Monthly Archives: December 2014

South Georgia – Peaks, Penguins and the return of Old Friends!

November 2014

Check this out!


Thought I’d start with something different this month. Change never hurt anyone!

You might recognise some of the time-lapses from shots I’ve taken over the winter and put into previous blog posts. The Leopard seal made an entrance into a previous post as well. That’s two videos done on South Georgia now. I’ll start working on a third soon.


Mating Gentoo penguins

Early on in the month I headed out with James, Rachel and Deirdre to Maiviken to count nesting Gentoo penguins. Like most of the wildlife they have started to return now summer is here, and have begun doing what most adults like doing best in the animal kingdom! Gentoos generally partner for life but have been known to sneak off to another nest, when given the opportunity! If you go to Edinburgh and see the penguins there you could be looking at a relative of these guys. All the penguins at Edinburgh zoo were taken from South Georgia long ago. They also nest really far inland compared to other penguins. I took this photo about 1.5k inland and nearly 100m above sea level! Not bad for something that is about 80cm tall.


After the penguin count was done and dusted James and I decided to take in Spencer Peak at the northern end of the Duse ridge.


James making his way up a small chimney just below the summit. A rare section of decent rock on South Georgia!

Maiviken, Cumberland Bay West

A great view from the summit was the reward. Looking down into Maiviken here and Cumberland Bay West. The peaks in the background are on the Beusen Peninsula. Unfortunately they are in an area outside our travel limit.


It was interesting getting back down. We had to drop off the left hand side of the ridge here and then contour along before crossing the ridge again further down. You can just see James in the bottom left of the shot as he gets close to the small patch of snow.

Elephant seal

So those cute little balls of elephant seal pups with their black fur are now what we call ‘weeners’. The mothers have gone back to sea and these guys will stay around until late summer before heading off to sea. They spend most of the day sleeping, barking, sneezing and farting. These three decided to chill out underneath my bedroom window. Thanks guys!


So back in the autumn of 2007 I worked in Hong Kong for the first time, working for an outdoor company with lots of other freelancers from all over the world. Sophie was one of them and we worked together a few other times over the years. She’s now working for one of the ships down here as a sea-kayak guide (I’m not envious at all!).  We managed to catch up while she was in, it’s the only familiar face from before my arrival that I’ve seen in a year! Good to see ya Sophie!

Viola, Grytviken.

The commissioner of the Falkland Islands paid us a visit as well last month. Part of the visit was to have a small service on one of the old whalers. The one on the left of the shot is ‘Viola’ and may be be taken back to the UK to be refurbished/restored as it’s one of a kind. Before it was a ‘catcher’ in the whaling days it was a submarine hunter during the first world war. This meant we were allowed a rare opportunity to board them and have a look around.


One of the harpoon guns on the bow of ‘Petrel’. This one has a harpoon head loaded in the barrel as well. The heads are explosive which helps get the head through the skin. It’s a Norwegian design and was brutally effective at its job.


No idea what the machinery in the bottom left was for but I liked the curved stair case at the back. It’s hard to see but there is a staircase going down into the engine room beneath the other stairs.


Part of the Commissioner’s trip was a visit to the whaling stations at Stromess Bay and take a tour of Stromness station. We took both jet boats round and tied up alongside the old pier while the tour went on. As there is an asbestos risk everyone has to wear protective clothing and a face mask if walking around the station That meant my beard had to go!

Falkland Islands Governor.

I think this photo will end up in the ‘Penguin News’ which is the Falklands weekly paper. The Commissioner is to the left of Simon who’s in the maroon polo shirt in the back row. Who’s the clean shaven guy in the front left!?

St Andrews Bay, South Georgia.

Dickie and I managed a few days away in the middle of the month. We headed to St Andrews to see the elephant seals and the penguins. We had a visit from the ‘National Geographic Explorer’ while we were there as well.

River Crossing, St Andrews Bay, South Georgia.

Last time I was there with the boats I dropped a couple of old boating dry suits off. The rivers are formed from melting glacial water which is obviously very cold! The suits work a treat though!

St Andrews Bay, South Georgia.

The river crossings are worth it though. The brown lumps are elephant seals and the main bulk of penguins are actually out of shot. I’ve been here a few times now and it still amazes me.


I think I might have a fixation with death! Think this was an Elephant seal.

King Penguins, South Georgia.

Some king penguins consider going for a swim in the sea. There is something Jack Vettriano about the colours in this shot.

King Penguins, South Georgia.

And they’re off! The transition from fairly awkward on land to master mariners in the water is great to watch.


They seem to love the surf. Maybe it helps wash their feathers.


Male Elephant Seals are a little less graceful when it comes to breaking out of the surf.

King Penguins, St Andrews Bay South Georgia.

I’m not sure if it’s animal instinct to stay together, or if they do it consciously for safety in case a predator should come by.


The transition back to awkward is just as quick on their return to land!


As thin as their flippers are they must be strong as they use them to haul themselves upright without much trouble.


You have to be careful not to turn your back on the wildlife for too long as you never know who’s going to have a pop at you! Luckily this male was being held back by his(?) pup.


There was a 5-day black and white photo challenge thing on Facebook recently. I used this one, one day and it went down fairly well so here it is in colour.

King Penguin, South Georgia.

Friends, Ro…er..penguins, countrymen lend me your ears! This guy seemed to have something to say to the others. Maybe he was annoyed they left him behind.


The months of fighting and holding the beach take their toll on some of the male elephant seals. This guy obviously took a big shot to the nose at some point. Still didn’t stop him being boisterous. And yes that’s spit coming out of his mouth!


A rare ‘blond’ fur seal. A recessive gene causes this and affects about 1 in 1,000.

St Andrews Col, South Georgia.

We left St Andrews and headed for Hound Bay with the intention of climbing Mt Fusilier, the highest peak in our travel areas. Dickie looking back towards St Andrews here with the Buxton glacier and Nordenskjold peak in the background.

Mt Fusilier, South Georgia.

Well we made it and nearly got blown off the summit! I think some of the gusts were about 80 knots on top. Dickie’s stance gives a clue to how windy it was. My altimeter said the peak is 860m, not that you’d guess that from looking at the terrain.

Mt Fusilier, South Georgia.

We dropped into a small shelf on the lee side (non windy) of the peak for some respite and to crack open some cup-a-soup!


The way back down was easy and very quick. We were back at the foot of the mountain in about 20 minutes thanks to a long stretch of snow that allowed us to slide down about 400m in the space of a minute or two.

Hound Bay, South Georgia.

We had time to stop by the newest hut on South Georgia. Hound Bay is fairly remote and the midway point between St Andrews and Sorling – where most people hike in from. The builders put the hut in a month or so ago. It will be used for any visiting scientists who might be working in the area and by BAS staff in the case of an emergency.


The last day was a long hike, nearly 20k and all before 3pm. We headed for what might be an unclimbed peak at the back of the Longberg Valley in Hound bay. It’s only 480m but gives some great views from the summit down onto the top of the Nordenskjold Glacier. Unfortunately it was really hazy and getting a decent shot was hard.

Sorling Valley, South Georgia.

Dickie leaps across a small stream in Sorling Valley on our way back to the pick-up spot.


The third and final hut. We got back to the beach in time for a cup of tea at Sorling hut before the pick-up by the boats. The front of the Nordenskjold in the background – only a few hours ago were were looking down on it.


Towards the end of the month the Pharos arrived with the new winterers. This marked the beginning of the end for some people. We have 2/3 weeks to ‘hand-over’ various jobs. There are some new faces and some familiar ones this year. I should have the Christmas photo next month with the new wintering team.

I’ve been on the Island over year now and should be getting ready to leave, but I’m staying on until July/August. I thought long and hard about staying on but now watching people pack and get ready to leave I must say I’m glad I’m staying.

I’ll end with a social experiment this month! I was emailed the other week asking to send a postcard to someone in the USofA! I obliged and then had the idea of inviting people to send me stuff and in return receiving something back.

So I invite you to send me something, anything you think I/we might like. I’m not going to ask for anything specific – I’m interested to see what (if anything) arrives!

I WILL send something in return! Whether its a postcard or something more substantial depends on how much comes in. I.E if one thing arrives I’ll send that person something more substantial than a postcard, but if a hundred people send something I’ll be poor after buying 100 postcards and stamps! I might print off one of my pictures or make something in the metal or wood workshops. Who knows, it’s a lottery! Send me something to buy a ticket.


Matthew Phillips

South Georgia

Southern Atlantic

Via the Falkland Islands



If you don’t want it mentioned in a future post, make a note on it and I’ll respect that. Please don’t send me/us any of the following:

  • Tea bags or coffee- we have oodles!
  • 12 month Sky Sports subscription- no TV. But we do have a big screen and DVD player…
  • A Penguin of any kind, even from John Lewis.
  • Plants or seeds. These could be considered an invasive species.
  • Condoms – we have lots!


It will be 2015 next time I get a post written, so I’ll sign off by saying Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you all!


Posted in South Georgia Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , |