We woke up to a couple of inches of snow (imagine that!). Actually it WAS quite surprising...
Here's your Fun Fact of the day:
Antarctica, besides being the coldest place on the planet, is also Earth's biggest desert. That's right. Because it receives very little precipitation it is classified as a "desert." So those visions you have of constant blizzards is not accurate...it can and does occur, but mostly those conditions are caused by wind not excessive snow.
Not only was it snowing, but the Explorer was navigating through a serious ice field.
This photo is from the back of the ship...leaving our water trail through the ice...
After awhile there was open water in sight, and we were headed that way for a day amongst the penguins.
After breakfast, we loaded up the zodiacs and did a landing on Pleneau Island.
There were literally THOUSANDS of penguins dotting every mountain in sight!
Our zodiac cruised by a group of blue-eyed shags...
...and penguins raced alongside us.
This behavior is called "porpoising," as they fly through the water popping up and down. Amazingly FAST...they had no trouble keeping up with our zodiac!
We landed ashore for a morning with the gentoo penguins.
Again, I could not keep my shutter-finger still. I've got lots of penguin photos, so humor me as I share a bunch with you...
We were just so close to them and they were oblivious to our presence.
But the gentoos were puzzled by the path in the snow made by humans. They would usually pause and then do a little hop over it. Quite amusing to watch!
And it was very noisy too! My first time to ever hear penguins call and chatter!
Sometimes a girl just gets tired of waddling...don't I know it!
Porpoising back to shore to check out those strange tall orange creatures...
I just couldn't get enough of these charming gentoos!
But alas, our guides made us get back in the zodiacs and return to the Explorer just in time for lunch.
There were always snowy sheathbills around. They are not at all intimidated by humans. Our bird-nerd guide Javier (his nametag says "Bird Nerd" so I'm not insulting him at all!) calls them, in his Spanish accent, "snowly shitbills" as he detests them. Sheathbills eat the eggs and hatchlings of other birds, even penguin eggs and chicks...not the nicest birds and quite ugly too. But hey, even "shitbills" need to eat!
We were constantly amazed at the infinite places we saw penguins. That's quite a hike for them, from the sea up that cliff!
After lunch, we got back in the zodiacs for a cruise around the bay.
Three penguins heading up the hillside. You can see the tracks of the thousands that have traveled that way before.
GORGEOUS!!! I tried to convince our guide to drive the zodiac under that bridge (kinda like an Indiana girl always wanting to try to drive under those big farm sprayers) but he stuck to his safety protocols and couldn't be convinced. Although I know he wanted to try it too...those guides are all adventurers and risk-takers! Had his zodiac not had guests inside, he would have zoomed under without a second thought!
We were entertained by this group of gentoos...
...hopping across the rocks...
...and sliding down into the water.
"Maybe I CAN fly after all?"
All that pink stuff on the rocks??? Penguin poop!
Brown skuas are bird bullies, terrorizing penguin colonies as they steal eggs and also steal food from other birds' beaks. We saw lots of skuas...they always look like they're ready to pick a fight.
The icebergs are massive! Compare the size to one of our ship's zodiacs...
And then we saw a small group of a different species of penguin, the adelies.
These are the 3 penguin species we had seen so far (we would happily get to add a bonus one on our last day!): Adelie, Gentoo, and Chinstrap.
With their short stubby beaks, they all look like youngsters.
Then, just as we were heading back to the ship, we spotted another group of penguins close to shore and motored over to check them out.
This photo was taken at 9 pm, and the sun was sinking in the sky. So we reluctantly rode back to the Explorer.
Another great day in Antarctica.