Cape Petrels

Accompanied by albatrosses and giant petrels, the cape petrels were to be found flying alongside the ship for most of our travels.

Back Home

So, we disembarked from the boat at 8 yesterday morning, and 3 flights later, I’ve made it back home, where the cats are very pleased to see me!  I still have plenty of photo editing work to go, but here are a few photographs that I put in our trip slideshow as a taster:

Falklands Thrush, Falkland Islands
Stone on Beach, Falkland Islands
Adelie Penguin, Antarctic Peninsula
Gentoo Penguin, Antarctic Peninsula
Chinstrap Penguin Chase, Antarctic Peninsula
King Penguin, South Georgia

Antarctica

So, after a couple days trying to find a way through the pack ice, we
arrived at the Antarctic Peninsula around midday, and made our first
landing this afternoon, at a place called Brown Bluff, on the tip of the
Peninsula.

We've seen so many beautiful things today – giant icebergs, Adelie and
Gentoo penguins porpoising and cruising on icebergs, and we were blessed
with fantastic weather. My first experiences of the continent of
Antarctica have truly lived up to my expectations. Tonight we are going
to sail back around the tip of the Peninsula and down the west side, and
we hope to make two landings tomorrow, weather and ice permitting.

At sea

We left the Falklands two days ago, and are due to arrive in South
Georgia sometime tomorrow. This morning we crossed the Antarctic
Convergence, and are now in Antarctic waters. The seas are relatively
calm, which is to say that everything needs to be pinned down, and that
quite a few passengers are still battling sea sickness. Still,
apparently, it could be a lot rougher!
During the last couple of days, we have had lectures on
histograms and digital exposure, Photoshop, Lightroom, sea birds in
general, and albatrosses in particular. Darrell Gulin also showed a
selection of photographs he’d taken during our stay in the Falklands
(slightly depressing, when I see all the photos I could have taken!), along with photographs he’s made on previous trips
to South Georgia and the Antarctic Peninsula. Plenty to whet the
appetite!
This afternoon we had a briefing about South Georgia, particularly the
regulations in place to protect wildlife. Afterwards we all congregated
in the lounge to be vacuumed – everything that goes on shore with us,
camera bags, dry bags, rainwear, hats etc must be vacuumed to remove any
traces of seeds which we might have brought with us from the Falklands.
As expected, my bags and clothing needed an extra good vacuum because of
my tendency to photograph from ground level.

The Falklands

We boarded the ship on Monday afternoon and set sail at about 6pm for the
Falkland Islands. My cabin mate and I woke up during the night to find that
our cabin door had flung itself open as the ship rocked violently from side to
side. As might be expected in such conditions, about half the passengers were
sea sick, but fortunately I wasn't one of them. Since we have a good few days
of rough sailing ahead, I plan to continue with the sea sickness tablets and
keep my fingers crossed.

We arrived in the Falklands during the night on Tuesday, and woke to find that
the ship was rocking gently, nothing like the violent side to side movements
we'd experienced previously. The pattern for the next couple of days was to be
6.30am breakfast, and zodiac landings beginning at around 8am. All in all we
made 5 landings on 4 different islands.

The first landing, on New Island, took us to a colony where we found rockhopper
penguins, black browed albatrosses and king (blue eyed) cormorants. The latter
are striking birds with blue eyes and yellow crest that looks a bit like an
outlandish eyebrow. From a photographic point of view, the colony proved a
challenge, as the lighting was quite harsh when we arrived, and the birds were
intermingled, making good composition difficult.

In the afternoon we landed on the opposite side of the island at Coffin
Harbour, where we were welcomed by the Chater family who were on hand to greet
us, and selling nature books, calendars and stamps. I took the opportunity to
buy myself a field guide. The harbour is attractive, and contains a rusty
shipwreck, perfect for some abstract work. Although there was an option to
walk to another colony, I spent the afternoon in and around the cove,
concentrating my efforts on a night heron, the stunning long tailed meadowlark
and the kelp geese.

On our second day in the Falklands we visited another settlement at West Point.
The main attraction here were another shipwreck and amongst others, caracaras,
turkey vultures, meadowlarks, tussock birds and Falklands thrush. We were also
invited up to the settlement for an impressive tea, featuring a full spread of
cakes (11 varieties), biscuits and scones. The seas were quite rough that
morning, and the zodiac trip back to ship was a great experience, made all the
more exciting by the fact that we were accompanied by dolphins!

After lunch we visited the attractively named Carcass Island, where we saw our
first gentoo penguins. I spent an hour or so on the beach with the gentoos,
before deciding that it was a little busy for my taste, and heading back to the
beach where we landed the zodiacs to see what I could find there. I kept
myself busy with an oystercatcher and some abstract shots of stones on the
beach. At this point in the trip it appears that I've already gained a
reputation for getting down and dirty, lying on my belly in the grass and on
the sand. I suspect that once we reach South Georgia I'm not going to make
myself too popular this way, as I'm most likely to end up covered in penguin
poo.

Our final day in the Falklands dawned rather foggy, and we waited anxiously for
the return of the reconnaissance party to see if a landing would be possible.
Fortunately we were given the go ahead and we all lined up on deck to travel
out to the beach at The Neck, on Saunders Island. This was to have been our
last change to see rockhopper and magellenic penguins, as well as the black
browed albatrosses, however, due to the high wind, we weren't able to go out to
these colonies. As we landed it was beginning to rain, but we continued in the
hope that the weather would improve. I spent a little time photographing the
dolphin gulls, which have a beautiful deep red bill and legs, and then headed
up to the gentoos. By this point the rain was turning into sleet, which
combined with the high wind made photography almost impossible. I took a
couple photographs of my first king penguin sighting, and then decided to call
it a day. According to the original schedule, there was still an hour until
the first scheduled zodiac back to ship, and three hours until the last zodiac
was planned. When I neared the beach, though, I saw a long line of people, and
a zodiac heading shipwards. By 10am, we were all back on ship, and the extra
time before lunch was filled with a lecture and a debrief session.

By this point in the trip, I'm beginning to settle into ship life and am
beginning to get to know people. I've already managed to pick up some tips
from people, both in the field, and back on board at the computer. That is
certainly a real advantage to travelling with a group of fellow photo
enthusiasts.

We've now set sail for South Georgia, a trip which will take about two and a
half days. During our time at sea, the tour leaders will be giving some
lectures, and we have time to do some work processing our images. The ship
also has a library on board (to which I have already donated the two books I
bought at Schiphol, and had read by the time I arrived), so there is also
reading material available.

Getting ready for the off

There’s a flurry of bags arriving in the lobby of the hotel, ready for loading onto the ship.  I’m going to go on a tour of the Tierra del Fuego National Park before we board ship this afternoon.  The tour leaders have the fun job of standing guard over all the bags until we leave!

Southern-most city in the world

My bags and I have now arrived safely in Ushuaia, the southern-most city in the world.  Despite having the smallest amount of luggage of the group I checked in with, I was the only one got stung for excess baggage charges.  Still, at 96 pesos (about 30USD) it wasn’t enough to really complain about, and the good news is that no-one questioned the weight of my camera bag.

I’ve met up with a number of members of the tour group now, including one of the leaders who I met on my trip to Spitsbergen, 4 or 5 years ago.

I’ve taken a small wander around town, enjoying the fresh air and now I’ve come back to the hotel to take advantage of the last little while of internet connectivity before heading off to sea tomorrow.