Sunday 27 March 2016

Antarctic Cruise Part 3

After leaving Ushuaia on the evening of the 18th, we set off,  heading south to Cape Horn, and,weather permitting, we would see sun rise over the Cape, so getting up at stupid o'clock (4.15am to be precise),  we went up to deck 10 to watch the sun come up. It was certainly worth losing some of my beauty sleep for - it was stunning! After a couple of hours cruising around the Horn, the ship set sail out across the Drake Passage heading towards northern peninsula of Antarctica.
                                                            Sun rise over Cape Horn

After breakfast we went back out onto deck 10, where we stayed, waiting to see what delights we would come across whilst sailing the Drake Passage. There were still lot of Albatross about, but it was a Giant Petrel that caught my eye first - there seemed a lot of white around the face, and on closer inspection of the bill, I saw it had a red tip, meaning this was a Northern Giant Petrel; with so many Black-browed Albatross about, you have to try and look at them all, just in case another species of  Mollyhawk is among them. Later that afternoon, quite a few Cape Petrels were noted, and then a new Mollyhawk in the shape of a Grey-headed Albatross. Tomorrow would see us in the Gerlache Straight and Paradise bay Antarctica
                                                                 Cape Petrels
                                                              Northern Giant Petrel
                                                              Grey-headed Albatross

The weather now was really quite changeable, going from bright sunshine into fog banks, rain, and we even had a snow shower! It was quite windy, making bird watching somewhat frustrating at times, as you were wondering what's out there that you could not see in the waves. Our first birds of note were the Southern Fulmar and Antarctic Tern; lots of Wilson's Storm Petrel were about too, along with a few South Polar Skuas
                                                                     Southern Fulmar
                                                                  Southern Fulmar
                                                                  South Polar Skua

 It wasn't long before we had our first sighting of an iceberg - these giant lumps of ice, some as big as high rise apartments that have been sculptured by the wind and sea are spectacular! Below are some images of just few of the vast amount we saw                                                  

                                              Yours truly trying to keep the draughts out

We did see lots of Humpback whales in the straight and Paradise Bay, but sadly too far away for any images. The only other bird of note was a bird I did not expect to see, and to be fair we saw quite a few - the Black-bellied Storm Petrel; all the other species were still about Albatross, Prions and Giant Petrels. We were supposed to go from The Falklands to Puerto Madryn in Argentina, but because of two low depressions in the Atlantic between us and where we were heading, the Captain decided to stay down in Antarctica for an extra day and cruise around Deception Island - somewhere the cruises don't normally get to go to -but it was such a shame that when we got there, this wildlife-rich area was covered in fog, and so little was seen. We waited for a few hours to see if it would lift but to avail, so we set sail for the Falkland Islands
                                                            Black-bellied Storm Petrel

When we awoke on the 24th we were anchored out in the bay close to Port Stanley. We had arranged a trip to the penguin colony at Volunteer Point through a private tour operator prior to us leaving the UK, so when we got off our tender, we just had to find our driver (which didn't take long). We quickly set off  for the two and half hour journey to see the penguins with our driver Richard, who was very knowledgeable, telling us stories about the Argentine invasion in 1982, which he witnessed,  and showing us some of the areas where battles took place. Afterwards, he pointed out to us a team still clearing mine fields. He was also great at identifying the local birds, and along the way we noted Falklands Pipit, Falkland Thrush and Variable Hawk; Richard pointed out some Flightless Steamerduck, and said we would stop there on the way back for a better look ase we needed to keep with the convoy. The road to the colony soon became a track which in turn petered out till were just driving over marsh land, hence all the vehicles that go to the point have to be 4x4's. Once you get to the Point, you don't where to look first - there are Two-banded Plovers, Magellanic Oystercatchers, Gulls and Skuas, Geese and thousands of Penguins I think the images below hopefully will give you an idea just our magical this place is
                                                              Gentoo Penguin colony
                                                                  Gentoo Creche
                                                                    Gentoo Penguin
                                                            Magellanic Penguin Creche
                                                                Magellanic Penguin
                                                                 King Penguin Colony
                                                                    That's my egg
                                                                Are you ok down there?
                                                                 Pretty Face
                                                              Have you two got flea's
                                                               Just having a stretch

Walking around the colony there were quite a few geese about mainly Upland Goose and ruddy-headed goose
                                                                 Ruddy-headed goose
                                                                   Upland Goose

True to his word,Richard our driver stopped on the way back at the small bay where the Steamerducks were, and by luck, both species - Flying and Flightless Steamerduck - were there!
                                                           Flightless Steamerduck
                                                               Flying Steamerduck

Once we were back in Stanley, Sue and I had a little walk down the roadside along the coast and noted Blackish Oystercatcher, Black-crowned Night Heron, Crested Ducks and Rock Shag
                                                                   Crested Duck
                                                          Black-crowned Night Heron
                                                                       Rock Shag

We had a great time on the Falklands, but like any other cruise destination, it was not long enough and soon it was time to leave.Our next port of call was Montevideo in Uruguay, which I will leave for the last part of my blog of our Antarctic cruise. The image below is a Southern Royal Albatross which we saw as we sailed away from the Falklands
As always thanks for stopping by and hoped you enjoyed part 3

Sunday 20 March 2016

Weekend Treat

Just a quick post before I sort out part 3 of the Antarctic cruise. Last week whilst putting an owl box up with my mate Paul Riddle, we went to look at a potential site on the land of one of Pauls' friends. It looked good, so in the week we quickly made a box for the said site, and this weekend we went to put it up. Paul has been getting some superb images at his Kingfisher site,so he told me to bring my camera, and if time permitted, we could call by and see if I could get some images too - he also said the week before he had seen Water Rail, but didn't manage to get any images. He had also seen Green Sandpiper there, so, Saturday morning, after picking up our brekki, we headed for the Kingfisher site. As you will see from the images below, all 3 birds were still present - and also a Grey Wagtail put in an appearance but sadly no images of it. What a great 45 minutes! So, 'thanks' to my mate Paul, and if you want to see Pauls' images then go to his blog - owlsaboutthatthen - you won't be dissappointed!
It was then over to the owl site to erect the new box. Fingers crossed for this new site!
                                                                 Green Sandpiper
                                                                   Green Sandpiper
                                                                   What you looking at
Water Rail

As always, thanks for stopping by, and part 3 of our cruise will hopefully be following later this week

Sunday 13 March 2016

Antarctic Cruise Part two

So, after our 2 day stay in Buenos Aries, we set sail on Sunday evening the 14th March for the 1500 mile journey (approximately) to Ushuaia - colloquially know as 'the end of the world'. The following morning, with the sun shining, it was down for brekkie,  then up to the Oceanview cafe on deck 10 at the stern of the ship, to see what we could find! The first birds of note were Sooty and Great Shearwaters - and lots of them! Our first cetacean sighting was in the afternoon of the 15th when I saw a blow  approx 400 meters off the stern;  I'm no expert on cetaceans but I think the image below is of a Antarctic Minke Whale - please feel free to correct me if it isn't!
 The next two birds I saw were both lifers for me in the shape of Southern Giant Petrel and Black-browed Albatross - both species being seen most days. It was going to take us 3 days sailing to get to our destination, so quite a few hours were spent on either deck 10 or the promenade deck 4, checking out any passing birds. On the 16th, Wandering Albatross and White-chinned Petrel were seen for the first time - the images just don't show how large the Wandering Albatross is - they fly effortlessly over the sea and are a stunning bird to watch.
                                                                  Black-browed Albatross
                                                               Southern Giant Petrel
                                                                  White-chinned Petrel

On the 17th, it was pretty much the same as the previous two days - still quite a few birds around the ship; Wilson's storm Petrel were seen in good numbers as were Slender-billed and Antarctic Prions  -mind you, getting images was another thing - all of these smaller pelagic birds just do not hang about! (well, that's my excuse, anyway!)

                                                                   Slender-billed Prion

By the morning of 18th, we had reached Ushuaia. Sue and I were booked on a tour to sail the Beagle Channel on a motorised catamaran to Martillo Island where there is a Magellanic Penguin colony. On the way, we stopped at an Imperial Shag Colony  and also a South American Fur Seal colony. Going further down the channel we noted Chilean Skua, Kelp and Dolphin Gull, South American Tern and a distant Flightless Steamerduck
                                                                      Kelp Gull
                                                             Wandering Albatross

After a couple of hours going East along the channel we finally reached the penguin colony there were approx up to a thousand Magellanic Penguins quite few Gentoo Penguins and just one King Penguins a few Upland Geese and lots of Chilean Skuas
                                                           Sleeping male Kelp Goose
                                                                Female Kelp Goose
                                                                       Dolphin Gull
                                                       A view down the Beagle Channel
                                                                  Chilean Skua

On our way back more Black-browed Albatross were encountered - probably up to a hundred or more birds - and Imperial Shags are abundant, with the odd Olivaceous Cormorant and a few Rock Shags.
                                                                Black-browed Albatross
                                                          South American Fur Seals
                                                             South American Tern
                                                  Southern Giant Petrel ready for take off

On arriving back at the port, we had a walk around the quayside, and eagle-eyed Sue picked up a Chimango Caracara sitting on a pontoon out in the water; also a Grey-flanked Cinclodes was seen o the waters edge and Crested Duck was noted too.
                                                                Chimango Caracara
                                                              Grey-flanked Cinclodes
                                                     Imperial Shag and a Dolphin Gull                                                                                                                                                                  
                                                          Chilean Skuas on patrol
We had a brilliant day at Ushuaia, but it was soon time to board the ship, and the following morning, hopefully, we would  watch the sun rise over Cape Horn! Below is an image of a Magellanic Penguin. If you are asking yourself where are the other Penguin images, well I'll post them in part 3 when we visit the Falkland Islands!
That concludes part 2
As always thanks for stopping by and hope you have enjoyed the blog.