Dolly Gets Skua'ed - and First Big Iceberg

Mina2 in the Caribbean - Where's The Ice Gone?
Tim Barker
Thu 5 Jan 2012 05:30

Position: 62:50S 061:43W

Rounding Snow Island

Date/Time : 5 January 2012 0100 (0400 UTC)


We had seen disappointingly few birds during the crossing of the Drake but as we closed the South Shetlands, out they all came to greet us. We have been surrounded by veritable flocks of birds, including Blackbrowed and Grey Headed albatrosses, Light Mantled Sooty albatross, Giant Petrels, Wilson’s Storm Petrels, White Chinned Petrels, Southern Fulmars (much to Ewan’s delight who is studying their northern cousins for his PhD), and the delightfully pretty Cape Petrels or Pintados with their black and white patterned wings and their comical way of skittering to a halt on the water, paddling like fury with their webbed feet.


But suddenly out of the flocks appeared a menacing bird that headed directly for the boat. It was a Brown skua – the carnivores of the Antarctic. It made directly for poor Dolly who was lashed, S&M style, to the backstay. After a couple of attempts the skua landed on her and started biting great chunks out of her. We all screamed and shouted and waved our arms, but it turned to us, looked at us with disdain and carried on. After a good few mouthfuls, it flew off. Ewan went aft to look at the damage. The skua, outraged that anyone else should approach what he know considered to be his property, screamed in again, grabbed Ewan’s finger and wouldn’t let go. Most of us would have been totally traumatised by this unprovoked attack, but Ewan just laughed. All in a day’s work for him I suppose.


The skua persisted in trying to finish Dolly off, much to Venetia’s concern – it would have made a bit of a dent in her catering arrangements - and she had to be discouraged from beating the bird to death with a stick – not the done thing in Antarctica where the wildlife can touch you but you can’t touch the wildlife.


Eventually, Ewan and I took Dolly down and put her in the cockpit pout of harms way.


We were approaching the gap between Smith Island and Snow Island in the South Shetlands when we saw a large white tower dead ahead. It was an enormous iceberg. It must have been hundreds of feet tall and was the most awesome introduction to this land of ice that we were entering. We are so far south now that it doesn’t get properly dark at all, so even though it was after midnight we could see it very clearly as we rounded it and headed up the Bransfield Strait for the last 35 miles to our destination, Deception Island.