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South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands: Salisbury Plain

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Salisbury Plain | South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands | Antarctica

[Visited: November 2011]

After our visit to Esenhul earlier that day, we were very excited to make a second landing at Salisbury Plain a little further east on South Georgia. As our ship pulled into a wide bay, we saw two big glaciers, Grace and Lucas, running down the mountains, right into the sea. Our eyes were scanning the landscape, and when we spotted the first king penguins, realized that they were everywhere. A short zodiac ride took us to a stony beach, where the experienced staff had cleared a path through a field of fur seals which at times appeared a little nervous about our presence. Our rubber boots proved useful, as they allowed us to walk through the marshy area without a problem. We found always more king penguins surrounding us. Sticking to the guideline of keeping a 5 metre distance, it was sufficient to lay on your belly, and wait for the curious creatures to come and inspect the stranger. They would almost literally stick their pointy, black and orange bills, right in your face. It allowed to see the beautiful colours of the penguins from up close: grey, black, white, and orange-yellow patches must make this bird among the most beautiful and elegant imaginable.

Picture of Salisbury Plain (South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands): Curious King penguins at Salisbury Plain

We reached the edge of the colony itself: while we had seen small groups of king penguins walk around further away, the bulk of the birds was standing here. Shoulder to shoulder, huddling together, their numbers were massive. Moreover, we could now clearly hear their singing, a constant sound, produced by king penguins putting their bills into the air and calling for attention. We now also saw groups of chicks: there appeared to be veritable Kindergarten areas where chicks were huddling together. Strangely, because of their fluffy appearance, the chicks often seemed bigger than their parents. They looked completely different: a rather dull brown did not give a clue of the beautiful, bright colours that would appear in due time. That is, if they would survive infancy. skuas were circling above the colony, on the lookout for a meal. Plenty of opportunities: eggs, chicks, and older king penguins were all possible dinner opportunity.

Picture of Salisbury Plain (South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands): King penguin walking at Salisbury Plain

Being so close to the king penguins, being surrounded in their presence, their singing, and most of all, being overwhelmed by their sheer numbers, was a powerful experience, and it suddenly took me by the throat. I felt tears running down my cheeks, and I did not understand where they came from. Was it the immersion in this great spectacle of nature, in the magnificent setting at the foot of snowy mountains and vast glaciers? Something had caught me off guard, and I felt deeply touched. I walked up a hill with tussocks, to reach a vantage point from where the enormous size of the colony finally dawned on me. It is estimated that there are around 200.000 king penguins here, and this is the second largest king penguin colony on South Georgia: whatever the exact number, seeing the endless amount of black, white, grey, and orange birds was a sight that took me away. I just stood there in silence, awestruck, with the constant singing ringing in my ears. I stalled my return, and when I did, it was to once again lie flat on the ground, and wait for king penguins to show up right next to me. After that memorable visit, the magnificent nature of South Georgia had me in a tight grip.

Picture of Salisbury Plain (South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands): Overview of part of the enormous King penguin colony at Salisbury Plain
Picture of Salisbury Plain (South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands): Close-up of King penguins
Picture of Salisbury Plain (South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands): Chick King penguin being fed by a parent
Picture of Salisbury Plain (South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands): King penguin colony at Salisbury Plain
Picture of Salisbury Plain (South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands): King penguins walking through a river
Picture of Salisbury Plain (South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands): King penguins going for a walk
Picture of Salisbury Plain (South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands): Gracious head of a King penguin in close-up
Picture of Salisbury Plain (South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands): Overview of King penguins at river
Picture of Salisbury Plain (South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands): King penguin making himself beautiful
Picture of Salisbury Plain (South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands): King penguins and glacier at Salisbury Plain
Picture of Salisbury Plain (South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands): Walking King penguins
Picture of Salisbury Plain (South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands): Glacier at Salisbury Plain
Picture of Salisbury Plain (South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands): Remains of a King penguin chick

Around the World in 80 Clicks

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