Trip Report - Antarctica 2021
"We felt very lucky that this trip even happened! If Omicron had reared its head earlier who knows, but there we were in November….. on a ship, heading over Drake’s Passage towards the Antarctic Peninsula and feeling very lucky indeed! With wonderful albatrosses (five species!), Blue, Giant and Cape Petrels and Antarctic Prions for company we headed south - thrilled to encounter a wonderful pod of Orca on the way.
The Peninsula was awesomely beautiful. It is impossible to do justice to the scenery there…… the scale of it is impossible to imagine and the beauty is breathtaking. Enormous, blue-tinged glaciers, snow-capped mountains and icebergs were the backdrop to our outings to see penguins and other wildlife. Penguins are just brilliant – funny, delightful and fascinating, they do so many interesting things. The way they walk, the little squabbles over nothing, the way they lift their heads and bray loudly, the way they look at you as if puzzled by you - all without a hint of fear - they are just wonderful. Gentoos, Adélies and Chinstraps are the species this far south and patrolling the colonies were South Polar Skuas, Snowy Sheathbills and Southern Giant Petrels hoping for pickings. We did landings and zodiac cruises around the shorelines - even seeing Antarctic Minke Whales right by the zodiacs in the ice. And there were Snow Petrels - like pure white doves cruising effortlessly around the icebergs.
We cruised south in the Weddell Sea until we could go no further due to the ice. Here we witnessed Emperor Penguins at the start of a 30km walk to their breeding site. They were distant and, despite their size, not easy to spot and we felt incredibly privileged. There were enormous tabular icebergs everywhere and lots more Snow Petrels - one flock was 26 birds!
Sadly, the much-anticipated total solar eclipse happened above a thick layer of cloud, but we watched the shadow of the eclipse racing across the sea towards us and it did go very dark!
On South Georgia we landed at St Andrews Bay. 150,000 pairs of King Penguins must surely be one of the world’s most astonishing wildlife spectacles. Add hundreds of Elephant Seals and Antarctic Fur Seals and it is even more astounding! We visited Shackleton’s Grave at Grytviken, saw Macaroni Penguins, endemic birds such as South Georgia Pipit, Shag and Pintail and so much more - it was fabulous here.
More fabulous sea-watching as we headed to the Falklands meant plenty of albatrosses, prions, petrels and shearwaters and perhaps eight species of whales!! Fin Whales and Humpback were occasionally right by the ship while a Blue Whale was more distant. We enjoyed unbelievable views of a large pod of Pilot Whales with Hourglass and Peale’s Dolphins too! Even a possible Dwarf Minke Whale was seen.
On the Falklands we organised our own cross-country visit to a Rockhopper Penguin colony with exciting birding along the route - followed by a short visit to Stanley - then back at sea with more albatrosses and other seabirds to entertain us for the last leg of the journey.
It was not over yet! Birding the forests of Tierra del Fuego felt strange - the trees looked so tall!! Magellanic Woodpecker, Austral Parakeet and Austral Pygmy Owl were some of the highlights then a change of flights meant an extra day in Buenos Aires with an amazing day’s birding with so many species - including hummingbirds - surely the complete opposite to the Wandering Albatrosses we had seen just days before. It was an incredible expedition and even saying all this I don’t feel I have done it justice…"