January 3, 2015, Esperanza Base, Antarctica — It had to happen sooner or later, but to see no new birds on Day Three of a big year stings a bit! There were really only a couple of possible additions today—Emperor Penguin and Antarctic Petrel—both of which are tough to find this time of year on the northern Antarctic Peninsula. So I am still stuck at 15 species.
Nevertheless it was a fantastic day. We ran three separate excursions in the Antarctic Sound area: A zodiac cruise among sea ice, a landing at a massive Adelie Penguin colony, and a late afternoon visit to an Argentinian base called Esperanza. I added minke whale, leopard seal, and crabeater seal to my mammal sightings, and I was happy to spend more time with the Adelies, my personal favorite bird. They had fairly large chicks on this visit, probably a couple of weeks old, and it was good to experience a large, healthy colony. Adelie numbers on the northern Antarctic Peninsula have declined by up to 50 percent in some colonies over the past 30 years, probably related to increasing temperatures and decreasing krill populations. We are carrying three researchers from Stony Brook University who conduct field work with the penguins during our excursions, as part of a larger project documenting the effects of climate change in Antarctica—a nice example of tourism directly supporting scientific research.
Anyway, it was a wonderful day on the frozen continent, but I am beginning to itch for more birds (a hundred thousand penguins technically only counts as one!). Tomorrow the ship will stop at Elephant Island before heading north toward the Falkland Islands, and I should start picking up new birds in the Drake Passage. Onward!