Antarctica, The Falklands & South Georgia

Saturday 6th November - Monday 29th November 2010 (24 Days)


Tierra del Fuego Extension to Wednesday 1st December (2 Days)


Leaders: Pete Morris and Oceanwide Expeditions staff

Ship: Professor Multanovskiy  (capacity: 50 passengers)

Antarctica is the last frontier on our ever-shrinking planet, a place that every traveller longs to explore but so few ever see. An uninhabited continent of more that twelve million square kilometres almost entirely encrusted with ice - an awesomely silent but starkly beautiful frozen world. Here some of the most magnificent scenery of all can be seen under the cleanest skies on earth. Towering volcanoes, stark mountain ranges, lowering headlands, icebergs like floating cathedrals - all are enhanced by the peculiar quality of the light, which lends an ethereal beauty to the savage grandeur of the landscapes. This is a land of superlatives, at one and the same time the coldest, highest, windiest, driest, most barren and least known area on earth. Some 90% of the world’s fresh water is locked up in Antarctica’s icecap, which if it were to melt would cause sea levels to rise over 60m, drowning much of the world’s arable land and hundreds of major cities. One of the strangest features of this lost continent is the fact that Antarctica is surrounded by the richest oceans of all, thronged with marine life ranging from tiny krill to elephant seals and whales, and supporting enormous numbers of seabirds. The tameness of Antarctica’s seabirds and sea mammals is legendary and this remarkable journey will not only provide numerous opportunities to see albatrosses, petrels, penguins and seals at sea but also see us wandering right amongst their breeding colonies, accepted without question by creatures that have learned no fear of man. Whale-watching is a feature of Antarctic cruises and we are likely to enjoy some spectacular views of these leviathans breaching and sounding right next to our ship. Our journey starts in earnest in the arid steppes of Patagonia, in southern Argentina. Here we join our ship and sail out into the South Atlantic en route to the Falkland Islands. After enjoying the attractive scenery and marvellous birdlife of these rugged, wind-swept islands we sail onwards to South Georgia, enjoying some wonderful pelagic seawatching en route. This most mountainous of the sub-Antarctic islands appears like a series of snow-covered peaks rising from the sea, scalloped with fjords carved by more that 150 glaciers. Here we will experience some of the most unforgettable wildlife spectacles of our journey amidst dramatic scenery, walking amidst huge colonies of stately King Penguins, standing close to gigantic Southern Elephant Seals and enjoying superb views of nesting Wandering Albatrosses. To the south across the Scotia Sea lie the bleak, ice-mantled South Shetlands, home to millions of penguins and petrels. Steaming even further south we come at last to our ultimate goal, the Antarctic Peninsula, an icy finger of land pointing towards South America and first seen by human eyes only last century. Here we will watch seals, penguins and whales amidst the ice floes, visit Adelie and Chinstrap Penguin rookeries, experience the awesome scenery of the ice-choked Antarctic channels, watch Snow Petrels soaring around giant icebergs, and visit the shores of the Antarctic continent itself. From the Antarctic Peninsula we sail northwards across the deep waters of the Drake Passage to the southernmost tip of South America, where the turbulent waters of the Atlantic and the Pacific meet at lonely Cape Horn, before very reluctantly returning to ‘civilization’ at Ushuaia, the southernmost town in the world, situated on the windswept shores of Tierra del Fuego, with memories that only a lucky few can ever hope for. A visit to Antarctica is like no other journey on earth; it is indeed about as close to visiting another planet as any of us are likely to get. We can say without hesitation that this is the ultimate wildlife adventure, a wilderness experience that is truly uplifting, that makes the heart sing with the joy of being alive. If you ever have the chance to go to South Georgia and Anmtarctica then take it, for you will never regret it.

We shall be sailing on the Professor Multanovskiy (capacity 50 passengers), a ship operated by the well-respected Oceanwide Expeditions. Ships of this type are great favourites with travellers due to their relatively small size, their ability to go almost anywhere and their friendly, almost ‘family’ atmosphere. Finnish-built vessels under Russian registry, they were built in the late 1980s and early 1990s and commissioned by the Academy of Sciences in Moscow. They were originally intended for oceanographic research, but were subsequently adapted for expedition-style cruising following the financial cutbacks that later affected all formerly Soviet research programmes. These ships are, of course, not ‘cruise ships’ in the traditional manner and will appeal most to those for whom exploring wild places and enjoying wild nature, rather than enjoying luxurious surroundings and ‘black-tie’ dinners with the officers, is the prime attraction. This type of vessel is remarkably suited for the Antarctic environment: with their specially hardened hulls they have earned the highest possible ice-ratings for a passenger vessel and with their shallow draught and bow thruster they can travel safely in ice-choked areas inaccessible to conventional cruise ships. Cabins are furnished with two berths and have some storage space and an outside view (most grades having en-suite bathroom facilities). Public facilities include restaurant, lounge/bar, lecture facilities, library, small shop and sauna. Food is plentiful, of good quality, waiter-served and prepared by European, North American or Australasian chefs. The ship carries a small complement of expedition staff cum guest lecturers who will give informal talks on the environment, wildlife and history of Antarctica and also guide shore excursions. Much of the sailing is done at night (or what passes for ‘night’ in summer in high latitudes), thus maximizing opportunities for going ashore and enjoying the harsh but beautiful Antarctic landscape to the full. Landings are carried out by means of a fleet of Zodiacs, the rugged, fast-moving inflatables developed by Jacques Cousteau for expedition work which allow safe landings on remote coastlines in all types of conditions. The sheer speed and efficiency with which the crew carry out these landings, coupled with the small complement of passengers, allows everyone plenty of time ashore, a key factor when considering any Antarctic cruise. Further information about the cruise, including photographs and details of the ship layout, including cabin layouts, are available on the Ocean Adventures (at Birdquest) website (www.oceanadventures.co.uk). The great advantage of taking this particular cruise, if you are especially interested in seeing Antarctic wildlife in all its glory, is that the itinerary and day to day schedule are strongly wildlife-orientated, and the group will greatly benefit by having an experienced ornithologist guide. There will be more landings made and more time spent ashore in total than is the norm on those Antarctic cruises which cater for those less keen on maximizing time ashore and those less interested in seeing a great deal of the region’s remarkable wildlife. Furthermore, the period November to January is the best time for seeing Antarctic wildlife.

Pete Morris is very familiar with this itinerary. Birdquest has operated tours to Antarctica since 1990.

 


Itinerary

Day 1   Evening flight from London bound for Buenos Aires.

 

Day 2   Morning arrival at Buenos Aires, the capital of Argentina. Here we will change airports and then fly southwards to Trelew on the coast of Patagonia for an overnight stay. Later today we will explore Punta Tombo – a tiny peninsula compared to the Valdés to the north, but the site of the largest seabird colony on the Patagonian coast. This three kilometres long peninsula of red volcanic rock with sand dunes, rocky shores and sandy beaches supports up to a million breeding Magellanic Penguins along with small numbers of Rock and Imperial Shags, Brown Skuas, Dolphin and Kelp Gulls, and South American Terns. Watching the penguin colony at close range is quite an experience as thousand upon thousand of adults guard their burrow entrances, feed their young chicks, call noisily or march to and from the beach and the adjacent ocean (where thousand upon thousand more are loafing or feeding). Punta Tombo is also the best locality for observing the Chubut Steamer-Duck, a recently described species, closely related to the Falkland Steamer-Duck and only known from coastal Chubut. Other birds which we may well find around Trelew itself or at Punta Tombo include Elegant Crested-Tinamou, Great and Silvery Grebes, Coscoroba Swan, Crested Duck, Cinnamon and Silver Teals, Yellow-billed Pintail, Rosy-billed Pochard, Turkey Vulture, Cinereous Harrier, Variable Hawk, Chimango Caracara, Red-fronted Coot, American and Blackish Oystercatchers, Southern Lapwing, White-rumped Sandpiper, Brown-hooded Gull, the amazing Burrowing Parrot, Burrowing Owl, Scale-throated Earthcreeper, the near-endemic Band-tailed Eremobius (formerly Band-tailed Earthcreeper), Plain-mantled Tit-Spinetail, Sharp-billed (or Lesser) Canastero, the endemic White-throated Cacholote, Grey-bellied Shrike-Tyrant, the endemic Rusty-backed Monjita, Yellow-billed Tit-Tyrant, Southern Martin, Patagonian Mockingbird, Mourning Sierra-Finch, Common Diuca-Finch, Grassland Yellow-Finch, Rufous-collared Sparrow and Long-tailed Meadowlark.

 

Day 3   This morning we will drive to Puerto Pirámides, a small seaside village on the Valdés Peninsula, where we will spend the night. The village lies on the edge of the great steppe plains of Patagonia and overlooks a sweeping bay. The Valdés Peninsula is a rugged headland protruding 100 kilometres (60 miles) out into the Atlantic Ocean. Almost cut off at its base by two huge bays, the peninsula affords a remote haven for an impressive array of marine and terrestrial wildlife. We will spend today exploring this dramatic region, famous for its large colonies of seabirds and mammals. The bays around the peninsula are important mating and calving areas for the Southern Right Whale and we should see a series of these magnificent creatures breaching and sounding offshore, but to try to get close up views we will join one of the regular whale-watching boat trips, which often provide truly spectacular encounters with these leviathans. On shore there are large and impressive rookeries of South American Sealions and Southern Elephant Seals. These seal colonies are a favourite scavenging area for Snowy (or Pale-faced) Sheathbills, a bird which really has to be seen to be believed, while Killer Whales (or Orcas) are regularly attracted by the presence of so many young pups and sometimes put on spectacular hunting displays. Many Southern Giant-Petrels are also attracted by the prospect of some scrumptious carrion and they are sometimes joined by a few Northern Giant-Petrels. While we will undoubtedly spend much of our time watching the remarkable concentrations of mammals and seabirds, we will also search the steppe interior of the peninsula for Lesser Rhea, Common Miner and the endemic Patagonian Canastero. With luck we will find Lesser (or Least) Shrike-Tyrant, Short-billed Pipit or the endemic Carbonated Sierra-Finch. We should also come across a variety of terrestrial mammals such as Guanaco (a smaller cousin of the Llama) and Patagonian Mara (an enormous rodent that sits on its haunches, rather like a kangaroo).

 

Day 4   After some final birding in Patagonia we will travel to nearby Puerto Madryn and, with increasing excitement, board our ship for the start of our great adventure. We will set sail in the late afternoon or early evening, bound for the ‘Great White Continent'.

 

Day 5   As we sail towards the Falklands we will be looking out for seabirds that are typical of these shallower, warmer waters such as Sooty and Great Shearwaters. We will also encounter our first Southern Royal and Black-browed Albatrosses, and a number of other seabird species widespread in the southern oceans which will soon become familiar companions.

 

Days 6-7   The Falkland Islands lie some 500 kilometres off the South American mainland. In spite of their remote location and apparent lack of resources the islands have had a varied history, with temporary occupations by the Spanish and French before the British finally settled the islands permanently in 1842. Although the archipelago consists of over 300 islands, it is dominated by the two main islands of East and West Falkland. A tiny population of only a few thousand is concentrated around Port Stanley, the picturesque little capital with its gaily painted Victorian style houses that briefly became the focus of world attention during the 1982 Falklands War. These windswept islands enjoy a much milder climate than South Georgia and there is only a little snow during the winter months. At this season the islands provide endless rolling vistas of yellow-green grasslands waving in the wind. With so few people to disturb them, birds are tame and abundant. Over fifty species breed in the islands, an almost overwhelming diversity compared to Antarctica proper. During our stay we shall hope to make several landings. The first of these will be at some of the spectacular seabird colonies that have made the Falklands famous. Most of these are situated on remote islands which can only be reached by a vessel such as our own and thus are inaccessible to land-based visitors. On New Island or West Point Island off West Falkland the open hillsides are populated by Dark-faced Ground-Tyrants and Correndera Pipits, whilst overhead Variable Hawks hang in the wind. Dramatic sea-cliffs face the open Atlantic and here we shall visit a Rockhopper Penguin rookery, smiling as we watch a succession of Rockhoppers popping up out of the sea onto the rocks like champagne corks leaving a bottle and then hopping and scrambling up the cliffs in a long line, working their way up a natural staircase that has been worn smooth by the passage of countless little feet. From time to time a Striated Caracara or ‘Johnny Rook' appears in the colony, lurking on the periphery in the hope of making off with a titbit or two. Nearby at a large colony of Black-browed Albatrosses we will see some of the adults squatting on top of flattened grass tussocks rather like strange dwarfs on even stranger toadstools whilst others soar high above us or sweep in to the nest sites to greet their mates with an affectionate round of mutual preening and bill clicking. On beautiful Carcass Island, Gentoo and Magellanic Penguins potter along waving their little flippers as they wander inland to their nests. Rock and Imperial Shags sit about on rocky skerries whilst South American Terns and beautiful Dolphin Gulls patrol the shallows and Magellanic and Blackish Oystercatchers pipe shrilly from the shoreline. Upland Geese are especially numerous and there is a good population of the rare and beautiful Ruddy-headed Goose. Along the shoreline we will come across the striking Kelp Goose, which feeds almost exclusively on the beds of giant kelp. The endemic Falkland Steamer Duck or ‘Logger' is a common sight and we shall soon realize how they got their name as these bulky ducks ‘steam' over the water, kicking up a cloud of spray from the combined action of their wings and large feet whilst making loud sneezing alarm calls. The variety of landbirds is rather limited but this is more than made up for by the confiding nature of the little Blackish Cinclodes or ‘Tussock Bird' which happily perches on one's shoes. White-bridled (or Canary-winged) Finches and Black-chinned Siskins feed amongst the low herbage, Grass Wrens lurk in the damp grass and Cobb's Wrens (split from House) forage along the shoreline amongst the cast up seaweed. Around the settlements Black-crowned Night Herons nest in the trees and Austral Thrushes and Long-tailed Meadowlarks are everywhere. Amongst the other birds we may find here are Southern (or Common) Giant-Petrel, Crested Duck, Speckled Teal, Turkey Vulture, Southern Crested-Caracara, Peregrine Falcon, South American Snipe and Brown Skua. As well as South American Fur Seal and Peale's Dolphin, we may also see the beautiful Commerson's Dolphin. Before leaving the islands we will call in at Port Stanley where we shall have an opportunity to wander around the miniscule streets, visit the tiny cathedral, see the historic hulks of the ships that never made it around Cape Horn, make use of a last chance to post mail home and observe that great pioneer of the avian world, the humble House Sparrow. We should also find Rufous-chested Dotterel and the beautiful Two-banded Plover.

 

Days 8-9   The long sea crossing to South Georgia can often be a highlight of the voyage. As we travel ever further to the southeast we shall pass from the warmer sub-Antarctic waters that surround southern South America and the Falklands to the cold waters of the Antarctic. The line of demarcation between these two water masses is quite strongly pronounced and is known as the Antarctic Convergence. Here the upwelling currents create conditions ideal for plankton and the rich feeding attracts numerous seabirds and often cetaceans. As we watch from the decks we will see an endless succession of seabirds following the ship, or sailing indifferently past, including Black-browed and Grey-headed Albatrosses, the graceful Light-mantled (Sooty) Albatross, the enormous Northern (or Hall's) and Southern (or Common) Giant-Petrels, Cape, Soft-plumaged and White-chinned Petrels, Wilson's, Grey-backed and Black-bellied Storm-petrels, and Brown Skuas. We shall check the Slender-billed and Antarctic Prions for Blue Petrels and Fairy Prions but the star of this ever-changing spectacle will be the greatest seabird of all, the Wandering Albatross, with its remarkable wingspan (up to 3.5 metres!). As we watch these huge birds gliding low over the sea between waves and then circling high into the air without even the slightest movement of their wings we will be witnessing one of nature's ultimate creations in action - a bird which is in total harmony with its environment. We will also come across the confusingly similar Royal Albatross amongst the Wanderings and be reminded just how difficult it is to separate some seabirds! This is a good area for rarities and we shall keep a lookout for such occasional visitors to these waters as Atlantic, Kerguelen and Grey Petrels and Arctic (or Parasitic), Pomarine and Long-tailed Skuas (or Jaegers). We also have an excellent chance of seeing whales, especially when we cross a bank where the sea depth decreases from over 4000m to under 200m, producing an upwelling that creates a plankton swarm highly attractive to whales: the most regular species here being Minke Whale, Fin Whale and Hourglass Dolphin. If we are lucky we will encounter Gray's Beaked Whale or Southern Bottlenose Whale. As we voyage southwards we will have a chance to listen to some fascinating lectures on the Antarctic environment and its wildlife or visit the bridge to learn about the many complex navigation instruments in use on our ship. On the third day we will be steaming parallel to the northern coast of South Georgia, on our way to ‘check-in' with the authorities at Grytviken, and numbers of seabirds in this area are often spectacular.

 

Days 10-13   South Georgia lies at the northeastern corner of the Scotia Ridge, a largely submarine formation with only the summits poking above the sea as islands, that links the Andes of South America with the mountains of Antarctica. Profoundly remote, a mass of inaccessible ice-clad mountains rising to 2934m, South Georgia is the most spectacular of all the sub-Antarctic islands. Described by Robert Cushman Murphy, that great pioneer of seabird research in the southern oceans, as presenting ‘one of the world's most glorious spectacles - like the Alps in mid-ocean', the coastline of South Georgia endlessly surprises and delights as one striking vista of deep fjords, jagged peaks and glacier-dominated valleys gives way to another and yet another. During our stay in this marvellous area we will hope to make several landings. For over fifty years South Georgia was the hub of the South Atlantic whaling industry and we shall explore the eerie, silent ghost settlement of Grytviken, the oldest whaling station on the island. Here we will see the simple grave of Ernest Shackleton, a hero of Antarctic exploration, who died at Cumberland Bay and also the excellent whaling museum that charts the history of the island. South Georgia is famous for its vast nesting colonies of King Penguins, and we shall admire their handsome silver-grey, glowing orange, black and white plumage that contrasts so strikingly with the green tussock grass and beige sandy beaches, whilst inland the huge glaciers provide an even more dramatic backdrop. On one of the small offshore islands, provided landings are being permitted at the time, we may have to brave the Antarctic Fur Seals, now more than recovered from the depredations of nineteenth century sealers, in order to wander through a colony of Wandering Albatrosses – so graceful in the air yet so awkward on land! Not only will we be able to get right up to the nesting birds, which look even larger sat on a nest than they do on the wing, but we may be fortunate enough to see their wild, evocative display as several adults turn their outstretched wings towards the sky and throw back their heads to wail at the heavens. Not far away, Southern (or Common) Giant-Petrels squat Dodo-like on their untidy nests, hissing at intruders. Light-mantled (Sooty) Albatrosses, the most beautiful and most gentle of all the albatrosses, are widespread as nesting birds and it is a thrilling sight to watch them gliding to and fro along the cliffs or displaying to their mates. During our stay in South Georgia we will certainly want to track down the endemic South Georgia Pipit and also the rather tame endemic race of the Yellow-billed Pintail, which is sometimes treated as a full species (South Georgia Pintail), and we should also see Grey-headed Albatrosses, South Georgia Shags and bizarre-looking Macaroni Penguins. In the fjords or offshore we will find stunning Snow Petrels, diminutive Common Diving-Petrels and the localized Georgian Diving-Petrel, watching them get up hurriedly from the water and sweep past our ship on rapidly whirring wings. In some places large groups of enormous Southern Elephant Seals are piled on the shoreline like heaps of giant slugs, occasionally stirring from their slumbers to growl a protest as a neighbour jostles them beyond the point of acceptability.

 

Days 14-15   We sail southwestwards across the Scotia Sea towards the South Shetlands. Once again pelagic seawatching is excellent both for birds and cetaceans. Here we shall start to encounter increasing numbers of gigantic tabular icebergs which have been spewed forth from the mouth of the Weddell Sea. Some of the bergs are the most intense blue colour and have been sculptured into fantastic shapes by the action of wind, water and sun. The incomparable Snow Petrel regularly adopts these bergs as a ‘home away from home' and we can expect to see these beautiful birds, that surely epitomize Antarctica, perched on the top or circling their floating ‘island'.

 

Day 16   We will pass Elephant Island today and may even be able to land. Elephant Island is one of the easternmost islands of the South Shetlands, a remote place where black rock outcrops and mighty glaciers speckled with pink algae create a dramatic landscape. This is the place where Ernest Shackleton's men survived for more than four grim months after Shackleton set out on his epic attempt to reach South Georgia in a tiny open boat and so bring help. A bust to Captain Pardo, the master of the Chilean ship Yelcho that finally got through to Elephant Island on Shackleton's fourth rescue attempt, still stands guard over this terrible place, a reminder of the days when explorers could not rely on radios or helicopters to save them but only on their own courage and determination.

 

Days 17-20   Colonies of Chinstrap, Gentoo and attractive Adelie Penguins can be found in the South Shetlands, while Brown (or Antarctic) Skuas will try to drive us from their territories by sweeping in low over our heads and breeding Wilson's Storm-Petrels zigzag over the talus slopes where Antarctic Shags nest. As we penetrate closer to the Antarctic mainland our excitement grows and we shall keep a careful lookout for Antarctic Petrels amongst the much more common Southern Fulmars and Cape Petrels. Adelie Penguins porpoise through the waves or scamper from side to side as we approach their ice-floes. Now we come to the climax of our expedition as we slip southwards through the Bransfield Strait, passing icebergs of immense size and awesome beauty, some white, others tinged blue-green by algae, and watching out for the huge flukes of sounding Humpback Whales, the high dorsal fins of Killer Whales slicing through the water and the unobtrusive Minke Whale. Here the silence is profound as the sun glows on ice floes dotted with Crabeater, Weddell and Leopard Seals whilst beyond is an endless vista of icebergs and distant, snow-coated mountains. Eventually we will make a landing on the Antarctic continent itself, either at the aptly named Paradise Bay or at a similar locality elsewhere. Here as the sea ice sparkles and 3000m high mountains and glaciers tower above us we will go ashore on the Antarctic mainland, watching chicken-like Snowy (or Pale-faced) Sheathbills scavenging along the shoreline and South Polar Skuas keeping a watchful eye out for any opportunity for a meal. Out in the bay, graceful Antarctic Terns perch on blocks of floating ice. No description can do justice to this awesome, unearthly place where all the works of man seem puny indeed. If we have time we may, ice conditions permitting, be able to navigate the spectacular Lemaire Channel, a narrow geological fault between the towering mountains of the Antarctic Peninsula and Booth Island that provides some of the most dramatic scenery in all Antarctica. Before we finally leave Antarctica we will visit Deception Island. The entry to Deception Island, through the aptly named Neptune's Bellows, is just wide enough for our ship to navigate and here we will be accompanied by some of the numerous Cape Petrels that nest fulmar-like on the surrounding cliffs. Our anchorage is inside a volcano whose cone caved in to be filled by the sea. A landing at Whaler's Bay, an abandoned whaling station, could provide us (if we have enough time) with an opportunity to walk over a ridge to the seaward side of the island to see a huge rookery of Chinstrap Penguins, here breeding in their hundreds of thousands. The blackness of the obsidian beach and the green lichen-encrusted cliffs provide a startling contrast to the gleaming white breasts of the penguins as they file down to the water's edge whilst others head inland to greet their mates at the nest.

 

Day 21   To the north of the Antarctic Peninsula lies the thousand kilometres of the Drake Passage, separating the Antarctic Peninsula from the curving tail end of South America. Crossing this historic waterway, named after the great English seafarer whose expedition almost came to grief in these wild waters, is an exciting experience and gives us our last chance to enjoy a host of albatrosses and petrels which have become so familiar to us during our Antarctic journey. Almost as rich in seabirds as the seas between the Falklands and South Georgia, the Drake Passage will provide a fitting finale to our time in the great ‘Southern Ocean'.

 

Day 22   In the afternoon we should see the steep, rocky, greenish-grey headland of Cape Horn looming to the west whilst Sooty Shearwaters circle and dive, Black-browed Albatrosses glide effortlessly down the troughs between the breakers, diminutive Magellanic Diving-Petrels fly up from in front of the ship and our first Chilean Skuas are likely to be on patrol. This southernmost point of South America, named by the Dutch navigator Schouten after Hoorn, his birth place in the Netherlands, has earned a reputation as one of the wildest places on earth. Here, at the meeting point of the Atlantic and the Pacific, the ferocious winds can whip the waves into a frenzy of spray, although in summer it can sometimes be flat calm.

 

Day 23   This morning we will arrive at Ushuaia, at 55 degrees south the southernmost town in the world, situated on the southern coast of Tierra del Fuego. Here we will very reluctantly disembark from the ship we have come to know so well and which has brought us so many unforgettable memories. Later we will fly back to Buenos Aires and transfer to the international airport in time for an evening flight bound for London. If it is clear as we fly northwards from the toe of South America we will be able to see the ice-clad spires and vast snowfields of Tierra del Fuego and then the vast, arid landscapes of Patagonia far below.

 

Day 24   Afternoon arrival at London.

 

Tierra del Fuego Extension Itinerary

 

Day 23   Instead of heading north straight away we will spend two nights at Ushuaia. There will be some time for initial exploration later today.

 

Day 24   Tierra del Fuego, named by Magellan after the warning fires that the now-extinct Ona Amerindians lit when they saw his ships, lies at the extreme southern tip of South America and is a wild land of grassland, windswept moors, stunted Nothofagus beech forests, snow-capped peaks and glaciers. Spring will have reached even this remote extremity of South America and we will have the benefit of long daylight hours, but the weather will still be rather cool at sea level and snow is by no means impossible when we are up in the mountains. Although the bird diversity at this latitude is very low, the quality is outstanding. During our stay at the veritable ‘ends of the earth' we will visit Tierra del Fuego National Park, a spectacular region of seacoasts, forests, lakes and snow-capped mountains on the Chilean border, where in particular we shall be hoping to see the impressive Magellanic Woodpecker (the largest of the South American woodpeckers) and White-throated Treerunner. Other species we should encounter amidst the wonderful scenery of the Ushuaia area include Great Grebe, Black-faced Ibis, Ashy-headed Goose, Fuegian (or Flightless) and Flying Steamerducks, Chiloe Wigeon, the range-restricted White-throated Caracara, Bar-winged and Dark-bellied Cinclodes, Thorn-tailed Rayadito, Dark-faced and Ochre-naped Ground-Tyrants, White-crested Elaenia, Fire-eyed Diucon, Austral Negrito, Chilean Swallow, Southern House Wren, Chilean Swallow, Rufous-collared Sparrow, Patagonian Sierra-Finch, the localized Yellow-bridled Finch and Austral Blackbird. If we are very fortunate we will even come across a small party of White-bellied Seedsnipe, a species that is notoriously difficult to find, or a magnificent Andean Condor.

 

Day 25   After some final birding in Tierra del Fuego we will fly back to Buenos Aires and transfer to the international airport in time for an evening flight bound for London. If it is clear as we fly northwards from the toe of South America we will be able to see the ice-clad spires and vast snowfields of Tierra del Fuego and then the vast, arid landscapes of Patagonia far below.

 

Day 26   Afternoon arrival at London.

 

Accommodation & Road Transport: The hotel in Ushuaia is of normal Birdquest standard. For details of the ship, see the introductory section. Road transport is by small coach and the few roads we will use are fairly good.

 

Walking: The walking effort is mostly easy, but there are a few optional harder walks.

 

Climate: Quite mild at this season. Around the Antarctic Peninsula the temperature is generally a little above freezing point (around 4-5°C, or 39-41°F at South Georgia) and on sunny days it can feel relatively warm if there is no wind (but it feels decidedly cold on windy days at sea). Sunny spells are interspersed with (often longer) overcast periods and some rain or snow are to be expected. In southern Argentina and in the Falklands conditions are typically cool, but considerably warmer than further south.

 

Bird/Sea Mammal Photography: Opportunities are excellent for much of this tour.

 

Important:   Adverse weather conditions may prevent landings on exposed coasts. It is, however, unusual for more than two or three landings to have to be called off during a cruise. The information given about possible landing sites should be taken as a general indication about what is likely to be achieved: every Antarctic cruise is different, being dependent on the amount of time available, sea and ice conditions, and the weather, and so it is likely that some of the sites visited will be different from those described.

 

Tour Dates: Please note that at this stage the dates are provisional.


Photograph Pete Morris/Birdquest

The Light-mantled Sooty Albatross is one of the most graceful seabirds in the world!


Photograph courtesy of Quark Expeditions

The fabulous colonies of King Penguins are just one of the many highlights of a visit to the incredibly scenic South Georgia.


TOUR PRICES

PLEASE NOTE THAT THE DATES AND PRICES ARE PROVISIONAL

£6883, €8728, $13077 London/London (or £5843, €7376, $11101 Trelew/Ushuaia, or £5489, €6916, $10429 Puerto Madryn/Ushuaia cruise-only) in a triple-berth cabin with shared bathroom facilities.

(If you wish to travel from London but do not wish to join our shore-based programme in Patagonia, there is a reduction of £354, €460, $672.)

Supplement for a twin-berth cabin with shared bathroom facilities: £1073, €1352, $2039.

Supplement for a twin-berth cabin with private bathroom: £2014, €2538, $3827.

Supplement for a superior cabin with private bathroom: £3137, €3952, $5959.

Supplement for a suite with private bathroom: £3962, €4992, $7529. Tierra del Fuego Extension: £360, €468, $684.

Prices based on 10 or more participants.

In addition it is anticipated that there will be a fuel supplement charge of £483, €608, $918 per person. If fuel prices are not as high as anticipated by the time the cruise operates, the supplement will be reduced accordingly.

 

Important: The Puerto Madryn/Ushuaia cruise-only prices given above cover all arrangements from embarkation at Puerto Madryn to disembarkation from the ship at Ushuaia. Owing to the possibility, however small, of a severe airline delay, we would recommend that participants who are joining the tour on a ‘cruise-only' basis have at least one night in Puerto Madryn prior to the cruise. Kindly note that in the event you do not arrive in time, the ship will not wait and neither the cruise operator nor ourselves can make a refund in such circumstances. Arriving a day early also has the advantage that your luggage could still catch up with you, should it go astray. We can make hotel bookings for you in Puerto Madryn on request, should you not wish to take our standard pre-cruise land programme in Patagonia.

 

Additional Exclusions: Gratuities on board ship for the expedition staff and crew (most passengers give between US$150-200 in total) are not included in the tour price. For the usual exclusions, please see the Booking Information.

 

Single Cabin/Room Supplement: Single occupancy of twin-berth cabins without private bathrooms or twin-berth cabins with private bathrooms can be obtained in return for an 80% supplement on top of the Puerto Madryn/Ushuaia cruise-only price (superiors are available for single occupancy for a 100% supplement). Please note that if you are willing to share but no cabin-mate is available you will not have to pay the single occupancy supplement. The single room supplement in Trelew and Puerto Pyrámides: £50, €65, $95. (Please note that if you are sharing a cabin on board ship and your cabin mate is not overnighting with you in Trelew and Puerto Pyrámides then you will have to pay the supplement for a single room ashore.) Single room supplement for the Tierra del Fuego extension: £60, €78, $114.

 

Basic Deposit: 20% of the London/London price (rounded down to the nearest £, € or $).

 

Supplementary Deposit (for those arranging international air travel through us, due 12 months prior to departure): £700, €910, $1330.

 

Final Payment & Cancellation Charges: The balance due for the holiday will be invoiced approximately five months prior to departure, for payment within 21 days. For cancellations made 181 days or more before departure the cancellation charge will be 10% of the holiday price (plus any airline cancellation charges). For cancellations made 91-180 days before departure the cancellation charge will be 50% of the holiday price (plus any airline cancellation charges). For cancellations made 1-90 days before departure, or on the day of departure or later, the cancellation charge will be 100% of the holiday price.


email: [email protected]   tel: 01254 826116 (international: +44 1254 826116)   |   Booking Conditions  |  Contact Us
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