Cruise: seabirds, mammals, island endemics and remote islands.
Ushuaia (Argentina) - Falkland Islands - South Georgia - Antarctic Peninsula - South Shetland Islands - Ushuaia
Birds: Snowy (Wandering), Southern Royal, Northern Royal, Sooty, Light-mantled Sooty, Black-browed and Grey-headed Albatrosses, Southern and
Giant Petrels, Southern Fulmar, Antarctic, Cape and Snow Petrels, Snowy Sheathbill, Antarctic Tern, Brown Skua, King, Adelie, Chinstrap, Gentoo, Magellanic, Macaroni and Southern Rockhopper Penguins, Antarctic and South Georgia Cormorants, Falklands Steamer Duck, Ashy-headed and Ruddy-headed Geese,
South Georgia Pintail,
Striated Caracara, Blackish Cinclodes, Cobb's Wren, Austral Thrush, Black-chinned Siskin, Long-tailed Meadowlark and South Georgia Pipit.
Cetaceans and marine mammals: Antarctic Fur Seal, Leopard, Weddell, Crabeater and Southern Elephant Seals, Southern Right, Antarctic Minke, Sei, Blue, Fin, Humpback Whales, Commerson's (Falklands), Peale's (Beagle Channel), Hourglass, Dusky (Beagle Channel), and Southern Right Whale Dolphins, Orca, Southern Bottlenosed and Strap-toothed Beaked Whales.
Dates: various from October - March
Leader: Ship's expedition team
Travel to Argetina is currently not advised by the UK government as the country is on the "red" list. Hopefully this will be possible in 2022 without too many restrictions and until there is greater clarity we do not recommend making bookings.
For those who can justify the time and expense, a trip that goes to Antarctica as well as the Falklands and South Georgia is an incredible experience as it combines the majesty of the snow and ice of the ‘Great White Continent’ with two very different but equally amazing subantarctic islands.
Indeed, for anyone interested in birds and wildlife, WildWings would rate these islands as more interesting for their natural history than the Antarctic Peninsula. With the possibility of seeing breeding albatrosses on the Falklands and vast King Penguin colonies at South Georgia, these are experiences you will not find further South and both are as awe inspiring as the penguins, ice and snow of the Peninsula.
Generally, the season for visiting this region begins in late October and runs until March and every month has its own special highlights. It is simply impossible to say that one period is better than another – the experiences are just different.
Early in the season, the albatrosses will have started nesting on the Falkland Islands but the King Penguins will have plenty of fully grown chicks on South Georgia, whilst the Gentoo and Adelie Penguins of the Peninsula will also have only just begun egg laying. At this time of year, you are unlikely to see so many Humpback Whales in Antarctica as the numbers increase throughout the southern summer; indeed, these actually peaking after most of the expedition ships have ended their trips for the season.
By February, many of the penguins will have finished breeding in the Falklands, the chicks in the South Shetland Islands and Peninsula will be large but there will be fewer Southern Elephant and Antarctic Fur Seals in South Georgia.
As the exact itineraries are only determined a few months before each expedition and will also change on a day-to-day basis depending on the prevailing weather, it is impossible to be precise where you will be visiting in advance. The trips we recommend, however, will spend at least a day or two in the Falklands and then a minimum of three or four days in South Georgia.
Whilst it is usually possible to find shelter (to get ashore) in the Falklands, many of the best landing sites for wildlife on South Georgia are exposed so we believe going on a trip which spends as long as possible here will give you the best experience and a higher chance of visiting some of the truly magical highlights of this special island.
On the Falkland, possible landing sites include West Point Island where there is mixed colony of Black-browed Albatrosses and Rockhopper Penguins, Grave Cove where you could see Commerson’s Dolphins and Gentoo and Magellanic Penguins and Carcass Island which one of the few islands where Cobb’s Wren still survives.
When visiting South Georgia, all vessels are required to make a stop at Grytviken where ship clearance takes place but there is an amazing museum and the grave of Ernest Shackleton to visit along with Southern Elephant Seals, Antarctic Fur Seals and small numbers of King Penguins. The most impressive penguin colonies are arguably at Salisbury Plain and St Andrew’s Bay but there are plenty of other beaches which are also very special such as Gold Harbour and Stromness. Following the recent successful rat and mouse eradication project, the number of sites where one can find the endemic South Georgia Pintail and South Georgia Pipit have increased significantly so there are now good chances of finding both these species on your visit which was certainly far from guaranteed just a few years ago.
The transits between the Falklands and South Georgia and from there onwards to Antarctica (plus, of course, the Drake Passage when heading back to South America) provides a fantastic opportunity to see many species which you will not encounter around the islands or Antarctic Peninsula.
Although the Southern Ocean is notorious for the swells, storms and inclement sea conditions, in reality, you will be unfortunate to encounter really bad weather and your time at sea provides a fantastic opportunity to look for a great variety of seabirds. Wandering, Northern Royal, Southern Royal, Black-browed, Grey-headed and Light-mantled Sooty Albatrosses are all possible, along with both Giant Petrels, Southern Fulmar, Cape, (Lesser) Snow, Soft-plumaged, Blue and White-chinned Petrels. Amongst the smaller species, both Wilson’s and Black-bellied Storm-petrels are regular, as are Antarctic, Slender-billed and Fairy Prions, and with perseverance and a degree of luck you could see something less common such as Sooty Albatross, Kerguelen Petrel, Great Shearwater or even an Emperor Penguin.
Whilst you are cruising close to land, Humpback and Antarctic Minke Whales as well as Orca (Killer Whales) are generally the most likely cetaceans, but a much wider variety of species are present out in the deeper water. Once again, it is a case of being out on deck, ‘putting in the hours’ and hoping that luck is on your side but Blue, Fin, Southern Right and Sperm Whales are all possible, as are smaller species such as Arnoux’s and Strap-toothed Beaked Whales and Hourglass Dolphin. Indeed, we strongly recommend always having a camera to hand as photos are often the best way of identifying the trickier species.
It is almost impossible to put into words, the breath-taking scenery of Antarctica and even the most harden birder will find it an incredible experience. Ice and snow will be a constant feature as your ship cruises between landing sites and on most occasions, you can expect two activities each day with these being a combination of landings and zodiac cruises.
Whilst every voyage is unique, most trips will offer you the opportunity to visit colonies of Chinstrap, Adelie and Gentoo Penguins. There are also excellent chances of Weddell and Crabeater Seals and as the days start to shorten, the chances of finding Leopard and Antarctic Fur Seals generally increases. Almost irrespective of when you visit, you can expect to see Humpback Whales (with the highest numbers being at the end of the summer) and whilst wildlife can never be guaranteed, there are also opportunities to see Orca (Killer Whales) throughout the summer months.
As well as visiting the Antarctic Peninsula, most expeditions also make landings in the South Shetland Islands which are sometimes jokingly called the “Banana Belt of Antarctica” due to marginally better conditions. For birders, a stop here is important to see Chinstrap Penguins as these are much less numerous around the Antarctic Peninsula itself and are only found at a handful of sites in South Georgia. The South Shetlands are also where some of the most popular landings are located with one of these being Deception Island, a volcano with an extraordinary flooded caldera which the expedition ships are able to sail inside.
With excellent birding on the outskirts of Ushuaia at both the Tierra del Fuego National Park and around the Martial Glacier which overlooks the town, we recommend allowing time before your voyage to visit these stunning locations. Local specialities including Magellanic Woodpecker, White-throated Caracara and Magellanic Horned Owl can be found at the national park and the scree slopes and woodlands around the glacier offer chances for White-bellied Seedsnipe, as well as Thorn-tailed Rayadito, Austral Thrush and Andean Condor.
WildWings have been assisting clients in visiting Antarctica for almost 30 years and Chris Collins (WildWings Managing Director) has made over 50 trips to the “Great White Continent”. He also leads trips as Expedition Leader to the Falklands, South Georgia and Antarctica so we are well place to advise you on the multitude of options which are available.
Day 1: Board vessel in mid-late afternoon in Ushuaia.
Days 2: At sea.
Days 3-4: Falkland Islands - multiple potential landing sites including West Point Island, Carcass Island, Grave Cove, Port Stanley etc.
Day 5-6: At sea. Crossing the Antarctic Convergence. On some itineraries will include passing Shag Rocks.
Days 7-9: South Georgia - multiple potential landing sites and opportunities for zodiac cruising including Salisbury Plain, St Andrews's Bay, Grytviken, Cooper Bay, Gold Harbour, Stromness and Maiviken.
Days 10-12: At sea.
Days 13-16: Antarctic Peninsula and South Shetland Islands.
Days 17-18: At sea.
Day 19: Disembark in Ushuaia.
NB: As applies to all expedition cruises, the exact itinerary will be subject to weather and local conditions. All landings are subject to government permissions.
Seabirds in Drake Passage and other transits: Wilson's Storm-petrel, Grey-backed Storm-petrel, Black-bellied Storm-petrel, Snowy (Wandering) Albatross, Southern Royal Albatross, Northern Royal Albatross, Sooty Albatross, Light-mantled Sooty Albatross, Black-browed Albatross, Grey-headed Albatross, Southern Giant Petrel, Northern Giant Petrel, Southern Fulmar, Antarctic Petrel, Cape Petrel, Snow Petrel, Blue Petrel, Antarctic Prion, Slender-billed Prion,
Soft-plumaged Petrel, Grey Petrel, White-chinned Petrel, Sooty Shearwater, Great Shearwater, Subantarctic (Little) Shearwater, South Georgia Diving Petrel and Common Diving Petrel.
Birds on South Shetlands and in Antarctic Peninsula: Snowy Sheathbill, Kelp Gull, Antarctic Tern, South Polar Skua, Brown Skua, Emperor Penguin (very rare), Adelie Penguin, Chinstrap Penguin, Gentoo Penguin, Antarctic Cormorant.
Birds on Falkland Islands: Falklands Steamer Duck, Ashy-headed Goose, Ruddy-headed Goose, Crested Duck, Blackish Oystercatcher, King Penguin, Magellanic Penguin, Southern Rockhopper Penguin, Striated Caracara, Blackish Cinclodes, Grass Wren, Cobb's Wren, Austral Thrush, Black-chinned Siskin and Long-tailed Meadowlark.
Birds on South Georgia: King Penguin, Macaroni Penguin, South Georgia Pintail, South Georgia Cormorant, South Georgia Pipit.
Potential cetaceans and marine mammals
(selected species only)
Antarctic Fur Seal, Leopard Seal, Weddell Seal, Crabeater Seal, Southern Elephant Seal, Southern Right Whale, Antarctic Minke Whale, Sei Whale, Blue Whale, Fin Whale, Humpback Whale, Commerson's Dolphin (Falklands), Peale's Dolphin (Beagle Channel), Hourglass Dolphin, Dusky Dolphin (Beagle Channel), Southern Right Whale Dolphin, Orca, Sperm Whale, Southern Bottlenosed Whale and Strap-toothed Beaked Whale.