Tag Archives: Wildlife

Videos – and learnings – from the Southern Ocean

Sunday 31 March 2024 – I’m pretty happy with the way that the images that Jane and I captured during our time on Hondius convey the look and feel of the places we visited and the sights we saw.  However, there’s the small matter of the 460 video files that we accumulated during the trip, so I have spent the last couple of days trawling through that mass of content – about 100GB – for sequences that supplement or complement the images which you’ve already seen.

To be honest, the pickings are much slimmer than I’d anticipated.

It’s not that I’m dissatisfied with the videos.  Though many are utterly unusable, there are a good number of clips which will serve brilliantly in the future to remind us of the dynamism and variety of the scenes that unfolded before us. But I think you might find them dull, because of the lack of context; and buried within that bald assertion is the first learning.

For example, at Port Charcot, I took a video panorama from the ship

and it gives a nice impression of the place, the weather conditions and the scenery.  But from the point of view of showing you, dear reader, what the place was like, it’s not really any better than the photos I included in the blog posting about it.

The learning?  That sort of video has a place on Instagram in showing where I am and what it’s like there. But the restrictions on using internet bandwidth (oh, OK, the expense) meant that its value, as an ephemeral “Instagram-look-at-me” kind of post was negated. So I have several of these panoramas, but will keep them to myself for now.

That said, there were a couple of video pans that I think worthy of noting (as opposed to nothing) here: the view of Elephant Island, which was just, basically, lovely in the sunshine;

and the rather contrasting view of the south end of South Georgia.

So: no more landscape video pans, then;  I have numerous ones of bays, waterfalls or rivers, but their relevance is only to our memories, not to your insight.

I rather like, though, this view of Grytviken, on South Georgia, as we approached it from the water.

and, as a scenery/landscape topic, I thought the general amazingness of some of the icescapes was worth a collage, too.

Oh – and there was that spectacular crumbling glacier in King Haakon Bay, which makes for good viewing, I think.

So, enough of the scenery, already. What does that leave us then?  The wildlife, of course. It was a very rewarding trip for me, photographically, as I got several still images that I’m pleased with, and most of which you’ll already have seen, having assiduously read all my previous posts, you wonderful reader, you. But there are some times when a still image simply won’t do to capture or convey a scene.  Sighting a leopard seal, for example, gave me some good stills, but seeing it come under our Zodiac is a sight which stays with one.

(I have to credit one of our guides, Aitana, with the footage of the seal swimming underwater; I was unable to capture that, so I’m glad to have her snippet as a record.

Penguins, too, are very cute and photogenic even in stills. But one needs to see them doing penguinish things to get the full charm.

It was generally more rewarding to encounter wildlife on land – it gives one a better feeling of connection to what’s going on.  That sense of connection was a bit tenuous in places.  The Falklands, for example, was so windy that at times one felt one was going to be blown off the cliff face.  Here, video can give a sense of what it was like.

It was fucking windy.  I managed to get a vantage point elsewhere which felt a bit less dangerous, to capture a bit of albatross behaviour – feeding a chick until there was no more food, then flying away to get more…a parent’s work is never done.

Capturing footage like that is quite rewarding even if it feels a little perilous at some times. I suspect I’d have been OK; there were plenty of other photographers around to break my fall if I’d stumbled.

There was a second and third learning from gaining this footage. One is to listen to the experts; Ursula was nearby and told me that the parent albatross would fly when it had finished feeding.  All I had to do was to keep an eye out and I would be able to capture the decisive moments.  The other was – patience.  I had to stand and try to keep my camera trained on a particular parent-and-chick for quite some time (whilst being blown to buggery by the winds) in order to get the footage I wanted.

One development of my skill, such as it is, over the trip was to become more interested in behaviours, rather than simply seeking to get a good sharp close-up of an animal. Jane helped me a lot, and having the guides around for extra information and education was excellent, too.

Close-to was definitely the place to be for most photography purposes. But it was possible to see wildlife from the ship.  Most of the time, someone would shout “whale!” and there would be a surge of people to one side or other stare out of the windows or to rush on deck, there to catch (if lucky) the disappearing fin of a humpback some fair distance from the ship.  Having had a very rewarding whale watching experience in New England recently, I tended to stay in my place rather than join the giddy throng.  But there were some occasions where the sights were excellent even from on board. Here are a few: particularly, the fin whale feeding sequence is something that no still photography could do justice to.

And so ends our South America and Southern Ocean Odyssey, a very intense month in our lives, probably never to be repeated.  We might try an expedition cruise to the Arctic at some stage, which will be similarly intense and challenging, but I doubt we could ever be so lucky again as to the weather we had when Due South; the weather gods were incredibly kind to us and our experience was the richer for that.

That’s it for the pages about this expedition. There will be others; in the current plan we have one not-so-ambitious outing and one which could be astonishingly varied and content-rich.  As ever, an internet being available, I will write about them here, so Stay Tuned!

Falkland Islands 3 – New Island

Sunday 11 March 2024 – Overnight from Carcass to New Island was “not too bad”, a phrase which has been a running joke throughout this whole trip.  When Pippa and the skipper first discussed our overall route and a possible transit through the Drake Passage, the major decision to reverse the direction of our entire outing and make it anticlockwise was done on the basis that the captain’s view was that the wind forecast was “not too bad” – apparently the most sanguine description he ever gives of weather possibilities.  With the exception of maybe two nights, our transits from place to place have been “not too bad”, i.e. absolutely bloody miraculous.  It has been astonishing how good our weather has been, to the point where I was considering (jokingly) the possibility of submitting a complaint about the trip because it wasn’t the “authentic Antarctic experience”.

Anyway, not too bad.

We were able, courtesy of some more skillful navigation from the captain, to get quite near New Island. You can see from the state of the sea that it was pretty breezy.

Closer examination shows it to be a settlement that’s a little more substantial than the one we’d recently visited at Carcass.

Indeed, it has its own shipwreck

and a small but beautifully formed museum

dedicated to supporting the New Island Conservation Trust. This was originally set up by the two co-owners of the island to ensure that it never got exploited and was always a conservation area for wildlife.

Outside, the museum has a gentoo penguin statue

and inside

there’s a lot of information about the trust, many relevant artifacts from the surrounding area

as well as an opportunity to indulge in some retail therapy.

Having perused the place, we started the relatively short walk towards another black-browed albatross colony. On the way, we passed kelp geese,

more of the ubiquitous upland geese

and more rockhoppers using cormorants for added security against marauding skuas,

but the albatrosses were the main objective of the excursion.

An albatross is a big bird and, like the cormorant, one that a skua won’t fuck about with, hence the rockhoppers get the added protection.  The location shown above is also a good demonstration of why rockhoppers get their name, since they’ve clearly hopped up all those rocks to get to a place of relative security.

There were cormorants among the other birds, too;

these were imperial cormorants, distinguished by white on the front of their necks and those yellow-orange eye decorations.

It was windy. Again.  And, as well as some dramatic cliff scenery,

there was tucking fussock grass. Again.

It really was somewhere between “trying” and “dangerous” to find places to watch the penguins and albatrosses – but ultimately rewarding.

The rockhoppers are very engaging creatures

and the wind made their hairstyle very distinctive

and clearly left them at times severely unimpressed.

The albatrosses were feeding their chicks, each residing on the nest that they won’t leave until they can fly.  They’re very demanding.

and it was interesting to watch the way their demands affected the parents.

After a while it was time to head back, this time thankfully with the wind behind us, to the boat, but the final image that stayed with me was this extremely punk rockhopper.

For Jane and me, this was our last landing on the Falklands.  Pippa organised another one, more to the north of New Island, but, frankly, both of us were pretty tuckered out by this stage, and the northern landing didn’t hold the prospect of seeing anything dramatically different from what we’d already seen.  So we awarded ourselves our second Afternoon Off. Which was delightful, I have to say.

And now we had to leave. After our time in the Falklands, all that remained was a Sea Day whilst we headed back to Ushuaia and the end of three weeks exploring Antarctica and the Southern Ocean Islands. We simply hoped that the weather would continue to be “not too bad”.  One of the other captains in the Oceanwide Adventures fleet reportedly has another weather saying: “One day, you’ll pay”. We had to hope that  maybe it wouldn’t be down to us to pick up this particular bill.


Falkland Islands 2 – Carcass

Sunday 10  March 2024 (pm) – The stabilisers on Hondius did a good job of countering the waves as the ship was carefully navigated around to Carcass Island, also off West Falkland; the wind was still strong, but the landing area looked calm enough.

We landed near a settlement and – praise be! – there was a jetty.

Mind you, because of the state of the tide and the slime at the foot of the jetty, we had to disembark part way up, which was a bit of a step up.

There were, broadly speaking, two options for the afternoon: stay near the landing area and drop into the settlement for tea and cakes; or go for a longish walk before dropping into the settlement for tea and cakes.  I suppose there might have been an option which didn’t include tea and cakes, but no-one seemed interested in that one.

On the path to the settlement, a tussac bird checked us out.

(I assume that the “tussac” in the name of this bird means the same as the more familiar “tussock”.  On several occasions we have had to deal with tussock grass, which, believe me, is not just grass growing in tussocks, oh dear me no. In the Falklands and South Georgia it is a specific plant, Poa Flabbelata, as any fule kno, whose growth builds an ever-increasing pedestal which supports its leaves and can grow up to the height of a man.  This provides shelter for animals and a major trip hazard for humans. For example, one passenger on Hondius had been medevacked on his first attempt to do this trip because the tussock grass concealed a hole which caused his ankle to break in spectacular fashion.)

So, off we went on the walk along a track normally used by local 4x4s.

The info we’d been given asserted that this walk was a chance to see local wildlife, and I suppose it was, provided what you wanted to see was upland geese. There were loads of them,

but for most of the walk out, very little else.  Jane spotted a dark-faced ground tyrant and I managed to catch it before it buggered off,

but apart from that and a few kelp geese spotted in the distance

there was nothing on offer on a long and, frankly, dull walk.

After a couple of wildlifeless kilometres, we decided to turn back, and discovered that what was dull became tedious in the extreme, as we had to stumble back against the infamous Falkland Island wind.  It really was hard work, with the only photographic reward being the spotting by Jane of a couple of magellanic penguins standing guard on their burrows.

I guess I’m being a bit harsh in describing the walk as dull – under other circumstances a bracing walk through the countryside in streaming sunshine would be a pleasure. But I felt that an expedition-style outing should have a bit more pith and moment – or just make it a brief stop for tea, cakes and a look at the wildlife around the landing area.

Having struggled back against the wind, it was nice to get into the house where the tea and cakes were on offer (we had to take off our Muck boots before hand, which is not too surprising, as there was a certain amount of mud around on the paths).  It was an impressive spread

and the tea was very welcome.  Everyone rhapsodised about the how wonderful the baked goods were, but actually I wasn’t as impressed as they were; I thought the chocolate stuff wasn’t chocolatey enough, the shortbread wasn’t quite as sweet as I like, and the macaroons were nice enough but not quite the melt-in-the-mouth treat that a proper macaroon can be. They had ginger biscuits, which were nice, and Jane gave the mince pies the thumbs-up; and it was nice to have a rest after struggling along against that relentless wind.

It was less fun to discover, when I got outside, that someone had taken one of my boots and left one of theirs which was slightly, but tellingly, smaller.  It wasn’t a disaster, but it didn’t help my mood having to hobble back to the landing area with one painful foot.  Not even seeing an austral thrush could lift my spirits much.

The tea house had effectively a pet caracara which entertained the guests for food,

and we had further entertainment at the boot-scrubbing party which was a necessary precursor to getting the Zodiac back to Hondius.

After this somewhat dull interval, the day finished with a flourish, though.  Our one-time Stanley resident, Martin, had extolled the beauties of Falkland Islands sunset, and as we headed out of the bay towards our next rendezvous, we were treated to a great display.

The next day, we were due to visit another West Falkland Island, New Island, which also held the promise of seeing some more albatross action – if the conditions allowed.  But the wind was rising, and we would have to wait until the following morning to see what was possible.