Birders on Board: Observations and Advice for Birders on a Classic Falkland, South Georgia, Antarctic Peninsula Cruise Part II

This is Part II of our trip to the Antarctic Peninsula via the Falklands and South Georgia. For Part I click here.

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Weddell Seal on Orne Island Photo Stephan Lorenz

Day 12 November 6th At sea between South Georgia and Antarctic Peninsula

We settled in for the long crossing between South Georgia and the Antarctic Peninsula. Unfavorable winds and rough conditions lengthened the crossing to nearly three full days. I remained on deck as much as I could watching the birdlife change slowly. Mainly diversity and numbers decreased and during the first day of the crossing I recorded nothing new, but still saw single Gray-headed, Light-mantled, and Black-browed albatross, some Snow, Blue, and White-chinned petrels. The number of Black-bellied Storm-Petrels increased and Cape Petrels were of course always with us. But mostly I saw the dark water of the endless southern ocean with swells building as the ship sailed south.

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Gentoo Penguins on Orne Island with iceberg Photo Stephan Lorenz

Day 13 November 7th At sea between South Georgia and Antarctic Peninsula

The ship was still steaming south and I spent only limited time on deck. The temperatures became colder and the birdlife less abundant. A single Wandering Albatross stood out, Wilson’s and Black-bellied storm-Petrels were seen, but otherwise I only noted species recorded previously. It was entertaining to watch the icebergs here and there, but otherwise I spent more time relaxing or joining some of the lectures given on board.

Chinstrap Penguin

Chinstrap Penguin Photo Stephan Lorenz

Day 14 November 8th At sea nearing the Antarctic Peninsula and Passing of Clarence and Elephant Islands

After two full days at sea we finally saw land again when we sighted Clarence Island in the early evening. Due to adverse weather and timing we had to cancel a landing on Elephant Island, but we could see it as we steamed past. As we neared the Antarctic Peninsula birdlife picked up again and I saw Snowy Sheathbill, Kelp Gull, and Antarctic Tern. Noteworthy were more than 1,000 Southern Fulmars that sat in large rafts on the water and swirled past en masse, outnumbering even the abundant Cape Petrels.

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Icebergs in the Antarctic Peninsula Photo Stephan Lorenz

Blue Petrels increased in numbers and I saw more and more Chinstrap Penguins in the water. Icebergs increased in number and size and towards the end of the day I spotted a single Adelie Penguin riding on one of the ice floes, the first one of the trip. It was great to be back within sight of and we looked forward to the penguin colonies.

Blue Petrel Photo Stephan Lorenz

Blue Petrel Photo Stephan Lorenz

Day 15 November 9th Antarctic Sound near Brown Bluff

Nothing had prepared me for the scene this morning and when I arrived on deck the ship was surrounded by massive icebergs. Giant ice floes rested on both sides of the ship with the emerging, straight walls of white the size of skyscrapers. These were continental ice floes that had broken off recently and slowly drifted in the sound. One apparently measured more than 10 miles in length and even our expedition leader stated that she had never seen anything like it. Claudia and I enjoyed the vistas while the ship slowly motored towards Brown Bluff, the destination for the day.

Giant ice floes along the Antarctic Peninsula

Giant ice floes along the Antarctic Peninsula Photo Stephan Lorenz

We had plans to land at the Esperanza Base, an Argentinian station, but the increasing wind and swell thwarted a landing. The ship approached Brown Bluffs and all were on deck, ready to board the zodiacs, when the landing was called off last-minute. Missing the large Adelie Penguin colony at Brown Bluff was another big disappointment, but the weather here is just unpredictable. I went downstairs and grabbed my scope and tripod, putting it up on the bridge we could at least see scores of Adelie Penguins shuffle along the beaches from a distance. The ship made a slow pass of the solid ice blocking the entrance of the Weddell Sea. I scanned the huge ice floes carefully, hoping for Emperor Penguins, but knew the chances were extremely slim and had no luck.

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Glacier in the Antarctic Peninsula Photo Stephan Lorenz

As the ship left the bay, heading for the Gerlache Straight, I saw one fast-flying Antarctic Petrel that raced past and disappeared above one of the giant ice floes. It was not a great view, but definitely one of the best birds of the trip as this species is apparently difficult to find during cruises departing later in the year.

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Esperanza Station in the Antarctic Peninsula Photo Stephan Lorenz

Day 16 November 10th Morning Landing at Brown Station in Paradise Harbor and afternoon landing on Orne Island

I woke up early and walked out on deck as soon as I could. The Gerlache Straight was incredibly calm and the numerous icebergs reflected in the mirror-like waters. The only birds in the water were porpoising Gentoo Penguins. The ship kept steaming south into the fortunately ice free straight and we passed the only other cruise ship we saw during our entire trip.

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Gentoo Penguins Photo Stephan Lorenz

Today was going to be the day to finally land on the continent and conditions were ideal. We turned into Paradise Bay and were able to admire the perfectly blue ice until we reached the anchorage. The weather was very calm, perfect conditions for a zodiac cruise and landing at the closed Brown Station. The crew split the participants in half with some landing at the station and other enjoying a cruise past the icebergs, jagged cliffs and to the wall of the glacier in the bay. We then switched activities with people being elated to finally put two feet on solid ground of the White Continent. Birdlife was abundant with a small colony of Gentoo Penguins around the station and nesting Antarctic Shags on the cliffs. It was fun watching the shags fly back and forth, carrying nesting material while porpoising Gentoo Penguins played below.

Antarctic Shag Photo Stephan Lorenz

Antarctic Shag Photo Stephan Lorenz

Day 17 November 11th Near South Shetland Islands waiting out weather in Drake Passage

The seas were rough and strong winds ripped through the whitecaps. Instead of making one final landing on the South Shetland Islands the captain decided to take the ship in large circles to wait out worse weather in the Drake Passage. The forecast called for a hurricane in the Drake Passage and the expedition leader thought it wisest to wait. It was still very rough and birding on deck was nearly impossible. I eventually stepped out onto deck by mid-morning and almost immediately spotted an Antarctic Petrel racing past the ship. It circled and I spotted it again among dozens of Cape Petrels. I was able to alert the two other birders on board and they were able to get great views as the bird repeatedly circled. Claudia was even able to see it from one of the portholes in galley. I also managed to see a South Polar Skua briefly.

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Antarctic Petrel Photo Stephan Lorenz

The rest of the day we waited on deck and the crew put on a fun quiz game together that helped pass the time. We still enjoyed some great food and just sat back and waited.

Day 18 November 12th Crossing of the Drake Passage in rough conditions

14 meter waves! Extremely rough conditions after a hurricane passed through the Drake Passage and all of us were confined to our bunks for the day. Needless to say I spent no time on deck birding.

Ice in Paradise Harbor Photo Stephan Lorenz

Ice in Paradise Harbor Photo Stephan Lorenz

Day 19 November 13th End the crossing of the Drake Passage and reaching the Beagle Channel by evening

The swells had somewhat receded, but the ship was still lurching heavily. I spent some time on deck and while this part of the crossing is likely very productive with enough time spent looking I saw nothing new. By afternoon it was mostly the ubiquitous Black-browed Albatross that still followed the ship, although I also saw Royal (including one that looked good for Northern) and Wandering. Otherwise Sooty Shearwaters reappeared plus the regular petrels. We disembarked the following morning after what had been a journey of a lifetime.

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Chinstrap Penguin Photo Stephan Lorenz

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Antarctic Petrel Photo Stephan Lorenz

A full list of birds for the trip can be found in Part I.

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