Antarctica: Danco Island

It was the 6th of March and our 4th day in Antarctica and the second day of expeditions. Day 1 had given us the amazing Cuverville Island and Chiriguano Bay. It was going to be hard to beat those 2 experiences, but Antarctica hadn’t disappointed yet.

Morning clouds

A few of the photographers had planned to get up early again for some sunrise photos. While the previous morning had been cloudy I did get a few great shots. This morning it was very overcast and blowing a gale. Still an impressive sight to see the snowy mountains, and cloud, from the deck but not a great morning for sunrises.

While the sunrise photography might have been a bust, early breakfast was on in the lounge, so those of us up had coffee, danishes and watched some whales breaching in the distance. Just your average morning in Antarctica! It was rather gusty and rough off the back deck but chatting to some of the expedition crew, they said we hadn’t moved around to our morning landing spot yet and they thought it was still looking good for a landing.

Standby for Danco Island….

The photo groups were on Standby for an 8am call for our morning zodiac cruise and landing. After early breakfast and then regular breakfast in the dining room, I was definitely ready to go. The ship had now moved around to our landing position, and the weather had improved but we’d been told that it was a bit rough for a zodiac cruise so we were just going in for a landing.

The photographers were first out as it wasn’t good weather for the kayakers today. Di’s mudroom group was in a later call, so she had extra time for coffee and food before needing to gear up. It was definitely a little cold and rough heading out to Danco Island but once we landed there was penguin magic!

Danco Island is an island off the Antarctic Peninsula , 2 kilometres, long lying in the southern part of Errera Channel, not far from Anvers Island, where we’d been concentrating our expeditions. It was charted by the Belgian Antarctic Expedition under Adrien de Gerlache. Danco Island was named by the UK Antarctic Place-names Committee for Emile Danco (1869–1898), a Belgian geophysicist and member of the Belgian Antarctic Expedition, who died on board Belgica in the Antarctic.

So many penguins and Gentoo posing….

As soon as we landed there were penguins galore! We’d seen plenty of Gentoo’s the day before but these guys are so cute that there was the usual problem of knowing where to point the camera!

Some of the penguins were still moulting so we had fluffy, moulting penguins again and also some bigger babies to photograph. The warmer weather meant there were still babies in the nests, which is not ideal for this late in the season. The moulting should be done by now and all the babies grown up.

The Gentoo’s were so funny to watch. All of them are posers, and definitely not worried about the humans who had come to visit their island.

We had marked trails to wander along and check out the different groups of penguins in their rocky colonies.

It was fascinating watching them wandering around and sitting around preening themselves and jumping in and out of the water.

Up the hill we go…..

After checking out the penguin colonies down near the landing site it was time to hike up the hill for more penguins and some spectacular views.

There was the Ocean Endeavour hanging out off the Island, and penguins just wandering on their highways between their colonies.

As we headed up the hill we got some spectacular views. Definitely worth the effort of trudging up the snowy trails with all our gear.

So many penguins, just being penguins! I loved the array of sizes and the filthy looking chicks who had been playing in mud.

As we hiked up to the highest point on the trails, we could see the groups of zodiacs coming in and the rocky outcrops the Gentoo’s picked for their rookeries. They nest in areas not covered by snow and build their nests with various rocks. Males present interesting rocks to females as courtship rituals apparently!

When you are up so high you can see the vastness of the landscape. The zodiac zipping along below in front of those mountains and icebergs.

While there were no shortage of penguins to point our cameras at, the challenge was trying to get shots of them that were different from the day before.

The areas of snow we were allowed to walk on were littered with penguin poo – that is what gives the snow the pink colour. Meanwhile I did find some pristine penguin footprints, in areas they hadn’t yet pooed!

What a view for these guys! Just hanging out looking at that all day long…… It was below zero degrees so not a tropical paradise, but perfect for penguins.

It was quite a hike from the landing site up to the top marker. With stopping for penguin crossings it took some time to walk up on the icy rocks and snow, but there were plenty of penguins to watch on the way.

Dance of the Gentoo……

Gentoo penguins are the third largest penguin species (after Emperor and King penguins). They are between 70 and 90cm tall when fully grown and up to 8.5kg in weight when not moulting. Despite being far less graceful on land than in the water they do certainly know how to show off with their waddling dances!

I never got sick of seeing them waddling off up and down their highways.

When they are moutling the adults can drop their weight down to 4.5kg and have the craziest hairstyles……

We saw plenty of Antarctic Skua’s (the brown birds) hanging around penguin colonies, waiting for a baby penguin to snack on. The penguins would all huddle to protect the younger penguins and squawk loudly to scare off the Skuas.

Penguin antics….

I could have spent hours watching these guys waddle around, totally unfussed by our presence and just being penguins.

The balls of fluff are rather cute!

I did catch this guy laying around eating snow….. as you do!

I do love them slowly waddling up their highways, off to do penguin things. Not in the least bit worried about all the humans patiently waiting for them to cross the trails so we can continue our hike.

How cute are their not so little feet!

This is my puddle…..

Down towards the landing site their were some puddles and penguins just hanging out playing in them. It was just fascinating watching them. We did have to keep our distance and there is no bending over to be at eye level (a restriction due to Avian flu) which presents some photography challenges, but challenge accepted and I got some great shots of these little guys have the times of their lives.

Who would have thought this puddle would have provided such entertainment – for both penguins and the many humans watching them!

These guys are just so cute, it was hilarious watching them run and play. This video is real time, this is how much fun they were having running in circles and splashing!

Farewell penguin friends….

Landings are restricted to 100 people at a time. As we weren’t doing a zodiac cruise and just the landing, there were still plenty of guests still to have their time on land. Our group ended up with about 70 minutes watching our penguin friends, and taking in yet another beautiful spot in the Antarctic Peninsula.

Back on the zodiacs…..

It was time to head back to the ship on a zodiac. As you can’t put anything down on the ground, there is always a spot that’s safe to put packs temporarily, to readjust straps and repack camera gear. The expedition staff also keep all their safety gear there. Why yes there is a pack labelled ‘crevasse rescue’. Thankfully no one needed that! They also use shovels to fill in any holes made by humans walking, so penguins don’t fall down them (apparently an issue).

The final protocol before wading out to the zodiac is a scrub of your boots on the boot scrubbing device (a stand with brushes inside) to remove any penguin poo. Boots are inspected before you get into the zodiac. Once back on the ship, you are also inspected again, boots rescrubbed, and you have a virkon bucket to step through. All to keep the penguins safe from Avian flu. It was reassuring so much care was being taken.

I’d seen Di’s zodiac arriving on Danco Island as I was heading back and told her she’d have a wonderful time with the penguins, which of course she did.

The trip back to the ship was again a little bumpy and wet, but always fun! The zodiac trips were part of the adventure, this one was definitely a wild ride. Here is a little video from the trip back in.

Back on board…….

Once I was back on board it was time to get dry and warm and grab photos off the camera and see what I’d got for the morning. We had another couple of hours off Danco Island while the remaining groups had their shore time. I headed up to the back decks to check out the views of the surrounding mountains and watch the other guests coming back into the ship.

While most people were out on an expedition, it was pretty quiet up on deck. The perfect time to wander around and see the zodiacs being put back on the hook.

Farewell Danco….

A few hours later all guests were back on board and it was time for lunch and watching a storm pass through as we bid Danco Island and all those gorgeous penguins goodbye, and headed off to our afternoon location.

The weather was looking foreboding but the landscape was still beautiful. Antarctica seemed very much like Melbourne with it’s weather – 4 seasons in one day!

Up next….

After a great morning on Danco Island we were heading to Neko Harbour for the afternoon. A few guests and several of the expedition staff had been there before and said it was a magical place. They were not wrong!

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