Antarctica Tour: Southern Royal Albatrosses Rock!

By Jim Danzenbaker and Ann Nightingale

1 January 2012


Pintado Petrels often circled close to the bow, providing spectacular views like this one. (Photo by Jim Danzenbaker)

Jim’s view: Thanks to calm seas overnight, I awoke relatively refreshed. It was a thrill to look out the porthole window and see two Southern Giant Petrels and a Black-browed Albatross sailing by. At the bow, Wilson’s Storm-petrels and Thin-billed Prions vied for attention with Sooty and Greater Shearwaters, White-chinned Petrels, seemingly ubiquitous Southern Giant Petrels, and Black-browed Albatrosses. Two Pintado Petrels emerged and flew slow circles over the bow. They were so low that I felt I could reach out and touch them. It was as if they were welcoming me back to the southern ocean. I reveled in being able to finally yell “Big Guy” when the first Southern Royal Albatross effortlessly glided closer and closer to the bow of the ship. Such an incredible species. My appetite was whetted for more. 

After breakfast there were several morning lectures and Zodiac safety review. I skipped lunch to prepare for my one-hour talk on seabird identification, which I thankfully survived. It must have gone okay since people were very appreciative. With that stress relieved, I returned to the bow. Even though we saw no marine mammals, it was relaxing just to look. Dinner and a long staff meeting followed, and I fell asleep knowing that a long, tiring and very enjoyable day awaited.  


All eyes turn when a Southern Royal Albatrosses approaches the boat. At nearly twelve feet, their wingspan is among the longest of any bird. (Photo by Jim Danzenbaker)

Ann’s view: Today was our first full day at sea. As usual, I headed to bed late, and got up early. It’s still light here at 10 pm and the day breaks at around 4 am. Before breakfast, we headed to the bow of the boat to watch Pintado Petrels, Wilson’s storm-petrels, Black-browed Albatrosses, Thin-billed Prions and Southern Royal Albatrosses wheel around the ship. The Black-browed look small compared to the Royal Albatrosses with their eleven and a half-foot wingspan. It was a great day to learn how difficult it is to get good pictures of moving birds when you are rocking and rolling on the deck at the same time! A couple of small groups of Magellanic Penguins swam by, my first penguins in the wild. What a great life bird to get on New Year’s Day!  

Thus far the weather has been beautiful. Seasickness hasn’t been an issue—yet, but I’m not getting too cocky about it. Between meals and shifts on deck, there were lectures about Zodiac etiquette (which we’ll be using tomorrow), seabird identification, photography, natural history of the Falkland Islands, and there was even a drawing workshop. I’ve signed up. I’ll let you know if there is anything worth sharing at the end of the trip! After dinner, we watched a documentary on the Striated Caracara, also known as the "Johnny Rook"—the nemesis of young birds on the Falkland Islands. We make our first landing in the morning, and plan to visit colonies of Black-browed Albatrosses and Gentoo Penguins then hike about five miles to a Rockhopper Penguin colony. We should also see seals and several other bird species, including the nefarious Johnny Rook. We’ll be spending three days in the Falklands, checking out seabirds and most of the last passerines we’ll see on this journey.


Thanks again for your commentary. Almost 12ft wingspan for a Royal Alb??? 1 1/2 sheets of plywood end to end. What a sight that must be.


what an amazing adventure you are all about to have, I’m envious.

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