Antarctica, South Georgia and the Falkland Islands

Remnant ice split from the massive b-17b tabular iceberg grounded off South Georgia in "Iceberg Alley."

Remnant ice split from the massive b-17b tabular iceberg grounded off South Georgia in “Iceberg Alley.”

On Assignment with National Geographic and Lindblad Expeditions with Rich Reid.

Black-browed albatross taking off from the Beagle Channel between Chile and Argentina.

Black-browed albatross, Thalassarche Melanophris taking off from the Beagle Channel between Chile and Argentina.

Like the albatross, our ship plied through the Southern Ocean guided by wind and currents. Certainly not as graceful as these magnificent birds but making forward progress through the icy waters. Everyday something exceptional happened whether we were surrounded by endless views of king penguins or whale watching crossing the Drakes Passage.

Big waves and high winds in the Scotia Sea offshore from South Georgia.

Big waves and high winds in the Scotia Sea offshore from South Georgia.

What really made my endless summer so special was experiencing the contrast of Antarctica, South Georgia and Falkland Islands twice this past winter in two seasons in opposite directions on two different ships. The weather extremes were noteworthy with a cold southern spring and a stormy autumn plus the record heat and drought that I experienced this winter in California. A fascinating history tidbit was retracing Sir Ernest Shackleton’s epic open-boat journey on the centennial and gaining a whole new respect for his courage and tenacity.

Gentoo penguin, Pygoscelis papua at Neko Harbor on the Antarctic Peninsula.

Gentoo penguin, Pygoscelis papua at Neko Harbor on the Antarctic Peninsula.

Antarctica is the definition of remote and quintessentially beautiful. Every shade of blue and white filled the landscape that’s palette and silence is broken by colonies of Gentoo penguins and calving ice. The ancient tabular icebergs are the most spectacular designs found in nature forming gravity-defying arches and translucent blue faces. An abundance of micro marinelife in these frigid waters support an entire ecosystem from whales to penguins that gather in large numbers in the Southern Ocean.

Antarctic fur seals and the National Geographic Orion at Godthul Bay on South Georgia.

Antarctic fur seals, Arctocephalus gazella and the National Geographic Orion at Godthul Bay on South Georgia.

Both the National Geographic Explorer and National Geographic Orion are excellent ships and perfect platforms for exploring such remote locations. Both ships handled the two-day ocean crossings well and we accessed land in our Zodiacs for daily adventures of hiking and wildlife viewing. Perfect home away from homes with so many new friendships developed on these expeditions.

Bull southern elephant seal, Mirounga leonina at Saint Andrews Bay on South Georgia.

Bull southern elephant seal, Mirounga leonina at Saint Andrews Bay on South Georgia.

Antarctica provided the ice-extravaganza while South Georgia just plain overwhelms you with wildlife. Spring offered the thrill of aggressive male Antarctica sea lions and enormous southern elephant seals battling for beach master ranking while the king penguins gathered in unimaginable numbers performing comical acts like court jesters. The fall wildlife consisted of tens to hundreds of thousands of rambunctious penguin chicks getting ready to fledge and the feisty sea lion pups snarl while practicing their jousting. Adding to the allure of this magical island are the backdrops behind these expansive beaches of towering peaks and active glaciers that Sir Shackleton and two of his men heroically crossed in 1916 to save his stranded crew back in Antarctica.

King penguin colony at Gold Harbor on South Georgia.

King penguin, Aptenodytes patagonicus colony at Gold Harbor on South Georgia.

The Falkland Islands are conveniently located about halfway between South Georgia and Ushuaia, Argentina. This group of islands has an interesting modern history of conflict with its nearest neighbor and the recent exploration for resources. Nevertheless, the islands are beautiful and the critical breeding grounds for so many sea birds including the rockhopper and Magellanic penguins plus several species of albatross.

Pair of Black-browed albatross preening on New Island in the Falkland Islands.

Pair of Black-browed albatross, Thalassarche melanophris preening on New Island in the Falkland Islands.

As we entered into the shallower waters near South America on our return trip to Ushuaia, the ocean teemed with wildlife as large flocks of birds fed on bait fish and the Peale’s dolphins played in our ship’s bow wake. Having seen the southern ocean twice this past “summer” has been an absolute privilege and looking forward to my return to Antarctica for two trips with National Geographic Expeditions in January 2016. Please consider joining me on one of these incredible Photo Expeditions to my favorite place on earth.

The Adventure Continues…

Pair of humpback whale flukes in Gerlache Strait, Antarctica.

Pair of humpback whales,  Megaptera novaeangliae fluking in Gerlache Strait, Antarctica.

Southern giant petrel eying gentoo penguin chicks at Gold Harbor on South Georgia.

Southern giant petrel, Macronectes giganteus eying gentoo penguin chicks, Pygoscelis papua at Gold Harbor on South Georgia.

Antarctic fur seal pups at Stromness Whaling Station on South Georgia.

Antarctic fur seal pups, Arctocephalus gazella at Stromness Whaling Station on South Georgia.

Giant Leopard Seal in the waters around Prion Island in South Georgia.

Giant leopard seal, Hydrurga leptonyx  in the waters around Prion Island in South Georgia.

King penguin, Aptenodytes patagonicus portrait at Saint Andrews Bay on South Georgia.

King penguin, Aptenodytes patagonicus portrait at Saint Andrews Bay on South Georgia.

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Categories: Adventure, Antarctica, Lindblad Expeditions, National Geographic, Natural World, Travel, Wildlife | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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