After another extremely short night, it was an early rise on Baily Head. As soon as I looked outside, my body filled with a desire to go out. The weather looked great, and calm enough for a landing at the beach. We were warned for a rough landing, which appeared quite OK, and landed right next to a large group of chinstrap penguins which were basking in the early morning sunlight. So called because of the lining on their face, which makes them resemble a policeman with his cap strapped to his face, some of these cute penguins were in for an early morning dip in the ocean, and appeared to dare so only in groups. It was fun to see them play in the surf, diving out of the water before waddling ashore again. The chinstraps seemed more agitated than other penguins we had seen before. I saw several couples having a fight.
We had a full programme that day, so after spending some quality time on my belly on the gravely black beach, I got up and walked the trail that our guides had defined. It took me past steep cliffs rising right off the narrow valley; I realized that the grey wall on the other side was actually the face of a large glacier. It was clear that snow had covered Baily Head only weeks before, but as summer had set in, most of it had gone and instead, a layer of green grass had appeared - the first green we saw in some time. On one hill, we saw breeding chinstraps, while some chinstraps showed they had no fear of us whatsoever, and inspected those strange creatures in their yellow parkas from well within the 5 metre limit that was set for us. But it was not all fun here: we also saw the remains of a chinstrap that were totally ripped apart in a violent attempt to get flesh off the carcass, as well as several broken eggs.
As it had been in South Georgia, the best thing to do was to just sit or lie down on the ground, and wait for the chinstraps to appear. What was really striking were the chinstraps with a stone in their mouth, supposedly walking to their nest, past hundreds of other, similar small stones - but holding this one particular stone in their beak. Was it the perfect sized one they had been looking for for ages? Or were they just making something simple, very difficult? One side of the hill was still covered in snow, and it was funny to see how the penguins, already not made for walking, had a hard time crossing it in their clumsy way. I watched a couple having a fight in the breeding area, they were violently lashing out against each other, tumbling down the hill in the process. The others ignored them, and continued on their nests. The other passengers had already gone, and when I walked out with the last staff, we felt that life here would just go on as it had done before, as if we had never visited. We had just been passers-by in the eternal cycle of breeding, hatching, feeding, quarreling, and dying.
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Baily Head (Antarctica). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Baily Head.
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