A Few Birds from the Drake Passage

We’re at sea on the Drake Passage, which has been relatively calm—a good thing, because the Drake is legendary for its rough seas. It takes about two days to get from Ushuaia to the Antarctic Peninsula, and while there’s plenty to do on board—attend lectures, chat with fellow passengers, eat the terrific food—there’s not a lot to photograph.

But we do go through areas from time to time where you can see seabirds going about their lives not far from the ship. Yesterday there was a lot of bird activity, and I had a lot of fun hanging out on the deck trying to photograph them. I thought I’d share a few images with you.

First, a bird we saw not on the Drake Passage but back in the harbor at Ushuaia: a kelp gull.

I’m told we may see kelp gulls again in Antarctica.

Perhaps the most common bird we were seeing Read more

Dreaming of the Drake Passage

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the Alumni Association’s Antarctica trip that I’ll be hosting in just over three weeks (!!!). In particular, I’ve got the Drake Passage on my mind.

Our trip, like most trips to Antarctica, is a cruise: We board a ship in Ushuaia, on the southern tip of Argentina, then go through the Beagle Channel and head south. As you can see from the screen grab I took from Google Maps, there’s pretty much nothing between the southern tip of South America and the northern tip of the Antarctic peninsula—just 500 miles of open ocean, an area called the Drake Passage. It takes two days to cross the Drake Passage in each direction, and the potential for seasickness is legendary. Many people consider it the roughest ocean on the planet; one blogger called it “the least enjoyable part about a trip to Antarctica.”

But I’m actually excited about the Drake Passage. That’s because it’s also a great opportunity for bird photography. There are a number of seabirds down there that you’re not likely to see anywhere else in the world. They tend to either follow or fly alongside the ship (I guess they’re trying to catch the ship’s updraft?), and as a result, they can get close enough for some good photography.

Cornell University’s “All About Birds” website has a good article on the birds of the Drake Passage, pointing out how hardy they have to be to spend their entire lives at sea, and how graceful they seem in the face of winds and waves that humans would have a tough time surviving.

I remember on the 2002 Antarctic trip spending a lot of time out on the deck, where you could always Read more