Welcome to Birdquest

ANTARCTICA, THE FALKLANDS & SOUTH GEORGIA

Tuesday 29th November - Saturday 17th December 2016

János Oláh

Snow Petrel (János Oláh)

Snow Petrel (János Oláh)

All reports describe the amazing experience to be had on this tour! However, even with expectations so high it never dissapoints. It is an outstanding and uplifting feeling to witness the wildlife spectacle of this largely unspoilt part of the World. It is easy to fall in love with the area and by the end of the tour most people just do not want to leave the boat and there is an unspoken sadness on the final day! Seeing the magical Falklands with its special birds, tens of thousands of King Penguins on South Georgia or setting foot on the ’white continent’ are things never to be forgotten! This year we had no offical pre-tour extension but most participants did arrive to Ushuaia earlier and got to see some great birds around town like Ashy-headed Goose, Magellanic Woodpecker, Magellanic Tapaculo and White-throated Treerunner just to name but a few. The cruise itself visited the Falklands, South Georgia, the South Orkneys, the Antarctic Peninsula, a little bit of the Weddell Sea and the South Shetlands before setting sail across the Drake Passage back to Ushuaia. Our ship was the cosy and well equipped Plancius and we soon got accustomed with this fine boat. This year there were very few birders on board and only a two more in addition to the Birdquest group! However there were no lack of enthusiasm and our little team maintained an almost constant watch during our days at sea, enabling us to achieve some impressive sightings of seabirds and marine mammals.

A modest total of 77 bird species and 17 mammals on the cruise itself focused on quality rather than quantity. But I can tell you nobody was into just the number of species on this tour though seeing Kerguelen, Atlantic and Westland Petrels was much appriciated as it is often the case with scarce and hard-to-see birds! It is difficult to summarise all the highlights of this tour but a few experiences certainly made it into the most precious storage box in our minds: being greeted by Commerson’s Dolphins on the arrival to the Falklands; exploring Carcass Island on foot surrounded by breeding Falkland Streamer Ducks, Ruddy-headed Goose and Cobb’s Wrens – followed by a superb selection of cakes on a private farm; wandering amongst hundreds of Black-browed Albatrosses and Southern Rockhopper Penguins on their nests; tracking down Two-banded Plover and Rufous-chested Dotterel near Port Stanley; walking from Fortuna Bay to Stromness on South Georgia; visiting Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton’s graveyard at Grytviken; seeing the the once very rare South Georgia Pipit on almost all of our landings as a result of the rat eradication project; exploring the biggest King Penguin colony in the World with about 250,000 birds at St Andrews Bay; a special landing on the South Orkneys at Orcadas base with hundreds of Cape Petrels; our first landing on Antarctica at Brown Bluff followed by a cruise into the Weddell Sea; early morning with over 25 humpbacks and a Leopard Seal near S’Hainaut Island; getting close-up with baby elephant seals and angry male fur seals; albatrosses and petrels almost constantly around the ship whilst at sea; many great cetacean sightings including several Southern Bottlenose Whale and many Humpback Whales; Chinstrap and Adelie Penguin colonies; the incomparable and spectacular scenery throughout; mighty icebergs, variable light conditions… the list is almost endless. Every trip is different to this corner of the earth but certainly the 2017 tour was yet another great cruise! We experienced all sorts of weather conditions with sometimes up to 55 knot wind (and closed decks) around the Falklands and when cruising towards the South Orkneys, but nothing hampered our birding! It was a bit rough at times indeed but we were lucky in the dreaded Drake Passage on our way home! Special thanks should go to captain Evgeny Levakov and expedition leader Andrew Bishop and all the fantastic crew who made this tour a great experience.

Chinstrap Penguin (János Oláh)

Chinstrap Penguin (János Oláh)