Day 16 |
Mar 24, 2010

Underway Between Saunders Island And West Point Island, Falkland Islands

By Peter W. Damisch, Historian, General Naturalist, and Cartographer

Coordinates: 51° 27' S,  060° 20’ W

Weather: Blue skies and sunshine for a second day!

Air Temperature: + 12o C  ( 54o F )

Sea Temperature: +  5o C  ( 41o F )

Pressure: 1005 Hpa

Wind: 25 Km / hour

A gorgeous day in Stanley, East Falkland Islands yesterday was surpassed by an even more magnificent day at Saunders and West Point Islands in the West Falklands. As usual, I came down the landing platform very early to load into the Expedition Team’s scout boat before transferring over to drive one of the Zodiacs that are used to transport our guests ashore in beautiful, out of the way locations that an not be reached by most other ships.

For our first destination of the day at Saunders Island we landed our guests on a beautiful beach facing crystal clear waters that might have been from the Caribbean except for the very cool water temperatures! The white sand was studded with kelp, which then led up to sea cabbage and eventually to grass that covered a narrow portion of the island called ‘The Neck’. This wonderful location gave us the opportunity to observe a wide variety of sea birds along with 4 different types of penguins on just one island: Gentoo, King, Magellanic and Rockhopper. In addition, we were able to offer several types of walks throughout the morning and I was able to assist guests with questions and interpretation regarding the natural history of the areas.

Along the back shoreline we found a great place to observe Rockhopper Penguins making their way from a large, cliffside colony to their feeding areas in the sea. Along the front side adjacent to the landing site, I spent quite some time observing a significant number of Upland Geese and Kelp Geese along with several Steamer Ducks that spent a fair amount of the morning somewhat humorously chasing each other from one side of the beach to the other!

Another hike led up the hillside to a position overlooking the large Rockhopper colony before proceeding to another colony of Black Browed Albatross, both sitting on nests as well as soaring majestically overhead. I was lucky enough to assist leading that hike during our last voyage and the view from the top is tremendous. Today was even better as many guests were also able to observe spouting whales from their vantage point over the ocean.

All too soon we had to return to the ship after a fabulous morning of great weather, wide variety of bird life and tremendously beautiful island, but it was time to set off to our next destination. During midday, the Prince Albert II relocated to West Point Island while guests enjoyed a wide variety of delicious lunch options. Of course, I was especially partial to the cheesecake for dessert.

Remote West Point Island is well known throughout the world for many things: stark beauty, owned by an ecologically oriented family for over 131 years and most importantly a large colony of Black Browed Albatross and Rockhopper Penguins along with a large number of Striated CaraCaras.

The nesting colonies are located on the other side of the island and can be reached by a relatively easy 2 Km hike that rises over the center of the island with outstanding views in all directions, including the Prince Albert II, which was anchored in a small channel just offshore. I led one group across the island and quite soon we crested the ridge, viewed the blue sea and descended down to the ‘Devil’s Nose’, a stunningly beautiful area between two hills that overlooks a set of nearly shear cliffs with ocean waves crashing against the side of the rocks. This spot provides the first safe haven for nesting and molting penguins as they exit from feeding forays in the sea. In addition, the strong, constant winds provide the lift necessary for the huge albatross to take wing and soar in the breeze.

The Expedition Team was able to offer three vantage points to observe the large avian colonies. However, any spot was just perfect to simply stand and admire the albatross gliding just meters over our heads. One path led through high tussock grass, which allowed us to gain quite close but safe access to the colony where we could see a wide variety of adults and juveniles, some still in the moulting transition from down to adult plumage. The sights were simply spectacular and it was nearly impossible to imagine a more perfect day in the Falklands.

All too soon we were running out of time and daylight, which caused us to retrace our steps back to the landing site. But first we wanted and needed to participate in another long-standing tradition: visiting the small ‘farm’ or settlement house to enjoy West Point Island tea, cakes and cookies. As expected, the tea was outstanding and there were more choices for sweets than could possibly be imagined. All the while, we could observe almost ½ dozen Caracaras cavorting through the garden just outside the door and one even jumped up the steps to look inside, perhaps to see if any one of us was ready to be eaten ourselves ( by the way they are predator birds, but usually only for prey much smaller than humans! )

After a very relaxing tea, I slowly walked down to our zodiac location inside the sheltered bay to drive one last set of guests back to our home on the sea. Then it was time for a quick wash-up before working with the entire Expedition Team to provide one last Recap & Briefing. This was our final opportunity to answer questions and provide additional information to everyone on any subject that might arise. I finished up with a little bit of humor to tie up the day – a short historical but funny video with footage from the 1920s that reviews one particular Antarctic Expedition but shows many scenes of penguins, seals, albatross and icebergs. It was a great way to blend together memories of our great voyage with scenes from the past. It was a simply a stupendous day in the Falkland’s!