Explorer's Antarctica Voyage 7126 Day 3
Day 3 - November 27, 2011 - Westpoint and Saunders Islands, Falkland Islands
By Luciano Bernacchi, Naturalist, Birder, Glacier Guide
Co-ordinates: 51 21 00 S 60 40 41 W
Weather: Overcast morning, clear in the afternoon
Air Temperature: 9ºC
Pressure: 991 hPa
After a very calm transit from Ushuaia and a good day at sea yesterday, we arrived for the first time this season at the Falklands.
I woke up as we approached Westpoint Island, our destination for the morning. Soon after breakfast, the Expedition Team got ready and we took to the Zodiacs. I was appointed to drive. The first thing we all saw as soon as we were afloat was a pod of friendly and playful Commerson’s Dolphins that approached the Zodiacs. I was waiting for guest disembarkation and in the meantime, I played near the Silver Explorer with these very small and cute cetaceans. Many guests were watching from the upper decks, from their suite balconies, and windows, and we all enjoyed the show they offered. These dolphins love bow-riding, breaching and just hanging around boats. Every time I shuttled from ship to shore or vice versa, I had a few of them riding along with me. What a welcome!
After disembarkation, I jumped in a Land Rover together with Expedition Leader, Robin West, to catch up with the first groups at the Black-Bowed Albatross and Rockhopper penguin colony on the other side of the island. Once there, I walked around with some guests talking about the area, and the fascinating biology of these seabirds.
As usual around breeding colonies of seabirds, there is a lot to see. I focused some time on what seemed to be adolescent or young albatrosses as they performed some bonding rituals: tail open as a fan, some bill fencing, and other means of contact. Apparently they did not have a nest, so it is safe to assume they were strengthening their bond, and perhaps the nest would come in a future season. Most of the other adult albatrosses were peacefully sitting on their egg, waiting for their partners to return from foraging trips. The very same birds I was watching will be in a few days time many miles away in the middle of the open ocean, the place they belong, it always seems amazing to me, the many huge voyages they undertake.
After a while in the colony, it was time for me to head back for the house and landing site. Tea, biscuits and cake were offered in the owner’s house, and later the Zodiacs started running back and forth from the shore to the Silver Explorer. I drove boatloads of happy guests after this wonderful morning.
The Silver Explorer repositioned to nearby Saunders Island during lunch time. For the afternoon landing again I was a driver, but also later guided a group across the narrowing known as the “neck”.
We walked bordering various Gentoo penguin colonies, and stopped along the way to see them nesting, many nests had recently-hatched chicks, though some were still eggs and I actually saw a chick as it broke its way out of an egg!
Saunders is one of my favourite locations in the Falklands, full of wildlife, two beaches north and south, nesting Gentoos, Rockhoppers and Black Browed Albatrosses (like in our morning), and also Magellanic and King Penguins.
The King Penguins have formed a small colony and hangout in the past years, and are usually present, many of them moulting. Today I was happy also to see a fully-grown, brown downy chick. One of those fat, fluffy, strange looking birds. King Penguins usually breed twice every three years, because they have a long breeding cycle. This chick was from last season and it was ready to moult into real feathers in order to be able to swim for the first time.
Afternoon passed quickly in and amongst the rich wildlife, guiding our guests, and enjoying the sunshine in the South Atlantic. I jumped into a Zodiac again, and by 1800 we had all our guests back on board, and were hoisting the last Zodiacs. Time for a quick shower and Recap & Briefing at The Theatre to talk about tomorrow’s activities and some of the highlights of the day. Expedition Team colleagues discussed various things related to what we had seen today, answered some questions and wished everyone bon appétit.
As the sun set, the wonderful light lit The Restaurant and a great dinner was served on board the Silver Explorer.
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