The Ultimate In Birding Tours

Antarctica & The Subantarctic

ANTARCTICA, FALKLAND ISLANDS & SOUTH GEORGIA – The Nearest Thing to Birding Another World

Tuesday 10th December – Sunday 29th December 2024

Leaders: Nik Borrow, a second Birdquest leader and Oceanwide Expeditions leaders

20 Days Group Size Limit 24
Tierra del Fuego Pre-Tour Extension

Sunday 8th December – Tuesday 10th December 2024

3 Days Group Size Limit 24
Thursday 26th November – Tuesday 15th December 2026

Leaders: Birdquest leaders to be announced and Oceanwide Expeditions leaders

20 Days Group Size Limit 24
Tierra del Fuego Pre-Tour Extension

Tuesday 24th November – Thursday 26th November 2026

3 Days Group Size Limit 24


Birdquest’s combined Antarctica, Falkland Islands and South Georgia birding tours are a truly marvellous bird and wildlife adventure that takes you to the ‘great white continent’. Our Antarctica, Falkland Islands & South Georgia birding tour is an expedition-style cruise that offers up a feast of seabirds, rare land birds (including a number of endemics) and marine mammals (seals, whales and dolphins) that you will remember forever. You don’t even have to put up with very cold conditions in Antarctica in order to see all these wonders – it is relatively mild down there at the time of year we visit.

A visit to Antarctica is like no other journey on earth; it is indeed about as close to visiting another planet as any of us are likely to get. We can say without hesitation that this is the ultimate wildlife adventure, a wilderness experience that is truly uplifting and really does make the heart sing with the joy of being alive. If you ever have the chance to go to South Georgia and Antarctica then take it, for you will surely never regret it!

Antarctica is the last frontier on our ever-shrinking planet, a place that every traveller longs to explore but so few ever see. An uninhabited continent of more than twelve million square kilometres almost entirely encrusted with ice – an awesomely silent but starkly beautiful frozen world. Here some of the most magnificent scenery of all can be seen under the cleanest skies on earth. Towering volcanoes, stark mountain ranges, lowering headlands, icebergs like floating cathedrals – all are enhanced by the peculiar quality of the light, which lends an ethereal beauty to the savage grandeur of the landscapes.

This is a land of superlatives, at one and the same time the coldest, highest, windiest, driest, most barren and least known area on earth. Some 90% of the world’s freshwater is locked up in Antarctica’s icecap, which if it were to melt would cause sea levels to rise over 200ft (over 60m), drowning much of the world’s arable land and hundreds of major cities.

One of the strangest features of this lost continent is the fact that Antarctica is surrounded by the richest oceans of all, thronged with marine life ranging from tiny krill to elephant seals and whales, and supporting enormous numbers of seabirds. The tameness of Antarctica’s seabirds and sea mammals is legendary and this remarkable journey will not only provide numerous opportunities to see albatrosses, petrels, penguins and seals at sea but also see us wandering right amongst their breeding colonies, accepted without question by creatures that have learned no fear of man. Whale-watching is a feature of Antarctic cruises and we are likely to enjoy some spectacular views of these leviathans breaching and sounding right next to our ship.

Our Antarctica, Falkland Islands & South Georgia birding tour starts at Ushuaia, the southernmost town in the world, situated on the windswept but spectacularly beautiful shores of Tierra del Fuego. Here we join our ship and sail out into the South Atlantic en route to the Falkland Islands.

The sea crossings from South America to the Falklands and onwards to South Georgia and Antarctica offer some of the best pelagic birding experiences in the world, with no fewer than five species of albatross routinely encountered (Black-browed, Grey-headed, Light-mantled, Wandering and Southern Royal) and several others possible, as well as both Southern and Northern Giant Petrels, Cape, White-chinned, Soft-plumaged, Atlantic, Kerguelen and Blue Petrels, Slender-billed, Antarctic and Fairy Prions, Great Shearwater, Wilson’s, Grey-backed and Black-bellied Storm Petrels, and Common and South Georgia Diving Petrels. We can also expect a good selection of cetaceans, including some large whales.

Our exploration of the wild yet beautiful Falkland Islands will be enlivened by the spectacular and very approachable wildlife of the archipelago. Here are some of the largest colonies of Black-browed Albatrosses and Southern Rockhopper Penguins in the Southern Ocean, while other attractions include South American Fur Seal, Magellanic Penguin, Rock and Imperial Shags, Kelp, Upland and the rare Ruddy-headed Geese, Falkland Steamer Duck, Striated Caracara, Magellanic and Blackish Oystercatchers, Rufous-chested Plover, Two-banded Plover, Brown Skua, Dolphin Gull, South American Tern, Blackish Cinclodes, Dark-faced Ground-Tyrant, Cobb’s Wren and White-bridled Finch.

After enjoying the attractive scenery and marvellous birdlife of these rugged, wind-swept islands we sail onwards to South Georgia, enjoying some wonderful pelagic birding en route. This most mountainous of the sub-Antarctic islands appears like a series of snow-covered peaks rising from the sea, scalloped with fjords carved by more than 150 glaciers. Here we will experience some of the most unforgettable wildlife spectacles of our journey amidst dramatic scenery, walking amidst huge colonies of stately King Penguins, standing close to gigantic Southern Elephant Seals and enjoying superb views of nesting Wandering Albatrosses, while other notable creatures include Macaroni and Gentoo Penguins, South Georgia Shag, South Georgia Pintail, South Georgia Pipit and the bad-tempered Antarctic Fur Seal.

To the south lie the ice-mantled South Orkney Islands, considered a northern outpost of Antarctica and a major breeding site for the lovely Snow Petrel. This is also a place where numerous huge icebergs, spawned by the Weddell Sea, come to rest in the shallows.

Steaming even further south, across the Scotia Sea, our Antarctica, Falkland Islands & South Georgia birding tour comes at last to our ultimate goal, the Antarctic Peninsula, an icy finger of land pointing towards South America and first seen by human eyes only last century, and the rugged South Shetland Islands, home to millions of penguins and petrels. Here in Antarctica proper we will encounter Weddell, Crabeater and Leopard Seals, penguins and whales amidst the ice floes, visit Adelie, Chinstrap and Gentoo Penguin rookeries, experience the awesome scenery of the ice-choked Antarctic channels, watch pure-white Snow Petrels and piebald Antarctic Petrels soaring around icebergs, and visit the shores of the Antarctic continent itself. We even have a real, if slim chance of encountering the legendary Emperor Penguin.

From the Antarctic Peninsula, we sail northwards across the deep waters of the Drake Passage to the southernmost tip of South America, where the turbulent waters of the Atlantic and the Pacific meet at lonely Cape Horn, enjoying yet more pelagic birding before very reluctantly returning to ‘civilization’ at the port of Ushuaia with memories that only a lucky few can ever hope for.

The great advantage of taking this particular cruise, if you are especially interested in seeing Antarctic birds and other wildlife in all their glory, is that this particular itinerary is very strongly wildlife-orientated and includes the Weddell Sea, ice conditions permitting. Oceanwide Expeditions, who operate our cruise, usually have at least one experienced birder/ornithologist amongst their expedition leaders.

Furthermore, the primary Birdquest leader will accompany our group regardless of numbers and two leaders will accompany the group if there are more than 14 participants.

Those who want to can join an optional extension in southern Tierra del Fuego, which provides yet more excellent bird watching, great photography and spectacular scenery. Kindly note the option of the ‘extension to the extension’ extra day for White-bellied Seedsnipe. See the Detailed Itinerary for further information.

Birdquest has operated Antarctica birding and wildlife tours, including the Falkland Islands and South Georgia, since 1990.

Why is travelling on a smaller expedition ship and in a smaller group so important for birding and wildlife-orientated visitors to Antarctica and South Georgia? Many people are unaware that the tightening environmental regulations in Antarctica and South Georgia mean that it is no longer possible to land more than 100 passengers at a time at the great majority of landing sites.

This means that if you go on a ship that takes well over 100 passengers, either landing durations per person will be greatly reduced compared to those available with the smaller ships, or there will be fewer landings (either because not all passengers can go ashore at any given landing or because the ship will need to book two landing slots, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, at each location, leaving half the passengers on board during each landing slot).  Sadly the trend in Antarctica is for larger and larger expedition ships, and there are now very few ships left that take fewer than 150 passengers and some that take 500 or more! This makes economic sense for the cruise companies, but is a huge step backwards for wildlife enthusiasts in our view. The whole point of going all that way and spending all that money is to have lots of time ashore in this magical part of the world!

Another important aspect to bear in mind is that all expedition ships have limited space at the bow and at the stern. These are the best places for birding during the sea crossings, at least in normal weather conditions. Even the bridge, where you have to look through glass, can only hold so many. If you go in a huge group of birders there will inevitably be frustrations, in our opinion, as too many people want the best observing spots and as communication weakens so good birds are missed. On a ‘normal’ cruise we often have the bows and stern to ourselves or share them with a few others. Most folk on these cruises are not interested in sustained seawatching.

When is the best time of year for a birding and wildlife expedition-cruise in the Antarctic Peninsula and South Georgia? This is not a simple question to answer. The easiest thing to say is that late southern summer/early autumn (late February into March) is definitely not the best time for a visit unless your main interest is cetaceans (which typically peak at this time), as most penguin colonies are winding down and the weather is no longer at its best.

During the early ‘ship season’, in November, the weather averages a bit colder and more unsettled than from December to mid-February. In some years there can be more issues with sea ice blocking access to certain landing sites (this is particularly true of getting to land at Adelie Penguin colonies). Cetaceans are fewer in number at this time of year, but on the other hand, the penguin colonies are less soiled.

During December to early February, the weather reaches it’s optimum, cetaceans become increasingly abundant, more sea ice melts or disperses, allowing more reliable access to some landing sites, and most penguin species have endearing chicks.

Cruises to Antarctica from New Year through to mid-February cost more than those at other times of the season simply because this is the peak demand period from Antarctic travellers in general. It is no better a time for seeing birds and other wildlife than November-December.

Is there a chance of seeing Emperor Penguin? Very slim. The only reliable Antarctic Peninsula expedition cruises for seeing Emperor Penguin, indeed the only Antarctic Peninsula cruises that have more than a 10% chance or less for Emperors, are those that use ship-borne helicopters to at least find Emperor Penguins on ice floes in the vastness of the Weddell Sea, which is usually too ice-bound to allow ship access. Sometimes these special cruises can get close enough for passengers to visit the actual Emperor Penguin colony at Snowhill Island (this happens on about 30% of such cruises). See Birdquest’s ANTARCTICA: IN SEARCH OF THE EMPEROR PENGUIN tour for full details. To date, this special cruise has never failed to find at least one or more Emperor Penguins!

Accommodation & Transport: We shall be sailing on the MV Plancius, a converted, ice-strengthened former Dutch naval vessel of 3434 tons and 89 metres in length operated by the well-respected Oceanwide Expeditions, who are based in the Netherlands. Plancius is a very well-loved expedition ship and nowadays one of the relatively few smaller (100 or so passengers) ships available. While comfortable and modern, this is still not a ‘cruise ship’ in the traditional manner. She is specifically designed for exploring wild places and enjoying wild nature, rather than carrying huge numbers of people, with multiple restaurants and all the rest!

Plancius can accommodate a maximum of 108 passengers in 52 passenger cabins, all with private toilet and shower. Cabins consist of quad cabins with a porthole and two lower single beds and two upper, triple cabins with a porthole and two lower single beds and one upper, twin cabins with a porthole and two lower single beds, twin cabins with a window and two lower single beds, somewhat larger deluxe twin cabins with a window and two lower single beds and superior twin cabins which are almost 50% larger than a standard twin, with at least one window and one queen-sized bed. Cabins have ample storage space and an outside view.

Public facilities include a restaurant/lecture theatre, an observation lounge/bar with panoramic views, a library and a small shop. Food is plentiful, of good quality, waitress-served and prepared by experienced chefs. Both ships carry a small complement of expedition staff who, as well as guiding excursions ashore and zodiac cruises, double up as guest lecturers and give informal talks on the environment, wildlife and history of the areas visited. The bridge is normally open to all (except when the ship is docking) and provides a great viewpoint whenever it is too breezy to stand comfortably outside.

Much of the sailing is done at night (or what passes for ‘night’ in summer in high latitudes), thus maximizing opportunities for going ashore and enjoying the harsh but beautiful landscapes of Antarctica to the full. Landings are carried out using a fleet of zodiacs/naiads, the rugged, fast-moving type of inflatables first developed by Jacques Cousteau for expedition work which allow safe landings on remote coastlines in all types of conditions.

Further information about the ship is available on the Oceanwide Expeditions website:

Walking: The walking effort during our Antarctica, Falklands and South Georgia birding tour is mostly easy, occasionally moderate. There are a few optional harder walks offered by the expedition staff, but these are for scenic views and exercise: none are necessary in order to see any important species. Walking effort during the standard extension in Tierra del Fuego is easy. However, the hike up into the mountains during the optional extra extension day for White-bellied Seedsnipe is fairly arduous.

Climate: Quite mild at this season (and a surprise to many visitors, who imagine extreme cold is a year-round feature of Antarctica). In the Antarctic Peninsula and surrounds the shade temperature is generally a little above freezing point (and as high as 4-7°C, or 39-45°F, at South Georgia). On sunny days it can feel relatively warm if there is no wind (often the case in Antarctica proper, much less often the case in South Georgia). In contrast, it can feel distinctly cold when windy at sea or while on land at South Georgia. Sunny spells are interspersed with (often longer) overcast periods and some rain or snow are to be expected. In Tierra del Fuego and in the Falklands conditions are typically cool, but considerably warmer than further south.

Bird/Sea Mammal Photography: Opportunities during our Antarctica, Falkland Islands & South Georgia birding tour are truly outstanding.

Landings & Itinerary:  Adverse weather conditions may prevent landings on exposed coasts. It is, however, very unusual for more than a few intended landings to have to be called off during a cruise, and there is usually an alternative landing site available on such occasions. The information given about possible landing sites should be taken as a general indication about what is likely to be achieved during any given tour: every Antarctica and South Georgia cruise is different, being dependent on the amount of time available, sea and ice conditions, and the weather, and so it is likely that some of the sites visited on your particular tour will be different from those described.

Getting to Ushuaia in good time: Owing to the possibility, however small, of a severe airline delay, we would recommend that all participants on our Antarctica, Falkland Islands & South Georgia birding tour have one or two hotel nights at the cruise start point prior to the tour. Kindly note that in the event you do not arrive in time, the ship will not wait and neither the cruise operator nor the tour operator can make a refund in such circumstances. Arriving early also has the advantage that your luggage could still catch up with you, should it go astray. We can make hotel bookings for you on request, both before and after the tour. There is also the option to join our Tierra del Fuego Pre-Tour Extension (with or without the optional White-bellied Seedsnipe extra day).


  • The journey to 'The Last Continent', the nearest any of us will ever get to visiting another planet!
  • Setting foot on that final continent and marvelling at its stark, inhospitable, untouched beauty
  • Travelling to such remote, inaccessible places in such comfort – it seems incredible!
  • Enjoying one of the worlds great 'pelagics': day after day of albatrosses, petrels, prions and storm petrels, of an extraordinary variety!
  • Looking for White-throated Caracaras, Chilean Skuas and Dolphin Gulls around Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world
  • Seeing Magellanic Woodpeckers, Green-backed Firecrowns, White-throated Treerunners and Fire-eyed Diucons in the Nothofagus beech forest in Tierra del Fuego National Park
  • Watching for Andean Condors overhead, amidst the spoectacular scenery of Tierra del Fuego
  • Sailing for the Falklands, with our first flocks of Black-browed Albatrosses in the Beagle Channel and the chance of Magellanic Diving Petrel
  • Encountering the first Wandering and Royal Albatrosses, as well as so many other seabirds, en route to West Falkland
  • Standing in awe at the Black-browed Albatross and Southern Rockhopper Penguin colony on Westpoint Island and listening to the braying of the penguins as albatrosses sweep in to land
  • All those ultra-tame Upland, Kelp and rare Ruddy-headed Geese, and the flightless endemic Falklands Steamer Ducks
  • The ever-watchful Johnny Rooks (Striated Caracaras)
  • Ultra-tame endemic Tussockbirds (Blackish Cinclodes) and perky Cobb's Wrens greeting us at the beach on Carcass Island
  • Magellanic and Gentoo Penguins strolling to their colonies while Brown Skuas eye them expectantly
  • The sheer Britishness of Port Stanley and the weird idea it could have been invaded
  • Seeking out handsome Double-banded Plovers and lovely Rufous-chested Dotterels around Port Stanley
  • Making sure we see plenty of tiny Grey-backed Storm Petrels as we leave the Falklands behind.
  • The extraordinary crossing to South Georgia with so many seabirds, including a good chance for Atlantic Petrel
  • Standing in awe at the vast King Penguin colonies at Salisbury Plain and St Andrews
  • Admiring the endless parade of magnificent 'alpine' scenery as we pass peak after peak and glacier aftrer glacier on South Georgia
  • Making the pilgrimage to Ernest Shackleton’s grave at Grytviken and toasting his memory
  • Baby Elephant Seals snorting as we come close, and staring at us with huge, liquid eyes, while older animals belch, roar or battle
  • Watching a Macaroni Penguin colony amongst the tussock grass, and enjoying the departing birds diving into the sea (or maybe tumbling!)
  • Keeping an eye out for those annoying Antarctic Fur Seals, ever ready to turn a snarl into a quick charge!
  • Enjoying how common the endemic South Georgia Pipit has become again after the successful rat eradication project
  • Stunning encounters with so many cetaceans, often at very close range, ranging from Fin and Humpback Whales to Killer Whales and dolphins
  • Sailing past awesome tabular icebergs that dwarf our ship
  • Moving through the drift ice as we approach the Antarctic continent, watching the antics of the penguins using them as floating platforms or diving into the sea
  • Noisy colonies of smart Chinstrap Penguins, stone-stealing Gentoo Penguins and cute Adelie Penguins
  • Encountering sleepy Weddell Seals and hulking Leopard Seals, and hopefully some Crabeaters
  • Watching and waiting for Antarctic Petrels to appear
  • Experiencing the extraordinary 'wintry' mountain scenery of Antarctica, with sea ice and icebergs in the foreground, especially in the soft light of evening and early morning
  • Zodiac cruising amongst the ice
  • Smelling penguin colonies as well as looking at them and listening to the sheer noise! Then getting to scrub the penguin poo off your boots when you get back on board!
  • So many wonderful lectures on Antarctic history, biology and other subjects from our expedition staff
  • Eating too many tasty meals, but not getting enough exercise!
  • Having most of the bow and stern to ourselves for seabirding, as most passengers have soon seen enough albatrosses to last a lifetime!
  • That feeling of sadness yet accomplishment as our expedition comes to an end


  • Day 1: The extension starts this afternoon at Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego.
  • Day 2: Tierra del Fuego. Overnight at Ushuaia.
  • Day 3: The extension ends this afternoon at Ushuaia.
  • Day 1: The expedition starts this afternoon at Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego.
  • Day 2: Heading towards the Falkland Islands.
  • Day 3: West Fakland (typically Carcass and Westpoint Islands).
  • Day 4: Port Stanley.
  • Day 5: South Falklands
  • Days 6-7: Heading towards South Georgia.
  • Days 8-11: Fabulous South Georgia!
  • Day 12: Heading for the South Orkney Islands.
  • Day 13: South Orkney Islands.
  • Days 14-17: The glories of the Antarctic Peninsula!
  • Day 18: Heading back to South America.
  • Day 19: At sea in the Cape Horn region.
  • Day 20: The expedition ends this morning at Ushuaia.

To see a larger map, click on the square-like ‘enlarge’ icon in the upper right of the map box.

To see (or hide) the ‘map legend’, click on the icon with an arrow in the upper left of the map box.

To change to a satellite view, which is great for seeing the physical terrain (and for seeing really fine details by repetitive use of the + button), click on the square ‘map view’ icon in the lower left corner of the ‘map legend’.


Birdquest Inclusions: Our tour prices include surface transportation, accommodations, meals and entrance fees.

Deposit: 20% of the total tour price. Our office will let you know what deposit amount is due, in order to confirm your booking, following receipt of your online booking form.

TO BOOK THIS TOUR: Click here (you will need the tour dates)



Confirmed prices

For Ushuaia/Ushuaia arrangements

£10910, $13180, €12550 in a Quadruple Porthole Cabin with 2 upper and 2 lower berths and private bathroom

£13260, $16010, €15250 in a Triple Porthole Cabin with 1 upper and 2 lower berths and private bathroom

£13260, $16010, €15250 in a Twin Porthole Cabin with 2 single beds and private bathroom

£13870, $16750, €15950, in a Twin Window Cabin with 2 single beds and private bathroom

£14780, $17850, €17000 in a Twin Deluxe Cabin with 2 single beds and private bathroom

£15830, $19110, €18200 in a Superior Cabin with double bed and private bathroom

Tierra del Fuego Pre-Tour Extension: £850, $1030, €980 Ushuaia/Ushuaia.

White-bellied Seedsnipe Additional Extension: £380, $460, €440.



Dates and prices are provisional

For Ushuaia/Ushuaia arrangements

£10910, $13180, €12550 in a Quadruple Porthole Cabin with 2 upper and 2 lower berths and private bathroom

£13260, $16010, €15250 in a Triple Porthole Cabin with 1 upper and 2 lower berths and private bathroom

£13260, $16010, €15250 in a Twin Porthole Cabin with 2 single beds and private bathroom

£13870, $16750, €15950, in a Twin Window Cabin with 2 single beds and private bathroom

£14780, $17850, €17000 in a Twin Deluxe Cabin with 2 single beds and private bathroom

£15830, $19110, €18200 in a Superior Cabin with double bed and private bathroom

Tierra del Fuego Pre-Tour Extension: £850, $1030, €980 Ushuaia/Ushuaia.

White-bellied Seedsnipe Additional Extension: £380, $460, €440.

Gratuities for the expedition staff and crew are not included in the tour price. The level of gratuities is entirely a matter for personal discretion. The staff and crew work very long hours to make such cruises a success, and we understand that most passengers on these cruises give gratuities of between €200-400 (or the equivalent in US$).

Single Supplement: Single occupancy of twin-berth cabins can be obtained in return for a 70% supplement on top of the relevant twin-share cabin price.

2024: Tierra del Fuego Pre-Tour Extension: £140, $170, €160. White-bellied Seedsnipe Additional Extension: £70, $80, €80.

Please note that if you are willing to share but no cabin-mate is available you will not have to pay the single occupancy supplement onboard ship.

This tour is priced in Euros. Amounts shown in other currencies are indicative.

Air Travel To & From The Tour: Our in-house IATA ticket agency will be pleased to arrange your air travel on request, or you may arrange this yourself if you prefer.


Antarctica, Falkland Islands & South Georgia: Day 1  Our expedition to Antarctica begins this afternoon at Ushuaia, the southernmost town in the world, which is situated on the south coast of Tierra del Fuego, the ‘toe’ of South America, at 55 degrees south.

If it is clear during the flight south across Argentina to join the tour, you will be able to see the vast, arid landscapes of Patagonia far below and eventually the ice-clad spires and vast snowfields of Tierra del Fuego. Named by Magellan after the warning fires that the now-extinct Ona Amerindians lit when they saw his ships, Tierra del Fuego lies at the extreme southern tip of South America and is a wild land of grassland, windswept moors, stunted Nothofagus beech forests, snow-capped peaks and glaciers.

This afternoon we will board our ship before setting sail early this evening. We will spend the next 18 nights aboard. As we sail eastwards along the Beagle Channel, Magellanic Penguins, Black-browed Albatrosses, Southern Giant Petrels, Imperial and Rock Shags, Chilean Skuas, Kelp Gulls, South American Sealions and with a bit of luck one or two diminutive Magellanic Diving Petrels will be on show, but they are only an appetizer compared to the glories of the subantarctic and Antarctica that still lie ahead.

Antarctica, Falkland Islands & South Georgia: Day 2  As we sail towards the Falklands we will be looking out for seabirds that are typical of these shallower, warmer waters such as Sooty and Great Shearwaters. We will also encounter our first Southern Royal Albatrosses, and likely the even smarter Northern Royal Albatross, and a number of other seabird species widespread in the southern oceans which will soon become familiar companions.

Antarctica, Falkland Islands & South Georgia: Days 3-5  The Falkland Islands lie some 500 kilometres off the South American mainland. In spite of their remote location and apparent lack of resources, the islands have had a varied history, with temporary occupations by the Spanish and French before the British finally settled the islands permanently in 1842.

Although the archipelago consists of over 300 islands, it is dominated by the two main islands of East and West Falkland. A tiny population of only a few thousand is concentrated around Port Stanley, the picturesque little capital with its gaily painted Victorian-style houses that briefly became the focus of world attention during the 1982 Falklands War.

These windswept islands enjoy a much milder climate than South Georgia and there is only a little snow during the winter months. At this season the islands provide endless rolling vistas of yellow-green grasslands waving in the wind. With so few people to disturb them, birds are tame and abundant. Over fifty species breed in the islands, an almost overwhelming diversity compared to Antarctica proper. During our stay, we plan to make two landings on small islands off West Falkland and a final landing at Port Stanley.

One of these will be at one of the spectacular seabird colonies that have made the Falklands famous. Most of these are situated on remote islands. At Saunders Island or equally interesting Westpoint Island, the open hillsides are populated by Dark-faced Ground Tyrants and Correndera Pipits, whilst overhead we may see a Variable Hawk hanging in the wind. Dramatic sea-cliffs face the open Atlantic and here we shall visit a Southern Rockhopper Penguin rookery, smiling as we watch a succession of Southern Rockhoppers popping up out of the sea onto the rocks like champagne corks leaving a bottle and then hopping and scrambling up the cliffs in a long line, working their way up a natural staircase that has been worn smooth by the passage of countless little feet. From time to time Striated Caracaras or ‘Johnny Rooks’ appears in the colony, lurking on the periphery in the hope of making off with a titbit or two.

At a large colony of Black-browed Albatrosses (shared with rockhoppers at Westpoint), we will see some of the adults squatting on top of flattened grass tussocks rather like strange dwarfs on even stranger toadstools whilst others soar high above us or sweep into the nest sites to greet their mates with an affectionate round of mutual preening and bill clicking. Other breeding seabirds here include Gentoo and Magellanic Penguins.

On beautiful Carcass Island, Gentoo and Magellanic Penguins potter along waving their little flippers as they wander inland to their nests. Rock and Imperial Shags sit about on rocky skerries whilst South American Terns and beautiful Dolphin Gulls patrol the shallows and Magellanic and Blackish Oystercatchers pipe shrilly from the shoreline. Upland Geese are especially numerous and there is a good population of the rare and beautiful Ruddy-headed Goose. Along the shoreline, we will come across the striking Kelp Goose, which feeds almost exclusively on the beds of giant kelp. The endemic Falkland Steamer Duck or ‘Logger’ is a common sight and we shall soon realize how they got their name as these bulky ducks ‘steam’ over the water, kicking up a cloud of spray from the combined action of their wings and large feet whilst making loud sneezing alarm calls.

The variety of land birds is rather limited but this is more than made up for by the confiding nature of the little Blackish Cinclodes or ‘Tussock Bird’ which happily perches on one’s shoes. White-bridled (or Canary-winged) Finches and Black-chinned Siskins feed amongst the low herbage, Grass Wrens lurk in the damp grass and endemic Cobb’s Wrens forage along the shoreline amongst the cast up seaweed and human flotsam and jetsam.

Around the settlement, Black-crowned Night Herons nest in the trees and Austral Thrushes and Long-tailed Meadowlarks are everywhere. Amongst the other birds, we may find here are Crested Duck, Yellow-billed (or Speckled) Teal, Turkey Vulture, Southern Crested Caracara, Peregrine Falcon, South American Snipe, Brown Skua and Kelp Gull. As well as South American Sealion and Peale’s Dolphin, we may also see the beautiful Commerson’s Dolphin and the uncommon South American Fur Seal.

During our time in the Falklands, we will call in at Port Stanley where there are opportunities to wander around the minuscule streets, visit the tiny cathedral, see the historic hulks of the ships that never made it around Cape Horn and observe that great pioneer of the avian world, the humble House Sparrow. We will arrange an excursion to an area outside the town where there will be a good chance of finding the lovely Rufous-chested Plover and the smart Two-banded Plover.

Note: Some cruises have three days in the Falklands rather than two and also visit the southern islands of the group

During the afternoon of Day 5 we head for distant South Georgia.

Antarctica, Falkland Islands & South Georgia: Days 6-7  The long sea crossing to South Georgia can often be a highlight of the voyage for birders and cetacean fans. As we travel ever further to the east-southeast we shall pass from the warmer sub-Antarctic waters that surround southern South America and the Falklands to the cold waters of the Antarctic. The line of demarcation between these two water masses is quite strongly pronounced and is known as the Antarctic Convergence. Here the upwelling currents create conditions ideal for plankton and the rich feeding attracts numerous seabirds and often cetaceans.

As we watch from the decks, we will see a succession of seabirds following the ship, or sailing indifferently past, including Black-browed and Grey-headed Albatrosses, the graceful Light-mantled Albatross, enormous Northern and Southern Giant Petrels, Cape, Soft-plumaged and White-chinned Petrels, Wilson’s, Grey-backed and Black-bellied Storm Petrels, and Brown Skuas.

We shall check the Slender-billed and Antarctic Prions for Blue Petrels and Fairy Prions, but the star of this ever-changing spectacle will be the greatest seabird of all, the Wandering Albatross, with its remarkable wingspan (up to 3.5 metres!). As we watch these huge birds gliding low over the sea between waves and then circling high into the air without even the slightest movement of their wings we will be witnessing one of nature’s ultimate creations in action – a bird which is in total harmony with its environment. We will also come across the confusingly similar Southern Royal Albatross amongst the Wanderings and be reminded just how difficult it is to separate some seabirds!

This is a good area for uncommon species and rarities, so we shall keep a lookout for Atlantic Petrel and Northern Royal Albatross, as well as for more occasional visitors to these waters, such as Kerguelen and Grey Petrels, Sooty Albatross and Parasitic, Pomarine and Long-tailed Jaegers.

We also have an excellent chance of seeing whales, especially when we cross a bank where the sea depth decreases from over 4000m to under 200m, producing an upwelling that creates a plankton swarm highly attractive to whales: the most regular species here being Antarctic Minke Whale, Fin Whale, Killer Whale and Hourglass Dolphin. If we are lucky we will encounter Gray’s Beaked Whale or Southern Bottlenose Whale.

As we voyage southwards we will have a chance to listen to some fascinating lectures on the Antarctic environment and its wildlife or visit the bridge to learn about the many complex navigation instruments in use on our ship.

Antarctica, Falkland Islands & South Georgia: Days 8-11  South Georgia lies at the northeastern corner of the Scotia Ridge, a largely submarine formation with only the summits poking above the sea as islands, that links the Andes of South America with the mountains of Antarctica. Profoundly remote, a mass of inaccessible ice-clad mountains rising to 2934m, South Georgia is the most spectacular of all the sub-Antarctic islands. Described by Robert Cushman Murphy, that great pioneer of seabird research in the southern oceans, as presenting ‘one of the world’s most glorious spectacles – like the Alps in mid-ocean’, the coastline of South Georgia endlessly surprises and delights as one striking vista of deep fjords, jagged peaks and glacier-dominated valleys gives way to another and yet another.

During our stay in this marvellous area, we plan to make a number of landings. For over fifty years South Georgia was the hub of the South Atlantic whaling industry and while our ship staff check-in with the British authorities, we shall explore the eerie, silent ghost settlement of Grytviken, the oldest whaling station on the island. Here we will see the simple grave of Ernest Shackleton, a hero of Antarctic exploration, who died at Cumberland Bay, and also the excellent whaling museum that charts the history of the island.

South Georgia is famous for its vast nesting colonies of King Penguins, and we shall admire their handsome silver-grey, glowing orange, black and white plumage that contrasts so strikingly with the green tussock grass and beige sandy beaches, whilst inland the huge glaciers provide an even more dramatic backdrop. The youngsters are covered in a woolly brown down, in contrast to the colourful adults,  and indeed they were originally described as a distinct species: Wooly Penguin! Large flocks bathe off the colony beaches and others parade up and down, from time to time pointing their heads and bills up and uttering their strange cries.

Popular landing sites include Fortuna Bay, the very scenic Gold Harbour (where a glacier looms over the colony) and the huge colonies at Salisbury Plkainb (70-150,000 adults) and especially St Andrews Bay, where you can walk to a low ridge that gives wonderful, panoramic views over this world’s largest colony at 150-300,000 adults!

Elsewhere, we will likely visit the busy Gentoo Penguin colony at Godthul, where the adults have a long walk up to the nesting area from a sandy cove. Watching the Gentoos interact, pick up and carry stones (or even steal them), squabble and attend to their demanding chicks is great fun.

Not far away, Southern Giant Petrels squat Dodo-like on their untidy nests, hissing at intruders. Light-mantled Albatrosses, the most beautiful and most gentle of all the albatrosses, are widespread in South Georgia as nesting birds and it is a thrilling sight to watch them gliding to and fro along the cliffs or displaying to their mates.

During our stay in South Georgia, we will certainly want to track down the endemic South Georgia Pipit, which has now become quite common once more, following the successful rat-eradication project) and also the rather tame endemic race of the Yellow-billed Pintail, which is sometimes treated as a full species under the name South Georgia Pintail).

We should also see Grey-headed Albatrosses (and occasionally a zodiac cruise is possible at the colony at Elsehul) and endemic South Georgia Shags. In the fjords or offshore we will find stunning Snow Petrels, diminutive Common Diving Petrels and the more localized South Georgia (or Georgian) Diving Petrel, watching the latter get up hurriedly from the water and sweep past our ship on rapidly whirring wings.

Antarctic Fur Seals are everywhere (ranging from big adult males to females and pups). In some places large groups of enormous Southern Elephant Seals are piled on the shoreline like heaps of giant slugs, occasionally stirring from their slumbers to growl a protest as a neighbour jostles them beyond the point of acceptability.

The bizarre-looking Macaroni Penguin is always high on everyone’s wants list. Landings at colonies are uncommon as they are all in exposed sites, but we should be able to do one or more zodiac cruises that will give us a marvellous encounter with these comical birds as they shuffle down to the water’s edge before jumping into the sea.

At the southeastern end of the island, numbers of Chinspot Penguins nest, so this is probably where we will have our first encounter with this smart bird.

On one of the small offshore islands, known as Prion Island, we may have the opportunity to wander through a colony of Wandering Albatrosses – so graceful in the air yet so awkward on land! Not only will we be able to get close to the nesting birds, which look even larger sat on a nest than they do on the wing, we may be fortunate enough to see their wild, evocative display as several adults turn their outstretched wings towards the sky and throw back their heads to wail at the heavens. (Note that Prion Island is closed to visitors from mid-November to early January, owing to Antarctic Fur Seal activity, and even outside this period landings are regularly cancelled because of the exposed situation, so the privilege of a visit is something to be savoured by those visiting South Georgia.

Antarctica, Falkland Islands & South Georgia: Day 12  We sail southwestwards across the Scotia Sea towards the South Orkney Islands, considered the northernmost fragments of Antarctica. Once again pelagic birding is excellent and there are more chances for cetaceans.

Antarctica, Falkland Islands & South Georgia: Day 13  Today we may make a landing at Orcadas station, an Argentine base in the South Orkney Islands. Visiting an Antarctic base is a fascinating experience in itself and few have finer views than this one with glaciers all around. An alternative site is Shingle Cove, where there is a large colony of cute Adelie Penguins.

In the South Orkneys, we will surely encounter numbers of gigantic tabular icebergs which have been spewed forth from the mouth of the Weddell Sea. Some of the bergs are the most intense blue colour and have been sculptured into fantastic shapes by the action of wind, water and sun. The incomparable Snow Petrel regularly adopts these bergs as a ‘home away from home’ and we can expect to see these beautiful birds, that surely epitomize Antarctica, perched on the top or circling their floating ‘island’. Sometimes we have an encounter with the elusive Antarctic Petrel here.

Antarctica, Falkland Islands & South Georgia: Days 14-17  We sail on to Antarctica proper. As we get closer our excitement grows and we shall continue to keep a careful lookout for the strikingly-patterned Antarctic Petrel amongst the much more common Southern Fulmars and Cape Petrels.

The route we take will depend on ice conditions at the time, but if these permit we will enter the Weddell Sea via Antarctic Sound, at the northernmost point of the Antarctic continent.

Elephant Island, one of the easternmost islands of the South Shetlands and a remote place where black rock outcrops and mighty glaciers speckled with pink algae create a dramatic landscape. This is the place where Ernest Shackleton’s men survived for more than four grim months after Shackleton set out on his epic attempt to reach South Georgia in a tiny open boat and so bring help. A bust to Captain Pardo, the master of the Chilean ship Yelcho that finally got through to Elephant Island on Shackleton’s fourth rescue attempt, still stands guard at Point Wild, a reminder of the days when explorers could not rely on radios or helicopters to save themselves, but only on their courage and determination. (Landings here, and even zodiac cruises, are uncommon, owing to the exposed situation.)

Colonies of Chinstrap and Gentoo Penguins can be found throughout the Antarctic Peninsula and South Shetlands. We will likely make a landing at Half Moon Island in the South Shetlands, or at other very similar bird colonies elsewhere. Here, Brown and South Polar Skuas will try to drive us from their territories by sweeping in low over our heads and breeding Wilson’s Storm Petrels zigzag over the talus slopes where Antarctic Shags nest. Wildlife photography opportunities are brilliant, with penguins pottering through the snow as they file down to the water’s edge, whilst others head inland to greet their mates at the nest, display wildly to their fellows or steal stone’s from their neighbours’ nests. We may also come fairly close to saturnine-faced Weddell’s Seals hauled out on the ice or on a beach,m and if we are in luck a co-operative Leopard Seal or two.

If we visit, the entry to Deception Island, through the aptly named Neptune’s Bellows, is just wide enough for our ship to navigate and here we will be accompanied by some of the numerous Cape Petrels that nest fulmar-like on the surrounding cliffs. Our anchorage is at Whaler’s Bay, an abandoned whaling station, inside a volcano whose cone caved in to be filled by the sea.

There is traditionally a chance to go for a (rather quick!) Antarctic swim here, in an area with some natural geothermal heating, but birders may prefer to concentrate on the bathing skuas or the nesting Cape Petrels.

As we pass through the Bransfield Strait, passing icebergs of immense size and awesome beauty, some white, others tinged blue-green by algae, we will watch out for the huge flukes of sounding Humpback Whales, the high dorsal fins of Killer Whales slicing through the water and the unobtrusive Antarctic Minke Whale. Here the silence is profound as the sun glows on ice floes dotted with Crabeater, Weddell and sinister-looking Leopard Seals whilst beyond is an endless vista of icebergs and distant, snow-coated mountains.

We plan to make a landing on the continent of Antarctica itself, probably at Brown Bluff in Antarctic Sound. Here we will go ashore on the Antarctic mainland, watching chicken-like Snowy (or Pale-faced) Sheathbills scavenging along the shoreline and South Polar Skuas keeping a watchful eye out for any opportunity for a meal. Out in the bay, graceful Antarctic Terns perch on blocks of floating ice. We will also want to visit the large Adelie Penguin colony. These little characters are surely the cutest penguins of them all.

The northern edge of the Weddell Sea offers our best chance for the winter-breeding Emperor Penguin, as there is a colony on relatively nearby (but generally inaccessible) Snowhill Island. We have seen up to 30 or more standing on ice floes during a visit to this part of the Weddell, but that is exceptional and more usually one encounters just one or two individuals, and most often none at all! You must consider an Emperor Penguin sighting in the Antarctic Peninsula as a real bonus. A lot depends on sea ice cover in the area. On average the chances of getting into the Weddell Sea are highest from January to March, but conditions vary a lot from year to year and even from month to month.

Charlotte Bay on the west coast of Graham Land was discovered by Adrien de Gerlache during the 1897–99 Belgica expedition and named after the fiancée of Georges Lecointe, Gerlache’s executive officer, hydrographer and second-in-command of the expedition. In this spectacular place, where nunataks rise through the ice cap, seals dot the ice floes and South Polar Skuas harry the local Gentoo Penguins. At Wilhelmina Bay, the scenic spectacular continues as one admires the dramatic mountain- and glacier-scapes of the Arctowski Peninsula.

If we cannot explore Antarctic Sound and the edge of the Weddell Sea owing to too much ice, we may well penetrate further south to Cuverville Island with its large Gentoo colony and may make a continental landing at Neko Harbour in Andvord Bay. Still further south, at Paradise Bay, the sea ice sparkles and 3000m high mountains and glaciers tower above us. No description can do justice to this awesome, unearthly place where all the works of man seem puny indeed. We may even have time to sail through the Gerlache Strait and the narrow Neumayer Channel until we reach the historic British base at Port Lockroy on Goudier Island, a fascinating landing site complete with Gentoo Penguins nesting all around the old base and roving skuas looking for a meal.

Antarctica, Falkland Islands & South Georgia: Day 18  To the north of the Antarctic Peninsula lies the thousand kilometres (600 miles) of the Drake Passage, separating the Antarctic Peninsula from the curving tail end of South America. Crossing this historic waterway, named after the great English seafarer whose expedition almost came to grief in these wild waters, is an exciting experience and gives us our last chance to enjoy a host of albatrosses and petrels which have become so familiar to us during our Antarctic journey. Almost as rich in seabirds as the seas between the Falklands and South Georgia, the Drake Passage will provide a fitting finale to our time in the great ‘Southern Ocean’.

Antarctica, Falkland Islands & South Georgia: Day 19  In the afternoon we should see the steep, rocky, greenish-grey headland of Cape Horn looming to the west whilst Sooty Shearwaters circle and dive, and Black-browed Albatrosses glide effortlessly down the troughs between the breakers. Here we have a good chance to see the rather uncommon Magellanic Diving Petrel.

This southernmost point of South America, named by the Dutch navigator Schouten after Hoorn, his birthplace in the Netherlands, has earned a reputation as one of the wildest places on earth. Here, at the meeting point of the Atlantic and the Pacific, the ferocious winds can whip the waves into a frenzy of spray, although in the southern summer it can sometimes be flat calm!

Antarctica, Falkland Islands & South Georgia: Day 20  This morning we return to Ushuaia. Here we will very reluctantly disembark from the ship we have come to know so well and which has brought us so many unforgettable memories. The tour ends on disembarkation.



You ought, as a sensible precaution in case of travel delay or lost luggage, to have one or two nights in Ushuaia prior to the departure of the ship, so why not join our optional 2-nights extension and go birding and photographing in Tierra del Fuego?

Day 1  The extension begins this evening at Ushuaia on the island of Tierra del Fuego, where we will stay for two nights.

Day 2  Ushuaia is situated at 55 degrees south and is the most southerly city in the world. Although the bird diversity at this latitude is low, the quality is outstanding.

During our stay at the veritable ‘End of the World’ we will, explore both the immediate vicinity of Ushuaia and nearby Tierra del Fuego National Park, a spectacular region of seacoasts, forests, lakes and snow-capped mountains on the Chilean border.

Specialities of southernmost South America we should encounter amidst the wonderful scenery of the Ushuaia area include the attractive Upland, Kelp and Ashy-headed Geese, the bulky Fuegian (or Flightless) and Flying Steamer Ducks, Chiloe Wigeon, Imperial and Rock Shags, Great Grebe, the handsome Black-faced Ibis, Blackish and Magellanic Oystercatchers, Southern Lapwing, Dolphin and Brown-hooded Gulls, South American Tern, Chilean Skua, the huge Magellanic Woodpecker (usually positively easy to find and get close to in this area), Austral Parakeet, Chimango Caracara, the localised White-throated Caracara, Dark-bellied Cinclodes, White-throated Treerunner, Thorn-tailed Rayadito, Chilean Elaenia, Fire-eyed Diucon, Austral Negrito, Chilean Swallow, Austral Thrush, Long-tailed Meadowlark, Black-chinned Siskin and the handsome Patagonian Sierra Finch.

Other, more widespread, birds that we may well encounter include Crested Duck, Yellow-billed Teal, Black-crowned Night Heron, the splendid Andean Condor, Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle, Variable Hawk, Kelp Gull, Southern Crested Caracara, Ringed Kingfisher, House Wren, Correndera Pipit and Rufous-collared Sparrow.

Day 3  After some final birding around Ushuaia this morning, we will embark this afternoon on our Antarctic adventure.

White-bellied Seedsnipe Additional Extension Option: If there are participants who would like to extend the extension by an extra day (which means having a third night at Ushuaia, immediately before the start of the extension proper), you will also be able to visit a spectacular high mountain area to search for two more restricted-range specialities, the uncommon and sometimes rather elusive White-bellied Seedsnipe and the smart Yellow-bridled Finch, as well as Buff-winged Cinclodes and Dark-fronted and Ochre-naped Ground Tyrants.

We will operate this extra seedsnipe option with just three people minimum, but you do need to inform us at the time of booking the extension that you want to do the extra day.

The hike up to the seedsnipe area is quite demanding (it takes around 1.5 to 2 hours and is ‘off trail’, being steep in places) and once up there the seedsnipe can take anything from 1-5 hours to locate, depending on the day, so this extra day is only for those who are fit enough. The hike into the mountains is weather dependent. Occasionally there is too much rain, snow or low cloud.


by Pete Morris

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Other Antarctic and Subantarctic birding tours by Birdquest include: