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ANTARCTICA, THE FALKLANDS & SOUTH GEORGIA

Saturday 31st October - Wednesday 25th November 2009

Dave Farrow

This years’ tour was truly an exceptional one. For the first time, the tour incorporated the Valdes peninsula with its charismatic megafauna, our ship departing from the Patagonian port of Puerto Madryn, and returning into Ushuaia where we enjoyed a two day extension to explore the forests of Tierra del Fuego. It was sadly also the last Birdquest on any of the quartet of small ships, in this case the Professor Multanovskiy, as they are all being taken out of service for the purpose of expedition cruising. We had some major wildlife successes on this cruise, (helped greatly by the quality of observers maintaining watch almost throughout) and in addition to the wonderful spread of more regular Petrels and Penguins we counted 122 Atlantic Petrels in one day between the Falklands and South Georgia (surely a record!), plus 88 Kerguelen Petrels (48 in a day!), and eight Antarctic Petrels, the first of which stayed with us for several hours, flying in tight loops around the ship. We had some great experiences with cetaceans, most notably were the four different pods of Orca, with a minimum of 50 animals in total. The fourth and final pod caused the Captain to stop halfway across the Drake Passage, as the water around the ship was virtually boiling with these impressive beasts. A pod of Arnoux’s Beaked Whale in the icy waters close to the peninsula was a rare sighting indeed, plus we saw Cuvier’s Beaked Whale, Southern Bottlenose Whales, and some Sei Whales that popped up among some busy Fin Whale action. Land-based birding at the beginning of the tour was perhaps eclipsed by the show of Southern Right Whales, yet a Rusty-backed Monjita, Least Seedsnipe and a colony of Burrowing Parrots thrilled us, as did Andean Condors and five Magellanic Woodpeckers seen on the end-of-tour extension in Tierra del Fuego. A surprise stowaway appeared on the deck of the ship on the first day at sea, a gorgeous Many-coloured Rush Tyrant! We made 14 landings, and apart from the obvious highlight of our landings on South Georgia, we had a bonus landing at the Orcadas base in the South Orkneys and a continent landing in the beautiful Neko Harbour. We also made some great ‘ships cruises’ in the stunningly picturesque Lemaire Channel, Drygalskiy Fjord, and among the seal-dotted pack ice inside the caldera of Deception Island.