Hooded Grebes - Patagonia - November 2016

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Saturday, 31 December 2016

Antarctic Voyage Part 7 - The Drake Passage/Cape Horn

We still had several hours of watching after leaving the South Shetlands, but the bird activity was low with probably the highlight being several Chinstrap Penguins leaping out of the water. Certainly our last Antarctic Petrel of the trip was seen, again mixed in with several Cape Petrels.

My intentions for my last full day in the open ocean was to be spent up on the bridge. The famous Drake Passage had thankfully not lived up to its name and we got through the full day without a fuss with blue skies and relatively calm seas allowing a pleasant day. Our closest Grey-headed Albatross of the trip looked superb in the terrific light conditions. Also, we were now starting to see the Great Albatrosses again, all looking huge after seeing only Black-broweds for the previous few days.

On our last full day, I was up early, mainly because during the night I spent most of my time rolling from one side of my bed to another. The swell was crazy and sleep was almost impossible. Thankfully the swell had calmed down by the morning and we were treated to sublime views of Southern Royal Albatrosses that were flying right underneath the bow. Also one of very few Diving-Petrels seen during the day turned out to be a very well marked Magellanic. This meant only one thing, South America was right in front of us. Land meant Penguins, and Tom spotted two Penguins sat on the water that looked initially like Thick-billed Murres, but were in fact Rockhopper Penguins.

Due to such an early arrival to near the entrance of the Beagle Channel, it was arranged for us to sail west and get within three nautical miles of Cape Horn. We sailed extremely slowly but this worked out very well. Tom having been on pelagics off New Zealand, expertly picked out a surprise Westland Petrel. Although the sea remained calm for the day, a good range of species were seen. Peale's Dolphins finished off our voyage by performing for Simon and myself off the bow doing some exceptional displays. The evening was spent saying fair well to an excellent crew and all the people we had got to know over the 19 days. After dinner a final flurry of Dolphin activity and a spectacular sunset whilst thinking back to an overwhelming couple of weeks was very fitting. I hope one day I get to return to the southern oceans in the way I did here, but if not, I'm so pleased the opportunity arose and I will never forget what I experienced.

Highlights for the last few days are as follows:

Gentoo Penguin
Chinstrap Penguin
Rockhopper Penguin
Magellanic Penguin
Wandering Albatross
Southern Royal Albatross
Northern Royal Albatross
Grey-headed Albatross
Black-browed Albatross - huge numbers
Northern Giant Petrel
Antarctic Petrel
Blue Petrel
Slender-billed Prion
Magellanic Diving-Petrel
Westland Petrel - 1
Manx Shearwater
Great Shearwater - 1 and only bird of the trip
Chilean Skua

South American Sealion
Peale's Dolphin
Dusky Dolphin
Fin Whale
Humpback Whale

That is it now for my epic 5 week trip. I hope at least someone has enjoyed it and also now strongly considers the option of going down to Antarctica, and if you do.......go to South Georgia while you're there.

 an adult Grey-headed Albatross
 leaving the South Shetlands Cape Petrels were in good numbers
 our second and last Antarctic Petrel
 a heavily cropped Magellanic Diving-Petrel - showing the white collar patch and clean white underwing
 Southern Royal Albatross - amazing views of this gentle giant
 Northern Giant Petrel
 Peale's Dolphins
 Chilean Skua
 yet another close encounter of an Albatross - this time a Black-browed Albatross

 Cape Horn - the southern tip of South America

 Peale's Dolphins having a great time
our final sunset on board the MV Plancius.




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