'LORDS OF ANTARCTICA'

EMPEROR PENGUIN ADVENTURE

VISITING MACQUARIE ISLAND, THE ROSS SEA AND THE SUBANTARCTIC ISLANDS
OF NEW ZEALAND

with
ORNITHOLIDAYS & CRUISES FOR NATURE

aboard the
KAPITAN KHLEBNIKOV

21 NOVEMBER – 20 DECEMBER 2001

This is an abridged version of the full report written by Tony Pym
and sent to those who came on this cruise
Wednesday 21November - 25 November
Birding pretour in Tasmania

Sunday 25 November
….At the quayside there was the ship - the Kapitan Khlebnikov – at first view she looked a little ‘unusual’. A working icebreaker, yet the superstructure seemed somewhat 'top-heavy' (the rooms were all contained within a square construction, and this was eight decks high). Once aboard we were welcomed by a row of Russian girls in short skirts and high heels (really!)

..…We had time to stroll around the ship and get used to the layout before clearing Australian Customs who were on board. We sailed at 1700 - our expedition was underway! Next stop Macquarie Island, 850 nautical miles to the south.

….As we sailed down the channel our first birds appeared - Crested Terns and a few cormorants.

….Soon we were leaving the channel and were into the open ocean. Thousands upon thousands of Short-tailed Shearwaters streamed by and could be seen occasionally as rafts on the sea. A few Australasian Gannets passed the ship and, just as it was getting dark, our first albatross – this one, a Shy Albatross, most likely the form known also as Tasmanian. A small pod of Hourglass Dolphins passed at speed off the starboard, having no interest in the ship.

Monday 26 November
'I now belong to a higher cult of mortals, for I have seen the Albatross'
                                                                 Robert Cushman Murphy

….I awoke early and went onto the decks at 0500. Soon Roger, and then Neil, joined me to start seawatching. The rest of the group came later – the ship was now sailing on the open sea. Some excellent birds were seen from the decks - albatrosses galore, the great ocean wanderers (Wanderer, Royal, Shy, Light-mantled, Black-browed and Grey-headed all recorded today) and no less than five of the Pterodromas (Great-winged, White-headed, Mottled, Soft-plumaged and Gould's Petrels) those enigmatic seabirds of which so little is known but who always impress with their distinctive arcing flight. Storm-Petrels added to the excitement and included White-faced, Black-bellied and Wilson’s. Then there were shearwaters, now Little Shearwater was logged, and the Giant Petrels and the Cape Petrels - the list goes on! We had a surprise visitor to the ship, a Welcome Swallow. Heading south like us, where was he going?

….There was an amazingly calm sea (for some though the motion itself was uncomfortable). These waters can be vicious - let’s hope it stays calm for the passengers aboard!

Tuesday 27 November
….The sea was still calm with just the occasional roll from the ship. Today some passengers were out on the decks looking at the birds whilst others relaxed in the lounges either socialising, reading or simply taking refreshments.

….In the lecture theatre Greg Lasley of VENT gave a talk on 'Seabirds of the Southern Oceans’, which I then followed with a short talk on the current confusion with albatross taxonomy. This hopefully helped those trying to find common or scientific names in their field guides, and to understand the reasoning why some species are controversially being split from one into as many as four species!

….Out on the decks the birding was good. More and more seabirds were appearing. Graceful Royal and Wandering Albatrosses were constantly with the ship and would occasionally pass close to the handrails, an ideal opportunity for the photographers. White-headed and Mottled Petrels were both in good numbers with one appearing every half-hour or so. A flock of more than a 100 Fairy Prions came into the wake causing debate on the identification of this very difficult genus. Another species of storm-petrel seen well today was Grey-backed Storm-petrel. The Short-tailed Shearwaters had now left us and were replaced by the very similar Sooty Shearwater, but in much less numbers.

Wednesday 28 November
‘The most wretched place of involuntary and slavish exilium that can possibly be conceived; nothing could warrant any civilised creature living on such a spot’
                                                        Captain Douglass, describing Macquarie Island, 1822

….There was a morning call at 0615, which announced we were off the northern tip of Macquarie Island, a wildlife sanctuary administered by Australia and home to thousands of penguins, albatrosses, elephant seals and more. It was inscribed on the World Heritage List and recognised as a Biosphere Reserve in 1977.
Left - Royal Penguin