‘The north wind doth blow and we shall hath snow’. Well the
north wind was blowing hard on a bright January afternoon when the
annual Ornitholidays’ party to Antarctica assembled at Heathrow for
the flight to Buenos Aires via Paris. We would have to wait a few
days for the snow! More or less on time, our Air France A320 thundered
down the runway on the first leg of our adventure.
Time was tight for our connection on arrival in Paris, so it was
a help to find an Air France representative waiting to escort us across
to our gate in one of the other terminals, where other passengers
were already boarding our flight. We were not the last late arrivals
and consequently our Air France 777 left at midnight, 35 minutes late.
Our flight through the night went smoothly and we made up lost time
en route arriving in Buenos Aires on schedule. We were soon through
the formalities and reunited with our luggage, much to everyone’s
relief, although it was a cliff-hanger as most of our bags were amongst
the last off the aircraft – last on, first off does not apply to Air
We were met by our guide, German, and taken to our city centre hotel
where we had time to refresh and relax before lunch. After a siesta,
he returned with the bus to take us to Costenera Sur, the ecological
reserve in the city that has fascinated many Ornitholidays parties
before us. The reserve is a superb wetland where broad tree and bush-lined
embankments separate large lagoons. It varies from year to year for
when I was last there with a group, 14 months ago, the two main lagoons
were dry and overgrown, now they are full of water and their surface
dotted with swans!
On leaving the bus we began walking towards the entrance, but as
so often happens here we made little progress, being waylaid by views
of grebes, wildfowl, coots and so on. Even something as straightforward
as a coot ceases to be so in this part of South America. We began
with White-winged Coot, before discovering Red-gartered Coot, which
turned out to be the most numerous of the species we were to see there
and during the latter part of the afternoon we found the third species
– Red-fronted. Along the way we had watched a host of new birds –
bewildering in some ways, as a new continent often is, but familiar
at the same time as many of the new species belonged to familiar bird
families. Just over 60 species in about three hours was pretty good
considering the heat and the fact that we were not running at 100%
after the long flight from Europe.
We had excellent views of many species through both binocs and the
telescopes. White-tufted was the most numerous grebe, often there
were chicks with their parents. Next came Pied-billed, the most widespread
New World grebe and finally we saw the elegant Great Grebe. Both Black-necked
and Coscoroba Swans were common on the lagoons, particularly the former
with some 250+ being seen. Wildfowl were scattered across the lagoons
and around the margins and recalled the South American pen at a Wildfowl
and Wetlands centre – with Silver Teal, Rosy-billed Pochard and Lake
Duck being the commonest ducks. Not everything had webbed feet or
swam – soon after arriving we found Rufous Hornero, Argentina’s industrious
national bird, and scarlet-headed Yellow-billed Cardinals. The Gray-breasted
Martins seen at the airport were replaced by Brown-breasted Martins
and out over the lagoons hawked White-rumped Swallows. As we worked
our way amongst the bushes and trees that lined the embankment we
saw Green Kingfisher, Green-barred (Golden-breasted race) Woodpecker
and our first hummingbird – Glittering-bellied Emerald. Great Kiskadees
called against the background sound of traffic reminding us that we
were near the heart of a vibrant city, but what a wonderful wildlife
area. Given time and space one could mention so much more, but it
wasn’t all birds for Coypu swam across the lagoons and Hilary’s Side-necked
Turtles were hauled out on fallen tree-trunks. Colourful butterflies
such as West Indian Buckeye flitted from one scented blossom to another
and being near water there were of course dragonflies and damselflies.
The afternoon flew by and rather than retrace our steps German called
the bus driver to meet us at another entrance to return us to our
hotel to freshen up before dinner.
Hot and sunny with northerly breeze. 35ºC
We had breakfast at 6am and a 6.40am departure was not as bad as
it seemed for our body clocks were still on European time. We headed
out of Buenos Aires on the Pan-American Highway before turning off
along a road that would have eventually led us to Uruguay, but instead
we visited the superb wetland reserve of Otamendi. It was largely
reedbeds over which floated Long-winged Harriers and Chimango Caracaras.
Snail Kites beat slowly along unseen channels dropping to grasp an
apple snail, which they would take to a favoured feeding perch. We
also saw Southern Caracara, a recent split from the Crested Caracara
of North and Central America and a White-tailed Kite.
As we arrived we saw our first Cattle Tyrants, Saffron Yellow-Finch
and Great Pampa-Finch, but it was two local specialities that German
was keen to show us. Of the two species of reedhaunter - Straight-billed
is the hardest to see and as luck would have it, that was the first
one we saw. It frequents the tallest reeds and on hearing German’s
playback one came right in and climbed a reed only a few yards away
to perch in full view. The Curve-billed Reedhaunter inhabits the shorter
reeds, but tends to respond from cover, although once located we watched
it through the scope.
Birds were appearing or flying over all the time and surprisingly
there was relatively little overlap from yesterday. One of the commonest
species was Monk Parakeet with noisy parties flying over or feeding
in bushes out in the marsh. It was often a case of where did one look
next - upwards for a party of Bare-faced Ibis (no feet extending beyond
tail) or White-faced Ibis (feet extending well beyond the tail), or
looking into a small bush for a female Checkered Woodpecker, or searching
the canopy of a roadside tree for an elusive Diademed Tanager. All
the time it was getting hotter and by 10.15am the bird activity was
beginning to tail off, so we returned to the main road and continued
towards Ceibas, where we were due to have our picnic lunch. After
crossing two large suspension bridges we reached ranching country,
where in wet fields and marshes we saw our first Maguari Storks, a
species that bears a striking resemblance to the White Stork of Europe.
However Southern Screamer has no European counterpart, for the family
is confined to South America. They are large heavily built birds,
the size and shape of a large goose, but with a short neck. They don’t
have webbed feet and their beaks would suggest a chicken somewhere
in their ancestry, yet they are in fact aberrant wildfowl - very aberrant!
Being too early for lunch we drove a few kilometres further, where
in wet fields screamers numbered in their hundreds, our first Roseate
Spoonbills glowed rose-pink and Maguari Storks searched for food.
Parties of Wattled Jacanas lifted from pools with a flash of their
primrose-coloured wings as one of the many Snail Kites hovered overhead,
searching for a snail not a jacana, and although there were signs
of the apple snails, there were no Limpkins, another species that
feeds on the snail. In the distance four Greater Rheas grazed in a
drier area, in fact if they had been much further away they would
probably have been in Uruguay!
In fact it was not far to the estancia where we enjoyed an excellent
picnic lunch in the shade of tall trees not far from the main house,
which Stan chose as a subject to paint. In the cool we did the checklist,
but it was not without interruptions – first for Spot-winged Pigeons,
then a waddling White-tipped Dove, White-fronted Woodpecker and then
a Narrow-billed Woodcreeper – at least these distractions appeared
in systematic order! Before we set off birding again in the bus we
watched a wintering Swainson’s Hawk drift across overhead and then
in an area of rough pasture beyond some outbuildings James and Mik
found an immaculate White Monjita perched chat-like on a bush. It
might look like a chat, but it is yet another tyrant-flycatcher.
We took to the road beyond the estancia and on a small pool discovered
a small party of Ringed Teal – three males and two females. It was
a new species for all of us, being one of the two remaining South
American waterfowl that have eluded me. Now for Brazilian Merganser………….
The area produced a number of interesting birds – smart Field Flickers
are the large woodpeckers of open ranching country in this part of
the world. In bushes along the track we found Chotoy Spinetail and
Little Thornbird as well as a relatively huge Savannah Hawk perched
further away near a pond that held a pair of Brazilian Duck. At 4
p.m. we headed back towards Buenos Aires, stopping en route for two
Giant Wood-Rails near the road before we left the wetlands behind
It was just over two hours driving time to get back
to the hotel, where a refreshing shower was most welcome before dinner
and an early night. Tomorrow another chapter in our adventure would
The weather was mixed today. Torrential rain and almost continuous
thunder and lightning in Buenos Aires. Sunny and breezy at Bariloche
and El Calafate, whilst at Ushuaia it was much cooler and overcast.
German and George arrived on time to take us from the hotel to the
domestic airport, only 10-15 minutes drive away. With a thunderstorm
raging and torrential rain the city’s normally bustling streets were
quiet. The rain seemed just as heavy when we came to take off at 10.00am,
some 25 minutes late. Our flight to Ushuaia in Tierra del Fuego was
rather a circuitous one. Instead of being two sides of a triangle,
it was three sides of an oblong with stops at Bariloche and El Calafate
Just over two hours later we landed at Bariloche in the Andean foothills
close to the Chilean border and almost due west of Buenos Aires. While
we were on the ground James saw Chimango Caracaras displaying. We
left again at 12.45pm heading south to El Calafate, another town near
the Andes on the shores of milky-blue Lago Argentino, whose sediment-laden
waters are fed by several glaciers including the beautiful Merino
On landing eventually at Ushuaia, we were reunited with our luggage
and met Marcelo, our guide for our time in the area before joining
the World Discoverer tomorrow. On checking-in at Hotel Tolkeyen,
situated on the shores of the Beagle Channel, only James and Mik joined
Marcelo to explore the valley below the Martial Glacier, finding White-throated
Caracara (4), Bar-winged Cinclodes, Dark-faced Ground-Tyrant and Yellow-bridled
The rest of us enjoyed walking near the hotel with
Kelp and Upland Geese along the shore and loafing Flightless Steamer-Ducks
sharing a gravel bar with Crested Ducks, a pair of Yellow-billed Pintails,
and Dolphin and Kelp Gulls. Out in the Beagle Channel Black-browed Albatrosses
and Sooty Shearwaters streamed by over the choppy waters. Inland we
saw Austral Thrushes and White-crested Elaenias in the trees behind
the hotel as well as several Chilean and a Blue-and-white Swallow hawking
insects in the shelter of a belt of conifers along the side of a stream.
A group of unsuccessful local fishermen tried to get us to sample the
blue berries of the Calafate bush. Judging by the bitter taste,
these locals weren’t very good at picking berries either! When we looped
around to the shore, Patricia found our first Austral Negrito. The weather
brightened during the evening, providing us with a good sunset as the
kitchen provided a family of Southern Caracaras with their supper too.
A dull start, but soon becoming sunny and glorious for our exploration
of Tierra del Fuego National Park. 14ºC
Those out before breakfast saw many of the species seen yesterday,
but with calmer conditions out in the Beagle Channel there were fewer
albatrosses and shearwaters.
After breakfast Marcelo arrived and soon we were aboard the bus and
heading towards the Tierra Fuego National Park, but barely 200 yards
from the hotel we stopped to look at Rufous-chested Dotterel feeding
on the shore with a Baird’s Sandpiper. Marcelo also took delight in
pointing out Flying Steamer-Ducks, amongst the more numerous Flightless
On entering Tierra Fuego National Park we soon started seeing birds
for Marcelo had learned a trick or two since I first birded with him
in 1993. Playing the call of Austral Pygmy-Owl was one and soon, not
only were we seeing the passerines attracted by the call, but the
small owl itself perched on a bare branch at the top of a dead tree.
We hadn’t gone much further before the sun appeared and in a broad
open area with a craggy mountainous skyline, we saw a magnificent
Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle and soon after our first Andean Condors
appeared high above. They turned out to be the first of eight or nine
recorded during the day.
As we drove along the river that flowed into Lago Roca, we stopped
to check the wildfowl along the opposite bank and found a resting
Spectacled Duck, one of the less common South American wildfowl sought
by birders. The riverside Nothofagas woodland was most productive
for soon we found another of the day’s target birds - the superb Magellanic
Woodpecker. The first was a scarlet-headed male, seen very well as
it hammered away in a tree just above us. Some 10-15 minutes later
we found the female nearby, perhaps even more confiding and showing
her curly black crest well. The woods produced Austral Parakeets,
grey-headed Patagonian Sierra-finches and Thorn-tailed Rayadito, a
tiny Furnarid that combines the agility of both Treecreeper
and Nuthatch. On reaching the lake we found a number of attractive
Yellow Orchids growing amongst Calafate bushes and nearby watched
a hunting fox. It was a beautiful grey and chestnut-orange animal,
which I thought at the time was an Argentinean Grey Fox, but on checking
the books on my return home I realised it was the larger and more
colourful Copleo Fox.
Back-tracking a few kilometres we turned towards Lapataia,
but stopped on the banks of the river for lunch, where we attracted
inquisitive Rufous-collared Sparrows as we had a sumptuous picnic in
the warm sunshine. On the river was a pair of Great Grebes and as we
set off on a walk across to a nearby bay, we found a Fire-eyed Diucon,
another of the myriad of tyrant-flycatchers. After walking by an inlet
we climbed a rocky knoll overlooking the next bay in one direction and
looking into a substantial stand of Nothofagas woodland in another.
Marcelo imitated the call of Magellanic Horned Owl and suddenly there
it was, or minutes later there they were, for it was the classic two-bird
scenario, with some of the group looking at one and the rest looking
at the second. For a while everyone thought they were looking at the
The bay at Lapataia is beautiful and on a sunny and almost windless
day like today was perfect. As we walked towards the shore a Tufted
Tit-Spinetail searched the twigs and branches of a stunted bush for
insects, whilst on the high ridge above Marcelo spotted a resting
Guanaco, the larger of the two wild species of South American camelids.
More surprising was the Black-browed Albatross watched by James and
Mik as it sailed along the ridge apparently heading inland, but at
2,000 feet or higher, it could probably see the next bay along the
coast! Along the shore were several families of Flightless Steamer-Ducks,
but one pair in particular attracted Marcelo’s attention – the female
looked just like a female Falklands Steamer-Duck! Well if she was,
she had swum a long way. Ideally we should have tried to get closer
and taken notes for it might be a new record for Argentina (that is
assuming that the Union Jack will always fly over Stanley!), but time
was against us and we had a ship to join. We left Lapataia at 2.50pm
and drove straight to the hotel where we collected our luggage and
then went down to the town to join the World Discoverer. We
were aboard by 4.10 p.m., well ahead of the bulk of the passengers
who didn’t arrive until 5.30pm.
All the group were on the Observation deck at 7pm
when we cast-off, but it was several minutes before we slipped out into
the Beagle Channel with a deafening blast of the ship’s horn. There
was no chance to watch Ushuaia disappear into the distance for the mandatory
safety briefing required compulsory attendance. Dinner followed with
a calm passage through the Beagle Channel on our first night at sea.
Overcast with a northerly breeze f3-4. The temperature at 9am was
9ºC with a sea temperature of 8ºC. By noon the air temperature had
risen to 10ºC and sea had dropped to 7ºC.
The morning began with an expedition briefing and
then one on zodiac landings. In the afternoon there was an English lecture
on the Falklands by Jeremy Smith, whose enthusiasm for his subject was
For the birders there were new birds of course. We had just one Wandering
Albatross all day, but several Royals of both the Northern and Southern
subspecies. Black-browed Albatrosses were quite numerous and we might
well have seen more than the 60 noted - equally there might have been
less with repeat appearances! Southern Giant-Petrels were the commonest
large tubenoses with at least 100 noted and with them we found at
least two Northerns with their red and not green tipped bills. Shearwaters
were scarce with just a single Great and about 20 Sooties, but prions
on the other hand ran into hundreds – mainly Slender-billed, but Mik
and I also saw about ten Fairy Prions during a brief spell. During
the day we saw our first two Cape Petrels or Pintados and some ten
White-chinned Petrels, whose white chins seem virtually impossible
to see! Wilson’s Storm-Petrels were abundant and frequently one could
see half a dozen or more scattered back along the wake. Early in the
morning we saw a single Magellanic Diving-Petrel and later three single
Common Diving-Petrels were seen, skimming the waves like re-located
auklets. No birds other than tubenoses were seen today.
Apart from a lone South American Sea-Lion, the only mammals recorded
were a pod of Orcas during the afternoon. The tall dorsal fin of the
bull showed well and tucked in amongst the group was a quite a small
youngster. They entertained us for some time, giving excellent views
as Captain Kruess matched the World Discoverer’s speed to theirs.
Highlights were numerous displays of breeching.
We soon became accustomed to life at sea with its round of lectures
during days at sea and the evening recap sessions in the Discoverer
Lodge, which this evening was followed a little later by the Captain’s
Welcome Cocktail Party and Welcome Dinner at which Stan and Pauline,
and Nigel and Kay, were on the Captain’s table!
The sea was still being kind to us and tomorrow we
should be arriving in the Falklands at daybreak.
Glorious morning after early low clouds cleared for our visit to
West Point Island, but became overcast as we headed for Carcass Island
and remained so for the rest of the day. 13ºC
As we approached the island of West Point Sooty Shearwaters and Black-browed
Albatrosses were still passing and as we neared the shore, both Rock
and King Cormorants were seen. South American Terns beat up and down
and a party of five Brown-hooded Gulls flew overhead. South American
Sea Lions rested on a wave-cut platform exposed beneath low cliffs
topped by tussac. In the sea and on the slopes above we saw our first
Magellanic Penguins. Rand was also up early and found two Grey-backed
Storm-Petrels on the Observation Deck, two more were found in the
swimming pool and later three more were discovered huddled in a corner
on one of the other decks. It was a new fondle tick and the opportunity
to see these small tubenoses at close range. In the hand they seemed
larger than expected, but when released they soon ‘shrank’ to their
normal size - tiny!
By the time we went ashore soon after 8am the sun was out, the sky
was blue and it was really warm - the Falklands don’t get any better
than this. By the time we hiked up over the hill to Devil’s Nose,
it was like a personal sauna inside our red parkas. We walked over
grassy fields between diddle-dee topped hills to reach the head of
a shallow valley that led towards tussac-lined cliffs. With relative
ease we found a family of Grass Wrens that inquisitively climbed the
grass stems to investigate pishing and thus showed very well. The
small stream was lined with Wild Celery and Patricia reported that
Native Strawberry (Rubus geoides) tasted better than Calafate
berries - not surprising really. As we neared the cliffs, and therefore
the sea, Black-browed Albatrosses wheeled in the blue sky above the
colonies they shared with Rockhopper Penguins. Both species had well-grown,
but still down-covered young, so there were superb views of interaction
between parents and offspring - a photographer’s dream.
Afterwards we made our way back to the settlement for tea and cookies,
whilst some, included John and Patricia, climbed Mt. Ararat and saw
Correndera Pipit. Tea in the Napier’s farmhouse was excellent. Outside
Dark-faced Ground-tyrants flitted around just beyond the garden, which
was filled with the heady scent of the prolific honeysuckle bushes
and in the bay below Peale’s Dolphins cavorted around the zodiacs
as they ferried satisfied passengers back to the World Discoverer.
Afterwards we set sail for nearby Carcass Island, one of the islands
visited annually during Ornitholidays’ tour to the Falklands. There
were two landing parties - the walkers at Leopard Bay and the less
energetic on the beach below the settlement at Port Pattison. On the
sandy beach at Leopard Bay were our first Gentoo Penguins, but it
was distressing to see that the nearby colony, thriving last November,
was empty and their copses lined the tideline of Port Pattison. Toxins
from a red-tide algae bloom are thought to have caused the high mortality
rate. We left the beach and crossed to Port Pattison passing breeding
Brown Skuas and grazing parties of both Ruddy-headed and Upland Geese.
Nearby, in the dunes, was a female Black-throated Finch and a couple
of extremely confiding Paraguayan Snipe. On the beach across the neck
we came on Cobb’s Wrens, searching for food, mouse-like, amongst the
seaweed, stones and yellow-flowered Sea Cabbage (Senecio candicans).
We then walked towards the settlement above the cliffs, passing the
deserted Gentoo colony, and further on a now empty Striated Caracara’s
nest. Nearby the parents and their three offspring stood around near
the clifftop waiting for the cameras. On the shore were Blackish and
Magellanic Oystercatchers, families of Kelp Geese, whose goslings
were just beginning to moult their down and in the bay was another
small pod of Peale’s Dolphins.
The other landing party went straight into Port Pattison after the
World Discoverer had sailed around a headland to reposition
in the bay. They found more Tussacbirds, wrens, Long-tailed Meadowlarks,
Austral Thrushes and some delightful Black-chinned Siskins – such
are the benefits of a rat and cat free island! At the farmhouse Rob
McGill and Auntie Agnes had laid out a sumptuous tea - the scones
topped with cream and jam were very more-ish!
On returning to the World Discoverer, we set sail for Stanley,
the islands’ capital on East Falkland. We passed between Sedge and
Saunder’s Island, where we saw dozens and dozens of Black-browed Albatrosses
from the extensive colonies along the latter’s north coast, before
heading to the north of Pebble Island. Wandering Albatrosses and both
races of Royal were also seen. Sooty Shearwaters were common and there
were good numbers of Slender-billed Prions, Wilson’s Storm-Petrels
and a few White-chinned Petrels.
Birds were still around as darkness fell, but the
only one known to come aboard was a single Grey-rumped Storm-Petrel
seen by Mik before midnight.
A mild and wet start with northerly f3 blowing, veering westerly
and increasing to f7 during the morning as the weather brightened
to give a beautiful afternoon and sunset. 13ºC.
We were woken at 5.30am as we entered Stanley Harbour, but it was
raining and the clouds were right down on the hills. Carefully the
World Discoverer made her way through the narrows and edged
her way to the FIPASS jetty, where we tied up alongside and the gangplank
The first bus took a ‘city’ tour that included Stanley Airport and
various other local sights that included Kay’s Cottage and its multitude
of gnomes. By the time the rest disembarked the rain had ceased and
the sun was beginning to break through the clouds as the wind swung
round to the west and rose to about f7 in the space of about 30 minutes.
Tied up at the jetty the World Discoverer was fine, but a huge
1,000+ passenger cruise ship, the Wyndham, had to recall her
passengers and sail away as she was reported to be (or was in danger
of) dragging her anchor. Imagine the chaos in town as their cruise
staff and helpers rounded up 1,000 passengers hell bent on retail
therapy. Imagine too the disappointment of the shopkeepers when they
succeeded. By the time the round-up was completed, the weather began
to improve! By then, however, it was too late to reverse the procedure.
C’est la vie!
For us there were plenty of shops to visit, stamps to buy and postcards
to write and send - 40p for a stamp to the UK was much better value
than the $1.50 charged by the ship to stick on a stamp and mail it.
Needless to say the shops did a roaring trade in T-shirts, sweat-shirts
and soft toy penguins.
Some of the group opted for an excellent buffet lunch in the Upland
Goose, others returned to base. In the afternoon as the sun shone,
Mik, James, Patricia and John took up the optional climb of Mt. Tumbledown
from Moody Brook - names familiar from the 1982 Conflict. They had
a great walk with wonderful views as Klemens and Jeremy added interest
with explanations at various sites. Birds recorded included Southern
Caracara, Rufous-chested Dotterel, Correndera Pipits (20) and Black-throated
Near the ship South American Sealions were hauled out near the dock
complex and I saw three Commerson’s Dolphins from the linkspan, but
in spite of rushing back aboard to fetch Stan and Pauline, and later
Nigel, Kay and Tim when they returned from town, we failed to relocate
them. Along the shore Kelp Geese fed, Falkland Steamer-Ducks dabbled,
and Dark-fronted Ground-Tyrant and Long-tailed Meadowlark were also
By 5pm everyone was back on board and we sailed for
South Georgia at 5.10pm. As we headed out of the narrow entrance to
Port William, we started to see Magellanic Penguins on the sandy beaches
and towards the ocean; a lone Brown-hooded Gull crossed the bow to the
delight of those who missed the previous sightings. Black-browed Albatrosses,
Southern Giant Petrels and Wilson’s Storm-Petrels began to appear in
increasing numbers, conversely Kelp Gulls and South American Terns soon
tailed off. Wandering Albatross and both Northern and Southern races
of Royal Albatross joined the smaller Black-browed Albatrosses and Southern
Giant-Petrels at the wake. Towards sunset we saw a dark albatross. From
the uniform colouring across the wings and back we decided it was an
immature Antipodean Albatross. Head-on its white face and pink bill
contrasted with the overall brown plumage in the evening light. We were
also seeing numbers of Sooty Shearwaters and a few Great Shearwaters.
This evening we had a glorious sunset over the sea as the last hills
of East Falkland disappeared on the horizon. If the weather holds tomorrow
should be a good day for the sea-watchers.
Fine in the morning, but foggy throughout the afternoon and evening
caused by a warm nor’-westerly over the cool sea. At noon the air
temperature was 8ºC and sea was 6ºC.
When Mik, the first of the party outside this morning,
arrived there were a few albatrosses and petrels around. Apart from
a break for breakfast and stopping when the fog became too thick for
birding at lunchtime, we had the stern covered all morning. Those watching
for cetaceans at the bow added little to our tally summaries below.
Southern Royal Albatross
Table 1: Seabirds recorded during
the morning of 6 February
13:00 hrs Position - S52º28'24'' W50º37'13''. 271 nautical
miles from Stanley. The visibility was so poor between 1pm and 3pm
that nothing was seen other than the ethereal shapes of the occasional
Wanderer or giant-petrel.
15:00 hrs Position - S52º33'31'' W49º50'30'' 300 nautical
miles from Stanley. Visibility still very poor - barely half a mile
at best. We saw another Magellanic Penguin a long way from home and
also recorded Wandering Albatross (1), Soft-plumaged Petrel (1) and
Black-bellied Storm-Petrel during the period.
16:20 hrs Position - S52º37'03'' W49º19'56'' 321 nautical
miles from Stanley. Visibility was variable, but still generally poor,
but there were birds about. In a flurry of activity, either a Kerguelen
Petrel or a dark-morph Soft-plumaged Petrel passed close alongside
with a Soft-plumaged Petrel. The visibility was so poor that John
and I just saw it as a dark Pteradroma disappearing rapidly
into the fog. Others in the party had taken a brief tea-break, but
on the other hand they saw the first Blue Petrel and soon after the
first Antarctic Prions. Other birds seen during the period included:-
Soft-plumaged Petrel (5), Southern Royal (1) and Wandering (1) Albatross,
White-chinned Petrel (1) and Northern Giant-Petrel (1). Captain Kruess
reported another Atlantic Petrel from the bridge.
17:15 hrs Position - S52º38'58'', W 48º57'51''. Visibility
still poor. With barely any swell it came as a surprise when the ship
hit something with a judder, seconds later there was a second juddering
from the stern and to the horror of those birding at the stem, the
wake turned red with blood. The dreadful reality was that we had hit
a whale. Mik and I saw a large carcass (more than 25 feet long) on
the surface before I ran to inform the bridge. We turned and back
tracked finding only a large piece of skin (with dorsal fin) and blubber,
about 8-10 feet long, on the surface. The bulk of the animal appeared
to have sunk. The crew and staff surmised that a whale was surfacing
just as we passed over. Perhaps it was stunned by the bow and could
not have avoided the propeller. In all Captain Kruess’ years at sea,
with many voyages into whale-frequented waters, this was the first
time he had had anything like this happen. We watched the first tubenoses
arrive - two Wanderers, two Soft-plumaged Petrels and a White-chinned
Petrel, before resuming our journey. Perhaps if it was not so foggy
more birds would have been following the ship and we would have seen
The event put a dampener on the end of the day, but
tomorrow might bring a change in the wind and perhaps no fog. There
should be more birds as we come closer to South Georgia, the jewel in
the southern ocean. By midnight we were 412 nautical miles from Stanley
as the albatross flies (that is if it flew in a straight line!). Our
position was S53º17'01'' W 43º24'35''.
Foggy. Air temperature 5ºC. The sea temperature 4ºC
at 9am had dropped to 3ºC by noon. The sea by normal standards in this
part of the world was still relatively calm. No ocean motion yet!
Mik was first out recording the usual species - Wandering Albatross
(2), Southern Giant-Petrel (1), White-chinned Petrel (2), Blue Petrel
(1), Antarctic Prion (6), Wilson’s (1) and Black-bellied (4) Storm-Petrels.
09:00 hrs Position - S53º17'49'' W43º16'53''. We had covered
125 nautical miles overnight. Shortly after 9am the fog lifted for
about five minutes enabling us to see all of those species seen by
Mik, bar the Blue Petrel. Later two King Penguins and a Northern Giant-Petrel
10:00 hrs Position - S53º20'38'' W 42º52'33''. Visibility
200 yards and nothing in sight.
11.00 hrs Position - S53º23'27'' W42º33'12''. Visibility barely
200 yards and only two Southern Giant-Petrels around the stern.
A disappointing day for birds really, but ‘cheered’ up during the
afternoon, when I won the bottle of champagne offered by the captain
for spotting the first iceberg. Last year Simon Boyes won the bottle
offered on his cruise, when for when he awoke at 5.30am and looked
out from his cabin – there it was! This year we were in fog at the
time with visibility barely a quarter of a mile. I had noticed ice
stretching across our path ahead of the ship and from the bridge one
could clearly see it was just a broad band of brash ice, so when another
passenger arrived to claim it as the first iceberg he was politely
corrected by the captain. It was still a spectacular sight, so I decided
to take a photograph from the bridge wing as we passed, but just before
pressing the shutter I looked ahead and thought the fog showed an
unusual bluish tinge. A look through the binocs showed an enormous
iceberg still veiled in fog, which gave me the vital nanoseconds advantage
to step back inside the bridge and claim the bottle of bubbly on behalf
of Ornitholidays! The iceberg was huge and was part of the vast Larson
ice-shelf that broke off a couple of years ago. The edge along which
we sailed was over still 5 miles long and being nearly 100 feet high
there was no way our radar could determine its full extent. The bridge
had, of course, picked it up on the radar thank goodness – perhaps
there is still an unclaimed bottle on the Titanic!
Around the iceberg the air was cooler, so therefore there was little
or no fog. For the first time for well over 24 hours visibility extended
for over a mile, enabling us to see a number of other ’bergs in the
immediate area that had calved from our ‘megaberg’. For the first
time in days film rolled through cameras and bytes were saved.
As we left the iceberg behind, the fog gradually closed
in once more, although perhaps not quite as bad as before. The end of
recap was interrupted when a Southern Right Whale was spotted off the
bow and for some time gave excellent views. After dinner the Ornitholidays
party gathered in the Explorer Lounge to enjoy that extra nightcap on
the strength of the iceberg. It was amazing how far one bottle went
with the help of a generous barmaid!
Foggy first thing, then the sun broke through to give
a wonderful day. 7ºC with a sea temperature of 4ºC.
We were approaching Salisbury Plain first thing, but unlike its namesake,
this plain lies at the feet of snowy-capped mountains and is home
to vast numbers of King Penguins. Offshore birds were coming and going
from beaches we could barely see, although the sun was becoming evident
as we went ashore on the first Zodiacs.
Along the beach, parties of colourful King Penguins waited – about
to leave for the sea and or having returned they often preened before
waddling off into the depths of the colony that stretched high on
the slopes of at least one mountain. The fog was gradually lifting
to reveal more and more penguins, their calls and murmurings once
muffled by the mist, became clearer. We could see the elegant adults,
brown down-covered chicks and others that were moulting from their
down into their first grey and white coats. Once clear of the landing
beach and the inquisitive Antarctic Fur-Seals, we wandered along the
edge of the colony, not venturing closer than the mandatory five metres.
Thankfully penguins, seals and other species of Antarctic wildlife
do not have to abide by the IAATO guidelines, so out of curiosity
(or in the case of the fur-seals, cussedness) they come closer to
us and our binoculars and cameras. Once the fascination of a first
visit to a large colony sinks in, one takes the time to watch as they
preen, turn their eggs, squabble and display to one another. Even
in the four and a half hours possible between the first and last Zodiacs
was not long enough, as within an hour or so of landing blue sky appeared,
the tops of the mountains poked through the fog and soon after the
whole of Salisbury Plain was bathed in sunshine. Everything was sharp
and crisp in the crystal clear air. Wendy was burning film through
her camera, Nigel and Kay were clicking away on their Fuji digitals
and Stan attracted attention of the other passengers as he painted
away – how he could decide on a particular subject out of so many,
I cannot imagine.
It was not just penguins, for we watched patrolling Brown Skuas and
Kelp Gulls over the colony, a pair of endemic South Georgia Pintails
flew by and a confiding South Georgia Pipit stood on the edge of the
colony for all to see. As we wandered further afield, we came across
several moulting sub-adult Southern Elephant Seals hauled out several
hundred yards from the sea. A pair of Brown Skuas was breeding nearby,
but their large downy chick preferred to hide in the vegetation than
stay to be photographed.
All too soon our morning had gone and it was time to return to the
ship, which had been repositioned before lunch prior to our landing
on nearby Prion Island. On such a perfect day it was too good to eat
inside, so a number of passengers sat out on the Observation Deck
to enjoy the feast of food and scenery. We could see the Wandering
Albatrosses on theirs nests on Prion Island, but more were breeding
on adjacent Albatross Island, where Light-mantled Sooty Albatrosses
soared against the cliffs. South Georgia Shags, a split from Imperial
along with Antarctic Shag, flew by low over the blue waters.
First off this morning, meant last off this afternoon, which was
a pity as I am sure we would all have liked more time on Prion Island
with its breath-taking views from the top across to the mountainous
mainland of South Georgia and breeding Wanderers in the foreground.
It was, however, quite a steep climb up through the muddy gully between
the tussac grass, where every so often an Antarctic Fur-Seal would
look up to watch our passing with those large doleful eyes – thankfully
they kept their distance, but were probably amused at our antics as
we ascended to the top of the island. There were several pairs of
Southern Giant-Petrels and Wandering Albatrosses in the area we were
allowed to explore, for to limit disturbance we were divided into
smaller groups. They were magnificent birds and often one could take
a break from watching one on a nest to admire an adult or perhaps
a fledged youngster wheeling effortlessly overhead on those narrow
12 foot long wings. Again we saw Brown Skuas, South Georgia Pintails
and South Georgia Pipits in the area.
Days in this part of the world come no better than
today, but it was not over for during the tranquil evening we sailed
into Stromness Bay to view the old derelict whaling stations of Leith
and Stromness itself. As we sailed slowly along the inlet, the first
introduced Reindeer were seen on the grassy and rocky slopes above us.
The old stations were now rusting ruins close to the shore at the heads
of their respective bays, where the huge oil tanks stood as silent memorials
to the terrible destruction of wildlife that took place in these waters
during the last century and earlier. Antarctic Fur-Seals and Southern
Elephant-Seals lay on the once busy beaches and Reindeer grazed on the
broad valley bottom beyond.
Rain at dawn, becoming brighter by mid-morning and
then warm sunshine for the remainder of the day. 6ºC first thing rising
to 11ºC by midday. The sea temperature on the other hand dropped from
5ºC at Godthul to 4ºC at Grytviken.
It was raining with low clouds as we arrived at Godthul at first
light, where we went ashore and climbed up from the landing beach
and the remains of the small whaling station that had last operated
in 1929. We passed both fur- and elephant-seals around the landing
beach and on the slopes above were several small Gentoo colonies,
their offspring now moulting into their first coat of feathers. The
largest colony was by a lake that lay at the foot of the mountains
that dominated the bay, but with the low clouds it was not possible
until the sun broke through to appreciate this. There was a colony
of Antarctic Terns on the slopes above the bay and near the Gentoos
by the lake; Brown Skuas had bred successfully for their chicks were
already in their juvenile plumage of dark chocolate brown. Their parents
and perhaps those of other pairs were cleaning up the carcasses of
dead penguins near the colony. As we explored further on we saw distant
Reindeer and later, as Mik and I walked back towards the ship, a small
herd started to run towards us. We cast off our red parkas and crouched
down. The Reindeer were unaware we were there, stopping directly between
us and the World Discoverer, when they realised Red Penguins
were using the valley ahead as a thoroughfare. They turned and trotted
back, passing us with their heads held high, before rounding the lake
and with 50+, more crossed the hillside beyond. Further round the
bay Light-mantled Sooty Albatrosses were circling the cliffs and hillsides.
During the latter part of the morning we sailed back
north-west to Grytviken, the capital of South Georgia, inhabited by
just four or five people. Again we were treated to perfect conditions;
in fact it was the same when I was here five years ago! Unlike my previous
visit, when we moored at the old whaling station’s jetty, we moored
at the British Antarctic Survey’s jetty. At the head of the bay were
the rusting buildings and storage tanks of the old station, which in
its heyday was a major industrial complex judging by the remains of
the machinery, pipes and the other debris of the whaling industry. The
station ran under the control of the Norwegians from 1909 to 1962 and
then for a further three years under Japanese control, but by that time
whales were so rare in the area that it became no longer viable. According
to the Lonely Planet book Antarctica a total of 175,250 whales
were caught around South Georgia and processed at one of the seven shore
stations in South Georgia. The catch included 41,515 Blues, 87,555 Fins,
26,754 Humpbacks, 15,128 Sei and 3,716 Sperm Whales!
the dear memory of
ERNEST HENRY SHACKLETON
Entered Life Eternal
|The zodiac landing site after lunch was on the
beach by the small graveyard across the bay, where amongst the graves
are protected from the seals by a white fence. Here stood a tall
granite stone simply inscribed. We gathered around the grave and
following an appreciation by Oliver Kruess, we toasted his memory
as bemused fur-seals watched – no doubt they had seen it all before.
Around the head of the bay stood the rusting remains of the whaling
station, no longer a safe place to enter, so we had a choice either
to hike up over a hill to a small reservoir and then down to the church,
or around the back of the ruins to the church. The church was simple
and in good condition for it had been restored by the Norwegians just
over five years ago. From there it was just a few yards to the museum
and post office, where many people wrote their cards in the warmth
of the afternoon sunshine. A new landing was set up on the beach in
front of the museum to ferry the less energetic back to the ship.
Alternatively, one could walk around the coast to the BAS base and
walk aboard the companionway. This was an excellent option for the
light was perfect and we had superb views of a very confiding pair
of South Georgia Pintails and a South Georgia Shag. Coupled with several
Antarctic Terns and some reasonably well-mannered Antarctic Fur-Seals,
there was plenty to watch and photograph on a perfect afternoon.
That evening a special Shackleton dinner was arranged
with Todd Pusser playing the part of “The Boss” and Jeremy Smith and
Bettina Platten (one of the German lecturers) reading passages about
Shackleton between the courses.
Dull almost all day with rain at times, mainly in the morning. Brighter
in early evening. 7ºC
After sailing through the night, a brief, but colourful sunrise turned
Gold Harbour to gold beneath the arc of a weak rainbow. It did not
last and by the time we landed it was raining. Along the grey shore
were hundreds of King Penguins and ‘our furry friends’, the Antarctic
Fur-Seals. Some are friendlier than others, but their idea of friendship
is not ours!
Once ashore on the dark sand beach we walked amongst King Penguins,
fur-seals and a few Southern Elephant-Seals, but because of the high
density of breeding Kings we not able to penetrate far inland. A stream,
coming from the direction of the black cliffs above which hung glaciers,
bisected the narrow coastal plain - the perfect place for moulting
Kings to cool off! On a fine morning the scenery here is superb, but
sadly not today.
A walk was offered from the landing beach to a headland to see Light-mantled
Sooty Albatrosses breeding on the cliffs. The going was quite steep
up a gully from the beach, but on reaching the top, walking became
easier as we strode across moorland-type grasses and mosses towards
the headland where tussac grew. It was not as dense as we would be
encountering in the afternoon, so from the cliffs we could see a Cape
Petrel incubating on its ledge. The albatrosses were flying by spasmodically,
but to see them better Klemens led us further along the coast and
there we saw one on its nest on a grassy ledge. It found shelter from
the prevailing wind by facing the cliffs, so its head was hidden from
view. The tussocks of tussac were riddled with burrows and from their
size, I suspect they belonged to White-chinned Petrels, some of which
were seen flying around, but not in the immediate vicinity of our
section of cliff-top.
Once back on the World Discoverer we had a sumptuous brunch
in the Marco Polo restaurant - the best of breakfast and lunch combined
if one could do justice to the choice available!
Following our departure from Gold Harbour we repositioned to the
south at Cooper Bay, where our first landing site was the aptly named
Fur-Seal Beach, There we had a good hike, with those led by Todd being
treated to a delightful ‘blonde’ fur-seal pup. Those following Jeremy
climbed to the snowbanks beneath the ridge that crowned the skyline.
On returning to the landing we caught another Zodiac across to Macaroni
Beach where we walked up a track, skirting our furry friends, towards
a colony of Macaroni Penguins nesting in the tussac. They were splendid
little fellows, especially one pair engaged in allo-preening their
gorgeous golden head plumes. However some of the best views were as
we returned in the Zodiacs to the World Discoverer via the
penguin’s beach. John Brydson saw the day’s only South Georgia Pipit.
The area held the usual Brown Skuas, Snowy Sheathbill and a few pairs
of South Georgia Pintails and along the coast South Georgia Shags
On return to the ship, we set sail for the Drygalski Fjord, a few
miles to the south-west. On the way ever-watchful Mik recorded our
first Snow Petrels as well as thousands of prions, mainly Antarctic,
and dozens of diving-petrels. Most diving-petrels were noticeably
dusky on the underwing, but a pair we saw as we turned to enter the
fjord were markedly paler on the underwings and the side of the head
and were considered to be the local Georgian Diving-Petrel. There
is considerable variation and overlap in the appearance of these two
species with the Common Diving-Petrel being by far the more plentiful.
We also passed some amazing icebergs that gleamed white as if they
had just been painted with pure white Dulux gloss.
The captain skilfully sailed to the head of the fjord that ended
with a two mile wide wall of ice - the snout of the Drygalski Glacier.
The colours in the ice were wonderful with some sections being entirely
blue. Along the edge were dozens of Antarctic Terns, Cape Petrels
as well as a flock of South Georgia Shags and a handful of Gentoos.
The icing on top were the beautiful Snow Petrels that glided by, dipping
occasionally to feed on some morsel or another. Those birding from
the deck had seen a few before we entered the fjord, but those views
were nothing compared with these.
On our return to the open sea, some ocean motion became
apparent for the first time when we cleared the shelter afforded by
the southern tip of South Georgia, but even then it was relatively mild
mannered for our present latitude - the Furious Fifties. And by this
time we had our sea legs so no-one was sea-sick.
Overcast and cooler, fresh and brightening for a while during the
06:20 Position - S56º27'32'' W38º35'13'' Not much about first
thing - a few icebergs and following the ship was a lone Southern
Giant-Petrel. Earlier Mik had seen two White-chinned Petrels and a
single Black-browed Albatross.
07:00 Position - S56º34'29'' W38º36'02'' Things started to
pick up - Grey-headed Albatross, Cape Petrel, Antarctic Prion (15),
Black-bellied Storm-Petrel (1), Common Diving-Petrel (1), White-chinned
08:00 Position - S56º40'56'' W39º02'21'' Further increase
in bird numbers - Wandering Albatross (4), Black-browed Albatross
(5), Grey-headed Albatross (1), Northern Giant-Petrel (2), Southern
Giant-Petrel (8), Antarctic Prion (5), White-Chinned Petrel (5).
The highlight however was a Common Diving-Petrel found by Stan outside
his cabin. Two things struck us - the sky blue legs and the sheer
bulk of the bird - they look so small as they hurtle over the waves.
Conversely, the waves are probably much larger than we appreciate!
10:00 Position S56º59'19'' W39º31'19 The usual birds were
around including additional Grey-headed Albatrosses and Black-bellied
Storm-Petrels. However, just as Jeremy was getting into his lecture
on Falklands Conservation two Fin Whales appeared off the bow, which
disrupted things for 20 minutes or so. The views were fantastic and
from the height of the bridge wings or the Observation Deck, we could
watch them gliding through the water just beneath the surface. For
much of the time they were swimming along our port side, so that their
right side, which has the white side to the lower jaw, was facing
us. This made it easier for us to see them as they came to the surface.
When feeding they use the striking white colouring to bunch their
prey of fish etc. and then they approach for the catch using the dark
side as camouflage. Todd Pusser pointed out that the olive-grey colouration
of their backs came from diatoms. They tired of us before we tired
of them, so we resumed our course across the lonely grey wastes of
the Southern Ocean with just a handful of giant-petrels for company.
During the remainder of the morning regular visitors to the wake
were both giant-petrels, a Wandering Albatross or two and a few Black-browed
Albatrosses. Further out White-chinned Petrels and several Grey-headed
Albatrosses passed us without deviation. Prions passed in small parties,
with those coming close enough to be identified being Antarctic. On
the whole birding quietened down, with the odd whale seen blowing
in the distance from time to time.
By lunchtime, the weather was brightening and during the afternoon,
the sun broke through for three hours or so, until a thin veil of
cloud produced a distinct halo that suggested a change coming. Out
of the wind conditions were positively balmy, but just around the
corner one felt the cutting edge. In the distance we saw some vast
platforms of ice, presumably broken from ice-shelves in the Weddell
Sea, and then we began to pass numerous smaller, but more spectacular
bergs that had calved from the ice-sheet bergs. Their beauty came
from the way they had been sculptured by the sea once their centre
of gravity had been displaced and from the depths of the blue in the
heart of the ice. They looked like galleons from some long lost armada
frozen in time. Later the clouds thicken as the wind picked up significantly.
Birds increased in numbers, but not variety with 10-15 Cape Petrels
following the ship with a similar number of giant-petrels at dusk.
There were a few Wilson’s Storm-Petrels about, and with the exception
of a Black-browed now and then, the albatrosses had also left us.
There was some swell in the evening, but this World
Discoverer is a very stable vessel and we were rocked gently to
sleep, in spite of the fact that we were unable to use the stabilising
fins because of the ice. During the night fog returned.
Grey and foggy at dawn. 2ºC, but the sea was 0ºC Wind n.w. f2-3.
During the night we passed many large icebergs, which could be detected
by radar, but the smaller ‘growlers’ could not. The handicap of fog
and navigating through the growlers by spotlight from the bridge reduced
our progress to only five knots, so we lost three hours. We had also
crossed Latitude 60º South, so now we are politically in Antarctica.
That degree of latitude is the northern limit of the area covered
by the 1959 Antarctic Treaty.
The clocks were changed back one hour last night,
but the chance of an extra hour’s early morning sea-watching for Mik
and myself came to nought as the blanket of fog reduced visibility to
100 yards. Birdwise there were just a few Cape Petrels and Southern
Giant-Petrels wheeling over the wake. Devotion to duty rewarded Mik
with the first Southern Fulmar of the trip - a paler bird than our species.
As we had lost more time overnight the afternoon’s lectures were
rescheduled for the morning. The sea was slighter and nearing the
South Orkneys, those sea-watching saw increasing numbers of Chinstrap
Penguins (or Chinnies as they are affectionately known) - sometimes
in fishing flocks of up to 200-300 birds. Porpoising birds frequently
speed away from our path. Klemens fascinating lecture on penguin research
was well attended. When it finished and the window blinds were raised
we were arriving off Coronation Island. Outside was a staggering world
of icebergs and penguins. The penguins were all Chinstraps - they
were everywhere - porpoising to and from the vast colonies on Coronation
and Monroe Islands, which we would be visiting during the afternoon.
Many penguins, and a few Antarctic Fur-Seals, rested on the icebergs
we passed, which were of all shapes and sizes and every shade of blue.
Cape Petrels, Southern Fulmars and Wilson’s Storm-Petrels were common
and both giant-petrels were about including the beautiful and uncommon
white phase of Southern.
Our landing group was second ashore after lunch, the zodiacs taking
us initially to walk on Monroe Island before the transfer across to
Coronation Island. On the way we had a close encounter with a Leopard
Seal, one of several that found rich pickings in the area, as some
of the group were to see during the course of the afternoon. On Monroe
we met a reception committee of hundreds of Chinstrap Penguins - the
clean ones coming in from the sea and the pink-breasted ones, discoloured
by penguin droppings, heading to the water to feed and freshen up.
A path traversed the face of a snow bank from the landing beach to
a broad plateau crossed by penguins and used as a resting area by
fur-seals. Beyond lay a cove surrounded on three sides by steep cliffs
on which Southern Fulmars and a few Cape Petrels bred. The going was
stony and wet, for by now the weather, that had partially lifted as
we arrived, had closed in again as heavy drizzle fell as we made our
way back to the beach after enjoying the comings and goings of the
fulmars and penguins.
On the transfer across to Coronation Island, John and Patricia saw
a Leopard Seal battering a Chinstrap to death in the sea. They had
a similar experience (or another Chinny had a similar untimely end)
on the way back. In fact, several of the group saw Leopard Seals dealing
with prey. The rest of us had to make do with the resulting gatherings
of giant- and storm-petrels clearing up the debris.
Coronation Island was a bustling wildlife island with
even more Chinstraps and many more fur-seals. On the landing beach the
Chinnies pushed their way through accumulated brash ice along the water’s
edge. We made our way along to the next beach eventually reaching a
point where the density of Antarctic Fur-Seals made it impossible to
continue. From there we climbed towards the base of the towering cliffs
where hundreds, if not thousands of pairs of Southern Fulmars were breeding.
There were photographic opportunities a plenty with penguins doing everything
from feeding their well-grown youngsters to sliding down smooth marble
rocks, while preening Snowy Sheathbills on black rocks were an exposure
The last zodiacs returned us to the World Discoverer
at about 4pm, some stopping for a penguin on a blue ice face and a very
obliging Leopard Seal resting on a small ice floe. Another Leopard Seal
showed an unhealthy interest in boarding the zodiac, until the driver
turned up the power on the outboard! Once everyone was aboard we headed
back to sea for Elephant Island, but had gone no distance at all before
we were delayed by a pod of Antarctic Minke Whales amongst the icebergs
on which yet more penguins rested.
At sea again and unfortunately back into the fog,
which again hampered the sea-watching, and again our progress was slowed
Overcast and foggy. 2ºC, but the sea was 0ºC Wind n.w. f2-3.
At 9am, fog still reduced visibility to 150 yards and of course,
there was ice around - growlers that slowed our passage and although
we were only 96 nautical miles from Elephant Island, the Captain would
not commit himself to an arrival time.
During the morning ornithology lecturer Charlie Wurster gave a talk
on the problems facing albatrosses from longline fishing in the world’s
oceans. It is a depressing and unsatisfactory situation with the implementation
of simple preventative measures currently being mainly dependent on
the voluntary cooperation of the fishermen. Outside the fog and icy
conditions prevailed. A few giant-petrels, Southern Fulmars, Cape
Petrels and Wilson’s Storm-Petrels were seen at intervals throughout
the day, with us, but the ship’s doctor, Rand, saw a Grey Petrel from
the bridge early in the morning – it must have been the only bird
Mik missed! Needless to say the conditions slowed us so much that
we did not reach Elephant Island the evening. Few birds appeared during
the afternoon, with just a lonely Wandering Albatross being the only
noteworthy species during the period.
Recap and dinner were brought forward, for arrival off Elephant Island
was expected to be at about 7.30pm. It was still foggy as we approached
the island. Icebergs became larger and bluer - stranded ones were
sculptured by gales and tide and stained by Chinstrap Penguins. Penguin
smell wafted across from the colonies before we could see the shore
beneath towering cliffs that began to emerge, ghost-like, from their
foggy shroud. Today Point Wild would have been a quiet place were
it not for the noise of the penguins, but it had a presence that made
it stand out from the other places we visited. God-forsaken it might
seem, but God did not forsake those of Shackleton’s crew who waited
here for 131 days when Shackleton and five others, set sail on 21st
April 1916 for South Georgia in the James Caird, where they
arrived in King Hakkanon Bay on 10th May. Those who remained
at Point Wild had no news, only hope and a belief in their leader,
until 30th August, when the Yelcho, a Chilean vessel
arrived from Punta Arenas with Shackleton on board. They returned
to a world still torn apart by war, so it seems most unfair that some
of those, who had endured so much discomfort and hardship with such
courage in one of the remotest parts of the world, should die a few
months later on the battlefields of Europe. No monument stands to
their ordeal, but the captain of the Yelcho is commemorated
by one erected by Chile. Today the mist made that memorial virtually
impossible to see.
In addition to the Chinstraps we also saw Cape Petrels
and Brown Skua before the fog closed in again as we manoeuvred slowly
between the icebergs to resumed our journey south-west towards Deception
Island in the South Shetland group.
Overcast with the sea still calm(ish). The fog lifted during the
night, only to be replaced by heavy snow! Winds light 1ºC.
We arrived off Deception just after lunch accompanied
by smart brown and white Cape Petrels and once between the towering
cliffs of Neptune’s Bellow, we entered the caldera of a dormant volcano.
We swung starboard towards Whaler’s Bay, where we anchored off the ruins
of the old whaling station and after the scout boat reported that all
was well, zodiac landings began. It was a black and white world. Fresh
snow lay on top of the black volcanic sand on the broad area beneath
the jagged ridge that formed the skyline above the disused station.
In places thermal activity had warmed the surface sufficiently to prevent
the snow from settling. A shallow lagoon offered Brown and South Polar
Skuas bathing facilities and nearby was a small Gentoo colony. Along
the beach rested fur-seals and later a Weddell Seal came ashore to lie
on a bank of snow. Most of the group walked along to a saddle in the
crags, from which we could look out to sea and also look across to a
Cape Petrel on its nest. It was a stark and beautiful place ranging
from the pied panoramas within the caldera down to the shaggy lichens
that clad the sheltered side of the cliffs and rocks.
After we returned to the ship we repositioned in Pendulum Cove, where
the hardy were invited to go ashore for a swim in an area where hot
water was escaping from vents in shallow water. There it was possible
to have one foot in very cold water and scald the other! James and
Tim were our representatives and an image of a smiling Tim made it
onto the commemorative CD sold at the end of the cruise.
With our afternoon of fun and exploration
over, we set sail once more, heading back through the narrow entrance
into the open sea and on to further discoveries.
Overcast throughout with varying amounts of snow at time. Temperature
at best was 1ºC with a variable wind increasing to f5 or more towards
An early call from Klemens told us that we were entering Paradise
Bay, and even on a grey and gloomy morning the views were superb -
ice and more ice, glaciers and mountains. Our first landing was at
the disused Argentinean station of Almirante Brown, a rather untidy
and desolate place, but with magnificent views. Under the terms of
the Antarctic Treaty all stations are considered as temporary and
this one should have been removed and the site restored to its former
state, but as the station closed as a result of the deteriorating
financial crisis in Argentina, the chances of further funds being
made available to clear the site are unlikely. Nevertheless, the Gentoos
were breeding with attendant Sheathbills, South Polar Skuas and Kelp
Gulls. The scenic views were great for the landscape photographer,
especially during the zodiac cruise to the snout of a glacier that
followed our time ashore. The images were wonderful - panoramas, reflections,
stranded blue icebergs, hanging glaciers and birds, the highlight
being a breeding colony of Antarctic Shags. On the rocks beneath the
cliff a group of fledged youngsters were completely unafraid and viewed
us with curiosity.
The World Discoverer then repositioned for an afternoon landing
at the occupied British station of Port Lockroy on the west coast
of Wiencke Island. Breeding Gentoo Penguins as well as a few breeding
Snowy Sheathbills and Antarctic Shags surrounded the black and red
huts. The Union Jack fluttered on the chilly breeze outside the station
and inside, in the warm, we could buy stamps and a limited amount
of souvenirs. I was amazed to find that the postcards I sent from
there arrived in the UK three weeks later! Part of the building had
been left as a museum preserving the way it would have been in the
We sailed on in the late afternoon and as the wind freshened entered
the Lemaire Channel – sometimes called Kodak Alley, but not today,
for it was bleak and inhospitable with the grey sea littered with
icebergs, growlers and brash ice through which we carefully picked
our way. Snow clad mountains with black cliffs rose from the water
to disappear into the low clouds and ahead of us, we were amazed to
see a lone yacht in the more open water beyond. We were gaining on
it until we saw whales ahead – Orcas and Humpbacks. This could be
interesting. It was, but nothing gruesome happened! The Orcas appeared
to be hunting and amongst the group of five or six Humpbacks was a
very small calf. The two groups were heading straight towards one
another and as the Orcas appeared to dive deep, the Humpbacks started
to thrash the surface with their tails and flippers keeping the youngster
in the middle of the group. Gradually they calmed down and we saw
the Orcas some way ahead back in ‘normal’ hunting mode once more –
the Humpbacks had done sufficient to deter an attack.
We proceeded south, passing the Argentine Islands
and towards the Antarctic Circle as the evening closed in.
Overcast until late afternoon, when became fine. Fresh f6 n.e. during
the morning with our first rough sea with 3-4 metre swell coming in
from Drake Passage. 2ºC.
We crossed the Antarctic Circle at 4.30am and followed the edge of
pack ice south to S66º51.1’ W 67º33.9’ in Crystal Sound - the furthest
south the World Discoverer had reached this season. It was
an amazing white and blue world on a grey morning, but not far short
of Adelaide Island a wall of icebergs blocked our way forward and
with the wind freshening, we turned and cruised north again. It was
6.45am. Ice stretched as far as the eye could see creating its own
blue luminosity in the low cloud. Captured icebergs were held fast
in the ice, which was ruckled in places by small pressure ridges.
Dotted on the ice were Crabeater Seals and small groups of Adelie
Penguins. Along the edge of the ice Snow Petrels, Wilson’s Storm-Petrels
and Antarctic Terns dipped daintily for food as Humpback Whales surfaced
and dived with less finesse. Those who had been out first light recorded
many whales – Mik saw 21+. Snow was on the wind, the decks were white
with earlier snowfalls as eventually we steered away from the pack
ice and headed for an afternoon landing at Prospect Point.
We became exposed to a north-easterly and to the swell coming in
from Drake Passage - our first real dose of ‘ocean motion’, which
after 14 days cruising these southern latitudes must be some kind
of a record! Birds were at a premium, but persistence paid when Mik
saw the trip’s only Antarctic Petrel - also seen by the Captain on
the bridge. Mid-February is getting late for this sought-after species.
During the morning we had blizzard conditions at times and while many
stayed in the warmth and comfort of their cabins or the Lido Lounge,
tenacious Mik was out there in the thick of it noting:- Black-browed
Albatross (1), Southern Giant-Petrel, Wilson’s Storm-Petrel and South
In the afternoon, we reached Prospect Point for our second landing
on the Antarctic Peninsular, where on disembarkation we had the opportunity
to watch and photograph our last species of penguin - Adelie. It belongs
to the same genus as Gentoo and Chinstrap, but looks much more of
a cartoon character. Whilst ashore we also visited an old British
Antarctic Survey hut, with everything intact, should anyone become
stranded there. I should imagine the bedding was a bit damp by now
as water from snow melting on the roof dripped through the ceiling.
Our explorations ashore over, we set off on an ice cruise in the
zodiacs, which was absolutely superb for as the clouds rolled away
the sun broke through. Again we marvelled at the deep blue of the
old ice and were lucky to discover a confiding Crabeater Seal hauled
out for the cameras. Spirits were further lifted by a visit to the
Last Penguin Bar (aka the ship’s lifeboat), where Ben (the ship’s
hotel manager) dispensed cups of mulled wine.
Once everyone was back on board we sailed north again
with the peaks of the Antarctic Peninsular lining the skyline to starboard.
The sea was dotted with large icebergs and as the sun dipped towards
the west, both ‘bergs and mountains glowed with a soft rose pink. Tomorrow
we would be back up near the Lemaire Channel. So far I have only ever
seen it in a gale - would the weather hold?
A glorious morning with the wind freshening from lunchtime,
giving a mainly overcast afternoon. 3ºC
At sunrise we approached the Argentine Islands to the south of the
Lemaire Channel. It was a beautiful area, continuing the scenery we
enjoyed yesterday evening. Normally we might have visited Vernadsky
Station operated by the Ukraine but they had a changeover of personnel
two days ago, so there were more important things for them to do.
Britain used to run the station, (then known as Faraday Station) which
operated the machine that first detected the hole in the ozone layer.
Rather than go to the expense of clearing the site after the station’s
closure we sold it to Ukrainians for £50 with the proviso that research
was continued for at least another ten years.
Our morning was spent zodiac cruising amongst the islands and icebergs
that were sometimes stranded in the shallows. The views and the colours
were amazing and although I have been lucky to visit the Peninsular
area on two previous occasions, never have the ’bergs been so beautiful
as those we have seen this year. Some were sculptured by the sea like
some art-deco memorial, whilst others had arches cut through them
by the waves. Birdwise there was little on offer – just Kelp Gull,
skuas and Wilson’s Storm-Petrel.
With the sun shining we sailed towards the Lemaire Channel and this
time it really was Kodak Alley (or what ever film or compact
flash card one uses). It was absolutely stunning! During the afternoon
we gradually left the Antarctic Peninsular to our starboard as we
began our journey north towards a rendezvous with Cape Horn. We saw
numerous Humpbacks again, but the bridge would not be distracted.
Birds began to follow the wake – our first Wandering Albatross for
a few days as well as the more frequent Black-browed. The giant-petrels
were all Southern, the only petrel was Snow and Wilson’s Storm-Petrels
were joined by Black-bellied.
As we headed across Drake Passage, we hoped for better
Overcast and foggy during the morning, becoming brighter with sunshine
during the afternoon. 5ºC
We made good progress northwards overnight with just
a steady swell. Mik was out by 5.30am and saw two Wandering and two
Black-browed Albatrosses as well as Wilson’s and Black-bellied Storm-Petrels
early on. Unfortunately by about 7 a.m. we entered a low fog bank, yet
looking upwards we could see clouds. It was enough to hamper the birding,
but with the sun trying to break through there were grounds for optimism
by breakfast time. Throughout the morning the weather teased us - trying
to clear and then closing in again. During one of the better spells
in the afternoon we saw Black-browed, Grey-headed and Wandering Albatross
over the wake. A Magellanic Diving-Petrel flew alongside for some time
and for a while we passed through and area with good numbers of Sooty
Shearwaters and White-chinned Petrels. Also seen during the day were
Chinstrap Penguin, Slender-billed Prion, Great Shearwater (2), Wilson’s,
Gray-backed (2) and Black-bellied Storm-Petrels.
A superb day - warm and sunny all day with a calm sea and just a
breeze. How many days a year is it like this off Cape Horn? 8ºC
Our crossing of Drake Passage was so smooth we had time in hand,
which the captain used to good advantage. We woke to a beautiful sunrise
in the east and a setting moon in the west as we approached Diego
Ramirez, a small archipelago belonging to Chile some 60 nautical miles
south-west of Cape Horn. Dozens of albatrosses and giant-petrels followed
our wake and many more were streaming by to the islands’ vast breeding
colonies. We were still five miles away, when the first Tussacbird
joined the ship from the open sea to the south-east. Closer to the
islands many more came aboard with a dozen or more being present at
any one time. We were also joined at least five immature Striated
Caracaras, that set about examining the ship in minute detail - one
appeared to be trying to burst the rubber hulls of the zodiacs. Albatrosses
galore, mainly Black-browed, but also good numbers of Grey-headed
- birds everywhere, in the air and in colonies scattered throughout
the steep tussac-clad slopes of the islands above beaches where Macaroni
Penguins were coming ashore.
On leaving the islands we headed for Cape Horn, taking
several Striated Caracaras and at least one Tussacbird with us. Some
caracaras left early, but two remained until we were ‘round the Horn’
before leaving for terra firma. I don’t think the Tussacbird
made it, for when I examined my photos of the caracara I noticed traces
of red on the bill of one, and I don’t think there was any fresh paint
We reached Cape Horn at noon and on the way across we were followed
by several Southern Giant-Petrels, two Wanderers and a few Black-browed
Albatrosses – really disappointing – perhaps it was just too calm!
Cape Horn should not be like this and probably is only as relatively
tranquil on a handful of days a year. Continuing east we entered the
Beagle Channel during the afternoon and birds started to increase.
Sooty Shearwaters appeared, we were able to point out Magellanic Diving-Petrels
to several of the other birders aboard and for the first time since
the Falklands we saw Magellanic Penguins.
In quiet waters we had the disembarkation briefing,
the Farewell Cocktail Party and the Farewell Dinner. It was sad – one
minute we were looking at albatrosses and penguins and the next we were
making preparations to leave our floating home for Good Ol’ Blighty!
Overcast and mild after overnight rain 11ºC
On D-Day (Disembarkation Day) Klemens woke us at 6am. Our bags were
put out before breakfast, then followed by a quick tour of the ship
to say goodbye to everyone from Captain Kruess downwards. We were
the first group ashore and at the end of the quay Marcelo and his
bus waited to take us to the airport, where the formalities went smoothly.
Mik and James did some birding while we waited to board adding American
Kestrel to the list. At 10.10am (25 minutes late) we were airborne
and heading non-stop for Buenos Aires.
On arrival at the city’s domestic airport we were met and taken to
the international airport some 40 kilometres away by bus, which was
persuaded to detour through the heart of the old part of the city
along a broad boulevard that passed the opera house, before linking
up with the Pan-American and thus to the airport, where after check-in
we had a very late lunch.
The Air France Boeing 777 came in from Chile on time
and before long we were aboard, airborne and heading into the night.
We arrived on a cold and frosty morning in Charles de Gaulle airport,
Paris and once in the terminal we headed across to our departure gate
with not quite the rush we had on the way out. Our departure was a
little late, so on missing our slot at Heathrow we were stacked over
the North Downs until one became available and we landed. With the
bags through on the carrousel and farewells said, we headed for our
homes, touched by the magic cast by Antarctica!
29 Straight Mile
Tel: 01794 519445
Our next cruise to Antarctica
aboard the World Discoverer will be from the 29 January to 21
February 2004 led by Tony Pym. Prices start from £6,899.00. Our 2005
cruise will be led by Simon Boyes and is also from the 29 January to
21 February. Prices start from £6,799.00.
|Itinerary and Weather
Depart London Heathrow for Buenos Aires via Paris
Arrive Buenos Aires, afternoon birding at Costenera Sur
Hot and sunny. 33ºC
Day excursion northeast of Buenos Aires with birding at
Otamendi and Ceibas.
Hot and sunny with northerly breeze. 35ºC
Morning flight from Buenos Aires to Ushuaia via Bariloche
and El Calafate. Local birding during latter part of afternoon.
Thunder and torrential rain in Buenos Aires, cool and overcast
in Ushuaia. 9ºC
Birding in Tierra Fuego National Park until mid-afternoon,
when we returned to Ushuaia and boarded World Discoverer.
Sailed at 7pm for the Falklands.
Glorious during day, overcast in late afternoon and evening. 14ºC
Overcast with a northerly breeze f3-4. The temperature at 9am
was 9ºC with a sea temperature of 8ºC. By noon the air temperature
had risen to 10ºC and sea had dropped to 7ºC.
Arrived West Point Island for morning’s exploration ashore
before relocating to Carcass Is. for afternoon landing.
Glorious morning after early low clouds cleared, becoming overcast
for the afternoon. 13ºC
Morning arrival at Stanley. Optional ‘City’ tour and exploration
and shopping in Stanley. Optional climb of Mt. Tumbledown in afternoon.
Early evening departure for South Georgia. A mild and wet start
with northerly f3 blowing, veering westerly and increasing to
f7 during the morning as the weather brightened to give a beautiful
afternoon and sunset. 13ºC.
Fine in the morning, but foggy throughout the afternoon and evening
caused by a warm nor’-westerly blowing over the cooler sea. At
noon the air temperature was 8ºC and sea was 6ºC.
At sea. First icebergs.
Foggy. Air temperature 5ºC. The sea temperature 4ºC at 9am had
dropped to 3ºC by noon. No ocean motion yet!
Early morning arrival at Salisbury Plain with morning ashore.
Afternoon on Prion Island. Evening cruising off Stromness.
Foggy first thing, then the sun broke through to give a wonderful
day. 7ºC with a sea temperature of 4ºC.
Early morning landing at Godthul before relocating to Grytviken
for remainder of the day. Rain at dawn, becoming brighter by mid-morning
and then glorious with warm sunshine for the rest of the day.
6ºC first thing rising to 11ºC by midday. The sea temperature
5ºC at Godthul to dropped to 4ºC at Grytviken.
Arrived at Gold Harbour at sunrise. Ashore for beach landing
and optional walk to headland. Afternoon landing at Cooper Bay
and Zodiac cruise. In early evening to Drygalski Fjord and Glacier.
Dull almost all day with rain at times, mainly in the morning.
Brighter in early evening. 7ºC
Overcast and cooler, fresh and brightening for a while during
the afternoon. 2ºC
Overcast with fog for much of the day with rain at times. Afternoon
landings on Monroe and Coronation Islands, South Orkney. 2ºC,
but the sea was 0ºC Wind n.w. f2-3.
At sea for most over the day. Arrived off Elephant Island
Overcast and foggy. 2ºC, but the sea was 0ºC Wind n.w. f2-3.
Arrived Deception Island at lunchtime – afternoon landing.
Overcast. The fog lifted during the night, only to be replaced
by heavy snow! Winds light 1ºC.
Morning landing at Paradise Bay followed by ice cruise in
zodiac. Afternoon visit to BAS station at Port Lockroy. Evening
cruise through Lemaire Channel.
Overcast throughout with snow at times. Temperature at best was
1ºC with a variable wind increasing to f5 or more towards
Crossed Antarctic Circle at 4.30am and reached furthest
south at 6.45am in Crystal Sound -S66º51.1’ W 67º33.9’. Returned
north with afternoon landing at Prospect Point. Evening cruising
along Antarctic Peninsular.
Fresh f6 n.e. during the morning with our first rough sea with
3-4 metre swell coming in from Drake Passage.
Morning ice-cruise amongst Argentine Islands before cruising
back through Lemaire Channel. During afternoon of Antarctic Peninsular,
until we headed north to begin crossing of Drake Passage.
A glorious morning with the wind freshening from lunchtime, giving
a mainly overcast afternoon. 3ºC
At sea crossing Drake Passage.
Overcast and foggy during the morning, becoming brighter with
sunshine during the afternoon. 5ºC
Early morning arrival off Diego Ramirez archipelago (Chile).
Rounded Cape Horn at midday and cruised along Beagle Channel in
afternoon to arrive at Ushuaia at 10pm.
Warm and sunny all day with a calm sea with slight breeze. 8ºC
Disembarked World Discoverer 8am. Transfer to airport
and morning direct flight to Buenos Aires. Transfer to international
airport for early evening flight to Paris.
Overcast Ushuaia. Hot Buenos Aires.
Morning arrival in Paris and connecting flight to London