Birds of Antarctica and Argentina


This video, recorded in Argentina, says about itself:

Birds & More: Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego

Fabulous scenery, wide open spaces, whales, extraordinary Andes and the bottom of the world. Spectacular Magellanic Woodpecker, very scenic cruise in Drake Channel; 11-12/2008.

Brent Stephenson is a wildlife photographer, guide, and birder based near Napier, New Zealand.

From B1RDER: The birding blog of Eco-Vista | Brent Stephenson (with photos there):

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Looking back to January – Antarctica

Well the year to date has been a hectic one, but with a lot of fantastic places along the way. First off was a trip to the Falklands, South Georgia and Antarctica – I always say if you are going to go to Antarctica, then you HAVE to do a trip that includes the Falklands and South Georgia. So this is one of my favourite trips, and despite the increase in tourism in the Antarctic you still get the feeling of isolation and that you could well be the first people looking at the landscape.

We started in Ushuaia, with awesome views of both male, female and young Magellanic woodpeckers in the National Park – stonking views! Epic birds, and also got great views of ashy-headed geese. Then out of the Beagle Channel and heading to Saunders Island in the Falklands. This has to be one of the best islands for diversity in the Falkland group, with a great array of species there nesting within easy walking distance. To be so close to nesting black-browed albatross is always a treat, and whilst we were there the birds had young chicks in the nest, so there was a lot going on. Having spent four incredible days on this island camping under a rock at ‘The Neck’ back in 2004 this place is one of my all-time World favourite spots!

Next stop South Georgia, and with landings at Salisbury Plain and St Andrews Bay we got to see a fair sack of the king penguin population that breeds on the island. Our afternoon at St Andrews was just spectacular, with incredible weather and so much going on. I managed a bit of time with tripod and neutral density filters to play around with some long exposures which was fun – let me know what you think of the images below. There might still be a slight colour cast from the ND filters, but I am pretty happy with the results…I’d just like to spend some more time experimenting with these filters.

This video says about itself:

Albatross – Penguins – ICE BIRDS – Antarctica © 2009 C. Hunter Johnson

Nesting Albatross Chicks, King Penguins and Gentoo Penguins. … on a recent visit to South Georgia Island to explore and photograph these rare endangered Albatross in natural, unspoiled surroundings.

The Brent Stephenson article continues:

We also called in to Coronation Island in the South Orkneys, with a little bit of sleet and drizzle it was a chilly landing, but thousands of chinstrap penguins were there to keep us company! Back onboard that afternoon my Canon 1Dx decided to give up the ghost – leaving me with my old worn out 1D MkIV for the rest of the trip. On getting back to NZ it turns out the 1Dx was the first in the country to have completely died – making me wonder if i was lucky or unlucky (!) – having blown a circuit board and some fuses. All covered under warranty when I got home, but effectively an expensive paper-weight for the rest of the trip!

Down on the Antarctic Peninsula we had stops at Brown Bluff, with a little foray along the ice front of the Weddell Sea in Antarctic Sound. There had been an Emperor penguin reported, but rising winds meant we could’t get too close, and had to head back onto the western side of the Peninsula and carry on to the South Shetlands. A morning at Hannah Point was fantastic with lots of activity amongst the chinstraps and gentoos – including the gory killing of a gentoo chick by several giant petrels. At Deception Island, not normally know for its wildlife (at least the interior of the island), we had an awesome leucistic chinstrap penguin. At first it seemed to be playing hard to get, and then at the end walked up on to the shore with another bird, and right into the middle of our group! Ha, what little show off!

Then it was off south along the Peninsula, making landings at Petermann Island and Plennau. Awesome iceberg graveyard, and VERY ‘friendly’ leopard seals – one of which came steaming in and chomped on the end of my zodiac! That was a new experience – it all happened so quick I didn’t have time to get out of there, so after our 2.5 hour zodiac cruise one of the pontoons was VERY flat! We only lost two people out of the zodiac…just kidding! We also had an incredible show with a female and calf humpback right at the stern of the ship. With everyone out on the stern of the ship, they came right in under us and just hung out at the back of the ship for more than 15 minutes – just incredible.

A final afternoon at Portal Point – after finally catching up with killer whales in the Neumeyer which I managed to spot a few miles off. We had stunning views of a pretty large pod of these Type B (small form) killer whales, in what looked like a feeding slick. There was a huge slick on the surface and clearly something attracting large numbers of Wilson’s storm-petrels, giant petrels and other species, but we couldn’t spot anything that looked like chunks of prey. A mystery!

And then we were on our way back to Ushuaia. Time just flies so quickly on a trip like this, with days at sea and the start of the trip seeming to go relatively slow, and then all of a sudden you are heading back across the Drake Passage! A great trip with great folks and an excellent Zegrahm Expedition team!

Whale-watching in Australia, war in the Falklands


This video from Australia is called Migaloo the White Whale Encounter.

By Peter Frost in Britain:

How to start a war and win an election

Friday 4th July 2014

Whale-watching in Australia leads PETER FROST to a forgotten story of a deception that led to the Falkland’s war

A year or so ago Ann and I spent time in Australia driving down the east coast in a motor-home. Highlight of the trip was watching the many whales from the headlands and beaches.

It was there we heard tales of a pure white humpback whale. It was a hard story to swallow, but the rumours of this great white whale had gone up and down the coast for over 25 years.

Now, it seems, the stories are proved true. Migaloo — his aboriginal name means White Fella — has been spotted and photographed close to Sydney and this has enabled whale scientists to discover a lot more about this amazing animal.

Migaloo is one of the few albino humpbacks in the world. Sadly as an albino he is more susceptible to UV damage in the bright Australian sunshine than darker humpbacks.

Indeed Migaloo watchers are worried about the 28-year-old whale’s health. Healthy humpbacks can live for 50 years but yellow and red patches on Migaloo’s skin suggest he may have skin disease or even cancer.

Humpbacks do bump into each other at play or when jostling for position when mating and it may be this that has caused the whale’s skin damage.

Meanwhile Migaloo is being studied and looked after. Watercraft are not allowed within 500 metres, aircraft no closer than 2,000 feet.

Watching these monarchs of the ocean prompted us to take a look at the history of British and Australian whaling.

We visited the old whaling station ports of Ballina and Byron Bay to learn a little about this huge, if cruel, industry.

The need for food fats in post-war Europe was critical. In the 1950s and 1960s Australia built a huge fleet of ex-wartime wooden Fairmile motor torpedo boats to hunt and kill thousands of whales. The whale oil was almost entirely used for the British margarine trade.

Scottish “Ten pound Pom” Harry Robertson recorded this hard life in song and story and on an amazing website brings this history alive — www.harryrobertson.net.

The Australian whaling fleet also ventured into Antarctic waters as competitors to the vast Scottish whaling company Christian Salvesen which built several hugely profitable whaling stations in the southern oceans — the first in the Falklands in 1907 and then another on the island of South Georgia. Their station at Leith Harbour, South Georgia, was named after the company’s home port in Scotland.

It was to South Georgia that Constantino Davidoff — an Argentinian scrap dealer — came in March 1982. He had a £180,000 contract from Christian Salvesen to dismantle the company’s derelict whaling station.

At the end of 1981 Davidoff had sought approval from the British ambassador in Buenos Aires. He had also spoken to the Falkland Island authorities.

Margaret Thatcher in London thought this might make a great excuse to flex her muscles in the South Atlantic. She declared the scrap metal workers were the advance party of an Argentinian invasion of South Georgia and told the press that the scrap-men had planted the Argentinian flag and were singing the Argentinian national anthem.

Thatcher despatched marines from the Falkland Islands and 39 scrap metal workers were detained. Argentina sent its troops to rescue them and landed in the Falkland Islands.

Two previously friendly countries were at war over a scrap of unwanted land 8,000 miles from London and 900 people would die before Argentina surrendered on June 14 1982.

Thatcher and the Tories would storm home in the 1983 general election and that, of course, was the whole point of the exercise.

In an ultimate irony, British forces contracted Argentinian scrap dealers to clear away the post-war debris of the many Falkland battles.

Australia: Whaling history on the NSW South Coast – some quick facts: here.

King penguins avoiding wet feet, video


This video from the Falkland islands says about itself:

Penguin Dilemma

Cute, funny penguin couple overcome an obstacle in the rainy, windy elements. Shot near Volunteer Point in the South Atlantic Ocean by Carole Anne (babers201) and Ron. Edited by paulgrem.

Copyrighted by Carole Anne and paulgrem.

Music by Kevin MacLeod under Creative Commons by Attribution 3.0.

Songs used:

Danse of Questionable Tuning
Sneaky Snooper
Conflicted
Scheming Weasel faster

These are king penguins.

A study of how penguin populations have changed over the last 30,000 years has shown that between the last ice age and up to around 1,000 years ago penguin populations benefitted from climate warming and retreating ice. This suggests that recent declines in penguins may be because ice is now retreating too far or too fast: here.

Today’s vast amounts of melted sea ice, caused by global warming, have left icebergs free to roam for most of the year, and batter the boulders on the shallow seabed, and the sea life that thrive there: here.

Winter foraging site fidelity of king penguins breeding at the Falkland Islands: here.

Falkland Islands wolves mystery solved


Old Falkland wolf family tree

From Wildlife Extra:

Mystery solved – Where did Falkland Islands wolves come from?

Ancient DNA solves 320-year-old mystery

March 2013. University of Adelaide researchers have found the answer to one of natural history’s most intriguing puzzles – the origins of the now extinct Falkland Islands wolf and how it came to be the only land-based mammal on the isolated islands – 460km from the nearest land, Argentina.
Previous theories have suggested the wolf somehow rafted on ice or vegetation, crossed via a now-submerged land bridge or was even semi-domesticated and transported by early South American humans.

Darwin questions

The 320-year-old mystery was first recorded by early British explorers in 1690 and raised again by Charles Darwin following his encounter with the famously tame species on his Beagle voyage in 1834.

New stuffed specimen found in New Zealand

Researchers from the University’s Australian Centre for Ancient DNA (ACAD) extracted tiny pieces of tissue from the skull of a specimen collected personally by Darwin. They also used samples from a previously unknown specimen, which was recently re-discovered as a stuffed exhibit in the attic of Otago Museum in New Zealand.

16,000 years ago

The findings concluded that, unlike earlier theories, the Falkland Islands wolf (Dusicyon australis) only became isolated about 16,000 years ago around the peak of the last glacial period.

“Previous studies used ancient DNA from museum specimens to suggest that the Falkland Islands wolf diverged genetically from its closest living relative, the South American maned wolf (Chrysocyon brachyurus) around seven million years ago. As a result, they estimated that the wolf colonised the islands about 330,000 years ago by unknown means,” says Associate Professor Jeremy Austin, Deputy Director of ACAD and co-lead author with Dr Julien Soubrier.

“Critically, however, these early studies hadn’t included an extinct relative from the mainland, the fox-like Dusicyon avus. We extracted ancient DNA from six specimens of D. avus collected across Argentina and Chile, and made comparisons with a wide group of extinct and living species in the same family.”

ACAD’s analyses showed that D. avus was the closest relative of the Falkland Islands wolf and they separated only 16,000 years ago – but the question of how the island colonisation came about remained. The absence of other mammals argued against any land bridge connection to the mainland.

Eureka moment

“The Eureka moment was finding evidence of submarine terraces off the coast of Argentina,” says study leader Professor Alan Cooper. “They recorded the dramatically lowered sea levels during the Last Glacial Maximum (around 25-18,000 years ago).”

“At that time, there was a shallow and narrow (around 20km) strait between the islands and the mainland, allowing the Falkland Islands wolf to cross when the sea was frozen over, probably while pursuing marine prey like seals or penguins. Other small mammals like rats weren’t able to cross the ice.”

The study was published in Nature Communications.