Various dates November 2013 to February 2014
This breathtaking tour will take us via Ushuaia to the South Atlantic Ocean to find penguins, albatrosses, shearwaters, petrels, prions and many other species that are difficult or almost impossible to find anywhere else in the world. The cruise will be on an ice-strengthened ship with a maximum of 48 people on board, enabling us to land (weather depending) on the Antarctic Peninsula at Paradise Bay. Whales and seals will also be a feature of the cruise.
Day 1 Overnight flight from London, via Madrid, to Buenos Aires.
Day 2 From in Buenos Aries we will fly to Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world. Overnight in Ushuaia.
Day 3 We will spend the morning around Ushuaia, where we may see Imperial Cormorant, Kelp and Upland Geese, Flightless and Flying Steamer-ducks, Southern and White-throated Caracaras, Blackish and Magellanic Oystercatchers, Dolphin and Kelp Gulls, Chilean Skua, Dark-bellied Cinclodes and Black-chinned Siskin, to name just a few. At 4.00pm we will board the M/S Grigoriy Mikheev, or a similar Russian research vessel, and settle into our cabins. At 6.00pm we will start our voyage down the Beagle Channel (named after Charles Darwin's famous ship). As we head down-channel we will be followed by numerous Black-browed Albatrosses and will encounter our first Magellanic Penguins, Southern Giant-petrels, Magellanic Diving-petrels and Sooty Shearwaters.
Day 4 We will wake to find ourselves in the Drake Passage and the birds will have changed. Although we will still be seeing Black-browed Albatrosses, we must keep our eyes open for Light-mantled, Grey-headed and Yellow-nosed Albatrosses and both northern and southern forms of Royal Albatrosses. We may also see that mightiest of oceanic birds, Wandering Albatross. There will also be smaller seabirds both following the ship and crossing the ship's bow and wake including Blue, Cape and White-chinned Petrels, Slender-billed Prion and possibly Northern Giant-petrel. There will be a seabird expert aboard the ship to help with the identification challenges! There will also be an extensive programme of lectures and slide-shows about the Antarctic, ranging from its history to its geology and wildlife. Food aboard the ship is excellent and, as well as three meals a day, tea, coffee and soup are available at all times.
Day 5 At some point during the night the sea temperature will suddenly drop as we cross the zone of Antarctic convergence and during the day we will see our first icebergs! We will now have left the albatrosses behind but Cape Petrels and Southern Giant-petrels will be following us. In addition we will see our first Black-bellied and Wilson's Storm-petrels. As the day progresses we will see land ahead: the South Shetland Islands. Passing between the almost snow- and glacier-covered Greenwich and Roberts Islands, we will anchor off Aitcho Island and make a landing aboard Zodiacs. On the very few snow-free areas we will find colonies of Chinstrap and Gentoo Penguins with the ever-attendant Southern Giant-petrels, Snowy Sheathbills and Brown Skuas.
Day 6 We will anchor early off Deception Island in the South Shetland Islands. We will land today at Bailey Head, Whaler's Bay and Telefon Bay. At Whaler's Bay we will have the opportunity to view what remains of an old whaling station as well as an old airbase for Antarctic research and a British Second World War base. Much of the area has been covered by volcanic mudslides but a lot of the remains are still visible. As well as birds previously seen this is a good place to get close-up views of Antarctic Terns.
Day 7 Sailing south from the South Shetland Islands, by morning we should be passing through the stunningly beautiful Gerlache Straight. On our right will be the large Brabant and Anvers Islands while on our left will be the Antarctic Peninsula. Wilson's Storm-petrels will be criss-crossing the ship but the real prize here is Snow Petrel. Another possibility is Antarctic Petrel. We will have the opportunity to land on the peninsula at Paradise Bay (something that is denied to ships carrying more than 100 passengers), where we will visit the Argentinean base Almirante Brown.
Day 8 This morning we will find ourselves anchored at Port Lockroy, a base of the British Antarctic Survey. There will be an opportunity to visit the base to buy some postcards and stamps (it really is a post office!) and maybe other small souvenirs and to visit the museum. We will have to pick our way carefully through the Gentoo Penguins and Snowy Sheathbills as we enter the building! Heading south again we will navigate the amazing Lemaire Channel providing it is not blocked by icebergs. All the time we should keep our eyes open for mammals as Humpback and Minke Whales are regularly seen here, as are Crabeater and Weddell Seals. The real prize, however, would be Leopard Seal.
Day 9 Today we will reach the southernmost point of our journey, Petermann Island, at over 65 degrees south. Here we will find colonies of Adelie Penguins and Antarctic Shags as well as marauding South Polar Skuas. In the afternoon we will start to head north, negotiating the Lemaire Channel and Gerlache Strait again on our way back to the South Shetland Islands. En route we may see wintering Arctic Terns and, on a reconnoitre voyage, we were lucky enough to find a lone Emperor Penguin in these waters.
Day 10 We will land on Livingstone Island today. Here, in the large colonies of Chinstrap and Gentoo Penguins, we may find a few pairs of Macaroni Penguins. Another highlight of this island is its large number of Southern Elephant Seals. We should also see several Southern Giant-petrels on their nests. Surprisingly, there is a small amount of vegetation here including grasses and lichens. We may also have time to visit Halfmoon Island before setting sail north again and passing through the Drake Passage.
Day 11 Today we will have another chance to test our seabird identification skills in the Drake Passage. Prions will again start to be seen but this time they will be Antarctic Prions, with Slender-billed Prions not likely to reappear until we get further north. Black-bellied Storm-petrels will take over from Wilson's Storm-petrels although Cape Petrels will continue to be standard fare.
Day 12 Albatrosses will start to reappear today and prions will now all be Slender-billed Prions as we continue through the Drake Passage. Towards the end of the day we will see land again and, depending on weather and getting permission from the Chilean authorities, we may be able to view Cape Horn. As we press on to the north we may see large flocks of Sooty Shearwaters and the occasional Magellanic Diving-petrel before we enter the Beagle Channel.
Day 13 Overnight we will have travelled up the Beagle Channel and we will find ourselves anchored in Ushuaia harbour once again. After breakfast we will disembark and have a few hours to do some shore-based birdwatching before heading to the airport for the flight to London via Buenos Aires.
Day 14 Arrival in London.
General Information Various levels of accommodation are available on the ship, ranging from a suite to twin berths with shared facilities. Because of the unpredictability of the weather and sea-ice and resulting necessary safety-measures and time-loss, changes may have to be made to the itinerary at short notice, although every effort will be made to adhere to the itinerary described. There are no special medical requirements but you should be sufficiently active to be able to climb up and down gangplanks and board Zodiacs, sometimes in a swell. Warm and protective waterproof clothing is essential.