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.

08 November 2007

Drakes Passage Southern Ocean

At 7am today we are at:
61° 53' South
57° 22' West
Entering the Antarctic Sound
Air Temperature: 34°F
Starting to see icebergs all around
Winds: Calm

Well we are about half way to Antarctica and are in the middle of the passage. The fear of the Drake caused Magellan to find his strait so he could avoid the passage. The Drake has struck fear in the hearths of many a seasoned sailor. The shrieking or screaming fifties. Well the fates have smiled upon us, rather then the screaming or shrieking fifties it is in fact, miraculously, the seldom seen Drakes Lake. The ocean stretches out from us its smooth leaden gray surface merges with a leaden sky. Gray and calm. So calm few seabirds are flying. Most need the helping lift from strong ocean breezes and waves to stay aloft. Today they are becalmed.
Jonas, our expedition Leader, says its as calm as he has ever seen it and he has done this passage 121 times. He also says if Schafer is up and around, you know its calm. (I'm not exactly a good sailor)

Had a wonderful lecture from our onboard ornithologist. Introduction to sea birds on a day there were few sea birds flying. Seems appropriate.

Here are the basics of bird watching on the Southern Ocean:

If it's really big (like a B52 Bomber) it's in a group called the Giant Albatrosses, which includes the Wandering Albatross and the Royal Albatross. These are the largest albatrosses and the longest winged flying birds on earth with some having a wing span of more than 12 feet. Pace that off on your classroom floor and just try to imagine a bird that large.

If it's smaller then a B52 but still has very long wings, it's in the small and medium albatross group known as the mollymawks. Easily separated from the big guys by a dark mantle bridge on the back that links the uniformly all-dark upper wings. This group includes 5-11 species depending who you ask and argue with.

Some of these birds leave the nest, go to sea for a very long time. It's often 5-7 years before a young albatross is ready to breed and it is only then that it makes its way back to some of the Sub-Antarctic Islands to breed.

So many species are truly at home here in the watery world: Storm Petrel, Diving Petrels, Procellaria Petrels, Fulmars and Shearwaters. There are the delicate Blue Petrels and the tiny Prions that hug the waves fluttering like a butterfly.

Finally, there is the not-to-be-forgotten Imperial Shag, sometimes called the Blue-eyed Shag. A beautiful black and white cormorant of the southern oceans with bare vivid cobalt blue skin forming a ring around a dark reddish eye, a rakish crest of feathers all set off by a couple of big orange carnuncles or knobs. Quite the festive garb.

Around the ship today there were numerous Cape Petrels. They are probably the most common bird we see. Even to the bird-watching novice they are an unmistakable, medium pigeon-sized petrel with distinctive black and white checkered upper parts and mostly white under parts. Hardly ever beating their, wings they soar swiftly, arcing high above the water then plunge to graze a tip of their wing across it all the while expertly exploiting the breezes from the oceans wind and waves. It is the most hypnotic, graceful dance on the wind that you could ever hope to see. Much of my day was spent out on deck watching them and trying to get a good photo of these swift creatures.

Tomorrow they say the calm weather should hold. We should start seeing icebergs once we get into the Bransfield Strait and Antarctic Sound right near the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula.
Had a few scattered snowflakes fall between the gray overcast and bouts of sunshine we had today. The water temperature has dropped another 2 degrees. Its getting to the point were you need to bundle up to go out on deck. Its beginning to feel a bit like Antarctica. I can't wait.

RUSSIAN WORD FOR THE DAY: Good Morning! Dobray Utra!