Antarctica, day 20: Brown Station

March 23, 2022 • 11:30 am

About two weeks ago we visited Brown Station, one of 13 Argentine research bases in the Antarctic. This one is on the mainland, so passengers were told that they had stepped onto the continent itself instead of one of the surrounding islands (many cheered).

I put up a post about our visit then, including photos of the gentoo penguins and the famous “snow slide” in which, after a short but stiff climb, you toboggan down a hill on your butt. It’s great fun, but I did it once already and this time decided to hang with the penguins for a while.

And this time I’ll remind you that although I’ve reduced the resolution of most of these photos by about two-thirds (slow ship Internet), they look much better when you click on them to enlarge them. (You can click twice in succession to make them really big.)

And this time I made sure to get a good shot of the station from the ship. Here’s the entire set of buildings, built on the cove at the base of a mountain.

And the main station itself:

A shot on the way there:

Brown Station is surrounded by penguins, who seem to love human habitations. Below is a nearly molted gentoo penguin  (Pygoscelis papua). I had a penguin expert nearby, who told me that most of the ones that were molting were not juveniles molting into their adult plumage, but adults undergoing their yearly post-breeding molt.

This is an adult in mid-molt, and he looks pretty messed up. Apparently you can tell molting adults from juveniles because the adult feathers being shed really look like feathers.

Another molting adult:

Oy, what a mess!

The tail of a molting adult. Gentoos have more prominent tails than any other species of penguin.

A view of the harbor from the base.

An adjacent harbor:

I never tires of scenes like these:

Walking penguins are awkward and funny even though in the water they’re masters of dexterity. On land they often stumble, even when they hold their flippers out for balance, and sometimes they just toboggan on their bellies.

Note the big feet.

Another messed-up molting adult, trying to groom itself.

Here’s the only land bird native to Antarctica, the snowy sheathbill (Chionis albus). They do attack penguin chicks, and although there were no attack-able chicks at this time of year, the penguins still didn’t like these birds and tried to drive them away. I suspect they have a genetic aversion to the bird.

A sheathbill on one leg:

Now these, I was told, are juvenile penguins molting into their adult plumage for the first time. I can’t tell juvenile from adult molts, but the ornithologist knows best!

I took a photo of a penguin yawning (or whatever it’s doing) and thought I spotted a spiky tongue. This photo sort of shows it, but I wanted to see for sure. I figured that if I waited around it would yawn again and I could get a better shot.

I had to wait a while, but got to see what I wanted. This picture clearly shows the serrated tongue. I’m too lazy to look this up, but I suspect the serrations help both with grooming and gripping prey.

The adjacent harbor.

Many Antarctic stations have funny signs indicating the distance to other localities (often home). Here’s one from Brown. Notice that there’s one indicating Tokyo, about 9000 km away. 

After a robust morning with the penguins, I skipped lunch, wrote a bit, and had a large-ish dinner. I noticed on the way in to dinner that they had a display of local Patagonian beer, so of course I had to try them (they’re free). I knew that barley wine had a lot of alcohol, so I tried that one first, and it was good.

Lovely color, a bit off-dry as barley wines tend to be, and very tasty. I had a stout after that, and it was also very good.

Food! First course: chicken, shrimp, and pork dumplings with chili sauce and hoisin sauce.

Then a smallish steak with veggies and fries, consumed with the stout.

I had a strawberry milkshake for dessert, and my friendly waiter (one of the reasons I eat at the Fredheim) told me they’ll also spike your milkshake with rum. When he added that it would be six euros extra, I demurred, being a cheapskate. He put the rum in anyway, and I was pretty fricking tipsy when I stumbled back to my cabin.

Just to show you what I put on when I go ashore, here are my field clothes for a relatively warm landing (i.e., no heavy wind or rain). Next to my skin is a tee shirt, and then the light down jacket, and then the gray fleece. On top of this all I wear the Hurtigruten windbreaker supplied to all passengers, so I have four layers on top. My lower parts don’t get nearly as cold.

I wear a hat, though I don’t like them, and warm gloves. I also have my Hurtigruten expedition trousers given to me two years ago. (If it’s really cold, I wear a pair of Duo-fold expedition weight long johns under the pants.) A mask, required for being in the Zodiacs (but not ashore), rubber boots (mandatory, and from the ship), and a lifejacket complete the Antarctic couture.

I photographed my cabin door for sentimental reasons

12 thoughts on “Antarctica, day 20: Brown Station

  1. Those birds do look nasty when they are going through the molting. I saw a show on the History Channel last night that was about the discovery of the Endurance, Shackleton’s ship. I did not catch the very beginning and did not realize until the end that most of this show was about the mission three years ago when they started this hunt. Then they went back this year and finished. The ship used was the S.A. Agulhas II, a very special ship for this use. During this show they switched back and forth from the mission three years ago and parts of the Shackleton expedition. I guess the bottom line was, this was a very difficult mission finding the Endurance nearly 10,000 feet down in the Weddell Sea.

  2. Yes, we had a special ship to ship communication when we were in the Weddell sea–their first interview. It was great; it lasted an hour and we weren’t allowed to tape or photograph it.

  3. I don’t think I’ve asked before, but these posts (and basically anytime talks about Antarctica, especially drilling or boring) always make me thing of Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness, about an ill-fated trip to the Antarctic. Have you ever read it?

    1. That was a GREAT story! I am surprised at how well Lovecraft described Antarctica with just the beginning of it’s exploration revealed. I guess there’s not a lot to describe, snow/rock/water/ice, but he’s a good writer and could convey the atmosphere. I too have thought about that story while seeing Jerry’s photos. Mountains looming to catch an airplane? Sure, why not. And we still don’t know the extent of Antarctica’s hidden treasures. Maybe we shouldn’t…maybe that was Lovecraft’s lesson.

      1. “Mountains looming to catch an airplane?”
        Approaching the Faroes airport from the west, from Iceland, you’d swear those wingtips are just a couple of feet from the mountain cliffs on BOTH sides of the fjord.

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