St. Andrews Bay, South Georgia © Charles and Mary Love
October 21 – November 7, 2017
“The stark polar lands grip the hearts of men who have lived on them in a manner hardly understood by people who’ve never got beyond the pale of civilization.”
—Explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton
After two days at sea from Puerto Madryn, Argentina, we make a morning landing to observe birds near a small settlement on Carcass Island in the Falklands. The number of species in the Falklands (over 200) is impressive. These islands, we’re told, have more striated caracaras, slender-beaked prions and pale-mantled sooty albatrosses than anywhere else in the world..
Two more days at sea, filled with daytime lectures and evening documentaries about upcoming destinations, bring us to remote Shag Rocks, their lonely pinnacles rising above the turbulent, white-capped waves of the Southern Ocean. We’re still some 150 miles from South Georgia.
Over the next six days, thanks to good weather and relatively calm seas, we make more landings than any of us expected. All are in bays and coves on the more protected, calmer side of the island. Time and space allow us to mention only a few.
Gold Harbour proves to be one of the island’s most beautiful sites. An amphitheater of hanging glaciers and sheer cliffs provides a dramatic backdrop for an abundance of seabirds and seals. The king penguin colony along the beach and shallow streams here numbers around 25,000 breeding pairs. Hundreds of gentoos and other species of penguins, nest in the surrounding tussock grass. Back on the beach, male elephant seals (bulls) protect their female “harems.” These enormous, bellowing animals—males can weigh over 3 tons—are perhaps Nature’s most wretched and ugliest creatures. We watch two bulls, called “beachmasters,” fight ferociously for dominance over a harem of some 50 females. Beachmasters drive off other males until a stronger one comes along to “dethrone” him. Best not to get near these big guys!
How exciting to be up close and personal with these majestic birds! How close, you ask? Close enough to take a photo of nesting birds with an iPhone. Close enough to feel and hear the swoosh of their powerful wings (a black-browed albatross’s wing span is around 8 feet) as they circle by, only a foot or two away. On their nests, some are performing elaborate courtship dances; others are incubating eggs. We try repeatedly to photograph them both in flight and on their nests—an effort that becomes addictive. Finally, after three hours with the albatrosses, we hike to the home of a fifth-generation Falkland Island couple for tea and cookies before returning by Zodiac to the Sea Spirit.
We find Poseidon’s expedition team to be extremely efficient and safety conscious every time they transport us between ship and shore . And they do it with genuine enthusiasm. We’ve made many more landings than anyone expected— altogether remarkable. For more details and images, check for our illustrated feature story and documentary film to follow soon.