Watching Antarctic Seabirds on the Waves

Wandering Albatross with Southern Fulmar*

Graham, our onboard wildlife lecturer who looked uncannily like a walrus, said it well – “it’s not about getting all the names, but just watch them – these seabirds can do things you just can’t see anywhere else”. I have some of the names, though not all (the rest are written down in my journal that is presently in Ottawa), and I watched them. I followed with my binoculars as they soared like kites above the waves, dipping, turning, barely with the flap of a wing. These were the albatross, the fulmars, the larger petrels, whose phenomenal wing spans still managed to look small in the vastness of the Antarctic waters.

Black-browed Albatross**

The Black-browed Albatross at first sight looked like a Greater Black-backed Gull (larger seagull) and were so common I didn’t believe they could be albatross initially. The Southern Giant Petrel followed in the wake of the ship for extended periods, looking for scraps to feed on. Then there were the Storm Petrels (Wilson’s and Black-bellied) the swallows of the sea, who fluttered in the troughs of the waves, protected from the strong winds gusting above them.

There were birds and there were birders – most more serious than me, with fancy scopes and tripods, out on the deck, like the two Scottish guys Rab and Dougie, who kindly gave me a birding guide to Argentinian birds when we left the ship. And there were Brenda and Jane who shared our 8:30pm dinner seating and managed to see much more than me, including a gold star bird, the Andean Condor on their day out in Ushuaia. They also let me know about the site birdingpals, which is like couchsurfing for birders – you can connect and bird with amateur or professional birders all over the world.

My Incomplete Antarctic Bird List

  • Black-browed Albatross
  • Wandering Albatross
  • Southern Giant Petrel
  • Southern Fulmar
  • Wilson’s Storm Petrel
  • Black-bellied Petrel
  • Sooty Shearwater
  • Fairy Prions
  • Kelp Gull

Falklands: Falklands Thrush, Rock Shags, Upland Goose, Black-chinned Siskin, Turkey Vultures (not so exciting as we have these at home)

Penguins

  • Chin-strapped (likely viewing moving quickly through the water)
  • Gentoo
  • King
  • Magellanic

Gentoo juvenile

*Photo courtesy of gallery of birds.com
** Photo found on ofermaimon.blogspot.com

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