A cruise to the Antarctic region is one of the ultimate natural history holidays. Many visitors rate it as their best ever wildlife experience. This cruise is planned to give sufficient time in Antarctica to do justice to the wildlife and landscapes there.
By making frequent landings, we are able to experience the stark beauty that lured the early explorers here, without enduring the same hardship that saw few return. Some historic buildings and whaling stations still remain as a reminder of their courage.
Antarctica teems with life in the summer due to the long hours of daylight and resulting seasonal abundance of krill. Millions of birds and animals concentrate to breed along the Antarctic Peninsula, regarded as the most beautiful part of the continent. Mountains, glaciers and immense wedding cake icebergs form a backdrop to huge colonies of penguins. One highlight will undoubtedly be to spend time watching the penguins’ antics as they struggle to raise their young in one of the harshest environments on Earth. There is even the chance of an Emperor Penguin if sea ice conditions allow us to enter the Weddell Sea.
That ultimate traveller, the Wandering Albatross, dwarfs the many petrels, shearwaters and prions that accompany us south to the White Continent; the sea crossings are particularly exciting for birdwatchers. Many whales visit the region to feed, while up to five species of seal provide great photographic opportunities.
In addition to the cruise, there will be some superb birding in Argentina. We have three nights in Buenos Aires, visiting nearby woods, grasslands and wetlands, and one night on the remote island of Tierra del Fuego, where we will search for Andean Condors, two species of steamer ducks and Magellanic Woodpeckers. As well as giving time to recover from the flight, these stop-overs increase the diversity, providing the chance to see hummingbirds and penguins on the same tour!
When cruising to Antarctica, it is crucial to build in some time beforehand. Ships do not wait for delayed flights or luggage. We will break our journey with two nights in Buenos Aires and a night in Ushuaia. We will visit wetlands with a superb mix of species. These include Black-necked Swan, White-faced Ibis, three species of coot, Long-winged Harrier, Guira Cuckoo, Golden-bellied Woodpecker, Glittering-bellied Emerald, Spectacled Tyrant, Black-and-rufous Warbling-finch and Masked Yellowthroat, with a chance of scarcer species such as Giant Wood-rail and Southern Screamer.
TIERRA DEL FUEGO
Our second full day takes us on a flight to the toe of the Andes. The town of Ushuaia is a convenient place to see many of the birds that the ‘Land of Fire’ has to offer. We will check the coast for Rufous-chested Dotterel, both Flying and Flightless Steamer Ducks, South American Tern, Upland Goose, Dark-bellied Cinclodes and Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle. The next day, we will go in search of Thorn-tailed Rayadito and White-throated Treerunner in the lichen-draped forests of Tierra del Fuego National Park. Lakes are home to Great Grebe and Kelp Goose, but the star birds here are Andean Condor and Magellanic Woodpecker. In the evening we will board our ship, the Ushuaia, for the wildlife cruise of a lifetime….
The choice of ship is vital. Our knowledge of those that visit the region allows us to select the ones that will deliver the best experience. The Ushuaia takes just 84 passengers providing a more personal experience. Transfers are quicker, maximising time ashore and is comfortably below the legal limit of 100 passengers ashore. The crew and staff are highly experienced in polar expeditions.
Our cruise out of the Beagle Channel gives us the opportunity to see Magellanic Penguin, Chilean Skua and Imperial Cormorant. Giant Petrels and Black-browed Albatross then join us for a sea crossing packed with exciting tubenoses.
With two days at sea, we can expect a busy time - this is seabirding at its best. There are no distant dots from a headland. At times, these birds are close enough to see the glint in their eye. Southern Fulmars, Common Diving-petrels, Blue Petrels and numerous White-chinned Petrels join the beautiful Pintado Petrels. Hundreds of prions challenge the best identification experts, whilst storm-petrels include Wilson’s and Black-bellied. Dwarfing these, the Black-browed Albatross is the most numerous albatross at sea and we should sift through them for Grey-headed and the gorgeous Light-mantled Sooty Albatross. Just as we get accustomed to the size of the commoner albatrosses, the jaw drops as a Wandering Albatross glides past at close range. Up to six albatross species are expected, with Northern and Southern Royals visiting these waters from breeding grounds in New Zealand.
Shortly after sighting our first iceberg near the South Shetland Islands, we begin a series of landings in search of the special creatures for which this continent is famous. We will walk with penguins; thousands of them. Our first are likely to be Chinstrap Penguins at Deception Island, a collapsed volcano where one can bathe in the geothermally warmed waters. Pintado and Wilson’s Storm-petrels nest in rocky crags and Kelp Gulls stand guard on the abandoned whaling stations.
During six days on the Antarctic Peninsula, we pass some of the most impressive landscapes on earth. Snow covered mountains, glaciers and ice fields are a photographer’s dream. Gentoo Penguins may have chicks and we should check their colonies for the scarce yellow-tufted Macaroni Penguin. The landings also provide chances to see Blue-eyed Shag and Southern Giant Petrels nesting, while Brown Skuas can be seen making opportunistic sorties over the colonies. South Polar Skuas can be found attending Leopard Seals, in the hope of getting a few leftovers.
Mammals are approachable here, and we are able to see Southern Elephant Seal and Weddell Seal in good numbers. Leopard Seals will be on the prowl for unwary penguins offshore. Whales feed in these krill-rich waters. Minke and Humpback are the most likely, but we have also seen Orca, Blue, Southern Right, Fin, Southern Bottle-nosed, Sei and Pilot Whales, along with several dolphin species.
The weather at this time is usually very calm along the peninsula. Our itinerary is dictated by the extent of the sea ice, but if it is possible we will spend some time at the edge of the Weddell Sea, where huge tabular icebergs are common and there is a chance of an Emperor Penguin. Otherwise, it may be possible to head south through the Gerlache Straight towards Crystal Sound in an attempt to cross the Antarctic Circle. The stunning Snow Petrel should be in evidence around sculptured blue-veined icebergs and the highly sought after Antarctic Petrel is best looked for this far south.
Finally, we will head back north and cross Drake’s passage. At this time of year, there is the possibility of Kerguelen and Soft-plumaged Petrels and Great Shearwaters. After an epic ten day journey we will return to Ushuaia. We will then fly to Buenos Aires where we will have one last night. There will be another opportunity to birdwatch near the city before travelling home on an evening flight.
Excursions are made using zodiacs on days when not travelling at sea. Walks will be at a leisurely pace on uneven ground or snow and you are often free to do your own thing within the guidelines of the Antarctic Treaty. Basic fitness is required and there is some optional uphill walking. Daytime temperatures at this time average +5º C along the peninsula.
Full-board accommodation is provided with two nights at the start and one at the end at the Hotel Lafayette in Buenos Aires, one night at the Hotel Tolkien in Ushuaia, and ten nights on board the Ushuaia. Our ship is an ice strengthened polar vessel originally built for the USA’s oceanic research. It is fully refurbished and is operated by Antarpply Expeditions. It has an international crew, very experienced in polar expedition cruising. The basic price is for a cabin on the lower deck with upper and lower bunks, no porthole and a bathroom shared between two rooms. En-suite and superior cabins have two lower bunks.
PRICE INCLUDES …..
Ten night cruise and three nights land-based accommodation all on a full-board basis (starting with breakfast on 7th, ending with lunch on 20th), soft drinks at meal times, all excursions with Bird Holidays leader, local guides and expedition staff, all land-based activities and transport, internal flight to Ushuaia, return flights to Buenos Aires and airport taxes.
Travel insurance. Personal items, alcoholic drinks, tips.
Return flights from London Heathrow to Buenos Aires, using the scheduled services of Iberia Airlines. Outbound flight departs early morning, return flight arrives back late afternoon. Domestic flights from Manchester and other UK airports are avaiable on this tour. See booking form for details.
A cruise only price is available. Please phone.
15 nights including
one overnight flight:
Maximum group size:
Cost with discount,
basic cabin, no
porthole (if you book before 22nd Sept. ‘11):
Basic cabin with
Cabin with window
6th to 21st January 2012
15 clients with one leader
plus local guides in Argentina and expedition staff
£6350 per person sharing
£6500 per person sharing
£910 supplement per person
£2160 supplement per person
£2510 supplement per person
Photos from our previous trips to the Antarctic region
Chinstraps on an iceberg
Brown Bluff at the tip of the peninsula is a large breeding ground for Adelie and Gentoo Penguins
Light-mantled Sooty Albatross is a star of the sea crossings
Blue Petrel is a special bird here.
An albatross at Cape Horn
sunset in the Drake
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