Falkland Islands

When Linda and I first decided to go to Antarctica the decision was to either go to Antarctica itself or to spend extra time and financial reserves to visit the rest of the “neighborhood” as well. Really, for us it was a no brainer. A once in a lifetime trip means you don’t leave anything out for you’ll probably never pass that way again. After doing some research we learned that most of the wildlife comes home to roost (so to speak) in the Spring.  Then once the young are able to fend for themselves a lot of the wildlife leaves their breeding grounds, not to return until next year.  December is the optimal month for wildlife, the penguins are having chicks and the seals are having pups.  The whale migration peaks later, yet our research left us no doubt that there would not be a lack of whale sightings.  We chose also to go to the Falklands and South Georgia first, finishing our trip with the Antarctic Peninsula.  We were concerned about the rough seas that the Drake Passage was infamous for.  If we were to get seasick, best it happen on the way home so the residual effects would not spoil our adventure.  So our first stop was the Falkland Islands and after 36 hours of sailing we were to arrive at West Point Island. There we were to visit a large breeding colony of Black-Browed Albatross and Rock Hopper Penguins

 After about a mile and a half of walking we dropped down a steep embankment, rounded a corner in the chest high tussock grass and emerged on an overlook above the ocean.   Hidden in the tussock we could easily observe the birds for we were just a few feet from the nesting birds and their chicks.

Flashing her purple ski parka making her easy to spot, Linda hikes across the island to where the albatross and penguin colony is located. The cruise company supplied everyone with a very nice, very bulky warm parka. We opted to wear our much more functional easy layering, easy moving ski clothing.

Black Browed Albatross mate for life. The Black-Browed Albatross is a solitary bird and only returns to land once a year to breed. With the crossing of beaks, this couple is becoming reacquainted after what could have been a potential 2 year separation of solitude riding the air currents of the world.

At first the Black Browed albatross was the dominant species of bird we observed.  Upon closer observation we saw the delightful Rock Hopper penguin.  It gets it's name because it travels by hopping rather than moving by waddling.  Although similar in appearance to the Macaroni Penguin, it has yellow plumed eyebrows rather than a yellow plumed crowned head.   Rock Hoppers and the Black Browed albatross are quite amiable as they share the nesting area on the hill side. 

The Black-Browed Albatross are quite large birds so when they need to land, they lift their tail up and drop their feet down to delicately control their speed and direction for a precise touch down.  We were there for a few hours and as we watched the albatross fly we never saw one flap it’s wings. With almost an 8 foot wing span it can fly up to 10,000 miles on it’s migratory journey with an exceptionally rare flap of it’s wings. When it is time to fly, they face into the wind, spread their wings and effortlessly lift off leaving  earth behind, perhaps not to return for the next year or more.  The Rock Hoppers?  They just kept hopping along.

After West Point Island we were to land at Saunders Island yet the weather was not cooperative for a zodiac landing.  Large swells at the ship along with a huge break on the beach would of made the landing more of a Special Forces maneuver than a wildlife watching expedition.  So Saunders Island was nixed and off we headed for the town of Stanley on East Falkland. Stanley would be the only “port” we were to visit during our entire journey.  The architecture in Stanley reflects its’ long history of colonization by the British. A large population of sheep and cattle made it an important port to resupply ships rounding the Horn prior to the Panama Canal.  A humpback whale escorted us away from Stanley South to Antarctica.  With a display of it's hump and a wave of it's fluke it dove deep and left us.  That wave of the fluke would become the “tail shot” we were always on the hunt for.

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