The Atlantic Odyssey Antarctica to the Cape Verde Islands

Monday 20th March - Sunday 30th April 2011 (42 Days)

Leaders: Derek Scott and Oceanwide Expeditions staff


Ship: Professor Molchanov (capacity: 48 passengers)


Group Size Limit: ship capacity

From the frozen wastes of Antarctica to hot, steamy, tropical seas, this extraordinary journey of almost 10,000 kilometres (6,000 miles) from Ushuaia in Tierra del Fuego to the Cape Verde Islands by way of the Antarctic Peninsula, the Weddell Sea, the South Orkneys, South Georgia, Gough Island, Tristan da Cunha, St. Helena and Ascension offers the adventurous traveller the chance to visit some of the farthest flung places on earth and to experience a seabird extravaganza beyond most birdwatchers' wildest dreams. This superb opportunity is made possible by the need to bring cruise ships back from Antarctica to Europe in spring for the start of the Arctic cruising season. Our remarkable journey on board one of these vessels will not only provide splendid opportunities for observing a bewildering array of seabirds, from penguins and albatrosses to frigatebirds and tropicbirds, at sea, but will also give us a chance to wander through their breeding colonies, as we step ashore on some of the remotest islands in the world. Opportunities for whale-watching will also be superb, especially in Antarctic waters and the Southern Ocean, where we are likely to enjoy some spectacular views of these leviathans breaching and sounding right next to our ship. Our journey begins in earnest at Ushuaia, the southernmost town in the world, situated on the windswept shores of Tierra del Fuego in southern Argentina. Here, after a day's birding amidst the splendid scenery of Tierra del Fuego National Park, we join our ship and sail out of the Beagle Channel into the turbulent waters of the Drake Passage, where the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans meet. We will be heading southeast, past the South Shetland Islands to the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula, an icy finger of land pointing towards South America and first seen by human eyes only as recently as 1820. Antarctica is the last frontier on our ever-shrinking planet, an uninhabited continent of more that twelve million square kilometres almost entirely encrusted with ice – an awesomely silent but starkly beautiful frozen world that every traveller longs to explore but so few ever see. Here we will gaze in wonder at some of the world's most magnificent scenery – towering volcanoes, stark mountain ranges, lowering headlands, icebergs like floating cathedrals, all 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. In our brief stay, we hope to be able to step ashore on the continent itself at Hope Bay or Brown Bluff, visit large Adelie Penguin colonies at Devil Island or Paulet Island, and cruise amongst the majestic icebergs in the Weddell Sea. Here, amongst the ice floes, we will be hoping to find that most sort after of all Antarctic birds, the Emperor Penguin, along with immaculate Lesser Snow Petrels and striking Antarctic Petrels. From the Antarctic Peninsula we sail northeast across the Scotia Sea to South Georgia, calling in at the remote South Orkney Islands if ice conditions permit, and enjoying spectacular sea-watching as we pass through some of the richest seas on earth. South Georgia, the most mountainous of the Subantarctic 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 as we walk amidst huge colonies of stately King Penguins, stand close to gigantic Southern Elephant Seals and enjoy superb views of nesting Wandering Albatrosses. We will also be calling in at Grytviken, a former Norwegian whaling station where we can visit the excellent whaling museum and the grave of Sir Ernest Shackleton. Five days of open sea separate South Georgia from our next port of call at Gough Island, but the diversity and abundance of seabirds and cetaceans is sure to provide us with some of the best sea-watching imaginable, especially as we approach Gough. With its millions of breeding seabirds of 20 species, Gough Island is a strong contender for the title of most important seabird colony in the world. Although we will not be allowed to land on this strict nature reserve, we should be able to cruise close inshore and catch site of the two endemic land-birds, the Gough Moorhen and Gough Bunting. From Gough we will proceed to Tristan da Cunha, the remotest inhabited island in the world, where we will go ashore to meet some of the islanders and perhaps buy a few postage stamps – a major source of revenue in these islands. We also hope to be able to visit nearby Nightingale Island, with its huge seabird colony including over two million pairs of Great Shearwaters, large rookery of Subantarctic Fur Seals and Southern Elephant Seals, and three endemic land birds – a thrush and two buntings. If we are very fortunate with the weather, we will be able to land on Inaccessible Island and seek the world's smallest flightless bird, the incredible Inaccessible Island Rail. Our next destination, St. Helena, lies to the north of the Tropic of Capricorn and is another four days sailing away. As we leave the cold waters of the South Atlantic behind and enter the warm waters of the tropics, we finally say goodbye to our last albatrosses and pick up an entirely different set of seabirds and cetaceans, along with our first flying-fish. On St. Helena, we will visit the house where Napoleon lived in exile, and look for the island's only surviving endemic land-bird, the St Helena Plover or Wirebird (so-named because of its long, spindly legs). We will also take a trip out in a local boat to look for dolphins and to visit a group of islets with breeding seabirds. Continuing on almost to the Equator, we will come to Ascension Island where we will visit an enormous breeding colony of Sooty Terns, circumnavigate a small islet that supports the entire world population of Ascension Frigatebirds, and visit a beach at night to witness the amazing spectacle of Green Sea Turtles laying their eggs in the sand. Eventually we will reach the Cape Verde Islands, where Cape Verde Shearwaters and Fea's Petrels await us and where we should have the chance to see some of the endemic landbirds. Then, sadly, it will be time to disembark from our ship for the last time and take a flight back to the ‘real world'.

 

We shall be sailing on the Professor Molchanov (capacity 48 passengers), a ship operated by the well-respected Oceanwide Expeditions , who are based in the Netherlands. Ships of this class are great favourites with travellers due to their relatively small size, their ability to go almost anywhere and their friendly, almost ‘family' atmosphere. Modern Finnish-built vessels under Russian registry, they were built in the 1980s 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 Arctic and 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 who, as well as guiding zodiac cruises and excursions ashore, double up as guest lecturers and give informal talks on the environment, wildlife and history of the areas visited. The bridge is normally open to all (except when the ship is docking) and the big ‘picture' windows provide a great viewpoint whenever it is too breezy to stand comfortably at the bow. 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 and expedition staff carry out these landings, coupled with the small complement of passengers, allows everyone plenty of time ashore, a key factor when considering any cruise of this type. 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 wildlife, is that the itinerary and day to day schedule are strongly wildlife-orientated, and the group will also benefit by having an experienced ornithologist guide.

 

Derek Scott has previously explored Antarctica and the Subantarctic Islands. Birdquest has operated tours to Antarctica and the Subantarctic Islands 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 right down to the toe of South America to Ushuaia, at 55 degrees south the southernmost town in the world, for a two nights stay. If it is clear we will be able to see the vast, arid landscapes of Patagonia far below and eventually the ice-clad spires and vast snowfields of Tierra del Fuego. We shall arrive in Ushuaia on the south coast of Tierra del Fuego in time for some initial exploration.

 

Day 3   Tierra del Fuego, at the extreme southern tip of the South American continent, is a land of windswept moors, stunted Nothofagus beech forests, snow-capped peaks and glaciers. Although the bird diversity at this latitude is low, the quality is outstanding. We will spend much of the day in Tierra del Fuego National Park, a spectacular region of seacoasts, forests, lakes and mountains on the Chilean border. Here we shall be hoping to find the mighty Andean Condor and the impressive Magellanic Woodpecker, the largest of the South American woodpeckers. Upland Geese are especially numerous and there is a good chance of the beautiful Ashy-headed Goose. Other species we should encounter amidst the wonderful scenery of the park include Great Grebe, Flying and Fuegian (or Flightless) Steamer-Ducks, Chiloé Wigeon, Speckled Teal, Crested Duck, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Black-faced Ibis, Turkey Vulture, Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle, Southern Crested and Chimango Caracaras, Magellanic and Blackish Oystercatchers, Southern Lapwing, Austral Parakeet, Dark-bellied Cinclodes, Thorn-tailed Rayadito, White-throated Treerunner, White-crested Elaenia, Fire-eyed Diucon, Dark-faced Ground-Tyrant, Austral Negrito, Chilean Swallow, House Wren, Austral Thrush, Black-chinned Siskin, Rufous-collared Sparrow, Patagonian Sierra-Finch and Austral Blackbird. Back in Ushuaia, a walk around the harbour should produce our first of many, many seabirds to come, including Imperial and Rock Shags, Chilean Skua, Dolphin, Kelp and Brown-hooded Gulls, and South American Tern. Along the shoreline we will come across the striking Kelp Goose, which feeds almost exclusively on the beds of giant kelp, and possibly also a few Rufous-chested Dotterels amongst the migrant White-rumped Sandpipers.

 

Day 4   There will be time for more birding in the Ushuaia area in the morning, and also opportunities for some last-minute shopping. If the weather is fine, we might take the ski lift up to the Martial Glacier and search for species such as Bar-winged Cinclodes, Ochre-naped Ground Tyrant and Yellow-bridled Finch, or we could pay a quick visit to the municipal rubbish tip to look for White-throated Caracaras. In the late afternoon, with increasing excitement, we will board the ship that is to be our home for the next five weeks and more. It should still be light as we set sail down the Beagle Channel, named after the ship that brought Charles Darwin to these parts in 1832. Here Magellanic Penguins, Black-browed Albatrosses, Southern Giant-Petrels, Sooty Shearwaters and Magellanic Diving-Petrels will bid us farewell, and give us our first taste of the seabird glories that lie ahead.

 

Days 5-6   To the south of Tierra del Fuego lies the thousand kilometres of the Drake Passage, separating the curving tail end of South America from the Antarctic Peninsula. 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 first chance to enjoy a host of albatrosses and petrels which will soon become familiar companions to us during our voyage in the great Southern Ocean. As we travel south, we shall pass from the warmer Subantarctic waters that surround southern South America 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, Southern and Northern Giant-Petrels, Southern Fulmar, Cape (or Pintado) Petrel, Blue Petrel, Slender-billed and Antarctic Prions, Soft-plumaged and White-chinned Petrels, and Wilson's and Black-bellied Storm-Petrels. The star of this ever-changing spectacle will be the greatest seabird of all, the Wandering Albatross, with its remarkable four metre wingspan. 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 Southern Royal Albatross amongst the Wanderings and be reminded just how difficult it is to separate some seabirds! 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. By the evening of our second full day at sea, we should have entered the Bransfield Strait between the South Shetlands and the Antarctic Peninsula.

 

Day 7   As we slip southwards through the Bransfield Strait, passing icebergs of immense size and awesome beauty, some white, others tinged blue-green by algae, we shall be keeping a lookout for the huge flukes of sounding Humpback Whales, the high dorsal fins of Killer Whales slicing through the water and the unobtrusive Antarctic Minke Whale. Chinstrap Penguins porpoise through the waves or scamper from side to side as we approach their ice-floes, and the first Antarctic Petrels and Lesser Snow Petrels should appear amongst the much more numerous Southern Fulmars and Cape Petrels. 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 the distant, snow-covered mountains of the Antarctic Peninsula. Eventually we will make a landing on the Antarctic continent itself, either at Hope Bay or Brown Bluff at the extreme tip of the peninsula. Here, near the Argentinean research station of Esperanza, we should find little groups of moulting Gentoo Penguins and chicken-like Pale-faced (or Snowy) Sheathbills, while Subantarctic (or Brown) and South Polar Skuas patrol the shoreline in search of an easy meal and graceful Antarctic Terns perch on blocks of floating ice out in the bay.

 

Day 8   Today we will pick our way slowly between the gigantic tabular icebergs in the evocatively named Erebus and Terror Gulf at the northern end of the Weddell Sea. Some of the icebergs, which have calved from the Larsen Ice Shelf away to the south, are the most intense blue colour and have been sculptured into fantastic shapes by the action of wind, water and sun. The immaculate Lesser Snow Petrel regularly adopts these bergs as a ‘home away from home' and we can expect to see lots of these beautiful birds that surely epitomize Antarctica, circling around their floating ‘islands'. There is also a good chance of more Humpback and Antarctic Minke Whales in this area. We hope to be able to make two landings today, on Devil Island and Paulet Island, both of which support large breeding colonies of endearing little Adelie Penguins. Although most of the penguins will have left the colony by now (we will have seen many on passing ice floes and icebergs), we should find a few lingering adults still completing their moult. Paulet also has a large colony of Antarctic Shags, and nearby we can see the ruins of the Nordenskiöld Expedition from the beginning of the 20th century.

 

Days 9-10   As we sail northeast through the sea ice drifting out of the Weddell Sea, we will be keeping a careful lookout on the ice floes for that greatest of all avian prizes in Antarctica, the Emperor Penguin. We have a reasonable chance of success, as small numbers of Emperors from the breeding colonies in the Weddell Sea are regularly encountered in these waters at this time of year. There may also be large numbers of Antarctic Petrels in this area. If weather and ice conditions permit, we will call in at the remote South Orkney Islands for a landing either on Signy Island, with its British Antarctic Survey Base, or on Laurie Island, where the Scottish National Antarctic Expedition led by Bruce and Robertson over-wintered in 1903 and established a meteorological station that has been in operation ever since.

 

Day 11   For much of the day, our route across the Scotia Sea towards South Georgia lies close to that taken by Shackleton in 1916 when he and five companions went in search of help for the crew of the Endurance stranded on Elephant Island. Once again, the sea-watching will be excellent, and as we near South Georgia, both the numbers and diversity of species will increase markedly. We should now encounter our first diminutive Common Diving-Petrels and Georgian Diving-Petrels, and will need to be especially quick off the mark if we are to separate these two very similar species as they get up hurriedly from the water and sweep past our ship on rapidly whirring wings. Antarctic Prions are particularly abundant in these waters, and amongst them we may find a few Fairy Prions.

 

Days 12-14   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 Subantarctic 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 three days 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, that hero of Antarctic exploration who died at Cumberland Bay in 1922, and also visit 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 hope to be able to go ashore at one of the largest of these, at Salisbury Plain, where we will be enthralled by the incomparable spectacle of tens of thousands of these colourful penguins and their bright chocolate young against a dramatic backdrop of snow-covered mountains and huge glaciers. Here and in several other places we will find large groups of enormous Southern Elephant Seals 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. On one of the small islands in the Bay of Isles, we may have to brave the smaller but much more aggressive 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 – while not far away, Southern 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, now sometimes treated as a full species, the South Georgia Pintail. Other species that we should find breeding in South Georgia include bizarre-looking Macaroni Penguins, Grey-headed Albatrosses and South Georgia Shags.

 

Day 15-19   The five-day journey from South Georgia in the Southern Ocean to Gough Island in the South Atlantic – a distance of over 2,500 km (1,350 nautical miles) – will give us plenty of time to enjoy some of the very best seabird watching in the world. Soon after leaving South Georgia, we will cross the Antarctic Convergence and enter the warmer Subantarctic waters. Many of our old companions will still be with us, but we will now be on the lookout for species that are typical of warmer waters such as Atlantic Yellow-nosed and Sooty Albatrosses, Atlantic, Kerguelen, Grey and Great-winged Petrels, Great Shearwater, and Grey-backed and White-bellied Storm Petrels. We may also come across our first Arctic (or Parasitic), Pomarine and Long-tailed Skuas (or Jaegers) on their way north to breeding grounds in the Northern Hemisphere. We have an excellent chance of seeing whales and dolphins in this area, including Humpback, Fin and Sei Whales, and Hourglass Dolphins, and if we are lucky, we will chance upon one of the rarer species such as Gray's Beaked Whale, Strap-toothed Whale or Southern Bottlenose Whale. As we near Gough Island, we should see our first Tristan Albatrosses (one of the ‘Wandering' group), along with handsome Spectacled Petrels, Little Shearwaters of the distinctive subspecies elegans , and White-faced Storm-Petrels.

 

Day 20   Part of the Dependency of Tristan da Cunha, Gough Island lies some 410 km (220 nautical miles) southeast of Tristan da Cunha, and is farther from the nearest populated continental landmass than almost any other island in the world. It is a volcanic island, 13 km across at its widest, and uninhabited apart from a small meteorological station. Thanks to its isolation, the island ecosystem has remained relatively unmodified, with only one introduced mammal (the House Mouse), no introduced birds and relatively few introduced plant species. The entire island has been designated as a Nature Reserve and World Heritage Site, and landings are forbidden in order to protect the delicate ecosystem. Fortunately, however, all 20 species of seabirds that come to the island to breed are easily seen in the surrounding waters, while the two endemic landbirds can often be seen along the shoreline. The total number of seabirds breeding on Gough is unknown, but thought to be many millions. These include almost half the world population of Northern Rockhopper Penguin (144,000 pairs), almost the entire world population of Tristan Albatross (1,500 pairs), 5,000 pairs of Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross and 5,000 pairs of Sooty Albatross, hundreds of thousands of pairs of Broad-billed Prions and Great Shearwaters, tens of thousands of pairs of Kerguelen, Great-winged, Atlantic, Soft-plumaged and Grey Petrels, Little Shearwater and Grey-backed, White-faced and White-bellied Storm-Petrels, and smaller numbers of Subantarctic Skuas (of the subspecies hamiltoni , sometimes treated as a separate species, the Tristan Skua), Antarctic Terns and Brown Noddies (here at its southernmost breeding site in the Atlantic). If the sea is not too rough, we should be able to circumnavigate almost all of the island's 33 mile circumference to enjoy the spectacular scenery and to marvel at the extraordinary abundance of wildlife. On the sheltered eastern side of the island we plan to take a zodiac cruise and hope to be able to approach close enough to the shore to see the two endemic landbirds, the Gough Moorhen and Gough Bunting, both of which remain fairly common. Amongst the many thousands of Subantarctic Fur Seals thronging the shoreline, we should find a few Southern Elephant Seals, while Dusky Dolphins are common in the inshore waters.

 

Days 21-23   The three main islands in the Tristan group (Tristan da Cunha, Inaccessible and Nightingale) lie within 40 kms of each other, 2,782 km from Cape Town in South Africa and 3,947 km from Mar del Plata in South America. Along with Gough, these islands are a Dependency of St. Helena, and are unquestionably the most remote inhabited islands in the world. As we approach the main island of Tristan da Cunha, the scene will be dominated by the impressive volcanic cone of Tristan Peak which rises to over 2,060 metres above the principal settlement at Edinburgh at the northwestern corner of the island. First discovered in 1506 by the Portuguese navigator Tristão da Cunha, this island, with a diameter of only 12 km, has a thriving community of about 300 people with a colourful series of ancestors that includes a number of ship-wrecked sailors. The fiercely proud islanders were driven from their homes by the volcanic eruption of 1961, but after eighteen months of exile in Britain most chose to return to Tristan to rebuild their lives. During our visit we shall have a chance to meet the islanders and admire the older homes in the settlement which are made from blocks of volcanic tufa and thatched with flax. At the post office and store we can buy the much sought-after postage stamps which help to provide the island with some extra revenue, hand-knitted woollens or replicas of the canvas-covered long-boats from which the islanders used to catch rock lobsters before the arrival of motorized vessels. Beyond the town are the potato patches which were once a measure of a man's wealth. Tristan is the main breeding site for the Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross, with some 20,000-30,000 pairs, but otherwise there are rather few birds on this island because of the abundance of introduced rats and cats. However, we should see lots of Sooty Albatrosses over the cliffs and a few Tristan Skuas and Antarctic Terns. The endemic Tristan Moorhen, formerly considered conspecific with the Gough Moorhen, became extinct in the late 19th century, but there is a small population of Gough Moorhens that were introduced on the island in the 1950s.

 

If weather conditions permit, we hope to be able to visit the other two main islands in the group, Nightingale and Inaccessible, where there are immense breeding colonies of seabirds and four endemic land-birds. Nightingale Island, some 38 km southwest of Tristan, is only 2.5 km across and mostly covered in Spartina tussock-grassland. This tiny island is home to a huge breeding colony of Great Shearwaters, thought to number over two million pairs, and countless other seabirds, including 125,000 pairs of Northern Rockhopper Penguins, 5,000 pairs of Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatrosses and tens of thousands of pairs of Broad-billed Prions, White-faced Storm-Petrels and Common Diving-Petrels. If we are lucky enough to be able to step ashore into this timeless, magical natural world, we should have no difficulty in finding the endemic Tristan Thrush and Tristan Bunting, but we will probably have to hike up to the island's central plateau if we are to find the much rarer Grosbeak Bunting which favours areas with scattered trees. Here also we will come face to face with Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatrosses at their nests, and watch in fascination as Great Shearwaters emerge from their burrows in the tussock grass and launch themselves into the air from a convenient rock. Inaccessible Island, 22 km northwest of Nightingale, is almost surrounded by sheer cliffs that rise to 300m, but there are two beaches where a landing is possible under relatively calm conditions. This island, which was declared a Nature Reserve in 1997, is home to the world's smallest flightless bird, the incredible mouse-like Inaccessible Island Rail. Fortunately, the rail is quite common, but we will still need some luck if we are to see one scuttling about in the dense tussock grass behind the beach. Inaccessible is also the only known breeding site for the critically endangered Spectacled Petrel, and supports a huge colony of Sooty Albatrosses. The weather in the Tristan da Cunha group is dominated by severe cyclonic storms and there is a high chance that strong winds and rough seas will hamper our activities in this area. An extra day has therefore been allocated for our stay in the Tristan group to give us a day in reserve, in case of bad weather.

 

Days 24-27   The next leg of our journey takes us for another 2,460 km (1,330 nautical miles) from the wild, stormy seas of the South Atlantic to the calm waters and balmy weather of the tropics. As we head north-northeast towards the Tropic of Capricorn and Saint Helena, the pace becomes a little more relaxed, with time to enjoy barbecues on deck and maybe even catch up on some reading. The number and diversity of seabirds diminish rapidly as we sail into warmer, subtropical waters, and the appearance of large shoals of flying-fish definitely adds a tropical flavour to our sea-watching. As we bid farewell to our last albatrosses and Atlantic, Soft-plumaged and Spectacled Petrels, we begin to encounter our first warm-water species such as Bulwer's Petrel, Madeiran Storm-Petrel, Red-billed Tropicbird and Masked Booby. We will also be on the lookout for Sperm Whales as we pass through a rich feeding area for this species.

Day 28-30   Saint Helena is an Overseas Territory of the United kingdom, 1,913 km west of Angola and 3,284 km east of southeastern Brazil. Like virtually all of the Atlantic's isolated islands, St Helena's mountainous massif with its jumble of steep V-shaped valleys and imposing sea cliffs is of volcanic origin. Although the island lies well north of the Tropic of Capricorn, the climate is subtropical with temperatures influenced by the Southeast Trade Winds and ocean currents from the Antarctic. The island was discovered by the Portuguese in 1502, and it was here that Napoleon was exiled after his defeat at Waterloo in 1816. During our stay, we will have ample opportunity to enjoy the pleasant climate and see something of the local culture, endemic flora and birdlife. We will begin our exploration of the island at the main settlement of Jamestown on the west coast, where Common White   (or Fairy) Terns hover overhead as we step ashore. We will make the obligatory pilgrimage to the house at Longwood where Napoleon lived, surrounded by flowers, until his death in 1821, and we may also have an opportunity to visit the Governor's residence at Plantation House, with its ancient tortoises on the lawn. We will definitely want to visit the golf course and Deadwood Plain, two of the best sites for the Saint Helena Plover or Wirebird, the island's only surviving endemic landbird. This endangered species, the total population of which numbered only some 435 individuals in 2001, has become a kind of local mascot to the extraordinarily friendly islanders. The only other native landbird is the Common Moorhen, which apparently arrived under its own steam in relatively recent times. All the other landbirds were introduced and include Common Pheasant, Zebra Dove, Common Myna, Madagascar Fody, Java Sparrow, Common Waxbill and Yellow Canary. The island is renown for its luxuriant vegetation, but much of this consists of exotic plants such as Hibiscus, Begonia and geraniums brought in by settlers, and only small pockets of the endemic flora still survive as, for example, at High Peak (at 798m, the highest point on the island) where there is a small remnant of native thicket with endemic ferns and cabbage trees. On one day we plan to go out in one of the local boats along the sheltered west coast of the island to look for Pantropical Spotted Dolphins and to visit a group of small islets with breeding Madeiran Storm-Petrels, Red-billed Tropicbirds, Masked and Brown Boobies, White Terns, and Brown and Black Noddies. We may also find Bottlenose Dolphins and Rough-toothed Dolphins in these waters, as well as gigantic Whale Sharks.

 

Days 31-32   It is just under 1,300 km (700 nautical miles) from St. Helena to our next destination, Ascension Island. Now we will have plenty of time to relax on deck and enjoy the balmy sea breezes as we pass through the doldrums. Birds will be few and far between, but we should encounter our first Cory's Shearwaters and Leach's Storm-Petrels along with more Bulwer's Petrels and Madeiran Storm-Petrels and perhaps a few Arctic and Long-tailed Skuas and Arctic Terns. There is also a good possibility of Sperm Whale as we pass near the Grattan Seamount.

Days 33-34   Ascension Island is a relatively young volcanic island only eight degrees south of the Equator and with a distinctly tropical climate. Discovered in 1501 by the Portuguese navigator Juan da Nova Castella, the island was not inhabited until 1815 when the British established a naval garrison. Ascension played an important role in the Falkland Islands conflict and continues to provide an important link in the supply line to these islands. There are rather few indigenous plant species, the luxuriant vegetation being comprised almost entirely of introduced species such as Bougainvillea, Casuarina and Hibiscus, and the only landbirds are five introduced species, Red-necked Francolin, Common Myna, House Sparrow, Common Waxbill and Yellow Canary. We will go ashore at the main settlement at Georgetown and take a tour of the island, visiting a huge breeding colony of Sooty Terns at Wideawake Fairs and Green Mountain National Park, where those who wish can climb to the summit of the island. Ascension's long sandy beaches are a major breeding site for Atlantic Green Sea Turtles, and as we shall be visiting the island during the egg-laying season, we will visit a nesting beach in the late evening and hope to witness female turtles coming ashore to lay their eggs. However, the highlight of our stay on Ascension will be a zodiac cruise around rat-free Boatswainbird Island, a small Bird Sanctuary off the northeast coast of the main island. This 104m high stack, only 3 ha in extent, is home to the entire world population of Ascension Frigatebirds (10,000-12,000 individuals) as well about 1,500 pairs of Madeiran Storm-Petrels, 500 pairs of Red-billed Tropicbirds, 1,000 pairs of White-tailed Tropicbird, 1,300 pairs of Masked Boobies, 5,000 pairs of Black Noddies, and smaller numbers of Red-footed and Brown Boobies, and Common White Terns.

 

Days 35-39   We continue our epic journey north towards the Cape Verde Islands. During this portion of the voyage we will cross the Equator and pay our respects to King Neptune in the time-honoured manner. It will be very hot and humid, and numbers of seabirds will be low, but we may well encounter Cory's Shearwaters, Bulwer's Petrels, Madeiran Storm-Petrels and Leach's Storm-Petrels, along with a few Long-tailed Skuas, Sabine's Gulls and Arctic Terns on their northbound spring migration, while cetaceans could include Short-finned Pilot Whale.

 

Day 40   The Cape Verde archipelago consists of some 10 islands of volcanic origin. They were settled by the Portuguese in the 15th century and later the islands were an important port of call for slave ships on their way to America. The islands emanate an African flavour, reflected in the people, local culture and colourful markets, yet links with Portugal and even the United States are evident. At sea, as we approach the southern group of islands, we should encounter Cape Verde Shearwater (split from Cory's) and Boyd's Shearwater (sometimes split from Little), as well as Fea's (or Cape Verde) Petrels. We will make a landing on the impressive island of Fogo, a huge extinct volcano that towers out of the Atlantic and reaches a height of 2829m (9279ft). Here we should find the endemic Iago Sparrow and Cape Verde Swift, and we also have a chance for Alexander's Kestrel (split from Common).

 

Day 41   Today we will disembark at the small capital, Praia, on the island of Santiago. If time permits, we will make an excursion into the interior to search for the endemic Cape Verde Buzzard, the endemic Cape Verde Warbler and the colourful Grey-headed Kingfisher. In the evening we will fly across to the international airport on the island of Sal to await our flight to London, which departs shortly after midnight.

 

Day 42   Late morning arrival at London.

 

Accommodation & Road Transport: The hotel in Ushuaia is of a good standard. For details of the ship, see the introductory section. The few road transfers and excursions will be by small coach or minibus.

 

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

 

Climate: In southern Argentina conditions are typically cool, with sunny periods and showers. Around the Antarctic Peninsula the temperature is generally around 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. At Gough and Tristan da Cunha, the climate is cool with maximum temperatures around 11-15°C (52-59°F) and a high probability of low cloud and rain. On St. Helena, Ascension and the Cape Verde Islands, the weather is usually warm or hot and humid, with maximum temperatures around 27-31°C (81-88°F). There is a possibility of some rain in this mid-Atlantic section.

 

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

 

Important Note: This unique trip is very much at the mercy of the weather and sea conditions, especially in the South Atlantic where frequent periods of high winds and rough seas can make landing on islands in the Tristan da Cunha group very difficult. In Antarctica, the precise itinerary may vary from year to year according to local ice conditions. Adverse weather conditions may prevent landings on exposed coasts and on some islands, but it is unusual for more than two or three landings to have to be called off during a cruise.

 


Photograph courtesy of Oceanwide Expeditions

The northern form of Rockhopper Penguin can be seen on the Atlantic Odyssey.


Photograph Pete Morris/Birdquest

The graceful Light-mantled Albatross is just one of a number od superb seabirds we'll see on this remarkable adventure.


TOUR PRICES

PLEASE NOTE THAT THE DATES AND PRICES ARE PROVISIONAL

£6939, €8188, $11449 London/London (or £5719, €6748, $9436 Ushuaia/Praia, or £5119, €6040, $8446 Ushuaia/Praia 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 Ushuaia and Praia, there is a reduction of £600, €708, $990.)

Supplement for a twin-berth cabin without private bathroom: £898, €1060, $1482.

Supplement for a twin-berth cabin with private bathroom: £1695, €2000, $2797.

Supplement for a superior cabin: £2508, €2960, $4138.

Supplement for a suite: £3525, €4160, $5816.

Price includes all transportation (including all flights), all accommodations, all meals, bottled water during shore-based stays, some drinks, all excursions, all entrance fees, all tips for local drivers/guides and for accommodations/restaurants ashore, leader services. Gratuities for the expedition staff and crew are not included in the tour price. The staff work very long hours to make such cruises a success, including a great deal of night sailing, and we have been told that most passengers give gratuities of around $380-570 (£230-345, €271-407) for such a 38 days cruise.

Important: Ushuaia/Praia cruise-only prices given above cover all cruise arrangements from embarkation at Ushuaia to disembarkation from the ship at Praia. Owing to the possibility, however small, of a severe airline delay, we would recommend that all participants who are joining the tour on a ‘cruise-only’ basis have two nights at Ushuaia 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 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 Ushuaia on request, should you not wish to take our standard pre-cruise land programme in Tierra del Fuego.

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 Ushuaia/Praia cruise-only price (superiors and suites 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. Single room supplement in Ushuaia and Praia: (provisional): £90, €106, $149. (Please note that if you are sharing a cabin on board ship and your cabin mate is not overnighting with you in Ushuaia and Praia, or if you are the third person to book in a triple cabin, then you will have to pay the supplement for a single room ashore.)

Deposit: 20% of the London/London price (rounded down to the nearest £, € or $), regardless of where you are joining the tour. If booking more than 12 months before departure, the initial deposit is only £150, €177, $248.

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.

 

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