Welcome! Thank you for joining me, Sharon K. Schafer, on my journey to one of the most remote, beautiful, and truly wild places left on our planet: The Antarctic. I am an artist and naturalist from Nevada, USA who will be photographing, sketching, and journaling my experiences in Antarctica for two weeks in November 2007.

13 November 2007

Emperor Rookery

LAT: 63° 30' South
LON: 56° 40' West

TEMP: -10°C
WIND: 10 knots
TIME: 1400

Today we were up early. By 0700 there was good news: the skies were clearing. The staff helicopter took off at 0800 to set up base camp and expected to start shuttling us by 0900. It will be done in shifts. Everyone who wants to get to the rookery will be able to. Just not all at the same time. We will have about half the clients at the rookery at any one time. The 0900 flights will return at 1300 and so on.

The walk in this time was longer. According to IAATO (International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators) guidelines we need to land about 1 mile away. Yesterday was just barely a mile so Jonas decided to be conservative and land a bit farther away.

The rookery was about where we left it. The rookery always travels a slight amount, gradually migrating across the ice. Often we can photograph them on pristine white ice and snow. It's nearly 2100 and I hear the last of the helicopters coming in.

Today was a bit chilly. It was around -17°C but the real chiller was that we had a 20-knot wind from the north. There was enough wind to blow loose snow about. The Emperors were unfazed ... I was not. I had gotten quite chilled hiking in. I was carrying in a passengers camera bag I even took my hat and gloves off and unzipped my jacket and the sides of my pants. I still was soaked in sweat. It felt a lot like trying to schlep too much luggage across an international airport with a snowstorm inside the building...and a wind chill of. I was pleased to do it and I got it there, but I was very slow and he was so anxious to get photographing.

Once at the rookery it was again delightful, awesome, unbelievable, overwhelming and just about the greatest place a person could be. The rookery was filled with activity and over it all was that distinctive cacophony of sound. Many of the emperors were lying down and sleeping. Unconcerned about the blowing snow their prone bodies acted as a small wind block and tiny snow drifts collected on the windward size and their bodies were lightly dusted with a spring of snow. The chicks were not huddling for warmth. For the chicks it was just another mild spring day. Nothing extreme about it.

This time I sat and watched more. I watched the parents feeding the little ones. I watched everyone preening - trying to keep those four layers of watertight feathers in good shape. There were long lines of chicks following an adult and little groups of hooligan chicks just hanging out in gangs. The contrast is so amazing. The chicks are fuzzy, bouncy, and very energetically courteous and look almost like little wind-up plush toys. The adults are so noble, staid and elegant.

As I hiked back today I wondered what the future holds for these animals. It feels like we visited a complex civilization with all kinds of rules and traditions that we know nothing about. The Khlebnikov visited the rookery three times this year bringing about 300 people. We were all so privileged. One wonders if the emperors will remember the yellow-jacketed people that visited in the early spring. Will they dream of us?

Without a doubt I will remember the Emperors and the privileged glimpse I had into their remarkable world ... and I will dream of them.