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4 Months in the Antarctic Peninsula / Part 2

My routine began around six in the morning; I would look out the window to see if the usual penguin was there.

Antártica

 

After the first month, my routine began around six in the morning. I would look out the window to see if the usual penguin was there, trying to identify if it was a female or male, if their eggs were there, and if there were any broken shells. Then I would head to the kitchen, from where I could also watch the same pair of penguins, this time accompanied by the chef. Throughout the season, we were able to observe the complete process of the birth of the Papuan penguins, as well as the arrival of predators that ended the life of one chick. Later, during February and March, we witnessed the development of the surviving penguin, which was already larger and more independent, able to approach the sea. There were hundreds of Papuan penguins around the island, which had extraordinarily created several paths to reach their nests, some even on mountaintops. Alongside them, strategically placed, were the Skuas, the main predators of the chicks, which also began to nest. The inhabitants of the island encompassed much of the Antarctic biodiversity, from a colony of blue-eyed shags, nesting sites of Wilson's petrels, a couple of giant petrels, several Antarctic pigeons, Dominican gulls with their nests, Antarctic terns, some straggling Chinstrap and Adelie penguins, and a varied list of aquatic animals. Since 1987, the Southern Bay has had about a hundred hectares of Specially Protected Antarctic Areas (ASPA), right in front of the Base, which has allowed for years the periodic visit and, just a couple of meters away, the observation of humpback, minke, and sei whales, leopard seals, crabeater seals, and Weddell seals, as well as an incredible underwater world of special interest to several groups of scientists who arrive at Yelcho Base to dive for several weeks to investigate the benthos or species that inhabit the underwater environment.

 

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One of my favorite things during December was being able to watch the sunset between the mountains of Cape Herrara, right where Isla Winke ends to the south. After finishing the day's work, I could spend hours looking at the horizon, watching as a set of lights and reddish, purple, and orange reflections moved over the Bismarck Strait to touch the tongues of the glaciers of Isla Winke and Isla Doumer, until it became dusk and a new day began without having had a single moment of complete darkness, and without even realizing that it was already dawn.

 

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As a photographer, it was inevitable to try to capture everything, and without hesitation, every free moment, coupled with the long hours of light, allowed us to go out and explore the vibrant world around our Base. I had the essentials for landscape and wildlife photography: a tripod that could be converted into a monopod, a remote control, several low-capacity but high-speed writing memory cards, a couple of extra batteries, a polarizing filter and a UV filter, a 200-500mm telephoto lens plus an 18-140mm zoom lens, along with a pair of warm gloves, goggles, bandanas, goggles, snacks, a phone, the very important VHF radio, a pair of snowshoes, and the crucial company of a motivated companion. All this was the perfect recipe for spending long hours in the field capturing and learning from the wildlife of Isla Doumer.

 

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After thousands of photographs from the departure from Punta Arenas to the last weeks of February, my camera decided to stop working completely (already on the continent, and after its repair, I would know that the shutter had collapsed due to a manufacturing defect). However, the records of hundreds of hours in the snow enjoying the privilege of being an Antarctic worker remained. Some moments have become iconic memories in my wildlife catalog, like several portraits full of charisma, including an Adelie penguin staring at me on Isla Biscoe while holding its chicks, or a group of sleek Papua penguins in formation among the snowdrifts, or even those 1 in a million moments of a leopard seal in the early days of March eating a Notothenia (a type of Antarctic fish that makes up only 4% of its diet). Others were imposing landscapes that are difficult to describe in words, as they are simply sublime.

 

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After baking hundreds of loaves of bread, lunches, dinners, and helping in the kitchen for several months until the departure of the last scientists, and then changing roles to support construction tasks and occasionally navigation, without neglecting the hundreds of hours of exploration as a photographer. Finally, on March 25 of that year, when the weather was very unstable and the snow was taking over Yelcho Base again, we received the radio call that the Lautaro Ship would come for us to take us to King George Island, where we would embark again on the Classic Oscar Viel to return to the port we had left almost 4 months before. With this call, we began to close our summer home, which had grown noticeably thanks to the team's effort to improve the infrastructure. Also, the penguin colonies had increased with the arrival of the new chicks, which were already larger, with their definitive fur, and ready to enter the sea. Leopard seals became more frequent in the bay, feasting on the new penguins, and everything seemed to be heading towards the beginning of the Antarctic winter. By March, we already had several hours of darkness, and the weather was practically unpredictable. Our time on the island was ending to give way to hibernation and to return to the South American continent, awaiting another Antarctic summer. Undoubtedly, another successful season for those for whom Antarctica becomes a passion.

 

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Then, at the end of 2018, opportunities allowed me to spend 3 months at the Union Glacier camp, 1000 kilometers from the South Pole, and at the end of 2019 until April of this year, I returned to the Antarctic Peninsula as a consolidated logistician, clearly stories for the following polar chronicles.

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Punta arenas Ignacio reyes Antártica Outdoor index

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