A Field Guides Birding Tours Report

Antarctica, the Falkland Islands & South Georgia Cruise 2023

December 15, 2023-January 5, 2024 with Bret Whitney guiding

Field Guides Birding Tours
"HAPPY NEW YEAR!" would be the caption for Deb Vogt's beautiful portrait (made from a rocking Zodiac!) of Gentoo Penguins curiously walking up to greet us at Paradise Bay on the first morning of 2024, which was our final morning in Antarctica. Gentoos were perhaps the most numerous (certainly the most widespread) of the eight species of penguins we saw on our voyage. Their numbers have been increasing, especially over the past decade, as global warming reduces snow-cover at breeding sites, especially along the Antarctic Peninsula. However, the coming decade may tell a different story, as global warming is also starting to reduce the food supply, from the bottom up, of all penguins, seals, and whales in Antarctic seas.

What a surprise it was to find myself headed to the tip of South America only about a week after returning home from the two big SE Brazil tours! Ah, “All in a year’s work.” This was my third voyage to Antarctica, South Georgia, and the Falkland Islands. The first was Field Guides’s inaugural Antarctica tour, in February 1989, which I led solo. The second was in February, 2018, which Tom Johnson and I led. This 2023 tour starting mid-December was some 6 weeks earlier than those previous tours, which is a big chunk of the breeding season in the Southern Ocean. I was excited to see what differences might be apparent, not just due to the much earlier start date, but also because 2023 had been the warmest year on record, globally. Especially when it comes to seabirds, factors like these could lead to surprises, large or small. There were some, for sure, but hard to say how much might have been the result of this year’s weird climate; read on!

Everyone had made their way to Buenos Aires and down to Ushuaia to take part in a day of birding at nearby Tierra del Fuego National Park and several spots around Ushuaia. Weather was lovely for our morning in the park, and the lakes, grasslands, and Nothofagus (Southern Beech) forests gave us a fine assortment of Southern Cone birds, highlighted by double-knockout Magellanic Woodpeckers at very close range, White-throated Treerunners, Thorn-tailed Rayaditos visiting their tree-cavity nests, Tufted Tit-Tyrants and Fire-eyed Diucons, Patagonian Sierra-Finches, Flying and Flightless steamer-ducks, Ashy-headed and Upland geese, Magellanic Snipes at our feet, South American Terns, Dolphin and Brown-hooded gulls, White-throated and Chimango caracaras, and several Black-chested Buzzard-Eagles. Our first evening at dinner, we discovered that the new Argentine government had hugely devalued the Peso overnight, such that a bottle of wine that had costed $40 yesterday was today only about $9! “Cheers, to a wonderful voyage ahead!”

We boarded M/V Hondius on the afternoon of 17 December. This beautiful, new ship (registry 2019, The Netherlands) would be our transportation, hotel, restaurant, bar, and “canopy platform” for seabirding through the Southern Ocean and Scotia Sea for the next 17 days. There were 170 passengers and about 70 crew and hotel/restaurant staff, including 16 Oceanwide Expedition Leaders, Guides, and the Ship’s Doctor. As we pulled away from Ushuaia, we gathered on the top deck for safety drills, then in the Lounge for presentations of our Captain and the Oceanwide staff. After dinner, we birded from the top deck as we cruised calmly through the Beagle Channel, enjoying our first tubenoses: Southern Giant-Petrels and Black-browed Albatrosses – we were off to the races! Our first day on the open South Atlantic was a beauty, with lots of Great and Sooty Shearwaters, White-chinned Petrels, Wilson’s Storm-Petrels, Black-browed Albatrosses, several Chilean Skuas, and, amazingly, a flock of seven Franklin’s Gulls ripping low over the waves on a heading straight east. We made some good photos of them, which provides the first record for the open south Atlantic Ocean (although there are a few records of singles at the Falklands). I imagine food supply in the Humboldt Current of southern Peru and northern Chile had been disrupted by the strong El Niño of 2023, causing displacement of these (and likely many more) Franklin’s Gulls. Also en route to the Falklands were many Slender-billed Prions, and our first Southern Royal Albatrosses appeared in all their glory. Two majestic Fin Whales also provided us with repeated good views as our captain maneuvered Hondius to perfection. It became apparent that there were very few other birders on the ship, a couple of Brits, one of whom I had met a couple of times, years ago, and a Frenchman who was a good and diligent spotter. The Oceanwide ornithologist on board was Simon Davies, from the UK.

We lucked out with the weather during our two days at the Falkland Islands; it was nice and sunny but very windy. Our first landing, at Carcass Island, made for a welcome leg-stretch with great views of our first Magellanic Penguins standing at the entrances to their nest burrows, Falklands Steamer-Ducks, Straited Caracaras, about 30 Kelp Geese, lots of Tussock Birds (Blackish Cinclodes), White-bridled Finches, and Cobb’s Wrens. Our landing at Saunder’s Island on a rather warm, cloudless afternoon was spectacular, as we got to visit breeding colonies of Black-browed Albatrosses and Rockhopper Penguins in full swing. The albatrosses were performing courtship dances, some with week-old fluffy white chicks, and the Rockhoppers were hopping all over the place, braying loudly, and tending to their youngsters. On the way back down to the beach, we spotted a group of about seven Commerson’s Dolphins playing in the surf below the cliff face, and I was able to make some nice video of them. Down on the beach, we were able to get close to a small number of King Penguins on eggs and a colony of Gentoo Penguins with small, downy chicks. The tide was coming in, and there were dozens of Rockhoppers riding the surf, porpoising their way to the beach where they would start the steep climb to their colony, many of them bringing food to their chicks. Birding around Port Stanley, our last stop on the Falklands, was fun. We had three taxis, two driven by gals from Zimbabwe, the other by a crusty old local named Keith. Of course, they all knew one another, and the girls were cousins. I could tell right away that Keith was going to be a character. As I introduced our drivers, I asked them to say a few words about themselves. That’s not something that happens much to taxi drivers. The girls enjoyed it, flashing broad, white smiles as they laughed through the stories of how they ended up on the Falklands. Keith was more reticent, but I noticed that his hatband was festooned with human teeth. So I asked about that. He exclaimed that they were all his, and, sure enough, he revealed that he had just one tooth, in his lower jaw! He seemed proud of that and enjoyed everyone having a good laugh. He quickly lightened up and had fun taking us around that morning. We made three stops over the course of about 2 hours, picking up Grass Wren, White-bridled Finch, and Correndera Pipit at Surf Bay, then Two-banded Plovers and Ruddy-headed Geese at Yorke Pond, and finally, on a gravel road around the back (north) side of the airport, breeding Rufous-chested Dotterels. We then hightailed it back to Port Stanley to give everyone a couple of hours to see the museum, do some shopping, and quaff a Falklands draft beer at one of the several local pubs.

Seabirding en route to South Georgia was highly productive, and produced the only Gray-backed Storm-Petrels (about 4) and Soft-plumaged Petrels (about 60) of the entire voyage. There were more Southern Royal Albatrosses, and our first Snowy (Wandering) Albatrosses provided huge excitement. Our first Northern Giant-Petrels appeared behind the ship, Slender-billed Prions started to drop out with Antarctic Prions taking over, and beautiful Black-bellied Storm-Petrels began to show up. I photographed two unusual birds on 22 December, the second full day of passage toward South Georgia. One was a prion with a heavy bill that seemed to fall outside the range of variation for Antarctic Prion, and may have been either a Broad-billed or MacGillivray’s Prion (both breed in the south Atlantic at Gough Island); the other a Blue Petrel that appeared to be unusually small and short-billed, and with remarkably pale head and neck plumage (lacking any black), again falling outside the range of variation (at least, on my scale; check out the videos below for more on ID of prions and Blue Petrels, and also the diving-petrels.) We saw no Gray Petrels through the stretch to South Georgia, which is the best area for them, but perhaps only somewhat later in the season. We plowed south through the second night out of Port Stanley to awake early on 23 December anchored off Cumberland Bay, near the famous whaling station of Grytviken. After passing our rigorous biosecurity checks (examination of every scrap of your clothing, especially Velcro closures, and boots for specks of mud, fibers of vegetation, or, heaven forbid, rats), we were given a score of 100% and allowed to do a Zodiac transfer to shore to walk around the station, visiting the museum and church there, followed by a run to the cemetery for a moment at the grave of Ernest Shackleton. A dozen or so South Georgia Pintails greeted us at the landing, elegant Antarctic Terns wheeled overhead and descended to feed a downy chick, and a couple of South Georgia Shags eyed us from an old, wooden pier behind ancient, rusting whaling boats, but there was not a single South Georgia Pipit to be had. Not to worry, I thought, there would be some close ones at the next landing. Also there at Grytviken, dominating the scene, were a couple of harems of Antarctic Fur Seals and 20 or so young Southern Elephant Seals sluggling around with each other and doing lots of crowd-pleasing burping and farting. As I exclaim on the video, “Nice!” During and after lunch, we cruised back north to Hercules Bay. There were several huge icebergs in ocean waters along the way, the first I had ever seen at South Georgia. We were told that these had broken off Antarctic iceshelves, perhaps a sign of global warming, and drifted north to eventually melt away. By the time we reached Hercules, a squall had descended on the coast, with a wet snow falling on deep swells, making it difficult to get seated in the Zodiacs, but we eventually got away from the ship and over to a Macaroni Penguin colony for the only close views we would have on the voyage. Similar Zodiac cruises occupied us for the next two days, as we skirted the edges of expansive colonies of King Penguins at Fortuna Bay (the northernmost point we saw on South Georgia) and St. Andrew’s Bay and thrilled to close views of several Light-mantled and Gray-headed albatrosses, our first Snow Petrels, Cape Petrels, Antarctic Prions, both species of giant-petrels, and especially great, comparative views of Common and South Georgia Diving-Petrels from the decks of Hondius.

As it turned out, the stop at Grytviken was our only moment ashore on South Georgia. Several factors were at play with this, but it must be mentioned that “bird flu” was one of them. Although we saw little to no evidence of birds having been affected (the usual, very small number of dead penguins was present), there had been a recent die-off of some fur seals and an apparently higher number of Elephant Seals, with dozens of the latter rotting on the beaches at St. Andrew’s. It was depressing to witness this, and we hope that 2023 was an anomaly in several ways, and future visits to South Georgia will see a return to the grandeur and magnificence held in reserve this year.

The remote, wild South Orkney Islands, two days across the Scotia Sea, were our next destination. The only Orcas of the voyage, a pod of 7 Type A (Antarctic Orca), made a brief, early-morning appearance on 27 December. Coming into the Orkneys, snowy peaks and glacial valleys looming ahead of us, multiple Snow Petrels gliding around the ship, and penguins and fur seals porpoising on all sides, was truly spectacular. We were able to make a landing on Coronation Island at a place called Shingle Beach. There, a bustling Adelie Penguin colony occupied a promontory reached by a windy and rather slippery, 40-minute, utterly worthwhile, “walk”. Simon said, “Adelies are THE BEST penguins!,” and he might be right (or not, it’s almost like saying one of your kids is your favorite). Also there were several nesting pairs of Snow Petrels, one of which was using the rock pile right beside the Zodiac landing, where Deb Vogt got some great photos, including one of a bird sitting near the nest entrance. We then continued westward to track along the face of Iceberg A23a, currently the largest iceberg on Earth. Its surface area is about 50 x 52 miles, 1500 square kilometers, or “the size of New York,” we were told. Whether that’s meant to be NY state, NY City, Yankee Stadium… I’m not sure. It was truly mega-massive, and quite tabular in shape, with a wall rising over 100 m above the sea (with 7/8ths of it underwater)! It took us over 3 hours to track past the edge of it. (In these days around the Antarctic Peninsula, Oceanwide’s glaciologist, Jakub Malecki, from Poland, gave lectures on ice and glaciers, one of which included a history of A23a. These were the only lectures I personally attended, and I thought they were excellent.) We scanned diligently for a much-wanted Antarctic Petrel among the hundreds of Cape Petrels and Southern Fulmars amassed at several spots below A23a, but we found nary a one. There were quite a few Humpback Whales along the way, and some Fin Whales as well. On the afternoon of 28 December, we reached Elephant Island, where, in 1916, Shackleton’s crew of the shipwrecked Endurance overwintered (April – August) at point Wild, on the north side of the island. We attempted no landing there, but it was moving to see that desolate place, and to contemplate Shackleton and five of his crew crossing 800 miles of the Southern Ocean to South Georgia, then traversing those ice-covered mountains, on foot, to the other (Grytviken) side, and then returning to rescue his men some four months later. Whenever I think I’m having a rough day…

King George Island in the South Shetland archipelago, just off the Antarctic Peninsula, appeared off the bow early on 29 December. We made a landing at a small satellite called Penguin Island, a volcanic cone that had last erupted in 1905, so we felt pretty safe in hiking a short distance to a colony of Chinstrap Penguins ;-) The action was raucous, with many birds doing “ecstatic” displays, and many pairs brooding two young chicks. We even got to see the adults at one nest switch places, with the bird just arrived from the water coming in to feed their kiddo and take over brooding duties. We then traversed the Bransfield Strait to make a highly anticipated landing on the continent of Antarctica, at Portal Point. Weather was dramatically dark and cold, and the Oceanwide staff set out a path through thigh-deep snow requiring a walk of about 400 yards to a small rock outcrop where they set up the official flag of Antarctica for people to be photographed with. The walking was pretty difficult for many folks, but almost everyone in our group managed it with a little help from me and staff members. At first, I wondered why they hadn’t set up the flag right beside the Zodiac landing spot, and I’m sure many other passengers wondered the same… but then, I figured it was actually a kind of nice idea to place it farther away, in a spot not terribly difficult to reach (especially after the staff had tamped down the snow to help with walking), but one where people would remember a bit of a struggle to get there, and success in making it to the flag for photos. It was a really big deal for many of the passengers to be setting foot on their 7th continent, and there was a line waiting to be photographed with the flag. There were a couple of large Weddell Seals hauled out not far from the flag, the first close ones we had seen. After lunch on the ship, we transited to nearby Two Hummocks Island and Palaver Point. There aren’t many species of birds this far south, and numbers are also fairly low, but we did have fine views of Antarctic Shags at the colony at Palaver, and skuas were around in good numbers, with several classic South Polar Skuas and more individuals that looked to be mixed South Polar x Brown (Antarctic). Penguins were mostly Chinstraps with lesser numbers of Gentoos, and scattered Adelies on icebergs.

Our first extensive Gentoo Penguin colony was at Danco Island. There were about 30 birds right at the landing site, and it was really cool to be able to see them swimming around our Zodiac in crystal-clear water only a couple of feet deep. This was a very warm, sunny day, not a cloud in the sky or breath of wind. Reaching the main colony of the Gentoos required a fairly steep uphill hike of about ¼ mile in snow that was mostly tamped down into a clearly visible trail. Only about half of our group opted to go for it. I left my outer couple of layers of clothing at the Zodiac and still broke a bit of a sweat on the climb. I said another “Thank you baby-lord Jesus, for my sunglasses.” It was painfully bright absolutely everywhere you looked (without sunglasses). About 40 of the passengers took part in the “Polar Plunge”, and it was an ideal day for it. In the afternoon, we visited Cuverville Island, only a few hundred yards from Danco. While half of the passengers including us were ashore there, at a Gentoo colony and seeing some nesting Southern Giant-Petrels, the other half of the passengers did a Zodiac cruise. When it was time to switch venues, a couple of guys from Germany who knew I was leading a birding tour rushed up to me to say they had just seen an Emperor Penguin! A quick look at a photo proved them right, and I dashed down to the Zodiacs to try to commandeer one immediately. As we started to get into an empty Zodiac that was sitting there, we were told it was for Mandarin speakers only, and we would have to wait. Aarrgh, it was a painful 10 minutes before we could get into a Zodiac then another 15 minutes to gun it across the bay to where we could see several Zodiacs bunched up. I’m delighted to say that the Emperor was still there and fully clothed in adult, near-breeding regalia! It was all alone on a smallish iceberg, and we spent about 20 minutes getting good photos, along with about 6 other Zodiacs full of photographers. Emperors are very rarely seen this far north, away from their concentrated breeding areas. I had not realized it earlier, but Denis had accidentally left his camera in his cabin! As soon as we got back to the ship, he was able to grab his camera and get into another Zodiac to return to the Emperor, and he got some good photos of the bird in the water, which is excellent for helping develop the “Emperor search-image”! I had seen one at sea, a subadult, west of the Orkneys around pack ice, on 7 Feb 1989. This Cuverville Bay Emperor was hugely better – and what a great bird to see in the final hours of 2023! Enjoy the video, below, that includes Denis’s shots of the bird in the water. New Year’s Eve dinner on Hondius was properly festive, with a BBQ on the stern below the top deck followed by music and dancing, with everyone still standing at midnight lifting a glass of champagne or two to a good New Year ahead.

During the wee hours of 2024, we moved a tad farther south to Paradise Bay where we anchored at Base Admiralte Brown, an Argentine research station that was inactive at the moment. A Zodiac cruise of the bay was fun, as it gave us our only experience with cruising in slushy ice with numerous beautiful blue-and-white icebergs around. We had seen darned few seals (aside from the Antarctic Fur Seals and some young Elephant Seals at South Georgia and at sea), and I was looking hard for our first Leopard and Crabeaters, but the best we could do was a few more Weddell Seals hauled out on the ice, which we got to approach quite closely. In fact, we saw not a single Leopard or Crabeater Seal on the voyage, which I would never have expected – but that said, we never approached any pack ice, either on the ship or in Zodiacs (we never even saw any true pack ice!). Leopard seals are predators that take advantage, especially, of young penguins, so I imagine they move in close to penguin colonies later in the season, after youngsters are entering the water. Crabeaters are very common all around Antarctica – near pack ice. (The official Oceanwide list of sightings of birds and mammals includes Crabeater Seal at Paradise Bay, but I know the people who reported it had misidentified the smaller of two Weddell Seals we had also seen. It also includes a sighting of Minke Whale, which none of us ever heard about). As we did the Zodiac cruise around the icebergs, a single Snow Petrel showed up, the first one we had seen since leaving the South Orkneys. It zipped behind me and I couldn’t turn around in the Zodiac, but I hollered for Denis, sitting across from me, to get photos, which he managed to do! I think it looks good for Greater Snow Petrel, which is a larger subspecies not definitely known to breed around the Antarctic Peninsula. The "Paradise Bay" video, below, includes Denis’s photos together with details about the two forms of Snow Petrel.

2 and 3 January were dedicated to crossing the Drake Passage on the return to Ushuaia. Birding-wise, it was a largely uneventful crossing. Early on 3 Jan, manning the starboard rails by myself, I saw a likely Kerguelen Petrel, but no photo because of the broken on/off switch on my camera (this was the worst mess-up caused by that broken switch, which I’ve been living with for about 3 years now). There were several Snowy and Southern Royal albatrosses to keep us company, and lots of Blue Petrels. As we neared the tip of South America on 3 January, both Wilson’s Storm-Petrels (likely “Fuegian”) and Sooty Shearwaters became common. Denis got decent photos of a Manx Shearwater, the only one of the trip. I saw a lifer mammal that, most unfortunately, did not resurface for others to see (or for me to photograph, darn it!) – a group of three Spectacled Porpoises (afternoon of 3 Jan). Weather had been good and seas calmer than average for the Drake, which was appreciated by most folks, particularly those who had been worried about the possibility of seasickness. On the evening of the 3rd, at the entrance to the Beagle Channel, Dusky Dolphins performed a series of spectacular leaps and breaches. There were lots of birds around and we were looking forward to trying to see more Magellanic Diving-Petrels and, who knows, maybe a Westland Petrel before we were all called to the Lounge for the recap and instructions for tomorrow’s arrival in Ushuaia. After dinner, and then up to the Lounge again, there was a joyous farewell party in which all of the Oceanwide staff and all of the Philippine hotel and restaurant staff were presented for hearty and well-deserved rounds of applause. On the morning of 4 Jan, docked at Ushuaia, payments of bar bills and then disembarkation was well-organized, with transportation arranged for passengers with immediate flights; those flying later in the day; and those staying at least one night in town.

In closing, I’ll add that I found Hondius to be a great ship for seabirding. There was always at least one spot fore or aft that was reasonably sheltered from the wind and with decent light, and the bow was excellent, being wide and just the right height (if you're taller than about 5'6", that is) above the waves for spotting and tracking seabirds, weather permitting. Everyone was happy with their cabins, and I’d like to voice accolades for the bathrooms, which were of necessity quite small but, boy, what a fabulous shower(!) and I appreciated the heated towel/drying rack, too. I roomed with three guys, a fine Irishman and two friendly Chinese fellows. Although nights were quite sonorous, I slept well enough, and it was probably a good thing I don’t speak Mandarin.

A huge THANK YOU to all of you for traveling to The Falkland Islands, South Georgia, & Antarctica with Field Guides. I greatly enjoyed being your guide! I apologize for not getting this triplist out to you sooner, and I hope you will enjoy reliving some of our experiences and fantastic sightings of birds and mammals, through the photos and videos below. Use the pause button to gain time to read captions and look at details in the photos. Big hugs to all,

— Bret

One of the following keys may be shown in brackets for individual species as appropriate: * = heard only, I = introduced, E = endemic, N = nesting, a = austral migrant, b = boreal migrant

Anatidae (Ducks, Geese, and Waterfowl)

BLACK-NECKED SWAN (Cygnus melancoryphus)

Just a couple of birds on one of the larger lakes in Tierra del Fuego National Park (hereafter TdF).

This compilation video takes us from our day at Tierra del Fuego National Park through Bahia Encerrada (Ushuaia area) and on to Hondius for the transit out the beagle Channel and into the south Atlantic, en route to the Falkland Islands. In order of appearance: Thorn-tailed Rayadito, Great Grebe with chicks, Magellanic Woodpecker, White-crested Elaenia, Tufted Tit-Tyrant, Fire-eyed Diucon, Austral Thrush, Ashy-headed Goose, Flightless Steamer-Duck, Flying Steamer-Duck, Upland Goose family, Magellanic Snipes, Patagonian Sierra-Finch, Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle, Chimango Caracara, Fin Whale, Southern Royal Albatross (an old adult in molt), Franklin’s Gulls, a seabird feeding aggregation (Great Shearwaters, at least one Sooty Shearwater, Black-browed Albatrosses, a couple of White-chinned Petrels, and Southern Giant-Petrels), Great Shearwaters running for take-off, White-chinned Petrel with Great Shearwater, White-chinned Petrel, Black-browed Albatross with Great Shearwater, Black-browed Albatrosses, and Southern Giant-Petrels at sunset. Video copyright Bret Whitney.

UPLAND GOOSE (Chloephaga picta)

The most abundant goose in the region, many pairs with chicks.

KELP GOOSE (Chloephaga hybrida)

Several nice sightings, including about 30 birds feeding on kelp at low tide, near the pier on Carcass Island (Falklands).

ASHY-HEADED GOOSE (Chloephaga poliocephala)

A few pairs around TdF

RUDDY-HEADED GOOSE (Chloephaga rubidiceps)

Just one pair, with two youngsters, near Port Stanley on the Falklands.

FLYING STEAMER-DUCK (Tachyeres patachonicus)

Excellent views at TdF, with the next species in view at the same time, for picture-perfect comparison ;-)

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Deb Vogt managed to snap this Crested Duck at just the right second!

FLIGHTLESS STEAMER-DUCK (Tachyeres pteneres)

Just two pairs, but seen beautifully through the scope.

FALKLAND STEAMER-DUCK (Tachyeres brachypterus)

Close views at Saunder's Island and near the dock at Port Stanley.

CRESTED DUCK (Lophonetta specularioides)

The most common duck, mostly around Ushuaia but also some on the Falklands.

RED SHOVELER (Spatula platalea)

A few in with other fowl at Bahia Encerrada, Ushuaia

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There weren't many approachable Red Shovelers around Ushuaia, but Deb Vogt somehow got close to this male to make a great shot.


Our visit to Grytviken whaling station was attended by several of these endemic ducks, only a few feet away.


Some around Ushuaia

YELLOW-BILLED TEAL (Anas flavirostris)

About a dozen birds in a flock on Carcass Island

Podicipedidae (Grebes)

WHITE-TUFTED GREBE (Rollandia rolland)

We spotted a pair nest-building near Port Stanley.

GREAT GREBE (Podiceps major)

A gorgeous bird with two downy chicks at TdF.

Columbidae (Pigeons and Doves)

ROCK PIGEON (Columba livia) [I]

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Snowy Sheathbills are the scavengers of the Antarctic zone, omnipresent at penguin colonies of all species. Deb Vogt nailed this one perfectly in flight.
Chionidae (Sheathbills)

SNOWY SHEATHBILL (Chionis albus)

We saw one gathering nest material and taking it into a clump of tussock grass about 5 meters above the surf line at St. Andrews Bay on South Georgia, which was exciting to see, but our best views were at the Gentoo Penguin colonies along the Antarctic Peninsula.

Haematopodidae (Oystercatchers)


Just a couple at TdF and one at Ushuaia

MAGELLANIC OYSTERCATCHER (Haematopus leucopodus)

Many more of these, including one incubating a clutch of two eggs just above the sandy beach landing on Carcass Island.

Charadriidae (Plovers and Lapwings)


We finally found a small number of birds near the Port Stanley airport, including a pair that surely had a nest nearby -- gorgeous birds!

SOUTHERN LAPWING (Vanellus chilensis)

Fairly common around TdF and Ushuaia

TWO-BANDED PLOVER (Anarhynchus falklandicus)

Excellent around Port Stanley

Our two glorious days on the Falklands, with visits to Carcass and Saunder’s islands, wrapping up with a memorable morning at the capital, Port Stanley, are documented in this brief video. In order of appearance: Magellanic Penguins, White-bridled Finch (formerly Black-throated Finch), Kelp Geese (female then male), Striated Caracara (adult), Magellanic Penguin at nest burrow on Saunder’s Island, Rockhopper Penguin breeding colony, Brown (Antarctic) Skua above Imperial Cormorant breeding colony, Rockhopper Penguins and Black-browed Albatross breeding colonies, Commerson’s Dolphins playing in the surf, Gentoo Penguins with chicks, Dolphin Gulls looking stunning, Rockhopper and Gentoo penguins porpoising in on a rising tide, Southern Sea Lions loafing on the dock at Port Stanley, and a family of endemic Falklands Steamer-Ducks. Video copyright Bret Whitney.
Scolopacidae (Sandpipers and Allies)

MAGELLANIC SNIPE (Gallinago magellanica)

We heard one calling in the stiff, cold wind at Bahia Encerrada and eventually tracked it down to eventually have it practically at our feet -- where there were two! Also seen up close on Carcass Island.

Stercorariidae (Skuas and Jaegers)

CHILEAN SKUA (Stercorarius chilensis)

A small number along the Beagle Channel and a short distance offshore.

BROWN SKUA (SUBANTARCTIC) (Stercorarius antarcticus lonnbergi)

This was the prominent skua from South Georgia to the Antarctic Peninsula, along which it interbreeds with South Polar Skua, muddying the picture.

BROWN SKUA (FALKLAND) (Stercorarius antarcticus antarcticus)

Around the Falklands

SOUTH POLAR SKUA (Stercorarius maccormicki)

It took us a while to come up with a classic, pale South Polar Skua, with distinctly blond hackles due to significant interbreeding, and back-crossing of hybrids, mostly along the Antarctic Peninsula. In the end, we did see several "typical" individuals.

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Skuas were common on our voyage, but putting names on individual birds was vexing. This one is a classic Brown (Antarctic) Skua on the Antarctic Peninsula, where there is extensive, documented interbreeding with South Polar Skua. Indeed, many birds we saw appeared to be intermediates, at least by plumage. Photo by Bret Whitney
Laridae (Gulls, Terns, and Skimmers)

BROWN-HOODED GULL (Chroicocephalus maculipennis)

Just a couple, Ushuaia and Saunder's Island

DOLPHIN GULL (Leucophaeus scoresbii)

These elegant gulls were often around us, with especially good light on them along the (windy!) beach at Saunder's Island.

FRANKLIN'S GULL (Leucophaeus pipixcan)

A flock of 7 ripping low over the water, headed straight toward the Falklands, on 18 December, our first morning on the open ocean. Considering the record-breaking global warmth through 2023, compounded by El Niño wrecking the Humboldt Current off Chile, I imagine these Franklin's Gulls were induced to seek alternate feeding grounds. Although there exist a handful of recent records of single birds at the Falklands and around Ushuaia, our record appears to be the first from the open South Atlantic.

KELP GULL (Larus dominicanus)

Common, even in the bays of the Antarctic Peninsula.

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Brown-hooded Gull at Ushuaia, by Deb Vogt

SOUTH AMERICAN TERN (Sterna hirundinacea)

These elegant birds were common around Ushuaia, but the feeding congregation of hundreds we saw just inside the entrance to the Beagle Channel on 3 January was staggering.

ANTARCTIC TERN (Sterna vittata)

Common from South Georgia through Antarctica, but no really big numbers anywhere. We saw a very small chick at Grytviken, and also adults feeding much larger, recently fledged juveniles at Paradise Bay. We were on the lookout for Arctic Terns every day, but the very few birds we saw and photographed in non-breeding plumages appeared to be subadult Antarctic Terns in molt.

This video revisits our activities on and around South Georgia, where we were permitted to land only at the Grytviken whaling station. In order of appearance: Snowy (Wandering) Albatross adult (dorsal and ventral) and 1st-cycle (head-on and ventral), Black-bellied Storm-Petrel foot-dragging, Antarctic Tern juvenile, Antarctic Fur Seals at sea, Southern Bottlenose Whale, Southern Elephant Seals sun-bathing at Grytviken, Antarctic Fur Seals by an old rusty whaler, back to a couple of pretty cute, young Southern Elephant Seals, other Elephant Seals scratching themselves, showing their remarkably “hand-like” flippers, Macaroni Penguins on a wet Zodiac cruise at Hercules Bay, restless South Georgia seas, male King Penguins (all long bills) with Antarctic Fur Seals at Fortuna Bay, South Georgia Shag colony, leucistic (“blond”) bull Antarctic Fur Seal, White-chinned Petrels, my Quad room on Level 3 of Hondius, Light-mantled Albatrosses over breeding cliffs, King Penguin colony at St. Andrew’s Bay, Zodiacs (and a Kelp Gull) with Hondius beneath a full moon on Christmas evening. Video copyright Bret Whitney.
Spheniscidae (Penguins)

KING PENGUIN (Aptenodytes patagonicus)

We saw our first, several pairs at very close range on Saunder's Island (Falklands), and also our first "Oakum Boy" downy-brown juveniles there. Then, on South Georgia, we visited two breeding colonies, seeing dozens of birds wading into the surf and bobbing in the waves around our Zodiac at Fortuna Bay. That same afternoon, quite late in the day, we arrived at the largest colony of King Penguins anywhere, at St. Andrews Bay. There we saw tens of thousands from the surf line all the way back into the grassy slopes, truly amazing. The full moon crested over the South Atlantic as we made our way back to Hondius, and our farewell to South Georgia.

EMPEROR PENGUIN (Aptenodytes forsteri)

Words cannot do justice.... hang on, just go to the video! >>>

Seeing an Emperor Penguin away from a breeding site is a very rare event, but we were incredibly fortunate to not only see this Emperor, but to get fairly close to it as it rested on an iceberg in the bay just off Cuverville Island. It was an adult bird, perhaps just shy of its highest breeding color, and the short bill may indicate that it was a female (both sexes have much shorter bills than the closely related King Penguin). Head-nodding and shaking supposedly serves to dislodge salty brine from the nasal passages, and the barbed tongue serves to hold on to slippery prey before swallowing. The Emperor Penguin was found by our birding friend from France, Hervê Thêbault, during a Zodiac cruise not far from Hondius while our group was ashore at Cuverville. Thanks so much, Hervê! And thanks to Denis Corbeil for his shots of the bird in the water, which serve as excellent training for the low-riding Emperor search image. Video copyright Bret Whitney.

ADELIE PENGUIN (Pygoscelis adeliae)

We visited the Shingle Beach colony on Coronation Island in the remote South Orkneys on a snowy, slippery day. Oddly, I thought, only about 25% of the pairs had chicks, which looked to be about 10 days old. We saw no pairs with eggs. Thus, the colony did not appear to be doing especially well... I hope I'm wrong about that!

GENTOO PENGUIN (Pygoscelis papua)

Gentoos have been experiencing something of a population boom, at least along the Antarctic Peninsula, as ever-warmer summers have led to diminished snow cover around breeding areas, making more land available. They were doing quite well at the three breeding sites we visited (mainly Danco and Cuverville Islands). Most pairs were still on eggs, but we saw a few chicks as well. A small colony on Saunder's Island in the Falklands had half-grown youngsters.

CHINSTRAP PENGUIN (Pygoscelis antarcticus)

Landings at Chinstrap colonies were among the most memorable of the tour, as we saw more of them at very close range, sometimes crossing paths with us only a few meters away. Their colonies were also probably the loudest, with many pairs performing their "ecstatic" displays. We saw lots of downy gray chicks at Penguin Island in the South Shetlands, but pairs at Two Hummocks, not far away, were mostly still on eggs.

MAGELLANIC PENGUIN (Spheniscus magellanicus)

These burrow-nesting penguins were most numerous on the Falklands.

MACARONI PENGUIN (Eudyptes chrysolophus)

Although we spotted Macaronis at sea around South Georgia, we managed to get close views of some only once, at Hercules Bay. That was a rather rough Zodiac "cruise", in a snowfall that soon turned to rain, but we did get close to a bunch of Macaronis on wave-washed rocks.

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Adelies were in high gear at their colony at Shingle Beach on Coronation Island in the South Orkneys. Photo by Deb Vogt.


Saunder's Island was the place for the Rockhoppers! Wow, they were really going at it on a lovely, sunny afternoon, bounding around and performing "ecstatic" displays, some with week-old chicks, others still on eggs. It was a raucous, wild-eyed scene!

Diomedeidae (Albatrosses)

SOUTHERN ROYAL ALBATROSS (Diomedea epomophora)

We picked up our first of these huge albatrosses en route to the Falklands and out the other side, and then more as we made our way north through the Drake Passage. Every age cohort, from first-cycle through to old adult showed up at one time or another. The youngest birds look very much like Northern Royal Albatrosses, and I think they are often misidentified as that species, so it's best to make photos of any suspected of being Northerns; photos, even quite distant, will likely be identifiable to species: look for a dark leading edge to the wing.

SNOWY ALBATROSS (Diomedea exulans)

This is the "updated" name for the Wandering Albatross population occurring in our area. We didn't see many, and most were 1-2 year-olds. We saw not a single one in/around South Georgia! That is amazing, but is explained by the fact that we cruised past the entire northern half of South Georgia, where most of the Wanderers breed, at night so as to anchor off Grytviken to make the biosecurity clearance. Still, I was quite surprised to see NONE around South Georgia.

26 and 27 December found us navigating the Scotia Sea en route to the South Orkney Islands, and Elephant Island. In order of appearance: Cape Petrels, Light-mantled Albatrosses (blotchy ones are subadults), Humpback Whales, Orcas, Snow Petrels (Lesser), Adelie Penguin colony on Coronation Island at Shingle Beach, Brown (Antarctic) Skua with Adelie Penguin, Snow Petrel landing on nest cliff, A23a Iceberg, Cape Petrels and Southern Fulmars, Cape Petrel over Elephant Island, Southern Fulmar, Light-mantled Albatross with Cape Petrels and an Antarctic Prion. Video copyright Bret Whitney.

LIGHT-MANTLED ALBATROSS (Phoebetria palpebrata)

These handsome, long-tailed albatrosses were with us frequently through South Georgia and the Scotia Sea. We saw them wheeling against the snowy mountains, where they breed on tussock-covered cliff faces. It was also fascinating to see at least three birds in first/second-cycle plumages, wherein the head is mostly dark but the body is conspicuously blotched with brown and gray, which I had never seen before.

GRAY-HEADED ALBATROSS (Thalassarche chrysostoma)

Although South Georgia is a breeding stronghold of Gray-headed Albatross, we saw very few of them there, and probably only about 15 on the rest of the voyage. However, some of the ones we saw -- all of which were adults -- provided fabulous views!

BLACK-BROWED ALBATROSS (BLACK-BROWED) (Thalassarche melanophris melanophris)

These bold albatrosses were with us from early in our passage through the Beagle Channel to the last day of the voyage, often following the ship for extended periods. The big breeding colony on Saunder's Island, mixed in with the Rockhopper Penguins, was fascinating to watch. Many pairs were engaged in elaborate, bobbing and wailing courtship displays, while others just a neck-stretch away were already on fluffy white chicks. Be sure to check out the video here in the triplist. A week later, as we tracked along the enormous A23a Iceberg, there were lots of Black-browed Albatrosses on the water, probably doing most of their feeding very early and late in the day.

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Some pairs of Black-browed Albatrosses at the big colony on Carcass Island in the Falklands were at the height of courtship and pair-bonding, as was this pair, while others just a few feet away were attending week-old, fluffy white chicks. What a fabulous experience it was to be in the presence of these gorgeous birds only a few yards away. Photo by Bret Whitney.
Oceanitidae (Southern Storm-Petrels)

WILSON'S STORM-PETREL (Oceanites oceanicus)

Another near-constant companion at sea, and we got to see a few going to nest in rockpiles at Paradise Bay. Big numbers around the tip of South America were probably almost all of the local breeding subspecies chilensis ("Fuegian" Storm-Petrel).


We tallied only about 4 of these small storm-petrels, between the Falklands and South Georgia. Those out on deck saw at least one of them well, but I didn't have time to try for a photo.

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Handsome Black-bellied Storm-Petrels were present on many days after we departed the Falklands. Photo by Bret Whitney.


Good numbers of this beautiful storm-petrel, especially just north, and just south of South Georgia. We were able to see, and even get a little video of, the characteristic "foot-dragging" behavior so characteristic of this species. I really do not understand what is going on with that, as the head of the bird is always out in front of the dragging point such that the bird cannot possibly see a prey item. I doubt they are randomly dragging the surface, or visually selecting spots to drag, because they never show any reaction, such as a quick retrace of the route to try to seize a prey item that might have been revealed by the foot-drag. Everything I can think of lands on the side of "maladaptive," so it's a really interesting question (because birds do not regularly, "habitually", do maladaptive things)! I haven't looked around on the 'net to see if others have figured it out, or expessed theories...

Procellariidae (Shearwaters and Petrels)

SOUTHERN GIANT-PETREL (Macronectes giganteus)

Muchos, right out of Ushuaia and just about every hour of every day thereafter, with biggest numbers around South Georgia, where they breed abundantly.

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Southern Giant-Petrel, with its pale-tipped bill -- what a capture by Deb Vogt!

NORTHERN GIANT-PETREL (Macronectes halli)

Smaller numbers, for sure, but also common around South Georgia breeding grounds.

SOUTHERN FULMAR (Fulmarus glacialoides)

This southern, cold-water tubenose was present from nearing the Orkneys through Antarctic waters, with a few landing on nest sites on high cliffs at Paradise Bay. There were several small rafts of them (100+ birds) around Iceberg A23a.

CAPE PETREL (ANTARCTIC) (Daption capense capense)

We picked up a single bird before reaching the Falklands, then none until nearing South Georgia. From there south, they were near-constant compañeros, with especially large numbers around Iceberg A23a. We saw several birds on nests (narrow ledges on steep cliff faces) at Paradise Bay.

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Lesser Snow Petrel on Coronation Island, South Orkneys, an absolutely spectacular image by Deb Vogt!

SNOW PETREL (Pagodroma nivea)

Our first of these wonderful birds appeared at South Georgia, where there is a breeding population, and we encountered many more as we approached the South Orkney Islands, including a flock of 41 flying low over the water about 1 km offshore from Coronation Island. On the island, Deb got photos of a bird at its nest site in a rock pile right above the surf line, and I made video of a bird circling a high cliff and landing at its nest site. HBW Vol 1 (1992), family Procellariidae by Juan Varela says of Snow Petrel: “The Snow Petrel has two subspecies differing markedly in size; they breed sympatrically in places, and it has frequently been proposed that they be treated as separate species, but it seems probable that the two evolved in partial isolation, and have never become sufficiently distinct.” This HBW volume calls the large subspecies P. n. confusa Matthews (1912), which appears to me to be a valid name (whether or not it is a synonym), although P. n. major (Bonaparte 1857), a nomen nudum, has sometimes been applied, most prominently by Harrison et al. (2021) "Seabirds, The New Identification Guide". One theory of the evolution of two forms of the Snow Petrel, which I consider highly plausible, is that, during the last Ice Age, there was no breeding area available on the Antarctic Continent. With subsequent warming of the climate, rock became exposed and birds from two geographically separate refugia (islands that had had open rock for breeding sites) colonized parts of the continent, a small one from lower latitudes, and a larger bird from higher latitudes, which are now possibly interbreeding. I say “possibly” because, at several of the localities investigated, it appears the data were skewed by failure to account for significant size differences between the sexes. Check out the "Paradise Bay" video, with comments.

GREATER SNOW PETREL (Pagodroma nivea confusa)

What's that? Well, it's a bit complicated, but take a look at the "Paradise Bay" video for some explanation. The upshot is, I feel pretty confident we saw one.

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Lesser Snow Petrel at entrance to its nest site on Coronation Island. Photo by Deb Vogt.

KERGUELEN PETREL (Aphrodroma brevirostris)

Early on 2 January, as we made our way through the Drake passage, I saw a Kerguelen Petrel rather poorly, but identifiably. I wasn't able to get my camera on and up for a photo, and no one from our group was there with me, anyway. I see the ship's birdlist includes another sighting, by Oceanwide ornithologist Simon Davies, but I never even heard about it.

SOFT-PLUMAGED PETREL (Pterodroma mollis)

Probably around 60 birds seen on the first day south out of the Falklands (21 Dec), but not a one thereafter. I wish I had made an effort to get photos, but I kept imagining we would get them much closer at some point...

BLUE PETREL (Halobaena caerulea)

This was a great voyage for Blue Petrels, one of the most ID-friendly of all of the tubenoses we met. However, there was one bird that registered "off the charts" in appearance, which I included in the "Blue Petrel" video -- a really interesting bird, I reckon!

Blue Petrel is a highly distinctive, somewhat prion-like, circum-polar, monotypic genus (Halobaena) and species, easily recognized at sea. Here are photos of 6 different Blue Petrels from our voyage, some of which are represented by more than one shot, to give an indication of the range of expected individual variation. This variation may be due to any number of factors, but age of the bird and state of feather wear, or oxidation by the sun, are important potential contributors. At the end of the lineup are three photos of a bird (#7) that caught my eye on 22 December, as we were about ¾ of the way between the Falklands and South Georgia. This strange Halobaena struck me as relatively small, short-winged, and short-billed -- and bill with conspicuous pale bluish basal portion (not appearing essentially all black). The plumage is also unusual (although basic Halobaena pattern is evident): nothing black, all pale gray through normally blackish areas of head (cap looks to be slightly darker) and sides of breast, and anterior orbital region is white or only very narrowly grayish. In photos #7b and 7c, the primaries look somewhat worn, maybe also upperwing coverts, but rectricies look relatively unworn. In any event, we cannot attribute this overall lack of black feathering through the head and chest to even unusually heavy wear or oxidation. Looking through a couple of hundred photos in Macaulay Library, the only one that looks somewhat like this bird (ML479356171) was photographed in Oct 2011 at the nest on Diego Ramirez, where thousands (some estimates say millions) breed. In particular, the bill looks similarly small and somewhat bluish, and there is very little black in the dark feathering of the head; sides of breast entirely pale grayish. Back to the bird I photographed, I can almost imagine a leucistic individual appearing similarly grayish (no typical, black feathering due to reduced but not total lack of melanin), but together with the above impressions of structure, if indeed real, things do not add up (and the date is too early for a juvenile to be on the wing, and with slightly worn plumage, so this bird is probably at least 10-15 months old). On the other hand, Halobaena is remarkably wide-ranging yet monotypic, which is unusual for a procellariid... It's worth bearing in mind that island populations of birds, certainly including highly vagile species of seabirds, may be of radically different ages, and may have experienced quite different histories and degrees of isolation. Factors like small population size and female choice work to accelerate and fix differentiation, especially on islands. Still, as time goes on, small populations on islands may experience greater vulnerability to "damage and diminution", whether it be geologic, climatic, resource-based, or through competition (for some examples, not to mention introduction of predators). Observing individual birds well outside the expected, indeed well-documented range of variation for a common species is always fascinating. It will almost always be the case that the unusual bird is just a rare variant, or perhaps a hybrid or back-cross, that is, nonetheless, a true outlier -- which we can judge especially well when we can examine a robust sample of normal individuals from the same geographic region and habitat. However, when we do observe such rare individuals, we should pay close attention, avoid making assumptions, and remain on the lookout for more. Video copyright Bret Whitney.

FAIRY PRION (Pachyptila turtur)

Two birds were in the Antarctic Prion melee off South Georgia early morning on Christmas Eve. One of them shows well in the "Prions" video here.

BROAD-BILLED PRION (Pachyptila vittata)

On 22 December, I photographed a single bird ripping past the bow of the ship that I expected to be an Antarctic Prion, but looking at my photo (only one, unfortunately), the bill seems outside the range of variation for Antarctic, and I think it may have been either a Broad-billed or a MacGillivray's Prion. Check it out at the end of the "Prions" instructional ID video.

Prions (genus Pachyptila) are beautiful, blue-gray-and-white, petrel-like seabirds endemic to the southern oceans, breeding on subantarctic and Antarctic islands in huge colonies, nesting in burrows or rock piles. At sea, they fly low and fast, twisting and turning dynamically in the wind, sometimes in flocks of hundreds to thousands. Only two of the (at least) seven species of prions are common or abundant in the area of our voyage: Slender-billed (northern seas, south toward South Georgia) and Antarctic (South Georgia region through the Scotia Sea to Antarctica). A third species, Fairy Prion, is regular around South Georgia, where it has a breeding population, but it is rarely well documented in surrounding waters. A couple of other species, Broad-billed and MacGillivray’s Prions, breed at Gough Island in the south Atlantic, some 1800 miles to the northeast, and may be reasonably expected to show up at least occasionally; acceptance of any suspected occurrence would require good photographic documentation. At-sea identification of prions is generally considered the most complicated ID challenge in all of seabirding. Here’s my take on how best to wrap your head around it. At the outset, keep firmly in mind that you will be dealing with quite a bit of subtle and confusing individual variation -- but rest assured that, as you continue to look carefully at, and photograph(!), dozens of birds (the more, the merrier), the range of this variation will take on limits. I suggest, as a rule (contrary to what the books tell us), concentrating attention on 1) size of the bird, usually naked-eye, before your bin’s are up; 2) bill thickness at the midpoint; 3) bill length; and 4), in only a supporting role, “face-pattern,” meaning the degree of crown/mantle and eyeline/supercilium contrast, and thickness of the eyeline toward the posterior edge. At least in the Falklands/South Georgia/Scotia Sea region -- the rest of the bird, above and below, is a wash, nothing diagnostic, or even consistently helpful for species ID beyond the dark tailtip of Fairy averaging more extensive than others’ in dorsal view. In sum: don’t waste time fretting about much behind the head – and study those photos! Now, here’s a brief (3 minutes) Falklands-South Georgia-Scotia Sea prion-ID video using imagery from our trip. Hit the pause button liberally (which is something you do with your camera while out on the decks)! Video copyright Bret Whitney.

ANTARCTIC PRION (Pachyptila desolata)

From South Georgia through the Scotia Sea and South Shetlands, Antarctic Prions were omnipresent, although seldom in concentrations. Whenever you are presented with a massive sample like that, it pays to study many individuals to gain a good level of confidence in the range of variation.

SLENDER-BILLED PRION (Pachyptila belcheri)

Big numbers heading into the Falklands, but relatively many fewer around the islands, with slightly higher numbers again as we headed away, toward South Georgia. I suspect that this abundant breeder on the Falklands had not come in to occupy the islands by mid-December.

WHITE-CHINNED PETREL (Procellaria aequinoctialis)

We started picking up White-chinned Petrels about 1/3 of the way east toward the Falklands, and had them with us regularly, in small numbers, every day except right along the Antarctic Peninsula. South Georgia is a breeding area, and we had flocks of a dozen or so several times there. Our chance for finding a Westland Petrel, a New Zealand breeder that passes its non-breeding season (about Nov-Mar) around the tip of South America, was highly limited by our going through the best areas in the hours of darkness.

GREAT SHEARWATER (Ardenna gravis)

We saw many en route to the Falklands, but few thereafter. We had just a couple in the Drake as we neared the continent on 3 January.

Compared to the prions, with all their confusing individual plumage variation, at-sea ID of diving-petrels (genus Pelecanoides) is complicated more by physics and the birds’ behavior: you are on a rolling, pitching platform trying to keep your eye on a tiny, dark target in buzzing flight inches above the water (thus often disappearing behind waves) as it is (at least 50% of the time) going straight away from you -- for a grand total of seldom more than about 4 seconds. The result, over and over, is, of necessity, “diving-petrel sp.”. Happily, it’s not always this awful. Sometimes, we are lucky enough to spot one or more diving-petrels on the water ahead of the ship, or zipping by the bow in good light, and at least one of us gets photos. Now, assuming we can see the head and bill reasonably well, it’s a cinch! In fact, almost all decent photos of diving-petrels on our tour route showing the front half of the bird will be identifiable to one of the three currently recognized species breeding in the area: Magellanic (close to the continent); Common (Falklands area through South Georgia and well south and west into the Scotia Sea); and South Georgia (around South Georgia and within a half day or so north and, especially, south). Unfortunately, the seabird field guides currently on the market do not focus attention on the most salient characters, and even contain some misleading information. Take a look at this summary compilation of photos from our voyage, with some ID pointers included. Video copyright Bret Whitney.

SOOTY SHEARWATER (Ardenna grisea)

Not quite as numerous as Great Shearwaters on the passage to the Falklands, but there were hundreds passing steadily (no flocking, no arcing or feeding) NW to SE in the Drake as we neared the continent.

MANX SHEARWATER (Puffinus puffinus)

Denis got photos of a single bird on 3 January, the only one for our trip.

COMMON DIVING-PETREL (Pelecanoides urinatrix)

Several seen as we approached the Falklands and in waters around the islands and toward South Georgia, with more there and, especially, just south into the Scotia Sea. A few individuals were spotted early enough, and in fairly good light, to permit good photos. Check out the brief video with ID pointers.

SOUTH GEORGIA DIVING-PETREL (Pelecanoides georgicus)

This distinctive little diving-petrel was described to science by Murphy and Harper (1916). It breeds in abundance on South Georgia, and may be expected to increase its population as the now-complete elimination of predatory, introduced rats continues to have very positive effects. We saw them well several times and managed some good photos, which are included in the brief video of ID pointers. In sum, this species is much smaller than, and has a much slighter bill, than the sympatric Common Diving-Petrel; structural characters such as these are diagnostic and much more useful than are the various purported plumage features, all of which are subject to variable amounts of wear and problematic lighting conditions (and underwings are practically useless in any context).

MAGELLANIC DIVING-PETREL (Pelecanoides magellani)

Deb Vogt got a photo of this highly distinctive diving-petrel as we headed toward the Falklands on 18 December, which turned out to be the only one of the voyage!

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Magellanic Cormorant in high breeding dress. This one was previously called Rock Cormorant. Deb Vogt got this shot of a bird foraging in the shallows at Bahia Encerrada, very near our hote in Ushuaia.
Phalacrocoracidae (Cormorants and Shags)

NEOTROPIC CORMORANT (Nannopterum brasilianum)

One at TdF

MAGELLANIC CORMORANT (Leucocarbo magellanicus)

Not many of these small, slim cormorants were seen (Ushuaia/TdF and Falklands), but we did have a few individuals at close range that provided good looks. Formerly known as Rock Cormorant/Shag.

SOUTH GEORGIA SHAG (Leucocarbo georgianus)

Common breeder through coastal South Georgia. We saw some of their nesting colonies on steep, tussock-grass slopes. Interesting, I thought, was the age of their young, most of which were quite large and downy -- which indicated quite an early start in the far-southern breeding season.

29 December: We were able to make a productive landing in the South Shetlands and then, later that day, to set foot on the Antarctic continent! Here’s the play-by-play, in order of appearance: a colony of Chinstrap Penguins with young on Penguin Island (a satellite of King George Island), our landing on the continent of Antarctica at Portal Point, the Chinstrap colony at two Hummocks Island, lots of them doing “ecstatic” displays, and Antarctic Shags there as well. Video copyright Bret Whitney.

IMPERIAL CORMORANT (Leucocarbo atriceps atriceps)

We had scope views of a few of these in TdF and around Ushuaia.

IMPERIAL CORMORANT (Leucocarbo atriceps albiventer)

This is the form we saw on the Falklands.

ANTARCTIC SHAG (Leucocarbo bransfieldensis)

Lots around the Antarctic Peninsula, with impressive breeding colonies at Two Hummocks and Paradise Bay. As noted for the South Georgia birds, these also had large, downy youngsters.

Ardeidae (Herons, Egrets, and Bitterns)

BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT HERON (Nycticorax nycticorax)

A few around the bays at Ushuaia.

Threskiornithidae (Ibises and Spoonbills)

BLACK-FACED IBIS (Theristicus melanopis)

Honking-good views of a pair that came in to land on the grassy flats near us at TdF National Park.

Cathartidae (New World Vultures)

ANDEAN CONDOR (Vultur gryphus)

Most unfortunately, the only one we saw, or tried to see(!) was very far away against a mountainside at TdF, so just a speck. It landed, and I put the scope on it, but it just was not visible for folks! Don't worry, Shelly, you WILL see an Andean Condor one of the high-Andean days in your birding future, I know it!


This is the distinctive subspecies occupying far southern South America. It lacks the pale nuchal collar of the next form to the north, C. a. ruficollis, and the color of the head is also slightly more carmine-red. The Falkland birds were named as an endemic subspecies (C. a. falklandica), which has recently been synonymized with jota. A couple of the Falklands birds we saw had bands and tags.

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Excellent photo of an adult Striated Caracara on Carcass Island, by Deb Vogt.
Accipitridae (Hawks, Eagles, and Kites)

BLACK-CHESTED BUZZARD-EAGLE (Geranoaetus melanoleucus)

At least six individuals at the municipal dump at Ushuaia, only one of which was an adult.

Picidae (Woodpeckers)

MAGELLANIC WOODPECKER (Campephilus magellanicus)

Wow! Tremendous views of two females, and brief views of an adult male at TdF National Park. That made for a really exciting start to our tour!

Falconidae (Falcons and Caracaras)

CRESTED CARACARA (SOUTHERN) (Caracara plancus plancus)

Just a couple in the TdF/Ushuaia area.

CHIMANGO CARACARA (Daptrius chimango)

Many more of these small, austral caracaras.

WHITE-THROATED CARACARA (Daptrius albogularis)

This far southern species is relatively scarce, but the Ushuaia dump is very reliable for it, and we saw 17 birds there.

STRIATED CARACARA (Daptrius australis)

The "Johnny Rook" ranks among the rarest raptors in the world. We saw a few adults and a few more immature birds, mostly on Carcass Island.

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Now THAT is a thorny-tailed Thorn-tailed Rayadito! What a great shot by Deb Vogt :-)
Psittacidae (New World and African Parrots)

AUSTRAL PARAKEET (Enicognathus ferrugineus)

Just a few fly-bys around Ushuaia.

Furnariidae (Ovenbirds and Woodcreepers)

WHITE-THROATED TREERUNNER (Pygarrhichas albogularis)

Only a couple of these distinctive ovenbirds (family Furnariidae), but seen well at TdF National Park.

BUFF-WINGED CINCLODES (Cinclodes fuscus)

Only one bird, out near the dunes east of Ushuaia

BLACKISH CINCLODES (Cinclodes antarcticus)

The famous "Tussock Bird" of the Falklands. I estimated 70 individuals along our morning hike at Carcass Island.

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There are usually a few Dark-bellied Cinclodes to be found around the borders of Bahia Encerrada, which is where Deb Vogt made this fine photo.

DARK-BELLIED CINCLODES (Cinclodes patagonicus)

A couple of birds spotted along the bay edge at Ushuaia.

THORN-TAILED RAYADITO (Aphrastura spinicauda)

We saw two nests in TdF National Park, thanks to our local guide, Marcelo, who knew the spots.

Tyrannidae (Tyrant Flycatchers)

TUFTED TIT-TYRANT (Anairetes parulus)

Wonderful, up-close encounter with a pair of these spritely flycatchers at TdF.

WHITE-CRESTED ELAENIA (CHILEAN) (Elaenia albiceps chilensis)

Several fine views at TdF. This is certainly among the most distinctive species of the large genus Elaenia.

AUSTRAL NEGRITO (Lessonia rufa)

It took us a good while, but we finally located one in the dunes east of Ushuaia.

Field Guides Birding Tours
Thanks to Deb Vogt for getting this nice shot of a Cobb's Wren on Carcass Island, because we didn't have much time to go for it!

OCHRE-NAPED GROUND-TYRANT (Muscisaxicola flavinucha)

We scoped at least two birds in the grassy flats on the way to Lapataia Bay at TdF.

DARK-FACED GROUND-TYRANT (Muscisaxicola maclovianus)

This smaller ground-tyrant was more numerous at TdF, and we also saw a couple on the windswept beaches at Saunder's Island in the Falklands.

FIRE-EYED DIUCON (Pyrope pyrope)

Great, red-eyed stares at TdF.

Hirundinidae (Swallows)

CHILEAN SWALLOW (Tachycineta leucopyga)

Small numbers of these Tree Swallow-like birds at tdF.

Troglodytidae (Wrens)

HOUSE WREN (Troglodytes aedon)


COBB'S WREN (Troglodytes cobbi)

This Falklands endemic is a highly distinctive, geographically isolated member of the widespread House Wren complex that has (finally!) been elevated to species level. After failing to dig one up right after getting off the Zodiacs at Carcass Island (our group was scattered hither and yon there), it looked like we might actually miss seeing a Cobb's Wren - an unthinkable outcome! At the veritable last minute before our Zodiac departure from the pier, I begged the Oceanwide guide to give me 5 minutes to dash down the rocky beach to scour a couple of stacks of driftwood for the wren, and he allowed it, begrudgingly. Sure enough, a pair of wrens popped up, and, after yet more imploring, we were all permitted a brief foray to see the wrens. We came away with fabulous views (of course, they behave beautifully), and Deb Vogt contributed this superb shot of one of the pair. Ours was a joyful Zodiac ride back to the mothership!

GRASS WREN (AUSTRAL) (Cistothorus platensis hornensis)

We had nice views of these rather secretive little wrens out of Port Stanley.

Field Guides Birding Tours
Due to lack of landing opportunities on South Georgia, this was our best view of the endemic South Georgia Pipit, nicely documented by Deb Vogt.
Turdidae (Thrushes and Allies)

AUSTRAL THRUSH (MAGELLAN) (Turdus falcklandii magellanicus)

This is the very robin-like thrush that greeted us at TdF National Park.

AUSTRAL THRUSH (FALKLAND) (Turdus falcklandii falcklandii)

This subspecies was quite in evidence on our Falkland Islands stops.

Passeridae (Old World Sparrows)

HOUSE SPARROW (Passer domesticus) [I]

yep, Ushuaia and Falklands

Motacillidae (Wagtails and Pipits)

CORRENDERA PIPIT (Anthus correndera)

Close views out of Port Stanley on the Falklands.

SOUTH GEORGIA PIPIT (Anthus antarcticus)

The lack of landings on South Georgia was to blame for our not seeing these pipits "up close and personal", as they are now very common, having experienced a resurgence from near-extirpation during 100+ years of "rat wars". Still, we did see a bird performing its long-enduring flight display over a low cliff at St. Andrew's Bay, and a couple of others on rocks at Hercules Bay and the beach at Husvik Harbor, where Deb Vogt managed to get a nice photo from our bouncing Zodiac.

Field Guides Birding Tours
Long-tailed Meadowlark, a fine adult male gathering food to take to its nest near Ushuaia. Photo by Deb Vogt.
Fringillidae (Finches, Euphonias, and Allies)

BLACK-CHINNED SISKIN (Spinus barbatus)

A few around Ushuaia and TdF.

Passerellidae (New World Sparrows)

RUFOUS-COLLARED SPARROW (Zonotrichia capensis)

Muchos, in lively song, before we departed Ushuaia.

Icteridae (Troupials and Allies)


Excellent views of a few birds at our stop east of Ushuaia, near the Playa Larga Reserve.

Thraupidae (Tanagers and Allies)

PATAGONIAN SIERRA FINCH (Phrygilus patagonicus)

Also seen best at Playa Larga, where a couple of bright, singing males put on a fine show.

WHITE-BRIDLED FINCH (Melanodera melanodera)

Our best views of this beautiful finch came on the Falklands, at Carcass Island and then also around Port Stanley.

New Year’s Eve was a remarkably warm, sunny day on the Antarctic Peninsula! In order of appearance: Humpback Whales, Gentoo (and one Chinstrap) Penguins porpoising, Gentoo Penguins on Danco Island, Snowy Sheathbills among the Gentoos, Brown (Antarctic) Skua on a dead Gentoo Penguin, Gentoo colony on Cuverville Island. Gentoos along the Antarctic Peninsula have been increasing in numbers over the past couple of decades as breeding sites have increased in size due to melting of snow cover. Video copyright Bret Whitney.


OLD WORLD RABBIT (Oryctolagus cuniculus) [I]

We saw one going over a ridge near Port Stanley.

DUSKY DOLPHIN (Lagenorhynchus obscurus)

We saw a group of four at great distance as we headed out of the Beagle Channel on the evening of 17 December, but on our return trip up the Beagle, a larger group of Dusky Dolphins put on a great show, with some of them performing really high breaches! Check out the video ;-)

PEALE'S DOLPHIN (Lagenorhynchus australis)

Seen briefly a couple of times, best on our first day in the Falklands.

COMMERSON'S DOLPHIN (Cephalorhynchus commersonii)

Fantastic, prolonged views of at least 7 animals playing in the surf below the cliffs on Saunder's Island in the Falklands -- video attached here!

ORCA (Orcinus orca)

A few of us out on the decks early on 27 December as we crossed the Scotia Sea toward the South orkneys were lucky to have brief but very exciting views of a pod of 7 Orcas. These were Type A animals, the large "Antarctic Orca".

SPECTACLED PORPOISE (Phocoena dioptrica)

On 3 January, with Cape Horn in sight on the far horizon, I spotted a group of three Spectacled Porpoises a couple of hundred yards from the ship. The shape of the dorsal fin is unique, diagnostic, a very wide, "hill-shaped" fin. Sadly, I saw them surface just the one time, and although many of us on the decks were watching intently for them to surface again, it didn't happen.

SOUTHERN BOTTLENOSE WHALE (Hyperoodon planifrons)

As we neared South Georgia on the bright, sunny afternoon of 22 December, a small whale surfaced a couple of times right in front of the ship, heading straight at us. I managed to get a brief video clip of the second surfacing. The Oceanwide staff specialized in marine Mammal ID called it a rare Cuvier's Beaked Whale, but specialists on iNaturalist say it was a Southern Bottlenose Whale, also a seldom-seen marine mammal, but one more likely to be encountered in that area.

SEI WHALE (Balaenoptera borealis)

The only one of the voyage specifically called a Sei Whale was on the first evening in the Beagle Channel -- a very distant whale that I suppose would most likely have been a Sei but which could have been a Fin Whale. All of us out on the decks saw the whale, it was just too far away to do much with it.

FIN WHALE (Balaenoptera physalus)

Several fabulous encounters with this second-largest of the whales, first as we approached the Falklands, in the Scotia Sea, and then several times in the area of the northern Antarctic Peninsula.

HUMPBACK WHALE (Megaptera novaeangliae)

I would vote this magnificent animal "mammal of the voyage" as we saw many individuals (I would say upwards of 50), several of which were quite close to the ship. It was gratifying to see this number of Humpbacks, which seemed at least 100% more than I had seen on either of my two previous February tours.

SOUTH AMERICAN SEA LION (Otaria flavescens)

One large bull at sea as we approached the Falklands, and several hauled out on the pier at Port Stanley.

ANTARCTIC FUR SEAL (Arctocephalus gazella)

Abundant along the coastlines of South Georgia, less so at the South Orkneys. At Fortuna Bay, we found a huge, leucistic bull with a harem. Leucistic ("blond" owing to lack of melanin in the pelage) adults are quite rarely seen, as these individuals are rare in the population, and usually do not make it to adulthood because of predators spotting them more easily when they're young.

WEDDELL SEAL (Leptonychotes weddelli)

A small number of these large, deep-diving seals were closely approached in our Zodiacs, mostly along the Antarctic Peninsula. We scanned diligently, then desperately, for Leopard and Crabeater seals, but found not a one, which was fairly shocking to me. I imagine the Leopards were simply not hunting near-shore, as all of the juvenile penguins they feed on were still too young to have entered the water, and the absence of Crabeaters to the absence of their habitat: pack ice, of which we encountered none.


We saw only females and youngsters, no massive adult males. Although there had clearly been a large-scale die-off of Elephant Seals around South Georgia accounting for overall lower numbers on the beaches, it is also likely that older animals had not yet come ashore for mating.

Our final Antarctic birding venue was at Paradise Bay, on New Year’s Day. In order of appearance: Gentoo Penguins on an iceberg, sleepy Weddell Seals, South Polar Skua showing its weird tongue, Greater Snow Petrel, with thanks to Denis Corbeil for these photos, Cape Petrel and Wilson’s Storm-Petrels, Mike’s 84th birthday on Hondius, farewell with applause for our excellent, attentive restaurant waitstaff, Southern Fulmar early in the Drake Passage, first-cycle Snowy (Wandering) Albatross in the Drake, and Dusky Dolphins showing off for us near the entrance to the Beagle Channel. I had a couple of video clips of Marc giving us a very interesting talk on the Antarctic sponges he studied for his PhD, and also one of his birthday celebration on 2 January, but they have evaporated in the time-space warp of the past couple of months (I know how broken up you will be about that, Marc ;) Video copyright Bret Whitney.

Totals for the tour: 111 bird taxa and 14 mammal taxa