January 7, 2015, Falkland Islands -- The weather finally caught us today. As the Akademik Ioffe sailed into the southeast Falkland Islands this morning, the wind blew 45 knots, whipping up a sloppy sea. Things weren't looking too promising until the ship navigated close enough to shore to get a lea, and the swell subsided enough to launch zodiacs. We all got very wet, but we made it to shore without mishap.
The Falklands are a group of isolated islands in the southern Atlantic Ocean, a couple hundred miles northeast of the southern tip of South America. More people have probably heard about the 1982 British-Argentinian conflict there (Argentines still call the islands by their Spanish name, "Las Malvinas") than the region's natural history, but the Falklands host some spectacular concentrations of seabirds. This morning we landed at Bleaker Island, which, like most of the archipelago, is sandy, grassy, and mostly flat. A customs official flew in to meet us by small plane, and a couple of resident sheep farmers drive a Land Rover down to greet us on the beach. I led a bird walk with Steve Bailey, meandering through a Rockhopper Penguin and Imperial Shag colony, all during intermittent horizontal hail. After more than a week of nothing but ice, rock, and water, it was great to see some green tussock grass today! By the end of the morning, I'd added 22 new year birds, bringing my running total up to 53. I even saw a life bird, the Two-banded Plover, my first lifer of the year.
In the afternoon we repositioned and tried to land at an exposed isle called Sea Lion Island. But while trying to hold steady in a stiff wind, the Ioffe's bow thruster sucked in so much kelp that it jammed, and the captain called off the excursion at the last minute. Everyone was bummed--that was our only chance for King Penguins, and my only shot to see the endemic Cobb's Wren this year. Oh well.
We cut loose and headed for Ushuaia early, with one more sea day tomorrow before reaching port, and the end of this expedition, on the 9th. This evening's dinner included a charity auction which raised more than $1,500 toward several conservation projects (including a rat eradication effort on South Georgia Island, which will benefit hundreds of millions of seabirds). Many seats were empty--a lot of passengers are flat-out seasick. Meanwhile, the Russians on board (this ship is crewed by 42 Russians) celebrated Christmas today, as the Orthodox holiday fell on January 7th. The beat goes on...