Falkland and South Georgia 31.10-21.11 2015


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King penguins at St. Andrews Bay before sunrise – Nikon D810, 24-70mm, 1,3 sec, f/5,6 @ ISO 80

What an adventure! We knew it would be good, but this trip was way over expectations.

The main expedition was our South Georgia odyssey, but we added a week extension on the Falklands for two small groups. The groups were hosted by Ole Jørgen Liodden and Roy Mangersnes, and consisted of 5 to 7 clients in each group. One group would start far south at Sea Lion Island while the other travelled northwest to Saunders.

At Sea Lion we stayed at the lodge and ventured on outings from our base. Even if it was the beginning of summer it seemed winter would not let go and every so often we would have hailstorms passing through with astonishingly strong winds. Really tough conditions, but great for photography. At Sea Lion we would photograph Gentoo and Magellanic Penguins and also Rockhoppers a short drive from the lodge. In addition we had some great Elephant seals, shorebirds, Striated Caracara, Blue Eyed Cormorant and several of the wetland birds found in the Falklands, several of them endemic to the islands. One of the highlights for many of the bird photographers was the beautiful Silver Grebe.

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Gentoo penguin struggling in the storm – Nikon D4s, 400mm + TC14, 1/640 sec, f/4 @ ISO 1600

 

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Gentoo penguin is afternoon light – Nikon D4s, 400mm + TC14, 1/640 sec, f/6,3 @ ISO 1600

 

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Magellanic penguin peeking out from the nest hole at dusk – Nikon D4s, 400mm + TC14, 1/125 sec, f/4 @ ISO 2000

 

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Southern Elephant seal bull moving through the sandstorm – Nikon D810, 70-200mm, 1/800 sec, f/6,3 @ ISO 640

 

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Striated Caracara monitoring the King cormorant colony – Nikon D810, 14-24mm, 1/800 sec, f/7,1 @ ISO 500

 

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Silvery Grebe shacking off excess water – Nikon D4s, 400mm + TC14, 1/2500 sec, f/4 @ ISO 1250

At the same time the other group would spend three days at Saunders Island visiting the Rookery the first day before heading to the Neck for two nights. At the Rookery we enjoyed the showering Rockhoppers and also a huge number of breeding Black-browed Albatross in spectacular landscapes. The Neck is something special and we really got our money worth with changing conditions and amazing wildlife. In addition to Gentoos, Magellanic and Rockhoppers there was also a group of King Penguins out here, as well as one pair of Macaroni Penguins in the Rockhopper colony. The Caracaras and the Turkey Vultures were also very active here.

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Rockhopper penguin in the shower – Nikon D4s, 400mm, 1/800 sec, f/4 @ ISO 1000


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Black-browed albatross in the rocks – Nikon D810, 14-24mm, 1/160 sec, f/11, @ ISO 400

 

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Black-browed albatross close-up – Nikon D4s, 400mm + TC20, 1/1000 sec, f/8 @ ISO 800

 

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Rockhopper in the colony at The Neck – Nikon D810, 24-70mm, 1/250 sec, f/10 @ ISO 400

 

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Gentoo penguin in sandstorm at The Neck – Nikon D4s, 400mm + TC14, 1/1250 sec, f/5,6 @ ISO 250

After three days the two groups changes positions and we all got our share of these amazing places before departing back to Stanley. The last evening we visited another Rockhopper colony near town, were there had been a very rare Northern Rockhopper. It was sighted but only briefly.

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Rockhopper after sunset at Kindney Cove – Nikon D4s, 400mm + TC14, 1/3200 sec, f/10 @ ISO 400

The next morning we went to Gypsy Cove to photograph the Magellanic Penguins breeding here, as well as the other wildlife. Rock Shag, Kelp Goose and Night Herons were thoroughly documented, and even Peals’ Dolphin was seen out in the bay.

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Magellanic penguin arriving at the beach at dawn – Nikon D4s, 400mm + TC20, 1/20 sec, f/10 @ ISO 320

 

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Night heron courtship at Gypsy Cove – Nikon D4s, 400mm, 1/800 sec, f/3,5 @ ISO 1250

In the afternoon we met up with the rest of our clients, partners and the WildPhoto guide team. Martin Enckell is our preferred expedition leader on these trips and also Eirik Grønningsæter joined the team with his experience from this region. In the evening we boarded the MS Polar Pioneer and our journey towards South Georgia could begin.

Day 1-2 – 7-8.11.2015 We had very favourable winds and not much swell so most people enjoyed the crossing eastwards. Unfortunately the lack of wind resulted in fewer seabirds following the ship, but some Wandering, Southern Royal, Black-browed and Light-mantled Sooty Albatross were photographed. Also different petrels were sighted and documented.

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Giant petrel following the ship – Nikon D4s, 400mm, 1/30 sec, f/14 @ ISO 320

Day 3 – 9.11.2015 In the morning of day 3 we passed Shag Rock and soon after we spotted Bird Island and the north western point of South Georgia. After lunch we headed to shore in Right Whale Bay for our first landing of the trip. On the beach we were welcomed by a good number of Fur Seals, Elephant Seals and King Penguins. With some snow still on the ground several of us took the opportunity to photograph the Kings against a white backdrop. During the afternoon is started to snow lightly and the clouds covered the dramatic mountains. The last Zodiac left just as it was getting dark. A good start.

King penguins on snow in Right Whale Bay – Nikon D4s, 400mm + TC14, 1/640 sec, f/4 @ ISO 1000

Day 4 – 10.11.2015

Strong winds and a bit of rain made landing at Salisbury Plains at dusk difficult and we waited until after breakfast before heading to shore. As we landed the wind died of and the clouds scattered, leaving us with beautiful weather. As photography in these conditions rarely is rewarding several of us took the opportunity to enjoy the extreme wildlife density at Salisbury by talking walks in the area. In addition to the King penguins and the seals on the beach there was also a good number of the endemic South Georgia Pipit and South Georgia Pintail. Both seem to do well, as the final rat culling has been very successful.

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South Georgia Pintail is found nowhere else in the world but on this island – Nikon D4s, 400mm + TC14, 1/1250 sec, f/5,6 @ ISO 400

 

In the evening we were lucky to get access to Prion Island. Here we would follow the boardwalk to the top of the hill. The view over By of Isles is amazing up here, but the target was the breeding Wandering Albatross. Everyone was treated with a couple of large chicks on the nest near the trail, being very photogenic. The size of this bird is difficult to grasp until you stand next to it. With a wingspan of 3,5 meters it has the widest reach of any bird in the world.

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Juvenile Wandering albatross stretching its wings on Prion Island – Nikon D810, 24-70mm, 1/250 sec, f/5,5 @ ISO 400

Day 5 – 11.11.2015

After breakfast we headed for the old Norwegian whaling station Grytviken to register at the authorities. During the few hours we spent ashore several of us enjoyed shooting the local wildlife that has taken the bay back after the whalers left it in the late 60’s. Pintails and Antarctic Terns were numerous, and also seals and penguins were found among the rusty buildings and stranded ships. Some also took the opportunity to update themselves on the dark history of whaling in the southern ocean at the local museum.

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Antarctic tern calling out to another bird – Nikon D4s, 70-200mm + TC14, 1/2500 sec, f/5 @ ISO 320

The evening was spent in the small bay of Godthul. Some took the opportunity to hike up to the Gentoo rookery and got some really nice sunset colours up there. Others shot birds and seals from the zodiac while others spent all the time on the beach with Gentoos and seals. The last boat returned to the ship long after sunset.

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Gentoo penguin after sunset in Godthul – Nikon D810, 85mm, 1/1000 sec, f/1,4 @ 100

Day 6 – 12.11.2015 St. Andrews Bay is possibly the best wildlife destination in the world and after detailed planning and a bit of luck with the weather we were able to land everyone on the beach long before sunrise. The operation started before 2am and by 3 o’clock everyone was ready to shoot. 15 minutes later, when the sun washed over the beach, thousands and thousands of King penguins and seals was covered in golden light. The photography was out of this world and we were only back for breakfast 5 hours later.

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King penguins at sunrise on St. Andrews Bay – Nikon D810, 24-70mm, 1/3 sec, f/11, ISO 80

After a well deserved rest mid day we landed on Moltke Harbour after lunch. This small beach is a peaceful place compared to St. Andrews, but the many Elephant seals kept everyone busy until the night.

Day 7 – 13.11.2015 The weather was good and the team was on a roll, and already the next morning we did another sunrise landing. This time we had moved to another hotspot – Gold Harbour. A bit of drizzle in the early morning didn’t stop us, and as the sun broke through we were even rewarded with rainbow in front of the classic glacier backdrop. The King penguins were lined up along the river and displayed eagerly as the sun sent warm light through the colony. People spent the time onshore well and went for hikes to discover their own little paradise. Gold Harbour has many of them.

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King penguin calling out at sunrise – Nikon D4s, 400mm, 1/2500 sec, f/2,8 @ ISO 500


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Northern Giant petrel in aggressive mode – Nikon D810, 24-70mm, 1/1000 sec, f/6,3 @ ISO 400

Mid day we arrived in Cooper Bay. The area is exposed to the weather and since the conditions were favourable we went for a mid day landing at the Macaroni penguin rookery. This is one of the easiest places to see this flamboyant bird at the nesting place. A short climb over snow and tussock grass we found ourselves pretty much in the colony. Heading out some of us were also treated with a Chinstrap penguin on the nearby rocks.

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Macaroni penguin coming in to the beach at Cooper Bay – Nikon D4s, 400mm + TC14, 1/2500 sec, f/4 @ ISO 400

As expected the wind picked up as we headed for the Drygalski fjord in the evening. All around we saw large icebergs coming up from the Antarctic Penninsula, and they made perfect subjects for photography in the rough conditions. We decided to spend time with the icebergs and not go into the dark fjord. As the evening came to an end we were lucky to spot a small group of Chinstrap penguins on a beautiful iceberg, and we all enjoyed some great photography in the last hour of the day.

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Chinstrap penguins on an iceberg – Nikon D4s, 70-200mm, 1/1250 sec, f/4,5 @ ISO 1250

Day 8 – 14.11.2015 As the conditions seemed to improve during the night we went for another sunrise morning at St. Andrews Bay. As the sun was painting the mountains in the background everyone was scattered around the beach and enjoying their own little paradise. It was incredible to think that many travel down here without being able to land on St. Andrews due to heavy swell and strong wind, and we were able to land twice before sunrise.

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King penguins lined up along the river at dawn – Nikon D810, 14-24mm, 0,4 sec, f/16 @ ISO 40

 

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Upset Elephant seal at St. Andrews Bay – Nikon D4s, 400mm + TC14, 1/1000, f/8 @ ISO 1000

As a slight contrast from St. Andrews we landed late in the evening at Ocean Harbour. The wind had picked up, but this bay was nice and sheltered. Here we photographed seals and cormorants, as well as some nice landscapes from the zodiacs.

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South Georgia Cormorant diving in Ocean Harbour – Nikon D4s, 400mm + TC14, 1/5000 sec, f/4 @ ISO 320

 

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Elephant seal pup “hiding” in a shallow pool – Nikon D4s, 400mm + TC14, 1/5000 sec, f/4 @ ISO 640

Day 9 – 15.11.2015 We did try for our fourth sunrise landing, but the weather was grey and wet when we got up. Therefore we waited until after breakfast before landing at Salisbury Plains. Its was still wet, but after a couple of hours the clouds lifted and we had some very nice moods as the mist and clouds covered the nearby mountains. Just as we packed up and started bringing clients back, the katabatic winds came falling from the mountains and within minutes we had 60 knot winds offshore. It did make our departure difficult, but with a sturdy expedition leader everyone was relaxed on the beach.

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King penguin arriving the beach at Salisbury Plains – Nikon D4s, 400mm + TC14, 1/2000 sec, f/6,3 @ ISO 1600

 

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King penguins on the beach at Salisbury Plains – Nikon D810, 85mm, 1/8000 sec, f/1,4 @ ISO 64

The evening was rather windy and we cruised with the ship in the Bay of Isles, shooting petrels following the ship in beautiful evening light.

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Cape petrel in Bay of Isles – Nikon D810, 70-200mm, 1/800 sec, f/8 @ ISO 400

Day 10 – 16.11.2015  The morning was rather brutal with a landing at a very dense Fur Seal colony. When we made it through the first ranks of territorial seals, the valley was perfect for a scenic hike or for shooting seals and Giant Storm petrels.

Being able to spend this much time on South Georgian beaches is quit unique and we wanted to make the most of it. Therefore we went for one more landing at Salisbury Plains in the afternoon on our last day. The light was very nice, but some clouds deprived us from the sunset we were hoping for.

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King penguin searching for its own chick among thousands – Nikon D4s, 400mm + TC14, 1/640 sec, f/4 @ ISO 1250

Day 11-14 – 17-21.11.2015

The forecast for our crossing back to the Falklands were not very good, with strong winds straight ahead. We decided to start one day early to make sure we reached the only flight that leaves the Falklands per week, but as we started our crossing the storm died of as we were looking. It turned out to be just another normal crossing with a bit of rock and roll, but nothing big. We think most people were happy for this.

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Black-browed albatross on our tail heading back to the Falklands – Nikon D4s, 400mm, 1/2000 sec, f/5,6 @ ISO 800

South Georgia can be a quit challenging destination due to exposure to heavy weather systems. This is one of the reasons we wanted to spend more days here, and make sure we could land on all the prime locations. In the end we were extremely lucky and spent a total of 60 hours on the beaches and did 14 landings in just over 8 days. This must be some kind of record!

Let us know if you want to travel with us on a similar photo expedition in the future – send an e-mail today!


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