Stories from Antarctica: A Birder’s Paradise

King Penguins

As told by A&K Naturalist Guide and ornithology buff, Brent HoustonBrent Houston

Some of my favorite animals on earth are easily seen in Antarctica, especially if you visit the very beautiful and remote island of South Georgia and the warmer, wildlife-packed Falkland Islands. From the bright-white snow petrel that is unmistakable among the pack ice, to the predatory brown and south polar skuas — those marauders of the penguin colonies — the flying seabirds we encounter as we cross the Drake Passage rival the more popular show-stopping penguins of Antarctica for their beauty, grace and adaptability.

Speaking of penguins, the Adélie is my absolute favorite, because what they lack in colorful plumage, they make up for in comical displays, vocalizations and general goofiness. The funniest thing is to watch them gathering pebbles for their nests, especially when they steal each other’s pebbles at the same time. This goes on throughout the breeding season and is a source of endless entertainment.

Adelie Penguins

Adélies are also fun to watch when entering the water. One or two by themselves do not want to go in for fear of a leopard seal, which can eat up to ten penguins a day. So, they wait until there is a group and then they start calling in a frenzy, pushing each other from behind and — all at once — go tumbling into the sea. I always say it takes ten Adélie penguins to make a decision.

The other spectacular penguin that is a treat to see is the brightly colored and always-busy king penguin. Unlike most penguins, they lay one large egg that they must balance on their feet to incubate for 55 days, and then later protect the chick, which then takes nine months to fledge. The brightly colored auricular patch on their necks, along with their pinkish to purplish beaks provide photographers with incredible opportunities, especially when they are trumpeting and courting. But the most incredible thing to see is the sheer magnitude of the big breeding colonies, sometimes numbering in the tens of thousands. It is a magical display of the animal kingdom, something A&K guests to South Georgia get to see.

Wandering Albatross

The star of the wind and waves, dynamically soaring and rising higher and higher by using the near-constant updrafts, and then falling forward seemingly without moving a muscle, is the wandering albatross. The largest flying seabird in the world, it weighs nearly 25 pounds and has a wingspan approaching 12 feet. They can remain aloft — though they do rest on the water when there is no wind, and plunge-dive under water to feed on squid and fish — for perhaps 20 days, travelling thousands and thousands of miles. They don’t breed until they are about eight years old, and this is only after a few years of elaborate and vocal courtship rituals where they choose an appropriate mate for life. Wandering albatrosses take approximately 300 days to fledge their one big chick, and adults can live up to six years.

Light Mantled Sooty Albatross

Perhaps the most beautiful of all albatrosses is the light-mantled sooty albatross, an absolutely stunning bird with a charcoal grey head, lighter grey body, a paler “mantle” which is between the shoulders, and a small white, crescent-moon shaped eye patch. Light-mantled sooties are most commonly seen around South Georgia, where they nest on steep tussock-covered hillsides and where, with luck, you can hear their haunting courtship calls echoing off the cliffsides.

Known to most of us at least in theory, the Antarctic tern is an impressive, high-flying, fast, loud, territorial and sometimes very aggressive bird, and the only tern species to breed in the Antarctic Peninsula. They are unmistakable with their coral red beaks and their nearly translucent grey pointy wings. We see them on many landing sights, usually nesting and raising hell in the scree slope rubble where their few eggs and chicks are camouflaged. They are perhaps best known for their spectacularly long migrations, which occur after the breeding season as they head north, sometimes all the way to the Arctic latitudes.

Cape Petrel

Once we cross the Antarctic Convergence, a very fun and sociable species of bird starts following us until we reach the Antarctic Peninsula: the cape petrel. This constantly flapping and gliding powerhouse stays with us day and night, perhaps hoping we might stir up some food as we sail southward. They are excellent at picking up the smell of any food that is dead or decaying on the surface of the ocean, but they will also perform shallow dives for krill and other zooplankton.

This is the bird I would hope to come back to be in another life. They are smart, beautiful, fast, sociable, seem to have a lot of friends and a lot of fun, and they nest in one of the most beautiful places on earth, the islands of the Antarctic Peninsula and the lofty areas of South Georgia.

Learn more about visiting Antarctica with A&K.

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Stories From Antarctica: Sensory Overload on the Southern Ocean

Sensory Overload on the Southern Ocean

As told by Scott M., A&K Guest

I’m a visual person, so before I went to Antarctica, I was always drawn to the colors and all the crazy blues I had seen in photos, how sculptural the icebergs and mountains were, and how these landscapes didn’t look like anything else. Now that I’ve just returned from Antarctica, South Georgia & the Falkland Islands, these incredible landscapes — that exceeded every expectation — are also what stay with me the most.

Part of that is just the sheer size of it all. On our luxury expedition cruise, we experienced landscapes like a crescendo that went from small to big. The Falklands are definitely hilly, but the slopes are gentle with rocky outcroppings. South Georgia Island is a full-on mountain range with these 7,000 to 8,000 feet peaks — they’re not small! — that seem to pop up from the ocean as if out of nowhere. Contrast that with Antarctica, which is made up almost entirely of glaciers (95 percent) and even more extreme and impressive with its ice.

antarctica-landscape-3

For me, though, nothing tops the small bay of Gold Harbour, which is situated at the east end of South Georgia. The island itself is full of these amazing glaciers. You see them coming out to the ocean, up on hills, retreating back up the mountain and even transforming the landscape with newly formed hills. Continue Reading ›

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Ten Reasons to Visit Antarctica Now

Ten Reasons to Visit Antarctica Now

Penguins, icebergs, a top-notch Expedition Team — there are countless reasons why an Antarctica voyage is a true trip of a lifetime. Here are ten of our favorites.

Penguins, Penguins, and more penguins

1. Penguins, penguins, and more penguins

The unofficial ambassadors of Antarctica, penguins come in a variety of shapes and sizes, from the small black-and-white Adélie to the orange-trimmed King, both found exclusively in the Antarctic region. Penguins have no innate fear of humans and visitors often find themselves approached by the curious birds.


Every picture is postcard-worthy

2. Every picture is postcard-worthy

If you have a passion for photographing wildlife and spectacular scenery, Antarctica is the place for you. You’ll see animals you won’t find anywhere else, along with landscapes like the Lemaire Channel, fondly known as “Kodak Alley” for the incredible photo opportunities it affords. All the while, an onboard Photo Coach is at hand to help you capture that perfect shot.


An ever-changing landscape of ice

3. An ever-changing landscape of ice

With its towering blue icebergs, Antarctica is like a vast, open-air museum of ever-changing sculptures, as awe-inspiring as any natural wonder on earth. Navigate among these floating giants on a nimble Zodiac boat, an expert pilot/guide providing insight. Continue Reading ›

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Antarctica: From a Kid’s Perspective

Antarctica, South Georgia the Falkland Islands
antarctica-family-cruise

Eileen Ogintz, family travel writer from takingthekids.com, joins us on our Family Antarctica departure this year. She is sharing the kids’ perspectives on what an A&K cruise to Antarctica, South Georgia and the Falklands is all about. Take a look at her day-by-day experience and why this is the perfect destination to inspire all ages.

 

On a Cruise to Antarctica – 34 Kids and a Whole Lot of Enthusiasm

December 21, 2016 –  By Eileen Ogintz

“Heaps of Albatross,” reports Thomas, 13, from Melbourne, Australia.

“Rockhopper penguins were jumping,” adds Marcos, 12, from Montclair, NJ.

“Two whale spouts,” declares Ryan, 13, San Diego, CA.

And it’s just the first day aboard ‘Le Boreal’ heading on two-week adventure cruise from Southern Argentina to the Falkland Islands, South Georgia Islands and Antarctica. Even more amazing than the wildlife, perhaps, is that these Young Explorers, part of the group of 34 kids on board — a record number for this Abercrombie & Kent (A&K) — trip, are already such fast friends.

They hadn’t even met until this morning; by lunchtime, after a get-to-know-you game (TRUTH or LIE: “I’ve petted a cheetah!” “I’ve broken both wrists!” “I’ve been on the Great Wall of China!” “I have four cats!”) and a scavenger hunt around the ship organized by the two experienced Young Explorer leaders on board, Jeff Manker and Kristin Wornson, a gaggle of them had commandeered a table together for lunch and were chattering as if they ate lunch together everyday.

Read more on takingthekids.com.

December 22 – Who knew? A trip to the Fire Station in the Falkland Islands

December 23 – On the Southern Ocean, dissecting a squid is what you do

December 24 – Whales and Christmas Carole on the high Southern Seas

December 25 – Christmas morning on South Georgia Island – Tens of thousands of penguins

December 27 – Day two on South Georgia Island – A visit to the old Whaling Station

December 28 – Last day on South Georgia Island – Learning animal behavior

December 29 – Kids learn about sailing the most difficult waters on Earth aboard ‘Le Boreal’

December 30 – Watch for whales, seabirds and penguins on icebergs in the Antarctic

December 31 – Day one in Antarctica: Kids try a spin in the zodiacs

January 1 – Snow fun in the sun in Antarctica on New Year’s Eve!

January 2 – New Year’s Day to remember: On the ice and with the whales in Antarctica

January 3 – Memories for a lifetime: Kids on an expedition to the Antarctic

 

 

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