Posts Tagged With: Antarctica

Best of Antarctica

A person enjoying the view and Luigi Peak from Booth Island at Port Charcot in Antarctica.

A person enjoying the view and Luigi Peak from Booth Island at Port Charcot in Antarctica.

Antarctica is the land of superlatives; the coldest, windiest and driest place on earth. Exceptional beauty and abundant wildlife are other ways to describe this amazing continent. Tourist go to Antarctica to experience the iconic penguins but return for the magnificent ice; gigantic glaciers, tabular icebergs and frozen sea ice.

Ushuaia, Capital de las Malvinas at the southern tip of Argentina.

Ushuaia, Capital de las Malvinas at the southern tip of Argentina.

This lifetime expedition usually begins with a cultural stopover in Buenos Aires, Argentina where one can sample outstanding Malbec wines and their famous “carne” cuisine. This is also the last stop to feel the warm southern hemisphere summer and to soak up the colorful Argentinean flora. After a three-hour flight south over the Southern Andes, you arrive in Ushuaia. Located on the southern tip of Terra del Fuego Island, this resort town is accessible by air and sea. The majority of tourist access Antarctica through this scenic community perched between the mountains and the sea.

 

160120092 copy

Chinstrap penguins, Pygoscellis antarcticus at Baily Head on Deception Island in Antarctica.

Now the real adventure begins once we embarked on the National Geographic Explorer and headed down the calm Beagle Channel entering the notorious Drakes Passage. Up to 40,000 tourists visit Antarctica each summer season and the majority departs from Ushuaia by ship for a two-day 700-mile journey crossing the Drakes Passage to the Antarctic Peninsula. Each passage is a different experience depending on the wind and swell however the one constant is the open ocean with birds, lots of them. Cape petrels flying in harmonious formation, Wilson Storm-petrels bouncing off the surface feeding and of course the magnificent albatrosses; Black-browed, Grey-headed and Wandering.

160123258 copy

Glacial and sea ice in on the Graham Coast from Grandidier Channel in Antarctica.

Outside the dead of winter when the sea ice embraces the continent for up to 9 months, I have been lucky enough to see Antarctica in three seasons and get a greater appreciation of how resilient the endemic wildlife is to survive in these insane conditions. The weather also confirms why there are no indigenous people or local government. The Antarctic Treaty of 1959 is the legal framework signed by 43 countries that has uniquely spared much of the continent for any type of development, military activity or resource extraction. In addition, the voluntary organization IAATO(International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators) sets rules limiting number of guests at landing sights and environmental procedures to further protect the wildlife and to avoid introducing any invasive species.

Sunset on the Graham Coast from the Grandidier Channel in Antarctica.

Sunset on the Graham Coast from the Grandidier Channel in Antarctica.

Sometime during the early morning of the second day crossing the Drakes Passage, one of our guests enthusiastically shouts “iceberg” in the normally quite bridge. The first sighting of anything gets lots of attention and ice is no exception. Huge tabular icebergs calve off of gigantic Antarctic ice shelves and migrate large distances at the mercy of the wind and currents. Beautiful, blue and timeless, this ice is like nowhere else on earth. We have now crossed the Antarctic Convergence, the invisible line in the ocean where the air and water temperature drops to freezing and waters merge to create a strong current that brings rich nutrients to the surface. “Whale” was shouted next on the list of many first sightings. Blue, Humpback and Minke whales feeding is this productive zone.

160112092 copy

Leopard Seal, Hydrurga leptonyx on sea ice in Cierva Cove on on the Antarctic Peninsula in Antarctica.

First impressions certainly last a lifetime and making our first landing at Baily Head on Deception Island was quite impressive. Mother Nature limits this landing sight with dangerous waves on a steep beach but conditions were perfect for us on this particular day. The main prize on this stark black and white landscape was the colony of chinstrap penguins that spanned as far as the eyes could see. The first of the three brush-tailed penguins, the chinstrap fly out of the surf in numbers landing on the pebbly beach and start their long march back to their hilltop nests. Bellies filled with krill, this amazing creature commutes long distances on three-inch legs to feed their two chicks and relieving their partner from nesting duties that include fending off the aggressive Brown Skua trying to snag a chick. The sight, smell and sound of 100,000 nesting pair of chinstrap penguins are forever ingrained in my memory.

 

Three species of brush-tailed penguins; Gentoo, Chinstrap and Adélie

The other two penguins in the brush-tailed family are the Adelie and Gentoo penguins. Both have their quirky antics waddling large flightless bodies on land and their extraordinary hydrodynamic agility porpoising in the water to feed on krill and avoid predators. Watching these remarkable birds gains your respect for their perpetual rock stealing from their neighbor’s nests and their resilience protecting their chicks from a constant barrage of aerial predators. One of my most amazing wildlife encounters to date was witnessing a pod of small type B Killer Whales hunting Gentoo penguins in Gerlache Strait. Under the ship’s bow, five Killer Whales pursued an agile penguin that could turn much quicker successively getting away this time, albeit exhausted.

 

160125167

Gerlache Killer Whales small type B chasing a Gentoo penguin in Gerlache Strait in Antarctica.

Other Antarctic highlights including motoring through the towering icy walls of the scenic Lemaire Channel that narrows to less than a mile wide. Experiencing the sea in Crystal Sound and Grandidier Channel starting to freeze into “grease” ice during the glowing 11pm sunset as the full moon raised over water also tops the list. Antarctica never fails to deliver a lifetime experience every day. Standing in gale force freezing wind in blizzard conditions really puts life into the epic adventures that the early explorers felt like Sir Ernest Shackleton, Roland Amundsen and Robert Falcon Scott. They made history and brought back real life stories from the place of superlatives; coldest, windiest and driest place on earth.

 

160113112 copy

National Geographic Explorer cruising through the Lemaire Channel in Antarctica.

My role on these expeditions as the National Geographic Expert is pretty straight forward; “to enhance the travelers’ appreciation and understanding of the destination.” I am honored to work with exceptional staff that I constantly learn valuable life lessons from shared experiences. Even though photography is an integral aspect of this “appreciation,” sometime silently observing wildlife with guests is just as rewarding. The National Geographic Global Guest Perspective Speaker also enhances everyone’s experience and are the most inspiring people I have ever met including Peter Hillary, Dr. Joe Macinnis, Eric Larsen, Wade Davis, Andrew Clarke and Eva Aariak. These exceptional people have added so much to the places we visit and to my life.

 

160113029 copy

Zodiac with tourists enjoying the icebergs near Booth Island at Port Charcot in Antarctica.

I want to thank all of the Lindblad Staff that I have been so fortunate to work with in some of the finest destination on earth. Your knowledge and patience are unsurpassed. A special thank you to National Geographic and Lindblad Expeditions for providing me with such an incredible lifetime opportunity.

 

Sunset on the Graham Coast from the Grandidier Channel in Antarctica.

Sunset on the Graham Coast from the Grandidier Channel in Antarctica.

Safe travels. Rich Reid.

160124052 copy

Gentoo penguin on Booth Island off the northwest coast of Kiev Peninsula in Graham Land, Antarctica

 

 

Categories: Adventure, Antarctica, iPhone, Lindblad Expeditions, National Geographic, Natural World, Photography Techniques, Travel, Wildlife | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Antarctica, South Georgia and the Falkland Islands

Remnant ice split from the massive b-17b tabular iceberg grounded off South Georgia in "Iceberg Alley."

Remnant ice split from the massive b-17b tabular iceberg grounded off South Georgia in “Iceberg Alley.”

On Assignment with National Geographic and Lindblad Expeditions with Rich Reid.

Black-browed albatross taking off from the Beagle Channel between Chile and Argentina.

Black-browed albatross, Thalassarche Melanophris taking off from the Beagle Channel between Chile and Argentina.

Like the albatross, our ship plied through the Southern Ocean guided by wind and currents. Certainly not as graceful as these magnificent birds but making forward progress through the icy waters. Everyday something exceptional happened whether we were surrounded by endless views of king penguins or whale watching crossing the Drakes Passage.

Big waves and high winds in the Scotia Sea offshore from South Georgia.

Big waves and high winds in the Scotia Sea offshore from South Georgia.

What really made my endless summer so special was experiencing the contrast of Antarctica, South Georgia and Falkland Islands twice this past winter in two seasons in opposite directions on two different ships. The weather extremes were noteworthy with a cold southern spring and a stormy autumn plus the record heat and drought that I experienced this winter in California. A fascinating history tidbit was retracing Sir Ernest Shackleton’s epic open-boat journey on the centennial and gaining a whole new respect for his courage and tenacity.

Gentoo penguin, Pygoscelis papua at Neko Harbor on the Antarctic Peninsula.

Gentoo penguin, Pygoscelis papua at Neko Harbor on the Antarctic Peninsula.

Antarctica is the definition of remote and quintessentially beautiful. Every shade of blue and white filled the landscape that’s palette and silence is broken by colonies of Gentoo penguins and calving ice. The ancient tabular icebergs are the most spectacular designs found in nature forming gravity-defying arches and translucent blue faces. An abundance of micro marinelife in these frigid waters support an entire ecosystem from whales to penguins that gather in large numbers in the Southern Ocean.

Antarctic fur seals and the National Geographic Orion at Godthul Bay on South Georgia.

Antarctic fur seals, Arctocephalus gazella and the National Geographic Orion at Godthul Bay on South Georgia.

Both the National Geographic Explorer and National Geographic Orion are excellent ships and perfect platforms for exploring such remote locations. Both ships handled the two-day ocean crossings well and we accessed land in our Zodiacs for daily adventures of hiking and wildlife viewing. Perfect home away from homes with so many new friendships developed on these expeditions.

Bull southern elephant seal, Mirounga leonina at Saint Andrews Bay on South Georgia.

Bull southern elephant seal, Mirounga leonina at Saint Andrews Bay on South Georgia.

Antarctica provided the ice-extravaganza while South Georgia just plain overwhelms you with wildlife. Spring offered the thrill of aggressive male Antarctica sea lions and enormous southern elephant seals battling for beach master ranking while the king penguins gathered in unimaginable numbers performing comical acts like court jesters. The fall wildlife consisted of tens to hundreds of thousands of rambunctious penguin chicks getting ready to fledge and the feisty sea lion pups snarl while practicing their jousting. Adding to the allure of this magical island are the backdrops behind these expansive beaches of towering peaks and active glaciers that Sir Shackleton and two of his men heroically crossed in 1916 to save his stranded crew back in Antarctica.

King penguin colony at Gold Harbor on South Georgia.

King penguin, Aptenodytes patagonicus colony at Gold Harbor on South Georgia.

The Falkland Islands are conveniently located about halfway between South Georgia and Ushuaia, Argentina. This group of islands has an interesting modern history of conflict with its nearest neighbor and the recent exploration for resources. Nevertheless, the islands are beautiful and the critical breeding grounds for so many sea birds including the rockhopper and Magellanic penguins plus several species of albatross.

Pair of Black-browed albatross preening on New Island in the Falkland Islands.

Pair of Black-browed albatross, Thalassarche melanophris preening on New Island in the Falkland Islands.

As we entered into the shallower waters near South America on our return trip to Ushuaia, the ocean teemed with wildlife as large flocks of birds fed on bait fish and the Peale’s dolphins played in our ship’s bow wake. Having seen the southern ocean twice this past “summer” has been an absolute privilege and looking forward to my return to Antarctica for two trips with National Geographic Expeditions in January 2016. Please consider joining me on one of these incredible Photo Expeditions to my favorite place on earth.

The Adventure Continues…

Pair of humpback whale flukes in Gerlache Strait, Antarctica.

Pair of humpback whales,  Megaptera novaeangliae fluking in Gerlache Strait, Antarctica.

Southern giant petrel eying gentoo penguin chicks at Gold Harbor on South Georgia.

Southern giant petrel, Macronectes giganteus eying gentoo penguin chicks, Pygoscelis papua at Gold Harbor on South Georgia.

Antarctic fur seal pups at Stromness Whaling Station on South Georgia.

Antarctic fur seal pups, Arctocephalus gazella at Stromness Whaling Station on South Georgia.

Giant Leopard Seal in the waters around Prion Island in South Georgia.

Giant leopard seal, Hydrurga leptonyx  in the waters around Prion Island in South Georgia.

King penguin, Aptenodytes patagonicus portrait at Saint Andrews Bay on South Georgia.

King penguin, Aptenodytes patagonicus portrait at Saint Andrews Bay on South Georgia.

Categories: Adventure, Antarctica, Lindblad Expeditions, National Geographic, Natural World, Travel, Wildlife | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: