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Tuesday, April 23, 2013


If Antarctica were to have a mascot, it would surely be a penguin.  During our trip we saw seven species, each charming in its own way.

We encountered Magellanic and Rockhopper Penguins on our very first landing, on Sea Lion Island in the Falklands.  Magellanic Penguins are the Hobbits of the penguin world, making their nests inside snug little holes in the ground.

Nesting Magellanic Penguin

Magellanic Penguins

Rockhopper Penguins are the punk rockers, with their black eye feathers and angled yellow eyebrows that look like the coolest of shades.  As their name suggests, they are adept at hopping up and down steep rocks.

Rockhopper Penguins

Macaroni Penguins are real dandies, sporting flashy yellow eye feathers and deep red bills.

Macaroni Penguin

King Penguins were the largest -- adults are about three feet tall -- and most numerous of the penguins we saw.  They have showy orange coloring around their heads and necks and, as their name suggests, a regal bearing.   When on land they spend most of their time standing straight up, even when nurturing eggs and chicks which they hold on their feet beneath a flap of skin.

King Penguins

Adolescents, affectionately referred to as Oakum Boys for their fluffy brown feathers, are another story.  They display all the awkwardness one would expect of teenagers.  This juvenile was among the colony of several hundred thousand penguins at St. Andrew's Bay on South Georgia Island.

Juvenille King Penguin

This photo gives a sense of the remarkable size of the colony.  We walked nearly an hour from shore to reach the toe of the Heany Glacier and found penguins not only right at the toe, but actually on the glacier.  Since all of their food is in the water, they face a long hike whenever they find themselves or their chicks hungry.

St. Andrew's Bay, South Georgia Island

I heard one of my shipmates refer to Gentoo Penguins as "gentle gentoos" which seemed appropriate given how carefully they tend to their young.  We had some of our best opportunities for observing them at Port Lockroy because their nests were so close to the buildings and walkways it was impossible to observe the "five meter rule."

Gentoo Chicks
Gentoo Nest at Port Lockroy

Chinstrap Penguins are easily identified by a distinctive narrow black stripe across their throats.  They seem particularly athletic, hopping across boulders and in and out of the water with ease.

Chinstrap Penguin
Chinstrap Penguins

For sheer cuteness, in both look and behavior, Adelie Penguins win hands down. We were fortunate to see the enormous colony at Esperanza Station/Hope Bay at the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula. The receding tide made jumping back up on shore a challenge. Photo credit for these two goes to my husband, Steve.

Adelie Penguin

While I am on the subject of penguins, here are the fabric postcards (5" x 7") I made for the end-of-trip auction to benefit the South Georgia Heritage Trust's Rat Eradication Project.  Of course, these depict Emperor Penguins, which we were too far north to encounter during our expedition.   But no matter, they served their purpose by adding a nice sum to SGHT's coffers.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Mysterious Antarctica

I made an amazing trip to South Georgia Island and Antarctica with my family in January. In this and in subsequent posts I will share highlights along with some of the needlework the trip has inspired.

We boarded our ship, the Akademik Ioffe, at Port Stanley in the Falkland Islands, spent one day on Sea Lion Island, and then sailed to South Georgia Island for a week's worth of landings. From there we headed to the Antarctic Peninsula and the surrounding islands and finally crossed the Drake Passage to the Beagle Channel and Ushuaia, Argentina.

The overwhelming impression I now have of Antarctica is that it is a place of great mystery, reluctant  to reveal its secrets. I don't mean to say that we didn't see a lot.  From the deck of our ship and during our many landings we saw an incredible abundance of wildlife, beautiful outcrops, and countless glaciers and mountain peaks.

But we never got more than a half day's hike from shore as we had to return to the ship every evening.  (No, there are no hotels or B&Bs in Antarctica.) Even though we were blessed with remarkably fine weather and views of rarely seen peaks, beyond the glaciers and snowfields and snow covered mountains that we could see lay another three thousand miles of ice, snow and rock that we couldn't see.  In order to see beyond the outer rim of Antarctica one would have to make an journey such as Ernest Shackleton attempted with the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition back in 1914. As you may know, his ship, the Endurance, was ultimately crushed in the ice and neither Shackleton nor any of the crew ever reached the continent, though through Shackleton's and their own efforts they were all eventually rescued.

I know that some people return from Antarctica feeling they can cross it off their list of places to visit. But I feel drawn to return and I'm sure a lot of that has to do with its mysterious nature and its inaccessibility. While it is always a pleasure to return to place that you know is beautiful, it is more compelling to go someplace where you are sure of finding something new and unexpected.

The following photo, taken late in the evening along the Antarctic Peninsula, embodies this mystery.  What is beyond that snow field, behind the clouds of snow carried on the wind? This photo also shows some of the surprisingly brilliant colors of the continent. When I used to think of Antarctica I thought of snow and when I thought of snow I thought of white. The reality is full of color, some subtle, some brilliant, but always changing.

Shortly after returning from this trip I took Valori Wells' class "The Signature Quilt" at QuiltCon:  the Modern Quilt Guild Show.   The materials list suggested using a photo for color inspiration and I chose this one.  Here is the resulting top (26" x 35").  I wouldn't say it captures the mystery, but I think it does capture the colors.  It reminds me of Gee's Bend quilts, which I have admired but not yet modeled my own quilts after. I am still trying to decide how to quilt this one, though I do intend to do it by hand.