Antarctica Tour: Back Among Friends on New Islanda

By Jim Danzenbaker and Ann Nightingale

2 January 2012

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We saw many family groups of birds, including stunning Kelp Geese like these. (Photo by Jim Danzenbaker)

Jim's view: There’s nothing like looking out the porthole window and seeing fairly calm seas and a slight overcast sky for the first landing site. Today would be a long day with an eleven-hour landing. I looked forward to reconnecting with the Rockhopper Penguins and the Black-browed Albatrosses. After a 20-minute hike from the landing I reached the colony and was welcomed by the characteristic wailing sounds of albatrosses and raucous calls of the Rockhoppers. How I love this combo! I prepped for a brief talk about the colony and about the life and times of the Black-browed Albatrosses. It's like talking about old friends. Clients arrived and the pixels started flying. Although the participants wanted to learn about the Black-browed Albatrosses, I was clearly second fiddle. The distraction of the colony proved to be more captivating than listening to me talk. No problem, we came to see the birds, they could get the facts later. 

Correndera Pipits, Falkland Thrushes, Long-tailed Meadowlarks and Black-faced Ground-tyrants cavorted throughout the area and families of Upland Geese were everywhere. I never got a chance to visit the distant Gentoo Penguins, but I could see their penthouse colony on top of a far ridge. Welcome back!  A four-and-a-half mile hike took up most of the afternoon.  The terrain was somewhat uneven, but I managed perfectly in my Tevas. Tevas—is this an Antarctic trip? It was a beautiful walk, with Ruddy-headed Geese and Falkland Steamer Ducks on the shore and the dreaded Johnny Rooks eyeing me eerily as I walked by. What piece of my gear were they contemplating stealing? Had they ever seen Tevas? No mishaps this time. "Heart attack hill" seemed calmer this time. Was it because Ann was there? I don’t know, but it was good to get to the settlement. 

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Far less cryptic in plumage than their North American cousins, Long-tailed Meadowlarks are both plentiful and easy to locate with their bright red breasts. (Photo by Jim Danzenbaker)

Ann’s view: Brilliant sunshine, white sandy beaches and t-shirt weather isn’t what I was expecting here in the southern ocean, but I’ll take it. Overwhelming looks at breeding colonies were promised and delivered. Today, we visited New Island in the Falklands (or Las Malvinas, if you prefer.) The island is home to a couple of human families and tens of thousands of seabirds, including four species of penguins and the Black-browed Albatross. Magellanic Penguins breed in burrows, Gentoos raise their young on the grassy slopes and Rockhopper Penguins, not surprisingly, nest on the rocks. We didn’t visit a King Penguin colony, but two were sunbathing on one of the beaches. A brief, but needed rest was refreshing before we headed off in search of Two-banded Plovers. In addition to success with the plovers, we also had a Dolphin Gull chick, and a perfect multi-species defense against a Skua attack. The settlement colony of Rockhopper Penguins and Black-browed Albatrosses looked healthy and I found my perch was next to a Brown Skua with band number A4. Much research happens at this colony and it's not limited to Rockhopper Penguins and Black-browed Albatrosses. Imperial Shag photographic opportunities were exceptional. The day ended with a relaxed dinner and many stories to tell.  

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Returning Rockhopper Penguins are sparkling clean when they pop onto the rocks after a feeding foray. (Photo by Jim Danzenbaker)

There is a special technique one must learn in order to great photographs of birds on New Island: close your eyes, point the camera, and shoot! The birds are so plentiful that it’s nearly impossible to get anything other than good pictures. At the colonies we sat and watched as penguins, Imperial Shags, and Black-browed Albatrosses came and went from their nests. Their arrivals were often punctuated with raucous greetings for their mates and offspring. Sitting quietly gave us uninterrupted views of courtship, pair bonding, chick feeding, nest building, and lots of squabbling! Brown Skuas and Striated Caracaras (Johnny Rooks) patrolled the colonies looking for any opportunity to snatch unattended chicks. In most cases, they were loudly chased away by the parents. The birds seemed oblivious to us at best and curious about us at worst. Sitting a minimum of fifteen feet (as is required) from the wildlife was no imposition. Within minutes, birds would often wander right by us within a foot or two. 

We were on the island for eleven hours, which passed with surprising quickness. The day included a four-plus mile hike and a bird walk, giving us a chance to see some of the island’s specialties: Two-banded Plover, Ruddy-headed Geese, Tussock Bird, Dark-faced Ground-tyrant, and Falkland Pipit were just a few of the birds we enjoyed. A trip down a steep gully gave a penguin’s eye view of a Rockhopper highway from the ocean to the tussock grass covered cliffs above. The penguins were more agile and much quicker traversing the route than anyone in our group! I’m not sure we could have had a more intimate view of wildlife than we had today. It was truly a privilege. 

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The US DVD & Blu-Ray of Frozen Planet is of the complete sereis. The DVD is available on December 8th ~ there’s no problem with pre-orderingI read that the Discovery versions of Blue Planet & Planet Earth were narrated by Pierce Brosnan & Sigourney Weaver ~ is that true? If it is, then I suppose that they’ll do the same with the broadcast version of Frozen Planet & cut Attenborough for the U.S. version. Do Americans have trouble with the accent? The BBC profits mightily from selling their drama & documentary films abroad ~ I don’t understand why they need to enter a co-production deal with the likes of Discovery ~ the BBC should maintain a healthy slush fund [ha! geddit?] for their projects. I guess it’s the corporate mentality plus the BBC is supposedly financed by Brit TV licences & hence they are answerable, in theory, to the licence payers (me) I must find out why the BBC isn’t swilling in cash reserves

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