Antarctica and Patagonia: An Adventure on the Seabourn Quest – Part II (Falkland Island Penguins)
My Antarctic and Patagonia Adventure on the Seabourn Quest continued with two days at sea before arriving at the Falkland Islands. During this period there was a combination of preparation, lectures and leisure time…and concern over whether we would be able to tender in the Falklands.
|King Penguins – Volunteer Point, Falkland Islands|
Shortly after our departure from Montevideo, Uruguay there was a Meet the Expedition Team event where each of the very diverse and talented team members introduce themselves. The diversity of expertise is impressive ranging from birds to whales to glaciers to history and more. There are some that I have traveled with before and some that are new to me. But to appreciate the experience that you will be guided by, when I mentioned that I read “Lost Antarctica” by James McClintock one of the expedition team members said, “Oh, I’ve known Jim for years, spending time with him mostly at Palmer Station.”
The following day you see many of the team out and about. The aft deck outside the Seabourn Square and the Observation Lounge are encouraged for wildlife sightings. I saw a pod of fin whales and then sea lions (who were lounging on their backs with the fins out of the water to cool down) as well as albatross and petrels in less than an hour. The staff has been warm, friendly and informative.
There also was a Parka Exchange where you can change the Seabourn parka provided to you if it is too large or small. It is a one time event so that Seabourn is not saddled with a bunch of used parkas! This is followed by a Boot Exchange and Storage, where your boots are kept in lockers with your suite number on it to assure they are biologically clean (avoiding contaminating Antarctica from seeds, etc. from elsewhere). I would note that more people brought there own boots than I had anticipated. There are also Kayak Q&A’s which get you familiar with dry suits, getting in and out of kayaks, etc. On the education front, there was a Conversation about Seabirds of the South Atlantic.
The next sea day, with anticipation as to whether we will make it to the Falkland Islands, Seabourn’s preparing us for our Antarctic Experience continued with a Binocular Clinic, Kayak Q&A’s, Antarctic Operations Q&A’s coupled with lectures on photography and then Conversations on the bird life of the Falklands and the Penguins of South America and the South Atlantic. (There are also historical lectures.)
But with the wind fairly strong and steady, and rain in the forecast, the Seabourn Quest’s officers gave us some hope during a private bridge tour that the seas looked like they were going to quiet…oh, but what about the winds?
|Seabourn Quest – Port Stanley, Falklands Islands|
Short, and by now obvious, answer: We made it! I was up at 5:00 a.m. (earlier than anticipated…or wanted) to bright skies and calm seas. An absolutely picture perfect day in the Falklands.
Fortunately it was also the day for the Ensemble Travel Group Ensemble Experience shore event at Volunteer Point: A 4×4 adventure to see King, Magellanic and Gentoo penguins. (So you can appreciate the value of booking with an Ensemble Travel Agent – such as myself!!!! – this complimentary experience could also be purchased through Seabourn for $399 a person.)
We were on the 7:00 a.m. tender and met by a small fleet of 4×4’s for a 2.5 hour truly off-road experience through peat bogs and incredibly rocky landscapes to Volunteer Point. I was struck by the beauty of this relatively stark, treeless, landscape…and the fact that there is literally no road, or even singularly traveled track, to this incredible place.
|The Falkland Islands have an extremely unusual landscape|
with flowing rivers of large loose granite seemingly formed
during Ice Age freeze-thaw cycles
Upon arrival at Volunteer Point (about an inch shorter: result of the disc compression over the ride!) I was struck by the green grass and orderly arrangement of most of the penguins. Magellanic to the right, Gentoo in the middle and King Penguins straight ahead. “Follow the signs to the beach and stay behind the stone markers and rope lines.” It actually all works incredibly well, with minders reminding (sometimes forcefully to the obstinate people) that the penguins decided to nest here and that it is not a petting zoo arranged for their amusement.
While most charged off to the large colonies, I was first attracted to a grassy ditch where I saw some Magellanic penguins.
|Magellanic penguins make burrows|
The pink areas are exposed skin…used to cool off
|Magellanic penguins rotate their heads looking at you.|
Why? Curious or threatened. Depends who you ask!
|Magellanic penguins heading back to their burrows after a swim|
I highly recommend taking your time, sitting or (like me) lying on the ground while you observe. Why? Well there are two reasons: A. Your photographs will have a more natural perspective rather than just looking down on these curious birds; and, B. By making yourself smaller you are less intimidating and the birds seem to relax more. Note as to Point B: There is penguin poop everywhere, so you will have to endure that…but I believe it well worth it. (You can bring a ground sheet, if you must.)
|Cute Gentoo penguin chick.|
But my photograph would have been better if I was at eye level.
It was then off to the Gentoo penguin colony. These guys are black with a white patch on the sides of their heads.
|Gentoo penguin feeding time… Pleeeaasssee!|
|Gentoo penguin chick|
|Notice the Gentoo penguin’s beak and tongue: |
Little serrated edges and backward facing ridges on the tongue.
Perfect for grabbing food on the “fly”!
I noticed some Gentoo were heading over to the beach as well and captured a photo I really like. (One has a tendency to anthropomorphize them – give them human characteristics.) This photograph reminds me of children at the Jersey Shore playing on the beach near the surf.
|Gentoo penguins on the beach|
The Falklands and South Georgia Island (which is only visited on the Seabourn’s Holiday Antarctic Cruise) are the only locations during the Antarctic Adventure that you have the opportunity to see King Penguins. These large, brilliant, birds look similar to (but are smaller than) the Emperor penguins; however those birds nest far inland and you will not have any chance of seeing them.
Their colors and regal nature is breathtaking.
|King and Gentoo Penguines|
|King Penguins mating|
|King Penguin brooding|
(The egg is in a brood pouch
and held on the feet)
|King Penguin chick|
Know as an “Oakum Boy”
|Oakum Boy: |
I’m sure his mother thinks he is good looking
There was also a single Rockhopper Penguin tucked in the Gentoo colony. Apparently he just decided to molt and once that starts the penguin will sit for about two weeks changing out its feathers. (It was humorous when a guest came up to me with great authority insisting the Rockhopper was a fledgling waiting to be fed. Folks, penguins do not feed other species of penguins. In fact, they don’t feed chicks of their species if they are not their chicks.)
There were other birds present as well. I saw (couldn’t get a good photo of) Flightless Steamer Ducks and a number of small birds, as well as:
|Falklands Two Banded Plover|
After too short a time (for me) it was back into the 4×4 for our trip back to Port Stanley. It again captured my eye how beautiful the Falklands Islands are…and how lucky we were with the weather as the rain started to come down.
Having truly utilized all of our time in the Falkland Islands it was right back to the ship and shortly thereafter our sail away…heading to the Drake’s Passage and wishing us calm seas.
Dinner was quite enjoyable sitting at an invited table with two of the Expedition Team: Claudio and Meredith. It was a fun night getting to know them and some other guests a bit better. We closed the Restaurant.
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