Depart from home.
Day 2 (Oct 9)
Arrive in Ushuaia, Argentina. The hotel tonight is included in the tour fee.
The morning is free to explore the southernmost city in the world. An optional bus tour of Tierra del Fuego National Park with an asado (barbecue) lunch is available. Stores and shops in easy walking distance from our hotel are open, presenting a chance to stock up on some personal “snacks” or purchase forgotten items. In late afternoon we board our ship the MV Ushuaia and set sail to the Falkland Islands traversing the famous Beagle Channel. (BD)
We start our journey following the "Scotia Arc," traveling with the prevailing current to the Falklands. We see a variety of birds, including our first ship-following black-browed and wandering albatrosses and hundreds of petrels and other “tubenoses.” On all "at sea" days throughout the cruise, there are discussions on photography, digital workflow, and natural history, as well as inspiring nature photo presentations. Plus, if wind conditions are favorable, great bird flight shots can be made on deck. (All meals are included while aboard ship.)
The first landing of our voyage takes place on Sea Lion Island situated 10 miles southeast of East Falkland—the largest island in the Falkland Archipelago. A sheep farm for almost 100 years, Sea Lion Island is now a fantastic ecological reserve that provides great opportunities to photograph nesting gentoo penguins, Falkland steamer ducks, ruddy-headed geese and huge elephant seals. Peale’s dolphins escort our Zodiacs to the beach and, with luck, a pod of orcas can be observed close to shore attracted by a potential meal of seals or penguins. Our one-day schedule here allows us to break up the crossing time to South Georgia and we will return to the Falklands for two more days on our return trip.
Departing the Falklands, our ship crosses the Scotia Sea. Although we are far from land, there is much to see, on deck or the bridge, if you are an active wildlife observer. Many birds follow the ship. Whales are a good possibility. Numerous leader presentations prepare us for the landings to come. Our course takes us across the Antarctic Convergence, the invisible boundary between the cold Antarctic waters and the warmer currents flowing from the South Atlantic. We start to see the first icebergs. Our next landfall is South Georgia, some 800 miles from the Falklands. Experiencing advantageous weather, we arrive at South Georgia the evening of Day 8 with a possible shore landing.
With favorable crossing conditions we start our photography in earnest on Day 9. The freezing effects of the Antarctic continent—1,000 miles to the south—dominate South Georgia’s climate. Its landscape, reminiscent of the last ice age, is dotted with vast glaciers, meltwater streams, alluvial beaches and occasional offshore icebergs. The topography offers incredible landscape photography prospects.
Millions of penguins make the island their home and, in some places, complete hillsides are covered with them. There are more king penguins on South Georgia than on any other island on Earth and we visit their enormous colony—the incomparable Salisbury Plain—for two very full days of photography.
A quarter of a million albatrosses return here each year, including the spectacular wandering albatross. With its 10-foot wingspan, the wandering albatross is a truly immense bird, and South Georgia is home to half the world's population. Under the cover of darkness to avoid predators, an estimated 10 million other seabirds—shearwaters, petrels and prions—return each night to the nest. Most of the small offshore islands are honeycombed with their underground burrows. Now, after an innovative rat eradication program, the South Georgia seabird colony is expected to expand by 100 million birds over the next several years!
Elephant seal bulls fighting on the beachMore than 4 million Antarctic fur seals—95 percent of the world's population—pile onto the island later in the summer. The total population is thought to be increasing by ten percent each year! We are here early enough to miss the highest density of the aggressive bull seals and we should be able to reach the usually “inaccessible due to aggressive seals” nest sites of gray-headed albatrosses. Half the world's population of southern elephant seals also comes to breed on South Georgia’s beaches. The largest of all seals, males can be over 20 feet (6m) long and weigh 8,800 pounds (4,000kg) or more. We are here at the height of the mating/fighting season—making for truly exciting photo opportunities!
Our ten days at South Georgia should allow us time to locate and photograph most of the more unusual nesting species, such as macaroni penguins, light-mantled sooty albatrosses and southern giant petrels, and give us time to find the best possible photo situations in several of the vast king penguin colonies. Potential landings include Salisbury Plain and Prion Island in the Bay of Isles for king penguins and wandering albatrosses, and a day each at wildlife-packed St. Andrews Bay and Cooper Bay for good measure. We have an extensive amount of flexibility built into our schedule and we direct our activities toward the best photographic situations possible. The experience is exceptional.
Our nature and photography lectures continue while at sea toward the Falklands. The photographic potential for flight photography of wandering and black-browed albatrosses, northern and southern giant petrels, and Cape petrels is excellent during this crossing.
Oystercatcher in Falkland IslandsDays 22–23
Saunders, West Point and Carcass Islands on the northwest side of the Falklands round out our trip’s photo opportunities. The “Neck” on Saunders features a large gentoo penguin colony with a throng of these photogenic birds riding the surf along with black-and-white Commerson’s dolphins. Oystercatchers and steamer ducks parade along the beach while, on a nearby slope, rockhopper penguins and black-browed albatrosses are just starting their breeding season.
Carcass Island and West Point Islands are home to camera-friendly colonies of Magellanic penguins and cheeky striated caracaras. Abundant ducks and small birds are found on Carcass since the island does not have introduced rats. West Point has an albatross colony plus abundant caracaras, turkey vultures and black-crowned night herons. We start our homeward voyage by late afternoon of Day 23.
Today we are at sea en route to Ushuaia.
Day 25 (Nov 1)
Arriving in Ushuaia, we clear Customs, disembark the ship, and transfer to the airport to depart for home. (B)
Please Note: The above itinerary is intended as an example only. Participants should allow for flexibility due to changes in weather, natural history events, or other logistical arrangements deemed necessary by our leaders.