South Georgia - Falklands Expedition Report - Part 1

I am back in Colorado after completing Visionary Wild's South Georgia - Falklands Expedition with the Masters of Nature Photography aboard the Polar Pioneer.

Polar Pioneer in the fog anchored in Grave Cove in the Falklands.

The Polar Pioneer was built as an ice-strengthened research vessel in Finland in 1982. Some of the ship's specifications follow: Length: 235 ft.; Beam: 43 ft.; Draft: 15 ft; Cruising Speed: 10 knots; Passengers: 54; Staff: 10 to 12; Crew: 23; Cabins: 26; Decks: 3. She was refurbished in 2000 and converted into a passenger ship for expeditions to the Polar Regions.

Photographers at the bow of Polar Pioneer as she takes us up the Drygalski Fjord in South Georgia.

The leaders of the expedition were photographers Frans Lanting, Tom Mangelsen, Art Wolfe, and Justin Black. Their presentations during the 720 nautical miles passage from the Falklands to South Georgia were inspirational and informative. All four enjoy teaching and were active throughout the trip assisting the 42 photographers aboard with technical issues and evaluating their images.

One view from the bow of the ship at the location shown in the previous image.

Polar Conservationist Denise Landau and Christian Genillard were the ship's expeditions leaders. They did an amazing job of coordinating all the activities on the ship to maximize the time available for photography. Especially impressive was their ability to find Zodiac landing locations in sometimes challenging wind and wave situations.

A view of the Risting Glacier as it drops into the Drygalski Fjord.

The fjord was discovered during the Second German Antarctic Expedition of 1911-1912 and named after the leader of the First German Antarctica Expedition of 1901-1903, Eric Von Drygalski.

An iceberg we passed while approaching South Georgia.

The expedition began on Nov. 16 when participants met the group leaders during an orientation meeting at the Hotel Atton - El Bosque in Santiago, Chile. We enjoyed a group dinner at a nearby restaurant afterwards and flew to Mount Pleasant Airport in the Falklands the next day. After spending a short time in Port Stanley we boarded the Polar Pioneer and settled into our quarters. The original plan was to explore the Falklands before heading for South Georgia but we went directly to South Georgia and explored the Falklands during the return trip. This decision was based on the weather forecast. We should encounter less wind and smaller seas on the voyage to South Georgia by doing so.

A view of the opposite side of the iceberg.

Another iceberg and a depiction of some of the wind and waves encountered.

Magellanic Penguins. Saunders Island, Falklands

The wind did not cease when we went ashore. On a couple of occasions it was difficult to remain standing in one location during the gusts.

Wind blown spray as a wave approaches the beach on Saunders Island, the Falklands.

Part of the King Penguin colony at Saint Andrews Bay, South Georgia

The expedition staff demonstrated their expertise multiple times by adjusting landing sites in order to get us safely ashore under difficult conditions. Some of these fell into the category of “wet landings.” We did see a few windblown birds!

Part of the King Penguin colony at Salisbury Plain, South Georgia

The estimated breeding population of King penguins on the South Georgia Island is thought to be around two million breeding pairs - with 150,000 pairs of King penguins in St. Andrews Bay alone.

Another view of part of the King Penguin colony at Salisbury Plain, South Georgia

The estimated size of this King Penguin colony is 200,000 birds.

One of the nesting sites of Gentoo Penguins at Grave Cove in the Falkland Islands.

From Wikipedia. “Two eggs are laid, both weighing around 130 g (4.6 oz). The parents share incubation, changing duty daily. The eggs hatch after 34 to 36 days. The chicks remain in the nests for around 30 days before joining other chicks in the colony and forming creches. The chicks molt into subadult plumage and go out to sea at around 80 to 100 days.”

Two Gentoo chicks in the nest on the left.

I have only begun the culling and processing of the images in the folders for this trip. More to come.

David Sparks

I retired in 2005 after 40 years of research and teaching at the University of Alabama in Birmingham (24 years), the University of Pennsylvania (8 years) and the Baylor College of Medicine (8 years). Photography is my retirement hobby.

Nature photography, especially bird photography, combines a number of things that I really enjoy: bird-watching, being outdoors, photography, travel, messing about with computers, and learning new skills and concepts.  I now spend much of my time engaged in these activities.

David Sibley in the preface to The Sibley Guide to Birds wrote "Birds are beautiful, in spectacular as well as subtle ways; their colors, shapes, actions, and sounds are among the most aesthetically pleasing in nature."  My goal is to acquire images that capture the beauty and uniqueness of selected species as well as images that highlight the engaging behaviors the birds exhibit.