Antarctica Cruise Dec 17, 2006—Jan 08, 2007
Posted by Brian Patteson
Together with Pete Dunne, I was fortunate to co-lead VENT’s trip to Antarctica, South Georgia, and the Falklands in December and January. We had a great group of people, and we began with some pre-cruise birding in Buenos Aires and then Tierra del Fuego prior to boarding the ship. We crossed the infamous Drake Passage in fair weather, and enjoyed some fine seabirding with a good number of Royal, Gray-headed, and Light-mantled albatrosses seen on our way down south.
The weather in Antarctica and the South Shetlands could not have been much better. Though we visited some of the same sites that I had been to on three earlier cruises here, such as Baily Head, Cuverville Island, and the legendary Lemaire Channel, we also went to some places I had not previously visited. These included Sven Foyn Harbor, where we had an excellent morning of zodiac cruising; Penguin Island, where we had the opportunity to peer down into a volcano; Paulet Island, where thousands of Adelie Penguins were nesting and Snow Petrels flocked just offshore; and Devil Island, where we saw a leopard seal snatch an Adelie Penguin from the sea. We also cruised close by the South Orkney Islands, a group of islands not often visited by these trips. There we found a wonderland of huge grounded icebergs and desolate moss-covered islands.
When we first arrived in South Georgia, we got a feeling for how hard the wind could blow; however, by the second day conditions were much improved, and we enjoyed fine landings and zodiac cruises at a number of sites. Gold Harbor was packed full of wildlife and what seemed like a lot of King Penguins. The next day we saw what a lot of King Penguins really looked like when we went to Salisbury Plain. Following that, we were able to land at Prion Islet, where we saw majestic Wandering Albatrosses sharing their nesting grounds with a most improbable inhabitant in this harsh environment?the tiny South Georgia Pipit.
From South Georgia we headed west to the Falkland Islands, where a full day of landings allowed us to sample the abundant wildlife. After having been accustomed to low diversity and high numbers down south, it was refreshing to see considerably more diversity in birdlife again; Upland and Ruddy-headed geese, Imperial Shag, Magellanic Oystercatcher, Rufous-chested Dotterel, Blackish Cinclodes, and Long-tailed Meadowlark were just a few highlights. Of course everyone was thrilled to see the Rockhopper and Magellanic penguins up close, and we also saw the endemic Cobb’s Wren.
As usual, the superb crew and expedition staff of the Clipper Adventurer helped to make this a cruise to remember. But I will also remember the great group of VENT passengers on this trip, many of whom I hope to bird with again sometime in the future.