calved iceberglets, showing the blue color as well as the large portion that’s underwater.

A sociable group of cape petrels (Daption capense), also called also called the Cape pigeon, pintado petrel, or Cape fulmar, floating beside the ship on Saturday afternoon. This is the only species in its genus, and, as Wikipedia notes,

The Cape petrel is a unique looking petrel. It has a black head and neck, and a white belly, breast, and its underwing is white with a black border. Its back, and upperwings are black and white speckled, as is its tail which also has a band of black. When fully grown, their wings span 86 cm (34 in) and they are 39 cm (15 in) long.

. . . Daption is derived from Ancient Greek for “little devourer”, and the Cape name is because of where the type specimen was collected. Finally, pintado is Spanish for “painted” for its plumage. One of their other names, Cape pigeon, is from their habit of pecking at the water for food. The word petrel is derived from St. Peter and the story of his walking on water. This is in reference to the petrel’s habit of appearing to run on the water to take off.

Here’s a photo of one in flight, taken from Wikipedia. Its dappled plumage is unique for a petrel:

The expedition team went out early to break a trail to the top (it had snowed recently), and shortly thereafter groups of passengers started the climb. (Only 100 passengers are allowed ashore at once according to Antarctic tourism regulations.) I used a pair of ski poles, as the footing was a bit dicey on the zig-zag trail:

A view from the top: the Roald Amundsen moored in the harbor:

And, as a reward for your climb, you see chinstrap penguins—lots of them!

I love this species: they are adorable with their chinstrap markings, and are endearingly clumsy on land. I believe that the Russians call them “police penguins” because their chinstrap resembles the strap of a Russian policeman’s hat. But I can’t find the reference, which I remember reading yesterday.

At any rate, these birds must hike up and down steep cliff to feed, which they do at least once a day. (They feed at night, so I saw only a couple of birds moving toward or away from the water, which they do carefully!)


I saw a pair of chinstraps COPULATING! Here’s the pair, with the mail atop the female, right before they aligned cloacas. A third individual nearby averts its eyes. The species is sexually monomorphic, and only a chinstrap can immediately tell the sex of another chinstrap. These two look as if they’re kissing.

The female’s cloaca is clearly visible, and copulation, which occurred right after I took this photo (I have a video), was quick. Then the male hopped off and flapped his flippers rapidly, to the call of a British tourist shouting, “Good job, mate!”.

It’s breeding season in the rookery. Soon there will be eggs.

Chinstraps often build rookeries high up for protection:

A sleepy chinstrap:

One penguin climbing up. I have a video of another individual laboriously making its way up the backside of the hill on its belly, using its flippers to drag itself toward the rookery:

Chinstrap heads. This one looks as if had recently dined on a lot of krill:


When we returned to the ship, tired and famished, we found that one of the linch buffet items was roast suckling pig. I had a generous portion with some of the crispy skin.

And a view from the dining room at yesterday’s lunch. You can’t eat in surroundings prettier than this!



  1. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted November 18, 2019 at 8:11 am | Permalink

    PCC(E) – friend of ducks and penguins

  2. Mark Jones
    Posted November 18, 2019 at 8:28 am | Permalink

    Great shots, very envious of this trip, I must say!

  3. gravelinspector-Aidan
    Posted November 18, 2019 at 8:47 am | Permalink

    And some calved iceberglets,

    “Bergy bits” is the normal term, I think.

  4. gravelinspector-Aidan
    Posted November 18, 2019 at 8:50 am | Permalink

    we found that one of the linch buffet items was roast suckling pig.

    Very Noggin. Has the nibbles bar included delicacies like moose heart or whale blubber chunks? Or do they keep that for the crew, to avoid upsetting the customers.

    • sted24
      Posted November 18, 2019 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

      Yes to more pics of roast suckling pig. Yum!

      Chinstraps certainly look very cute. But Our Leader has yet to convince me that they make tasty eating, given their diet.

    • Jenny Haniver
      Posted November 18, 2019 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

      What happened to the end of snout on the pig? Is tip of pig snout some kind of delicacy or did it just get knocked off?

  5. Saul Sorrell-Till
    Posted November 18, 2019 at 8:51 am | Permalink

    The photos get more and more ravishing as this trip goes on.

    To PCC – what does the sky at night look like there?
    Are you able to see it clearly, or does the light from the boat pollute things?
    Is it clear enough to see the stars?

    I’d love to see a shot of the night sky if you’re ever out and about at that time…

    • Posted November 18, 2019 at 9:38 am | Permalink

      I’d have to get up very late to see the night sky, but I might some time. Right now I go to bed at 10 pm, and it’s still quite light outside.

      • Saul Sorrell-Till
        Posted November 18, 2019 at 11:23 am | Permalink

        I’d imagine it’d be spectacularly clear there, and would make for a good photo. Especially framed against those beautiful glaciers/mountains/etc.

        Perhaps you could set a penguin-alarm to wake you up?

  6. paul
    Posted November 18, 2019 at 8:53 am | Permalink

    Wow ! Absolutely stunning photos. You have been on the ship for a while. Not quite sure I could do this., never having been on a long cruise. I love to travel but think I would probably come down with cabin fever on a boat for more than a few days.

  7. Randy Bessinger
    Posted November 18, 2019 at 9:42 am | Permalink

    Haven’t commented on this trip but I so much appreciate being able to read and see the pictures and descriptions. Thank you much!

  8. rickflick
    Posted November 18, 2019 at 10:11 am | Permalink

    The shot of the Amundsen moored in the harbor gives perspective. Looks like quite a hike. The chin straps are certainly birds to admire, and they seem keen to be admired.

  9. Ken Kukec
    Posted November 18, 2019 at 10:23 am | Permalink

    … [chinstrap penguin] copulation, which occurred right after I took this photo (I have a video) …

    Internet Rule 34 strikes again. The ontological argument regarding the existence of pr0n. 🙂

  10. Jim batterson
    Posted November 18, 2019 at 11:51 am | Permalink

    Jerry, i have not noticed any green plants, or even soil, even in the crevices. I know there was vegetation during the warm epoch, but is there anything plant-like above sea level now or just the granite or basalt looking rocks we see so far.

    • Posted November 18, 2019 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

      I’ve seen only lichens on the Peninsula and South Shetlands. There are two flowering plants in Antarctica (on the west side of the Peninsula), as well as mosses and algae, but I haven’t seen any of those.

  11. mike cracraft
    Posted November 18, 2019 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

    What are the predators of the chinstraps if the rookeries are situated so high ?

    • phoffman56
      Posted November 18, 2019 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

      Yes, surely seals and larger will never get nearly that high away from the sea??

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted November 18, 2019 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

      Acc. to Wiki: The brown skua, south polar skua & southern giant petrel.

      • phoffman56
        Posted November 18, 2019 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

        Those three sound like birds who surely can fly higher than the 300 foot (roughly) height of that hill (if I have the location right, but the height is immaterial), so it still seems mysterious.

        • Michael Fisher
          Posted November 18, 2019 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

          Half Moon Island is 90% a relatively flat gravel bar with a few prominent, high rock outcrops. Everything covered in snow & ice most of the time except in & around the breeding season of summer.

          Wiki & other sources:

          Penguins have an annual three week ‘catastrophic moult’ when they are obliged to stay out of the water & when they’re breeding they’re loyal to their nesting site, which is often the rookery in which they were born.

          Chinstraps build circular nests from stones, and lay two eggs, which are incubated by both the male and the female for shifts around 6 days each.

          My observation of videos:

          The bird species I mentioned in the previous post attack both young penguins & penguin nests on foot – they walk through the colonies looking for opportunities. I have also just read that different species of penguin will compete for a preferred rookery & that chinstraps are pretty tough & large [in the spectrum of all penguins] – an aggressive penguin when defending a site or young or eggs. I just watched a vid of an adult Emperor rapidly waddling over to defend a group of chick penguins against a lone predator bird – it put itself between the bird & the huddled chicks [each chick almost adult size]. I think the chicks join crèches after a few weeks.


          The largest colony of chinstraps has been recorded as two million birds [obvs not this site], but I suspect that prime first-come-first-served defensible locale for chinstraps is going to be high up in rock where there’s loose stones about & other materials. And then the colony expands out from prime spots to less prime territory if numbers require it.

          • phoffman56
            Posted November 18, 2019 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

            Thanks, Michael. So some of it is likely a matter of getting in among rocks and cliffs to be able to limit the avenues of attack. Also you wrote “emperor” once and presumably meant ‘chinstrap’.

            • Michael Fisher
              Posted November 18, 2019 at 5:21 pm | Permalink

              Also by occupying the rocky high ground it’s one less nesting site for other birds that prey on them [other penguin species & the flighted predators already mentioned] – all the predator bird speices have nesting sites on Half Moon Island with chinstraps being the most numerous by a healthy margin.

  12. Mark R.
    Posted November 18, 2019 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

    Another riveting post followed from my warm spot at home. Can’t get enough of those chinstraps or the stark beauty of the landscape(s).

  13. Posted November 18, 2019 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

    So fuzzy…

  14. phoffman56
    Posted November 18, 2019 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

    Being somewhat map-anal, I’m assuming the colony is at the top of Xenia Hill, at the northeast extremity of Half Moon Island??

    Happy to see that none from the colony was served at lunch as lunch. Sorry, couldn’t resist in the presence of all the fuzzy emotion about the fuzzy birds, which actually I do share.

  15. Andrea Kenner
    Posted November 22, 2019 at 5:53 pm | Permalink

    Such gorgeous photos!

Post a Comment

Required fields are marked *

%d bloggers like this: