16 Jan 2023

16 Jan 23 - The Antarctica Trip - The Original Punk

The last Blog Post focused on the Black-browed Albatross colony on West Point Island: which contains about two thousand pairs. Additionally, there are around five hundred pairs of Rockhopper Penguins in the colony.
Rockhopper Penguin: This is the nominate chrysocome subspecies which occurs on the Cape Horn Archipelago & the Falklands. There is a second subspecies which occurs on the Kerguelen Islands & New Zealand's Subantarctic Islands
Rockhopper Penguin: Like the Magellanic Penguins and Gentoo Penguins on Carcass Island, they do a lot of sitting around and waiting when they are in the colony, after they have fed their youngsters
Tristan Penguin: The closely related Tristan Penguin is now split from Rockhopper Penguin & it occurs on Gough Island, the Tristan da Cunha Islands, St Paul & Amsterdam islands. This is also called Moseley's Rockhopper Penguin. They are slightly larger than Rockhopper Penguins with a larger and denser yellow crest. Gough Island (10 Apr 18)
Rockhopper Penguin: The raised nests of the Black-browed Albatrosses are perfect to stop the two species getting too close to each other as the Rockhopper Penguins walk through the colony
Rockhopper Penguin: The original Punk
Rockhopper Penguin: Juveniles. A pair will normally have two chicks
I'm a big Penguin fan, so I won't apologise for a few more Rockhopper Penguin photos.
Rockhopper Penguin
Rockhopper Penguin
Rockhopper Penguin
Rockhopper Penguin
We saw a few Long-tailed Meadowlarks on the walk back to the settlement.
Long-tailed Meadowlark: Adult
Long-tailed Meadowlark: Adult
Long-tailed Meadowlark: Sometimes I managed to take a really nice photograph
All too soon we were back at the settlement & catching the zodiacs back to the Plancius.
The Settlement Beach: Like the historic farms in Tierra del Fuego, the farm buildings are wooden
At least we had a jetty to board the zodiac from
There was still time for some seawatching as we sailed for Port Stanley before dinner.
Southern Giant Petrel: The pale green tip is hard to see. However, it is clearly not the dark dull red tip of a Northern Giant Petrel
Imperial Shag: This is the albiventer subspecies which is endemic to the Falklands. The nominate subspecies occurs on the islands & coasts of South Chile & Argentina
South American Tern: They breed along the coasts & islands of Southern South America & the Falklands
One of the good things about visiting Antarctica in Jan, is there are still over two hours of good birding light after dinner to allow some more Cetacean & seawatching. We were away from the coast by the time we had eaten. There were usually a few hardy souls joining me on deck in the late evenings. We didn't see anything surprising on the Seabird side that evening, but two Sei Whales and another three unidentified Fin or Sei Whales were nice to see.
Sei Whale: The large size and prominent dorsal fin limits the options to either a Fin Whale or a Sei Whale. The shape of the dorsal fin confirms this is a Sei Whale
Sei Whale: The obvious kink in the Dorsal Fin confirms this is a Sei Whale: it would be a gentle constant curve in a Fin Whale
Sei Whale: This photo was taken three minutes later when it resurfaced. A second individual had just blown before going under
I went to bed with the alarm set for an early start to get some seawatching in as we approached our landing in Port Stanley.

16 Jan 23 - The Antarctica Trip - Amy The Albatross

We had enjoyed our first landing at Carcass Island on West Falkland & there was a second landing lined up for us that afternoon at the nearby West Point Island. The plan was to walk a mile over the island to the West side of the island where there was a Black-browed Albatross colony. It was nice to be able to stretch our legs again on the Falklands.
West Point Island: We landed in the bay in the East & ended up at the Black-browed Albatross colony at Devil's Nose. It is another relatively small island being just over three and a half miles in length
The final approach of the Plancius towards the settlement
The West Point Island settlement: It is a privately owned island that is run as a sheep farm and it is also a popular destination for cruise ships. The path to the Black-browed Albatross colony goes up the hill in the left of this photo
We were greeted on the beach by this delightful Kelp Goose family.
Kelp Goose: Male
Kelp Goose: Female
Kelp Goose: Another female with the next generation
Kelp Goose: It's good to see this male is looking after the family. Normally, a bright white male would be a liability in looking after chicks, but it seems to work well with these gorgeous Geese
This UK flag was flying over the settlement. In 2013, the Falkland Islands Government asked its people whether they wished to remain a self-governing British Overseas Territory. In the referendum that followed, over 99% of Islanders voted to retain the Islands’ links to the UK. An observer mission from six countries, including five OAS states, oversaw that referendum. They gave their firm endorsement of the process, as free and fair. The people of the Falkland Islands have made their wishes clear. They do not want to be incorporated into Argentina. Likewise, they make it very clear that the UK has no mandate to negotiate with Argentina on the future of their home. The islanders position is very clear, so it is sad to see the Argentinian president who was elected at the end of 2023, making comments about Argentina's right to own the Falklands.
The settlement's flag: A 99% free & fair vote in favour of remaining a British Overseas Territory is a percentage that is even higher than the elections that Russia rigs
The start of the walk: It looks steep, but it wasn't a hard walk to the other side of the island. However, the islanders were doing Land Rover rides for those passengers who found it a struggle
There were several photogenic Dark-faced Ground-tyrants on the walk to the Black-browed Albatross colony.
Dark-faced Ground-tyrant: This is the maclovianus subspecies which is a Falkland endemic
Dark-faced Ground-tyrant: The other subspecies occurs in South Chile & Argentina and they winter on the coast as far as North Peru & Uruguay
Dark-faced Ground-tyrant: Ground-tyrants are part of the large Tyrant Flycatcher family
Dark-faced Ground-tyrant: The Ground-tyrants occupy the same niche as the Old World Wheatears
The landings were organised so either the even or odd cabins were allowed to board the zodiacs first. Steve Preddy & I were in the later zodiacs and we were further slowed down by the Dark-faced Ground-tyrants. What we hadn't appreciated was that when we arrived at the Black-browed Albatross colony, was that there were only a limited number of viewpoints overlooking the colony & the best ones were already occupied. Most people were considerate & taking photographs before moving on to let others have a chance. But the only good position in the first part of the colony was occupied by a Dutch togger, who in true togger fashion not only refused to allow others to have a chance of photographs, but was proud to inform everybody that he wasn't prepared to move. I was happy to give him a taste of his own medicine on the occasions he appeared on the bridge wing & thought he had the right to occupy the best places to look forward. Given that he wasn't going to look for Birds or Cetaceans, then that was another reason to not give up a good spot. Fortunately, He was one of the few anti-social passengers on the Plancius.
Black-browed Albatross: There are about two thousands pairs of Black-browed Albatrosses nesting on West Point Island. The colony has a good breeze through the valley, which helps the Albatrosses get airborne
The First Black-browed Albatross was affectionately nicknamed Albert by all the Birders who headed to Hermaness, the most Northerly point accessible in the UK, to see it. Albert returned to the Gannet colony from 1972 to 1995. I think that any female Black-browed Albatrosses should now be called Amy: albeit their eyebrows are not overdone as on their late namesake.
Black-browed Albatross: No prizes for how they got their name
Black-browed Albatross: Also, no prizes for why I think Amy is an appropriate nickname
Black-browed Albatross: The path along the edge of the colony is a reasonable distance from the colony and it is not possible to get closer. Note, that you needed to get closer as my 100 - 400 mm lens was perfect for some excellent photographs. This was taken with the lens set to 135 mm. This photo is uncropped, except for narrowing it a bit to my standard 1 x 1.2 format
Black-browed Albatross: We were close enough to witness some Albatross courtship
Black-browed Albatross: The nests are tall and have probably been home to many youngsters over the generations
Black-browed Albatross: Hopefully these chicks are large enough to look after themselves from predators at this age
Black-browed Albatross: The nest is only just big enough for a parent to sit on
There was a steady stream of Black-browed Albatrosses flying into the colony to keep me happy trying to get some flight photos.
Black-browed Albatross: Starting the approach
Black-browed Albatross
Black-browed Albatross
Black-browed Albatross
Black-browed Albatross
Black-browed Albatross
The local Striated Caracaras and Turkey Vultures weren't far from the colony.
Striated Caracara: This Striated Caracara was keeping an eye out for a potential meal in the colony
Turkey Vulture: I'm continuing with my strategy of not having a decent photo of this common Latin American species
The Black-browed Albatrosses share the colony with the local punks, but I will leave them to the next Blog Post.