Michael Potts
Wildlife and Landscape Photography

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News & Events: Expedition to Ross Sea. Antarctic. Feb- March 2014

Saturday 17th May 2014 |

The Antarctic region is a place I have always wanted to visit, I had hoped that I would be sent there on a filming trip but this never happened sadly. So last year I made the decision to go to the Sub Antarctic Islands and the Ross Sea,  not only a fantastic area for wildlife but also the opportunity to viait the huts of the famous explorers Scott and Shackleton.

We departed Bluff, a small port at the Southern tip of South Island New Zealand, on the 9th Febuary 2014 on the 'Spirit of Enderby' operated by Heritage Expeditions of Christchurch. The route took us to the Snares Islands where we saw huge numbers of Sooty Shearwaters leaving at dawn and nesting Bullers Albatross. The route then took us to the Auckland Islands, followed all the way by an amazing aray of seabirds. Bullers, Wite Capped and Royal Albatross were our constant companions. At the Auckland Islands we climbed up to a nesting colony of White Capped Albatross and I was lucky enough to see the flightless Auckland Island Teal.The next stop was Macquarie Island, massive numbers of very inquisitive King Penguins were there on the beach to meet us along with Royal Penguins and huge Elephant Seals. It was a glorious day with clear blue skys, very unusual for this latitude 54 deg south. Usually strong winds and rain are the norm- this we experienced at Enderby Island in the Auckland group. Leaving  Macquarie at 2.00pm on the 15th feb' we passed huge King Penguin colonies in Lusitania Bay and then past Hurd Point, site of a 200,00 pair  Royal penguin colony. Turning south we now have over 750 miles to the Antarctic circle then on to Cape Adare at the entrance to the Ross Sea, the next 3 days at sea are very productive photographically, we see our first icebergs at 63 deg 21' south and of course many species of Albatross( Southern Royal, Campbell Island, Light Mantled Sooty, Wanderer) and several species of Petrels and Prions. Cape Adare is a bleak and forbidding place and we are now seeing the Antarctic in it's raw and untouched wildness. The sea is strewn with ice and icebergs loom out of the mist as we push south into the Ross Sea, now heading for Ross island where we hope to visit the historic huts of Scott and Shackleton. It is not always possible to land if ice conditions have choked up the shoreline. We pass Beaufort Island with glass calm seas and ice already beginning to form and the signs are good for landings at Cape Royds and Cape Evans the sites of Shackleton and Scotts huts. We visit both and find the experience quite an emotional one, thinking back to those men that were venturing into the unknown with the most inhospitable climate in the world, some never to return. The huts are beautifully preserved and maintained by the Antarctic Heritage Trust with visits strictly controlled. After several days in this pristine region where we saw Minke Whales , Weddell Seals, Emperor and Gentoo Pengins, Antarctic Skuas and SnowPetrels we turned North on a course back to Cape Adare.  Arriving there conditons were poor with heavy swell, so yet again we could not land at this remote point and pressed on to the even more remote Baleny Islands. Having steamed steadily overnight we were just 35 miles from Sturge Island, the most southerly of these rarely visited Islands, we  caught tantalizing glimpses of the formidable cliffs looming into the sky through the thick mist . There have been only 19 landings at these islands and it didn't look good for us to land either with the shorelines choked with ice. Birdlife here was dramatic with Southern Fulmars, Great Snow, Cape and Giant Petrels and a few Mottled Petrels. Later in the day the mist cleared to sunshine and we were able to cruise in the Zodiacs around Sabrina and Buckle Islands, colonies of Chinstrap and Adelie Penguins were seen along with Leopard seals, Weddell Seals and 8 Killer Whales. The proximity of some stunning icebergs provided great picture opportunities as we cruised the icecliffs of Buckle Island before retuning to the ship at 6.00pm. On 28th Feb' we cruised the West coast of Young Island getting occasional glimpses of it's formidable cliffs before heading North the 900 miles to Campbell Island.The next 4 days at sea give us ample opportunity to catch up on diarys and download and sort the many 1000's of pictures taken. I spend a lot of my time on the ship's bridge or out on the stern photographing Albatross and other seabirds. We arrive in the early hours around 3.00am and anchor in Perseverance Harbour. There is a glorious dawn which gets the full photographic treatment! I join the Zodiac cruise around the upper harbour followed by a walk up to Col Lyall for the colony of Southern Royal Albatross. This for me is one of the highlights of the trip, being able to sit 5 metres from a huge albatross, one of, if not the largest flying bird, with it's 10 day old chick in dry and sunny weather conditions, it doesn't get much better. Needless to say I took many hundreds of pictures, who knows what the weather willbe like tomorrow. True to form it dawns misty after a comfortable night at anchor, the fitter members of the party scale Mt Honey in the mist, whilst others, me included,  join Dr Johns great duck hunt, which is successful in finding  the flightless Campbell Island Teal. In the afternoon most people go up to Col Lyall to view the Royal Albatross colony, sadly the weather was less kind than yesterday with strong winds, mist and some rain, though of course this is more typical weather. I stayed on after 5.00pm with Martin  as there were displaying Albatross very close to the trail with others soaring very close overhead, flying at high speed downwind, The mist swirled around us making photography difficult but atmospheric, all in all an unforgetable experince to be so closely involved for a few hours with these masters of flight. Reluctantly we have to leave and make our way back to the ship but are rewarded with a fine view and photographs of a Campbell Island Snipe on the boardwalk. By 7.30pm we were all back on board with the anchor lifted at 9.00pm to begin the last stage of our journey to the Snares Islands and on to Stewart Island, some 360 miles. After a rocky night we steam steadily NNE with a swell and misty conditions, as we get further north the birdlife about the ship increases with Southern Royal and Campbell Island Albatrosses, in the afternoon species increased with Fairy Prions and 1000's of Sooty Shearwaters, birds from the huge colonies which nest on the Snares and Stewart Island. On the morning of 7th March we were anchored off North East Island of the Snares and had hoped to be able to do a Zodiac cruise to view Snares Crested Penguins, sadly, deteriorating weather meant that Rodney had to abbort the plan in the interests of safety. Now we have the last day at sea sorting out paperwork, pictures, settling accounts and taking just a few more Albatross images! In the evening we have a  wonderful slide presentation by Meghan followed by a superb farewell dinner washed down with copious amounts of alcohol. We have travelled 4675 nautical miles on one of my most exciting trips ever, over the last 35 years of filming wildlife I have visited more than 60 countries, but I think the Ross Sea region is the most pristine and deserves the fullest protection to preserve it's unique historic heritage and irreplacable wildlife.