Category Archives: Articles

Laughing Gull: Grenada

An impromptu Grenada fish market.

While visiting the capital of Grenada in March, I encountered a couple of lovely birds with black heads.

My first question to myself: Are they gulls or are they terns? The hooked beaks and longish legs give it away. They are gulls.

But what kind of gulls?

Peterson’s A Field Guide to BIrds East of the Rockies shows six species of smallish hooded gulls.

Laughing Gull, Franklin’s Gull, Sabine’s Gull, Black-headed Gull, Bonaparte’s Gull and Little Gull all have dark hoods in breeding season.

Many of these gulls also have the white eye-arcs that the Grenada gulls show.

I decided that these are Laughing Gulls based on 1) the reddish, relatively long and drooped at the tip bill. 2) the fact that this species is an avid taker of human handouts and is comfortable in seaside urban settings.

Laughing Gull

Miles Hearn

Seabird lands on Ship

Every now and then, a confused seabird will land on a ship and be unable to fly away.

In this case, our bird was a Cape Petrel.

Cape Petrels are pelagic seabirds meaning that they spend their lives looking for food at sea and come ashore each year usually only during mating season.

Pelagic birds have a little “tubenose” on top of the bill which filters the salt from salt water.

Some Petrels give the illusion of walking on the surface of the water. This reminded sailors of the character Peter who, in the bible, walked on water briefly. Sailors began calling these birds “Peters” or Petrels.

As ships sail south to Antarctica there are often dozens of birds following them, playing in the wind currents or looking for food that the ship might force to the surface of the ocean.

Cape Petrels eat cephalopods, crustaceans and fish which are taken by surface-seizing.

Cape Petrels breed in November – December in loose colonies on level rocky ground or moderately high cliffs with many ledges.

One white egg is incubated for 41 – 50 days.

Chicks fledge (become adults) in 45 – 57 days.

I often see and hear them in the cliffs at Deception Island.

This Cape Petrel was successfully returned to the sky and sea.

March 3, 2017

Miles Hearn

Elephant Point, South Shetlands, Antarctica

This is my last outing of the season. We saw Gentoo Penguins, Southern Elephant Seals, Snowy Sheatbills, Giant Petrels, SkuasĀ and the remains of an Antarctic Fur Seal.

Elephant Point

Feathers from moutling penguins

Snowy Sheathbill

Moulting Gentoo Penguin

Fur Seal remains

Skua

View of the surface.

Giant Petrels and chick.

Moulting Elephant Seals

Elephant Point

March 2, 2017

Miles Hearn

Leopard Seal near the Zodiak

Occasionally a Leopard Seal will decide to inspect a Zodiak closely and have even been known to take a bite out of one.

leopard Seals have an almost reptilian looking head.

Leopard Seals are widespread but uncommon in Antarctic and subantarctic zones.

There are believed to be about 400,000 individuals.

They eat krill, fish, seabirds and especially penguins.

They also prey on young seals.

They get to the flesh of penguins by banging them on the surface of the water to eliminate the feathers.

They have been known to directly attack humans.

Pups are born in October to December.

Pups are born on pack ice.

This species has been subject to very little commercial fishing.

March 1, 2017

Miles Hearn

Unnamed beach on the Antarctic Peninsula

This beach was not on any chart so we concluded that we were the first human beings to ever set foot on it. We found Adelie Penguins, Skuas and a few Weddell Seals.

Algae

View of the surface

Limpets. Gulls take these from the sea.

Skua

Mother and pup Weddell Seal

Adelie Penguin

Moulting Adelie Penguin

Beach

February 27, 2017

Miles Hearn

Walking on “Fast” Ice

To give the passengers a once in a lifetime experience, the ship sailed into fast ice in an area called the “Gullet” and we all walked about on it. “Fast” ice means ice which is “fastened” to the land. It is likely about 3 meters thick.

View from the fast ice

No luxury cruise is complete without champagne for the guests.

Guests were brought to the ice by Zodiak.

We had to be careful as a crack did form in the ice.

Two of the ship’s dancers

Cathy from France, myself and Rodrigo from Mexico.

Ship’s captain and officers.

February 27, 2017

Miles Hearn