A Travellerspoint blog

Day 10: Gerlache Strait

Antarctica

semi-overcast 37 °F

Alright, let’s try this again! Earlier I accidentally hit to “publish” button for this post.

Today was our final major southward movement of our journey: last night we traveled to Admiralty Bay in order to make our morning destination: Gerlache Strait and Paradise Harbor, located on the northwestern (Pacific) side of the Antarctic Peninsula. (wifi in Antarctica is very spotty and that’s why I tried to simply include the bare minimum of photos in this post. Trust me, I took SO many)

Boy is it spectacular!
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I raced to the front of the ship when the captain announced that he had Orcas in front of the ship, and sure enough, I was afforded a few brief glimpses:
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BROWN SKUAS were numerous this morning:
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There were a few WILSON’S STORM-PETRELS along, too.
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And Paradise Harbor was breathtaking.
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Antarctica is essentially covered by one large glacier, and every single bit of ice & rock forming the continent is stunning. One of my favorite things is spotting the vivid blue colors that can be seen in many ice patches, partially due to minerals and partially to reflection, I believe.
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One of the more common penguin species, GENTOO was around in numbers.
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Then, a BLUE-EYED CORMORANT flew by!!! Awesome — life bird!!!
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I spotted a few very distant ADELIE PENGUINS at one point:
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And at one point, I had the three common penguin species in one view: GENTOO, CHINSTRAP, & ADELIE.
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This part of Antarctica is home to both BROWN & SOUTH POLAR SKUAS, both of which were seen today, and differentiation between them can be very tricky given varying light conditions. This skua appears to be almost sand-tan which means that it is 100% SOUTH POLAR SKUA (Brown Skuas are a deep chocolate brown), so this was a great bird to see down here! The two species have even been known to hybridize in the area, too.
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Oh, and did I mention that it is beautiful here?!
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At least 200 Humpback Whales put on an amazing show for us mid-afternoon! It was BREATHTAKING, like nothing we’d ever seen before!
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Bird-of-the-day goes to my one life bird seen today, Blue-eyed Cormorant!

Stay tuned — tomorrow the cruise heads north for a morning arrival at Deception Island, Antarctica, where I am hoping to find some Snow Petrels and other nesting birds!

Good birding,
Henry
World Life List: 1049 Species (1 life bird today: Blue-eyed Cormorant)

Posted by skwclar 14:00 Archived in Antarctica Comments (1)

Day 9: Penguin Trifecta!

St. John’s Island, Antarctica

all seasons in one day 34 °F

Antarctica. The land of icebergs. The land of whales. And the land of penguins.

Immediately, icebergs proved themselves to be absurdly common along our circuitous route which weaved around the Antarctica Peninsula.
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My first life bird of the day was from my stateroom window: SNOW PETREL! One of the birders confirmed that he had seen one exactly how I described it at the same exact time of my observation, so it was gratifying to nail down this ghostly-white bird! Unfortunately, it was too quick for photos.

CAPE PETRELS were still around in small numbers, trailing the ship and occasionally disappearing behind a rogue iceberg.
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They were greatly outnumbered, though, by the most common petrel of Antarctica: SOUTHERN FULMAR.
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Then, I spotted my life-bird ADELE PENGUIN (the one with a black face) along with three CHIN-STRAPPED PENGUINS resting on an iceberg, which can be great places for spotting penguins...
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...as well as, SNOWY SHEATHBILL!!!!! I was out of my mind to find this white, pigeon-like bird because although I had seen one yesterday, it was from a great distance and went unphotographed. This was probably my #1 target for Antarctica because ever since I saw this bird in my Antarctica/S America bird guide, I was mesmerized.
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And we had a FANTASTIC look at a SOUTH POLAR SKUA, a bird I have seen only a handful of times before.
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At one point, our cruise ship circled around an iceberg that seemed to be so gigantic it could have very well landed a Boeing 747 on top! It was incredible and everyone was out on their balcony snapping photos.
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Third penguin species for the day: GENTOO! Thus, a penguin “trifecta” (three species in one day)!
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A nice BLACK-BROWED ALBATROSS wandered by at one point.
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And then, one of the other birders named Tom spotted its much more uncommon cousin which was just a lifer for me yesterday: LIGHT-MANTLED ALBATROSS! So, so awesome!
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Humpback Whale, one of a number seen today:
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ANTARCTIC TERN, another life bird just yesterday:
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Some CHIN-STRAP PENGUINS as we approached St. Paul’s Island.
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As well as an adult and juvenile BROWN SKUA:
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The views of the Island were simply mesmerizing.
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And best of all, it was home to so many ADELE PENGUINS:
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And “so many” is an understatement: there were thousands, clustering up and down the hillsides:
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I even spotted someone surveying the massive distant nesting colony:
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Some GENTOOS were also in the area, foraging and bathing in the bay water:
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Bird-of-the-day to the many Adele Penguins, with runner-up to the Snowy Sheathbill. Some AWESOME Antarctic birding and nature-viewing, and it’s just going to improve from here!

Stay tuned — tomorrow we will voyage even further south along the Antarctic Peninsula to the Gerlache Strait. Some target birds will be Blue & Antarctic Petrels, as well as some of the more uncommon penguin species (Emperor, Macaroni, etc) if we get lucky.

Good birding,
Henry
World Life List: 1048 Species (2 life birds today: Snow Petrel & Adele Penguin)

Posted by skwclar 17:00 Archived in Antarctica Comments (0)

Day 8: The most beautiful place in the world

Antarctica

snow 28 °F

Today, the Coral Princess completed her final approach to the outer Antarctic Islands. I was out birding around 9am, and like most days, found that there was a decent turnover in the pelagic species. Most of the Giant Petrels had left, and in their place were dozens of CAPE PETRELS:
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And my life bird LIGHT-MANTLED ALBATROSS gave absolutely stunning views. These can be separated from the similar Sooty Albatross by their contrasting pale coloration on the back:
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Icebergs are becoming more and more numerous as we continue to plug south, closer to the heart of Antarctica! But wait...what are those dots on the berg? Hmm...
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Why, of course CHIN-STRAPPED & GENTOO PENGUINS! Classic example of Antarctica’s birdlife! The Chin-strapped were lifers for me!
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They “porpoise” through the water, swimming underwater and then diving out in short spurts that are fickle for photographers trying to capture their playful character.
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And oh, the scenery. Like NOTHING I’ve ever seen before. Possibly the most beautiful in the world:
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Lifer #3 was the SOUTHERN FULMAR, many of these were seen today:
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And #4 was the ANTARCTIC TERN:
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One amazing sighting today was of my life bird SNOWY SHEATHBILL, a pigeon-like bird that I saw through one of the other birder’s scopes on the far cliffs. I was SO happy to see this bird nevertheless — it was one of my goals for this trip! Unfortunately, no photos of that beauty!

Bird-of-the-day to the Light-mantled Albatross with runner-up to the Snowy Sheathbill: some amazing Antarctic specialties!!!

Warning: during the next few days, wifi may be extremely patchy due to limited satellite coverage, so you may or may not be hearing me during the next few days. (that is also why I included so few photos)

Good birding,
Henry
World Life List: 1046 Species (5 life birds today)

Posted by skwclar 15:15 Archived in Antarctica Comments (3)

Day 7: Albatross Sextuplifecta

Southern Ocean —international waters

51 °F

As we approach Antarctica, the seabirding is gradually becoming increasingly more exciting!

The morning started off with a BANG: my lifer WILSON’S STORM-PETRELS! Awesome, tiny jet-black birds that skim the surface of the waves!
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My second and third life birds were prions, which are locally common in the Antarctic regions. Here is an ANTARCTIC PRION — note the bold stripe through its eye and the well-defined black “W” pattern on its back.
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And the much paler SLENDER-BILLED PRION: note the overall white quality of the bird (especially in the head area).
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Albatross species such as the BLACK-BROWED were amazingly abundant today!
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As well as the endangered SOOTY ALBATROSS — probably my favorite bird of the trip so far!!!
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And one must never forget the bird with the world’s largest wingspan: the WANDERING ALBATROSS!
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Here you can see how this species easily dwarves the nearby SOUTHERN GIANT-PETRELS, which are also not small birds by anya means.
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Then, a LIFE BIRD came into view: the highly-anticipated GRAY-HEADED ALBATROSS!
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SOUTHERN ROYAL ALBATROSS:
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CAPE PETREL, my first since New Zealand!
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Then, its counterpart the NORTHERN ROYAL ALBATROSS came into view! Their identifying characteristic to be separated from the Southern is this dark leading edges to the wings, which the Southern lacks. Here is a perfect example in the form of my life bird Northern!
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And with that — I had seen six albatross species in one day — making it an “albatross sextuplifecta!”

Here is a view of all of us and our scopes lined up on the aft deck 10 — an all day (all day meaning 4am-8pm), everyday sight on the MS Coral Princess!
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Bird-of-the-day to my life bird Northern Royal Albatross which I was able to find and identify by myself — that always, as a birder, feels gratifying! Runner-up to the Gray-headed Albatross. SIX albatross species in one day — unprecedented! Stay tuned: tomorrow, the cruise starts the three-day journey touring the Antarctic Peninsula! The captain said we should expect upwards of 1.2 million Adele & various penguin species to be seen from the ship, so I am SO excited!

Good birding,
Henry
World Life List: 1071 Species (5 life birds today) **please excuse the earlier typo

Posted by skwclar 17:19 Comments (2)

Day 6: Falkland Islands!

S. Atlantic Ocean

semi-overcast 44 °F

Since I am dead tired, I willl to try be as succinct as possible despite today being UNCREDIBLE, thanks to our guide, Tony. I was hoping to see some penguins,..read on to see what happens!

So many life birds today including the Fakland-endemic FLUGHTLESS STEAMER-DUCK, which is surprisingly abundant — I got this just in the harbor at a first glance,
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Our ship for the 16-day voyage waited patiently in the harbor for us during the day.
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BLACK-THROATED FINCH, lifer:
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FALKLAND GRASS-WREN, lifer:
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Then, we hit the jackpot when we spotted this huddle of MAGELLANIC PENGUINS on the beach. Life bird!
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Sometimes being a penguin is just too fatiguing!
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Especially when you’re looking over your nest situated one foot away from a walking path (!!!)
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KELP GOOSE, male:
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SILVER TEAL:
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Female UPLAND GOOSE with her goslings:
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FALKLAND PIPIT:
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Next, we headed to a place where Tony knows of a colony of GENTOO PENGUINS, and sure enough, there they were! BUT-
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-I spy with my little eyes, KING PENGUIN! He is the bird in the center for orange and yellow on the chest, and it was audu a treat seeing him since the only “reliable” location requires three hours of driving. TOO COOL!!!
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Closer views of the GENTOOs — so cuuute! A penguin trifecta for today!
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RUFOUS-CHESTED DOTTEREL, life bird
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AUSTRAL THRUSH, lifer!
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BLACK-FACED GOUND TIRANT, life bird
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Wild Lavender
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Sleepy Elephant Seal:
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And a grumpy sea lion who snorted upon our distant approach,
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LONG-TAILED MEADOWLARKS were one of the most common, but also the most striking birds seen today! Love these! Lifer!
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Stumped by this one.
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The amazing female KELP GOOSE!
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Yet another lifer: TWO-BANDED PLOVER:
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WHITE-RUMPED SANDPIPER, nice!
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Beautiful view of the WHITE-TUFTED GREBES today,
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Their relative the more-uncommon SILVERY GREBE!!! Sooo cool - life bird!
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MAGELLANIC OYSTERCATCHER, lifer
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VARIABLE HAWK, another lifer:
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DOLPIHN GULL, life bird!
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The scenery is breathing — almost surreal
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It was an amazing day of guiding! Later on as the ship left, I did some seawatching from the aft and found many SOOTY SHEARWATERS flying through — very cool!
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This distant BLACK-BROWED ALBATROSS was nice of course, too,
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Subtle and unique sunset of the Southern Ocean.
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AWESOME, AWESOME day! Bird-of-the-day to the lone King Penguin! Stay tuned — tomorrow is a day at sea which should bring some interesting birds because of the increasing proximity to Antarctica.

Good birding,
Henry
World Life List: 1066 Species (24 life birds today!)

Posted by skwclar 21:38 Archived in Falkland Islands Comments (0)

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