Tag Archives: Albatross

Falkland Islands 1 – Saunders

Sunday 10 March 2024 – During yesterday evening’s recap and the briefing for today, Pippa warned us that it might be a bit blowy as we made our way from Stanley, on East Falklands, around the north to Saunders Island, off the coast of West Falkland.

She was right.  It was very blowy.  Hondius did her best, and I suppose it could have been worse; we sailed into the teeth of a westerly of some 50 knots, so the motion was just pitching, rather both pitching and rolling.  But sleep was difficult during the night as we discovered all the bits of the cabin that creaked and rattled as they were shaken up.  However, having arrived at a part of Saunders called The Neck

all appeared to be calm and the sun appeared to be about to rise.  So the landing was On.

The attraction for Saunders was the possibility of seeing a black-browed albatross colony, which would include chicks, something we hadn’t seen before,  When we landed, there were, of course, penguins

and also a reception committee in the form of the owners who turned up in a Land Rover laden with possible goodies for us punters to buy.

We didn’t take up on the offer, but instead set off in search of the albatrosses, past an old try pot, as would have been used by sealers in the Good Old Days

and masses of gentoo penguins, who were moulting, and therefore not all that active.

They were using a considerable breeze to help in the process, and the feathers were everywhere.

Some penguins were building nests, which largely involved stealing building materials from other nest builders

and this was happening all around a variable hawk

which appeared to be eating the remains of a dead penguin.  As with the skua at St. Andrews Bay, the penguins didn’t appear to be too affected by this,

and just carried on moulting around the hawk.

The route we followed to the albatross colony (marked out, as ever, by red poles placed by our guides) led past a uniquely Falkland Islands scene.

Observant readers will note that these penguins are not gentoos, but actually king penguins; there were a few of these around also, some with their fur-coated chicks,

and not, it would seem, in the best of moods at times.  Our track led us past what we assume is an art installation

since it was rather far inland for a whale to have stranded itself on its own – and then have a dolphin land on top of it.  The path led up a hill, past the inevitable uplands geese,

peaty soil

and evidence of a penguin variety we were meeting for the first time – magellanic penguins,

who nest in burrows.  We even found one with a chick in it

and Jane managed to capture a shot that included another inhabitant of that burrow

which we think might have been the mother.  The penguins and their burrows dotted the landscape

to the extent that one had to be a bit careful not to stumble into one as we walked.

Because stumbling became the standard method of progress; as we climbed the hill and rounded the headland

the wind increased enormously, to the point where it was at times difficult to keep one’s balance.  Burrowing suddenly seemed to be quite a good survival strategy.

Shortly after I took the shot above, we passed another penguin colony,

and these were of, again, a variety new to us – rockhoppers.

You can see how impressed they are with the wind. The colony also includes cormorants

which give the rockhoppers added protection, since a skua won’t take on a cormorant.

Finally, in the teeth of a really, really strong wind, we reached the albatross colony, with the chicks clearly visible. Albatross nests are tall mud structures with a concave top, wherein sits first the egg and then the growing chick, which only leaves its “throne” when it is fledged and flies. The nests get taller each year.

This is what the punter had really come to see.

I divided my time between trying not to fall over and watching the behaviour of the parents and chicks.  The chicks were hungry, and pestered the parent for food

which was occasionally dispensed in traditional fashion.

When the parent had dispensed all the food it had brought, it walked away from the chick, faced into wind and

simply flew away.  Yes, I have video….

After a while of watching this we started the journey back to the landing area, which was a little less tiresome as the wind was behind us.  We retraced our steps to find that a few striated caracaras had arrived.

These are birds of a curious disposition, also known as Johnny Rooks, and unafraid of humans – I nearly got a shot of the arse end one which was dive bombing me; and someone else nearly had a hat taken off his head.

We got back to the landing area, where we could see magellanic oystercatchers fossicking about

alongside flightless steamer ducks

kelp gulls and, of course, penguins.

So ended the morning, and we splashed our way back in very gusty winds to Hondius on a Zodiac and headed for lunch.   The afternoon promised a visit to another island and the possibility of tea and cakes, which sounded quite appealing.  Watch this space to see how it turned out.

Three Elephants in One Day

Thursday 29 February 2024 – After a spell of weather sufficiently wild and woolly that one chap we know actually lost his glasses on the expedition that we decided not to participate in, and which has kept us all on board ever since, the day dawned bright and sunny, and there in front of us (well, actually to port, if you’re being picky) was the first of our three elephants.

Elephant Island is probably most famous as being the place from which Sir Ernest Shackleton launched his renowned and ultimately successful rescue attempt, by striking out in a 22-foot boat with two other men, aiming for South Georgia, where he knew there was a whaling station.  There, he hoped, the whalers would be able to help him stage a mission to rescue the 16 he’d left behind (see later).  He was ultimately successful and is therefore regarded as a hero*; and in his honour, today was being referred to on Hondius as “Shackleton Day”: an opportunity to review his exploits and then to follow in his tracks towards South Georgia.

Our captain took Hondius around Elephant Island to the north side, where we would be able to see Point Wild, the place where Shackleton’s men sheltered whilst he struck out heroically to rescue them.  From that side, the weather was less clement,

but merely overcast and breezy, a nice change from the horizontal rain of the previous days.

Whilst we’d been taking this circumnavigation, we had our second elephantine encounter, something which was actually quite magical, but very difficult to capture photographically; a huge pod of fin whales, feeding.  Fin whales are huge; second only to blue whales in size, and growing up to around 25 metres in length. There were, according to some estimates, as many as 40 of them, swimming around, blowing and feeding on the krill and fish that were disoriented by their antics.  As ever, I have some video, but the various stills Jane and I managed to get between us didn’t do justice to the sight, which was truly majestic.

If you look at the photo below, you can see that there are spouts right across the frame. It’s not a perfect image, but I hope it conveys the scope of what was going on.

Of course, all this disturbance in The (Oceanic) Force brought out all sorts of other creatures to feed on the fallout from the whales’ feeding.  There were porpoising penguins,


Black-browed albatrosses

and even a stormy petrel on a stick.

OK, it wasn’t on a stick. Or even a petrel.  We think it was actually a light-mantled sooty albatross. But I didn’t want to let the truth get in the way of a cheap laugh.

Eventually, we reached Point Wild, named, not because of any weather conditions, but after Frank Wild, one of Shackleton’s men, who had found it and deemed it a suitable place for the rest of the men to shelter whilst Shackleton was off doing his heroics. In the end they were there for 4 ½ months… It doesn’t look all that inviting, to be honest.

There’s an area between the large rock on the left and the smaller one in the centre which is a sort of cove.  The smaller rock was absolutely covered with penguins (the tiny flecks you can see below).


I should pay tribute to the navigation skills of the captain at this point, because, in order to give us passengers something extra to see, he gently let Hondius drift on the wind towards Point Wild, something that must take some nerve, as it’s probably expensive to get it wrong.  Anyway, that’s what he did, and we were able to get an eyeful of this special sight.

You have to look rather carefully to see it, but there it is;

a bust of Luis Pardo, who was the captain of a Chilean ship, Yelcho, which was the vessel which actually performed the rescue of the stranded men.

So, Kudos to the captain for his skill and daring, and it was out with the rum and hot chocolate as we passengers celebrated the memory of the kind of derring-do which marked out the heroic age of Antarctic exploration**.

Shortly after setting off again, we had our third and final elephantine encounter.

Can you see it in the photo above?  A thin grey line stretching from  horizon to horizon?

It’s an iceberg.

One, single, iceberg. A23a. The biggest iceberg currently extant.

It broke away from the ice shelf in 1986, was grounded and therefore stationary for some time, but is now floating freely at a speed of around 3 miles per day.

It’s unimaginably vast.  If you were to pick it up and pop it back down centred on Charing Cross (the middle of London as far as signposts are concerned), then I, for one, would be very cross, because it would crush my house. My house is in Surrey, 25 miles (40 km) to the south west.  So A23a is bigger than Greater London, covers a greater area than the M25.  Of course you can’t capture that in photos.  But here are a few, anyway.

It varies between 20 and 40 metres tall above the sea, which means that there’s some 300 metres of it below the water.

Mesmerising. Mind blowing. A privilege to see it.

What a day we’d had! Such sights and experiences!

There was some light relief available in the evening, as the staff staged a Film Night, with popcorn an’ everyfink.

The film was, of course, “Shackleton”, starring Kenneth Branagh, sporting a particularly heroic hairstyle.

And that was it for the day.  We’re headed along a similar track to Shackleton’s rescue mission, and so will eventually reach South Georgia. We have one stop en route where, conditions permitting, we’ll make landfall for the first time in a couple of days.  I’m hoping for benign weather conditions, and time, as ever, will tell…



* His rescue mission was, indeed, a heroic exploit and totally admirable.  Both Jane and I, however, regard the whole thing as an exemplar of How To Get On In Corporate Life: cock something up quite badly and then move mountains in a very obvious way to rescue the situation.  Management only remembers the heroics, not the cock-up.  Frankly, in our humble opinions, Shackelton should never have left South Georgia in the first place; the whalers there – and they knew this stuff – told him not to because of the dangers of particularly bad sea ice that year. He went ahead anyway, and that sea ice destroyed his ship, the less-than-ideally named Endurance.

** Less well-known was the other half of the Shackleton expedition.  Shackleton’s original objective was to cross the continent from one ocean to another (the Weddell Sea to the Ross Sea, actually).  He could take with him sufficient supplies to get him to the Pole, but needed further supplies for the other side of it.  To this end, a party of men set out from New Zealand to the Ross Sea end of Antarctica, to forge south towards the pole from there to drop supply depots for Shackleton’s second half.  This mission, although apparently successful in that it did drop three supply depots totalling a couple of tons of food, was a disaster – poorly-led, badly-planned and resulting in the deaths of three men. And, of course, ultimately pointless because Shackleton barely even got started before losing his ship. Such was the stuff of which men were made in those days.