I spent several days in McM getting "debriefed" and waiting for my northbound flight. During this time I stayed in the brand new Mammoth Mountain Inn next to the Chalet. I was fortunate enough to score a boondoggle--a helicopter trip taking supplies to science teams studying the Adelie penguins at Cape Crozier at the eastern tip of Ross Island. This place reminded me of the "Woodstock" movie; the hillsides were covered with thousands of birds. All of them had to travel down to the sea to catch fish for themselves (and later the young) so the ones with the low-priced tickets had a long walk! |
Be glad that no one has invented an internet plugin that sends smells to your computer! Anyway, one of the projects going on here was to COLLECT penguins; actually the cargo we unloaded was a bunch of penguin transport boxes. The penguins were on the way to Sea World in San Diego, which had a grant to study them. The idea was to develop a permanent breeding colony in the US so that future scientists could study them there and not disturb the native Antarctic population. As a side benefit they eventually got to display some of them, an exhibit I highly recommend. The birds were transported back to the US on a smelly C-141 which was kept cold during flight and kept air-conditioned at the tropical stops. The sad part of this tale is that this was the second try to collect the birds. During the 1976-77 summer when the birds arrived in California, the Dept. of Agriculture had properly required that the birds be quarantined for awhile just in case they carried diseases that would attack our chickens and other native birds. Dr. Todd and Sea World offered to provide a special isolated quarantine building with proper cages and climate control, but the USDA insisted that the birds be quarantined at a government facility. This turned out to be some trailers out in the sun, the air conditioning failed, and all the penguins died.
The birds collected this time were quarantined at Sea World.
Our visit was in the middle of the egg-laying season. Most birds laid 2 eggs, so when we were there many nests had 1 egg. The yellowish spot on the chest was from another science project which was studying the feathers. I was very fortunate to have this trip, few of the other pole souls ever had a similar opportunity. In fact, very few of the folks that go to the ice see much wildlife at all except for the occasional lost penguin that stumbles into McMurdo. Ten years later I had the first of 6 trips to Palmer Station and the Antarctic Peninsula and saw LOTS of whales, penguins, other wildlife and amazing scenery. And I was around Pole to see not one but TWO lost skuas that ended up there.
A few days later I was chilling out, sitting
on a park bench and watching these birds
along the Avon River in Christchurch.
I spent several days in Christchurch before I set out alone with camping gear on a bus/train tour of the South Island. The first stop was Arthur's Pass in the middle of the island west of Christchurch. I tried climbing to a hut on one of the hills, but I retreated when it got foggy and snowy at altitude. I ended up camping beside this lake, reading, fighting bugs and doing very little. After 2 days I hiked back to the road to flag down the westbound bus to Greymouth. As the bus took us over the pass I soon found myself swapping travel stories and snacks with other folks in the back of the bus. Eventually one of them asked me about an article in that morning's Christchurch Press about a fatal motorcycle accident near Queenstown.
I stumbled back to my seat in shock.