Falkland and South Georgia 31.10-21.11 2015
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!