26 October 2007

The Beagle Channel

This very afternoon, Thursday 25 October, I have reached my furthest South - Bridges Island in the Beagle Channel. Ushuaia is 54 degrees 24 minutes South and the Island must be a few minutes nearer the South Pole. This does not compare with my furthest North in Canada two years ago, which is Tuktoyaktuk beyond the Arctic Circle at 69 degrees 26 minutes, but it´s about as far South as you get without going to Antarctica.

We had a short trek on the island. The guide told us about the original inhabitants of the region, who survived in this harsh environment by coating themselves in sea lion fat. They were otherwise naked. I think I´ll continue to rely on Goretex. There were also brief lectures on the island´s plants. One I recognised as the slow growing "living rock" last seen on the altiplano. That or a very close relative.

However, the main purpose of the voyage was to spy on the local wildlife.

The advertised targets were colonies of cormorants and sea lions, because they were numerous and involved in their breeding cycle. There were two species of cormorants; the imperial or king cormorant (depending on which field guide you rely on) and the rock cormorant. They were at the nest building stage and I´m sure I saw one filching material from another half-constructed nest.

The sea lions had growing pups and, to my surprise, were sharing their rocky islet with many birds, including nesting cormorants. Clearly sea lions do not have the same gastromonic interest in seabirds that leopard seals are noted for.

However, I got much joy from other bird species that turned up, including dolphin gulls with bright red legs and beaks, kelp geese, chilean skuas queuing to steal cormorant eggs or chicks, and sheathbills, the pure white birds with disgusting eating habits. They clean up placentas and excrement. And on Bridges Island I saw wrens perched on high twigs and singing prettily.

My memory card is well loaded with attempts at wildlife photography

So, all in all, a good afternoon´s endeavours.

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