Our next stop (hopefully) is St. Andrews Bay. It is not sheltered like most of the other places we have visited on South Georgia, so it is quite rare to land here due to the winds and the size of the waves. The weather seems beautiful – it is not too cold and sunny, but the winds are starting to pick up making a zodiac landing uncertain.
We finally got the go ahead from our expedition leader that it was safe to land, so off we went in the zodiacs all bundled up. I think I am finally getting the hang of this!
St. Andrews Bay has one of the largest King Penguin rookeries in South Georgia. Because of the long breeding cycle, the rookery is continuously occupied by both adult penguins and their chicks.
As I started heading towards the rookery, there were penguins all along the beach. You can see the Ocean Nova in the background in the next shot.
Louise decided to lecture this young male Fur Seal on manners and etiquette. I don’t know what she said to him, but he left us alone!
I have mentioned on several occasions that if you remain stationary long enough, the King Penguins will come up to you. If you want to get a good shot of them (and make sure you don’t frighten them), make sure you have your camera handy and move really slowly when taking your photograph.
Did I mention that they sometimes get really (often too) close to you?
If you ever get the chance to visit a rookery, you will find that the chicks are constantly asking their parents for food. When the adults return from the sea after feeding on fish and squid, they will regurgitate this seafood into the chick’s mouth (yummy), but the chicks never seems to get enough.
After quite a long hike, I have finally made it to the rookery – I was not prepared mentally for this. There are over 500,000 nesting pairs of King Penguins here (yes, that is at least a million penguins) and the noise is deafening. It is an unbelievable sight – no photograph can ever convey what you will experience when you gaze upon a million penguins.
The penguins were going about their business and also finding their way to the ocean to feed – then ultimately returning to the rookery to tend to their chicks. They were just everywhere you looked.
Finally, something that is not a penguin. The following image is of a Skua which is a scavenger. They will often steal penguin eggs in unattended nests or even kill young chicks. I think this bird was waiting for the right opportunity given all of the penguins in the area.
As I knew that the penguins would eventually come close to me if I stayed very still, I decided to sit quietly for about 30 – 45 minutes. I also made sure I had my ultra wide angle Nikon 16-35mm f/4G zoom lens lens on my Nikon D3 ready to go. Since the penguins would be (hopefully) only an arm’s length from me, the wide angle lens would allow close focus and also decompress the scene (@ 16mm), emphasizing the penguins.
I know I had already taken a few closeups of the penguins with my Panasonic GF1, however, the Nikon D3 is still the better camera as the FX sensor will often yield superior results (the Nikon D3 sensor is 4 times larger than the Panasonic GF1)
Now, I was ready to get that award winning shot.
Surely enough, these two penguins in the following shot came right up to me and I got the image I wanted.
The first thing you do is put down your camera. That’s right, put it down.
You see, the best image you will ever take on a trip like this is with your eyes and your mind, not with your camera. As photographers, we get caught up with trying to capture every moment and every change of scenery. That is great – and sometimes it is just best to put your camera down and “be” present in the moment. At first, it is a hard thing to do when you have become accustomed to clicking a shutter every time you see something amazing.
A minute after I put down the camera, these two penguins practically jumped in my lap – they inspected my boots, backpack, gloves and even spoke to me (of course, I don’t speak penguin, so I have no idea what they said). They looked like they wanted to play. I was speechless and amazed. They could have even pooped on me and I would not have cared at all.
They must have stayed with/on me for at least 5 minutes before walking away. It will be an experience that I will remember for the rest of my life. I never thought in my wildest dreams that I would ever become friends with a couple of penguins. No camera could ever record that. To this day, I am still speechless.As they were leaving, I swear they were saying to turn around and look behind me. I think they would make excellent photographers if they had a camera (and opposable thumbs) … this is what they saw (of course, I had to pick up my camera again).
Maybe I do speak a little penguin after all.
Unbelievable. This place is unbelievable. All of South Georgia is unbelievable.
Many of my fellow passengers got to see the penguins up close too. It is amazing how one of them can stand out from the thousands that are in the colony.
Our expedition leader stated that in the 80+ voyages he has taken to South Georgia, he has never seen weather as good as this. I wanted to stay ashore longer as the light – that golden, warm, beautiful light, was just amazing. I didn’t want the ship to sail away without me (a bad thing to have happen when you are on a remote island), so I started heading back to the beach to catch the zodiac.
BTW, the above shot was taken with my Panasonic GF1.
I just had the most magical experience and day of my entire life. That is saying a lot because I have had many great experiences. South Georgia is a really special place – not just because it is physically beautiful (and it is), it is because there is so much wildlife and they are not scared of you. As long as you respect your surroundings, you will become part of it here. There is nothing like this place on earth.
Tomorrow, we will arrive at Moltke Harbour. I think I am starting to suffer sensory overload as there is so much here in South Georgia to experience.
BTW, it turns out that out of three passenger vessels that were planning to land at St. Andrews Bay today, we were the only ones to do so successfully because of the winds and the waves.
Lady luck has been really on our side these days…
Please support this website! Purchasing cameras, lenses, books and other items from our sponsors (Amazon.com and B&H Photo) using the links provided on this website does not cost you any more than purchasing items directly from them. It helps us keep all of the content on this site available for free.