Mark Carmody - Photography: Blog en-us (C) Mark Carmody [email protected] (Mark Carmody - Photography) Fri, 05 Apr 2024 04:07:00 GMT Fri, 05 Apr 2024 04:07:00 GMT Mark Carmody - Photography: Blog 120 81 2nd Edition of The Birds of Ireland: A Field Guide out on 21st March 2024 Eleven years after the first edition first appeared on the shelves of bookstores around Ireland, we are proud to bring you the 2nd edition of our field guide. It comes out on the 21st March 2024 and is being published by Gill. 

Birds of Ireland V1Birds of Ireland V1

We have updated a lot of the plates with new images, for example, flight shots of passerines, more comparisons on plates of similar species, additional images on the rare and scarce plates, and changes to some of the background colouring. We also included distribution maps, an updated red species list (unfortunately), and updated the sections at the start and end of the book. We are both thrilled with the second edition and feel it is a marked improvement on the 1st edition. An example of some of the updated plates follow. 

Whooper Swan Plate_edited-2Whooper Swan Plate_edited-2

Whooper Swan

Red breasted Merganser Plate_edited-1Red breasted Merganser Plate_edited-1

Red-breasted Merganser

Grey Plover Plate_edited-4new_editedGrey Plover Plate_edited-4new_edited  

Grey Plover

Raven-Plate 2nd EdRaven-Plate 2nd Ed

Northern Raven

Sanderling-Plate 2nd EdSanderling-Plate 2nd Ed


Jim and I are very proud of the 2nd edition. We hope that you get as much enjoyment from using the book as much as we enjoyed putting the updates together. A huge thank you to everyone at Gill Books (Margaret, Mia, Charlie, and Teresa, and everyone behind the scenes) for all the hard work in getting this over the line. Thank you to the photographers who filled some gaps for us...much appreciated. Links to purchase the book are here: Gill BooksEasons, Hodges Figgis/WaterstonesDubray Booksand Amazon. The book will also be available in all local bookstores and online. The book is out on the 21st March 2024. 


[email protected] (Mark Carmody - Photography) 2nd Edition bird birds book Carmody Gill Gill Books Jim Wilson Mark Carmody Photography The Birds of Ireland: A Field Guide Tue, 19 Mar 2024 22:13:08 GMT
Refresh is coming! I am hoping to have a refresh of the website up and running soon! Please bear with me. Thank you.

[email protected] (Mark Carmody - Photography) refresh website Sun, 03 Dec 2023 22:34:51 GMT
Tysties getting feisty Black Guillemots, or Tysties as they are known in Scotland, are part and parcel of Ireland's coastline, with the exception of the south east corner. They breed in sea caves generally, but have also taken to nesting in pier walls, quay walls and even road support walls. They like to nest in crevices and holes in these walls, above the high tide mark. For those living in or near Dublin, Dublin port, and its surrounding harbours, are a great place to see Tysties in all their breeding finery. They even breed far up the River Liffey in the city's quay walls near the Four Courts! One of the better places to watch them is at Poolbeg, along the Great South Wall. It is a best on a rising tide and from late morning to early afternoon. The birds fly close by, land on the wall and will ignore you if you sit quietly and be patient. They are a great subject to practice exposing dark and bright colours on a single object. 

MC7D3448 TystieMC7D3448 Tystie MC7D3438 TystieMC7D3438 Tystie

The distinctive black and white alcid is easily recognizable in the waters that traverse the nation's capital and the coastline of Ireland. In breeding plumage, they take on the jet black plumage, with white wing patches and white underwings. Their legs and mouth are bright red. The younger individuals, and those wearing their winter garb, are more white than black, and have a mottled appearance.   

MC7D3405 TystieMC7D3405 Tystie MC7D3411 TystieMC7D3411 Tystie

With the majority of the adult Tysties paired up in late April/early May, the youngsters born the previous year try to squeeze in on the territories of these pairs, which can cause some ructions amongst the loved-up pairs. They youngsters are generally chased away by one or both of the pair, which can end up with their chosen nesting hole being taken by a pair lurking around and watching it all unfold. It's quite entertaining.  

MC7D3482 TystieMC7D3482 Tystie MC7D3525 TystieMC7D3525 Tystie MC7D3456 TystieMC7D3456 Tystie MC7D3516 TystieMC7D3516 Tystie

The pairs often fly up from the sea surface and alight on the quay side (or wall). Here, they would call, sit, preen, reinforce their bond and chase off any other interested male who may be trying to push in on the pairing. This generally results in a face off and some quite aggressive posturing, with the pair chasing off the would-be suitor. The reaction is often never hinted at, so it is a great way to practice one's reaction to action happening in a split second. I usually find a spot where the birds rest up and sit on the opposite side of the wall to them. The later morning/afternoon is the best time for this on the Great Wall in Dublin Bay as the sun will be behind you. Not ideal in terms of disturbance, as it tends to be busy with folk walking along the Wall, but the birds won't fly away if those walkers give them some space. 

MC7D3560 Tystie flightMC7D3560 Tystie flight MC7D3571 TystieMC7D3571 Tystie MC7D3446 TystieMC7D3446 Tystie MC7D3450 TystieMC7D3450 Tystie

The display flights are always great to witness, watching the pair match their flight pattern and chasing each other on short flights. Sometimes when they come in to land, they can misjudge a wave and literally belly flop into the sea and skim across the surface like a skipping stone. They also like to snorkel when they are looking for food by simply putting their head underwater and paddling along the surface.  

MC7D3588 TystieMC7D3588 Tystie MC001625 TystieMC001625 Tystie

The Tystie is unusual when compared to its auk cousins that also inhabit our shores (Guillemot, Razorbill and Puffin) in that they change their appearance completely from breeding to non-breeding plumages, and are unrecognisable as being the same species to those unfamiliar with them. The once dark and white plumage becomes overall white/grey with some black on the wings and around the neck. They are equally beautiful in winter as they are in summer. 

[email protected] (Mark Carmody - Photography) Amber Ave Aves Bird Birdwatch Ireland Black Guillemot Canon Canon Professional Network Carmody Collins Press Dublin Great South Wall Guillemot Ireland Irish Sea Jim Wilson Mark Carmody Photography Poolbeg South Tystie Wall Sun, 26 Jun 2016 13:24:28 GMT
Kittiwakes are brilliant! Kittiwakes are brilliant. I just love watching these elegant seabirds effortlessly make their way over stormy seas with aplomb. It is a treat to listen to the contact calls of the Kittiwakes on the seacliffs around Ireland at this time of year. I went down to Dublin Port at the beginning of April on a rising tide to watch a gathering of over 100 or so Kittiwakes, having returned back to their breeding grounds around Dublin Bay following their winter sojourn out to sea. I love this time of year, as the Kittiwakes are looking resplendent and there is a backdrop of calling Arctic, Common and Sandwich Terns in the Bay. It is a real feeling that Spring is here and Summer is around the corner. Poolbeg Power Station and the Great South Wall is a fantastic place to see the gathering Kittiwakes at that time of year. The birds just saunter up and down the Great Wall into the teeth of the wind, hanging there just enough to enable some good photographs to be had. It is a real treat to watch. 

MC7D2799 KittiwakeMC7D2799 Kittiwake

It also allows one to practice one's panning technique for birds in flight and to hone one's skills in quickly adjusting camera settings to get the exposure correct while the action is happening in real time.  

MC7D2878 Kittiwake shiteMC7D2878 Kittiwake shite MC7D2745 KittiwakeMC7D2745 Kittiwake MC7D2707 KittiwakeMC7D2707 Kittiwake

Because of the nature of the way the Kittiwakes make their way up along the edge of the wall here, it is an opportunity to play with the depth of field of oncoming, moving subjects. It is also fun trying to freeze some action or flight poses that the birds are exhibiting, such as certain wing angles, positions or head movements. 

MC7D2826 KittiwakeMC7D2826 Kittiwake MC7D3384 KittiwakeMC7D3384 Kittiwake MC7D3388 KittiwakeMC7D3388 Kittiwake

MC7D3390 KittiwakeMC7D3390 Kittiwake

This sequence of images shows how the Kittiwake walks along the surface of the water, picking up food as it goes along. Always nice to watch a group of them doing this.  

MC7D3050 KittiwakeMC7D3050 Kittiwake MC7D3379 KittiwakeMC7D3379 Kittiwake

MC7D3893 Kittiwake 2sumMC7D3893 Kittiwake 2sum MC7D3989 KittiwakeMC7D3989 Kittiwake I was fortunate to see these seabirds in their Arctic habitat recently and I now look upon them in a whole new light. So strange seeing Kittiwakes among icebergs, sea ice and glaciers. But more on that anon...

[email protected] (Mark Carmody - Photography) BIF Birds in Flight Birdwatch Ireland Canon Canon Professional Network Carmody Collins Press Dublin Ireland Irish Sea Jim Wilson Kittiwake Mark Carmody Photography Sea seabird water Wed, 15 Jun 2016 20:52:03 GMT
A wintering Firecrest in Dublin...what a little gem There are a few regular Autumn and Spring migrants that have escaped me over the years. For example, after 30 years of birdwatching in Ireland, I have seen the grand total of one (1!) Ring Ouzel in this country. In fact, it's the only one I have every seen...anywhere. I've seen more Pacific Divers, Stilt Sandpipers, Least Sandpipers and Pallid Harriers in Ireland than I've seen R'ouzels! That glorious day came on 1st November 1987 on an amazing late Autumn fall of migrants on the Old Head of Kinsale in Cork. It was a day where I saw my first Yellow-browed Warblers, Ireland's 2nd Dusky Warbler, and witnessed Cork's last stronghold of Tree Sparrow, which are sadly no more.

The second species that has escaped me is Firecrest. I have only seen 2-3 in Ireland, and all have been on Cape Clear Island in Autumn. So, when a report came in of a Firecrest in Swords in Co. Dublin in March(!), I was amazed. Firecrests are rarely reported from Dublin. This was apparently the first report since the 1980s. Winter records of Firecrest in Ireland are quite scarce. It turns out there were at least 3 Firecrest wintering in Ireland in 2015/16 (one in Dublin, two in Cork). With daily reports of the bird coming in that week when i was in work, I managed to get there as soon as I could, which for me was a week after the event. Not too shabby given my previous "ah shur, if it's there in a few weeks, I might go for it"-type of attitude to twitching these days. And it was worth the trip to see this little gem of a bird.

MC002552 FirecrestMC002552 Firecrest

Firecrest in all its glory.

The Firecrest is a small passerine that is not too much bigger than our resident Goldcrest and is very similar in plumage as well. The bold eye-stripe and supercillium combination gives it away when compared to the open-faced Goldcrest. I have always found that Firecrests look a bit angrier than the startled-looking Goldcrest. 

Goldcrest in all its startled glory!

I had never photographed Firecrest before either, so this was all very exciting for me. I had brought my 500mm and 100mm-400mm lenses with me. I wanted to use the 500mm so that I could stand back and let the bird behave naturally and not to be put out by me peering in over the wall or into the hedge. The area was over a low wall and by a river bank with thick undergrowth and thicket. Perfect for the miniature bird to forage and feed. Not great for getting clear shots though!

MC002573 FirecrestMC002573 Firecrest   MC002554 FirecrestMC002554 Firecrest

The problem was that there were too many people there, jostling for position, trying to photograph the sprite. I sort of stood back and watched the bird do a circuit. I figured it would make its way out of one area and into a clearing, so I positioned myself in a decent spot and waited. Sure enough, the bird appeared like a shinkansen out of the hedge and darted up the tree. It was difficult to get a clean shot of the bird through the small branches and busy undergrowth. Manual focus was called for to try and get a sharp image. Autofocus was pointless given the amount of distracting branches in front of the bird. Add to the fact that the bird moved so fast, it was difficult to lock on to it using manual focus. Oh how fast we get accustomed to autofocus!  

MC002580 FirecrestMC002580 Firecrest

It did pop out in the open for a brief second every now and then, though, which was nice. A bonus was that the Firecrest had started singing! It was a lovely song and the first time I had heard it.

MC002555. Firecrest FlightMC002555. Firecrest Flight The conditions were difficult to get a sharp flight shot, despite the 1/2000s shutter speed...

MC002405 BullfinchMC002405 Bullfinch While waiting for the Firecrest to make an appearance, a pair of Bullfinches were gorging themselves on the freshly emerged buds on the trees. The female kept herself quite hidden, but the male was quite bullish in feeding away at the top of the trees. Always fantastic to see. 

It was a great few hours spent with the Firecrest, frustrating at times with the rush of people trying to get photographs. However, it was also nice to catch up with some folk I had not seen in quite a while. 

[email protected] (Mark Carmody - Photography) Birdwatch Ireland Canon Canon Professional Network Carmody Collins Press Dublin Firecrest Ireland Jim Wilson Mark Carmody Photography Sat, 30 Apr 2016 20:23:21 GMT
Tree Climbing Rails On my way home from work one evening in March, at dusk, I was making my way across the Luas bridge over the Grand Canal. As per usual, I was plugged in to my mobile device listening to choons at the end of a stressful day at the salt mine. As I glanced over to the west, admiring the sunset, I noticed a large dark bird about 10 metres up a tree along the edge of the Canal. I thought that it looked too big for a Blackbird, too rotund for a Pigeon and not a Moorhen because it was in a tree. I paused on the bridge, took a closer look. Lo and behold, it was a Moorhen! A Swamp Hen up a tree. I couldn't believe it. I can only imagine that the bird was there to avoid being predated on by foxes, rats, cats, dogs, mink or other predators along the Canal. It certainly made me smile and I plodded on home with a bit more pep in my step having witnessed that. 

MC7D2545 MoorhenMC7D2545 Moorhen MC7D2562 Moorhen preenMC7D2562 Moorhen preen MC7D2593 MoorhenMC7D2593 Moorhen

Over the next couple of weeks, I had the same experience every evening I was walking home. However, the single Moorhen became a pair of Moorhen in the same tree. Judging by the amount of bird dropping stains on the branches of the tree, they had been roosting there for quite some time. I brought my camera down to the Canal on Saturday evening when the light was reasonably good. Sure enough, there were the pair, setting up shop for the night. There was some jostling for position and a bit of "walk the plank" antics caused one of the birds to fall off the branch and into the Canal. Trying to get a decent angle for the birds was tough given the height they were at and the level I was at, either on the canal bank or on the Luas bridge. I used the 100-400mm Canon lens, which allowed me to (a) travel light and (b) use the the versatility of the zoom lens in trying to capture the image I wanted. The tricky aspect of this kind of scenario (time of day and tree branches) is that the shadows of the branches are quite long and broad and difficult to see smaller twigs, thus making for a clear shot very difficult to come by. 

MC7D2570 MoorhenMC7D2570 Moorhen For example, in this shot I wanted to make sure that I got some catchlight from the setting sun in the eye of the Moorhen. I was at the other side of the canal so it was difficult to gauge where the shadows were and whether there were any small branches going across the face/head of the Moorhen. The dark plumage of the bird against the background also made it difficult to judge whether there were nuisance branches or shadows in the way. This was the best of the images I managed that evening. 

MC7D2589 Moorhen roadMC7D2589 Moorhen road

Another image I wanted to capture was that of the encroachment of man in our natural world, but also how wildlife has adapted to fill the niches that are being created by man's building and encroachment. In this shot, after a long day foraging along the man-made canal, the Moorhen is preening in a tree that is growing on the roadside while a car passes by and a LUAS arrives into the stop on the bridge. It was sort of what I was looking for, but not quite what I wanted. MC7D2631 MoorhenMC7D2631 Moorhen MC7D2634 Moorhen climbMC7D2634 Moorhen climb What I was very surprised at was seeing one of the Moorhen actually climbing up the branches of the tree rather than flying up to their branch of choice. A mixture of grappling feet and flapping wings propelled the Moorhen up the branches in no time whatsoever! It was a strange sight to see but it certainly brought thoughts to the fore of how their ancestors must have also climbed trees using their additional claws on their "elbows". 

MC7D2651 Moorhen pair silMC7D2651 Moorhen pair sil    MC7D2682 Moorhen silMC7D2682 Moorhen sil

I finished off the little photoshoot with some silhouette images of the Moorhens in the tree, with some city centre/urban backgrounds. I was careful to frame the Moorhen within the branches but to leave enough space around the bird to give it some room. A bit of climbing on some railings and using the aching knees as anchors, I was able to achieve that. I will have to head back again before the leaves escape from their buds and close off all views of the roosting Swamp Hens and try to get some more perspectives and action images. 

[email protected] (Mark Carmody - Photography) Birdwatch Ireland Canon Canon Professional Network CarmoPolice Carmody Collins Press Dublin Grand Canal Ireland Jim Wilson Mark Carmody Mark Carmody Photography Moorhen Photography Silhouette Sunset Mon, 18 Apr 2016 21:47:29 GMT
Irish Ring-billed Gulls A recent brief trip to Cobh to visit the folks, one of the siblings and her progeny (my adorable nieces and nephew), resulted in an even quicker scoot over to my old local patch, Cuskinny Marsh Nature Reserve. The usual suspects of the duck variety were present, as well as Dabchicks, Moorhens and gulls. The gulls are always worth checking out on the marsh as the turnover of gulls is quite high. The gulls come in for a snooze and a wash, and so there is a constant change of the guard. The Reserve has produced the usual species (Herring, Greater Black-backed, Lesser Black-backed, Black-headed, Common, Glaucous, Iceland, Mediterranean), but has also turned up Thayer's Gull, Kumlien's Gull, Bonaparte's Gull, Sabine's Gull, Franklin's Gull and Laughing Gull. One regularly gets Ring-billed Gull, and on this occasion, there was a nice adult Ring-billed Gull on one of the pontoons, beginning to come out of winter plumage and enter breeding plumage. The light was nice for a change. The best time to view the marsh for photography in terms of light is the afternoon/evening, as the light is behind the viewer and shines out on to the lake there.

MC001712 RB GullMC001712 RB Gull

I saw my first Ring-billed Gull in Cobh in the late-1980s, back when the species was a real rarity. We have seen up to 8(!) Ring-billed Gulls on the Reserve at one time in the past! Always a treat to see.

However, I didn't have to travel too far to see a Ring-billed Gull. Within a 20 minute walk of my apartment in Dublin, a near-adult Ring-billed Gull has been hanging out around the Grand Canal Dock and within striking distance of the Grand Canal Theatre (or the Bord Gais Theatre, or whatever they are calling it these days). With a few hours to spare one Sunday morning in March, I headed down for a gander to see if the beast was about. I brought my Canon 7DII and Canon 100-400mm II lens for ease of transport when heading down to the area on Dublin Bikes. The light was not too shabby, despite the overcast conditions. The cloud was high and light, so enough light was getting through to work with. Shortly after getting there, I was checking some of the gulls on the deck and on the water, but I just could not see it. Thinking I might be in for a bit of a wait, I happened to glance upwards, over where I was standing, and lo-and-behold, there was the target...sitting on one of the red posts on the quay edge.

  MC7D2374 RBGMC7D2374 RBG The bird stayed there for quite a while, making some forays out for a wash and then returning to the posts again to rest. I guessed that maybe the gulls had been fed earlier that morning and were not too interested in foraging for a while. As it was Mother's Day, I gave my Mum a call for a chat (it being after 10am on a Sunday, a dignified hour) and kept an eye on the Ringer. When I got off the phone from Mother, I didn't have to wait long before a few kids started feeding the gulls some popcorn (better than white bread!) and the Ringer came down from its lofty perch and started to feed voraciously. Buoyed by the birds hunger, I made may over to the feeding frenzy and managed to get a few shots. It was so tame!! It came within a foot of where I was standing. It was a fantastic opportunity to see the species up close and it was also calling and was quite vocal when feeding in amongst the pigeons and other gulls.

   MC7D2414 RBGMC7D2414 RBG MC7D2424 RBGMC7D2424 RBG MC7D2457 RBGMC7D2457 RBG

Having had my fill of the Ringer, or more accurately, after the Ringer flew off out into Dublin Bay, I finished the morning off with a shot I had been planning for ages but never managed to strike lucky with...Brent Geese flying over the rooftops of Dublin with the Poolbeg chimneys in the background...that'll do (for now). MC7D2512 Poolbeg BrentMC7D2512 Poolbeg Brent

Always be prepared!

[email protected] (Mark Carmody - Photography) Birdwatch Ireland Brent Canal Canon Canon Professional Network Carmo CarmoPolice CarmoPolis Carmody Collins Press Dock Dublin Dublin Bay Geese Grand Canal Dock Gull Gulls Ireland Jim Wilson Larus Mark Carmody Photography Poolbeg Ring-billed Thu, 14 Apr 2016 22:28:25 GMT
Snow Buntings The Snow Bunting (Plectrophenax nivalis; Gealóg shneachta) is an enigmatic member of the bunting family that occurs in Ireland in small numbers during the winter months, predominantly along the west, north and east coasts. Since moving to Dublin in 2008, I have had the pleasure and privilege to see Snow Buntings every winter in and around Dun Laoghaire harbour. This year, there was a very tame first winter male Snow Bunting along the seafront of Greystones in Co. Wicklow. Having not been out much with my camera this winter, I ventured down one dreary grey morning in late February to see if I could find the bird. After parking my car, I proceeded to walk from north to south along the seafront. A short time later, in the dark and misty dawn, I could see the bird feeding no more than 50 metres away from me. I crept up on the bird and found a position that gave me some shelter, so I just sat down and waited. A short while later, the bird just started feeding on the grass seeds to my left and purposefully made its way towards me. And it kept walking towards to me until it was no more than 2 metres away. I took down the camera and spent time just watching it feed on the seeds, all the while keeping one on me and one eye to the sky, looking out for predators. It was quite a thrill to be so close to such a beautiful bird.

MC7D1352 SnowMC7D1352 Snow MC7D1152 SnowMC7D1152 Snow MC7D1210 SnowMC7D1210 Snow MC7D1122 SnowMC7D1122 Snow MC7D1242 Bunt TurnstoneMC7D1242 Bunt Turnstone The Snow Bunting kept company with the odd Ruddy Turnstone or two. This is a really good area to get some very close views of Turnstone during the winter months. A strange sight seeing these species together on a typical Irish landscaped grassy verge!! MC7D1437 SnowMC7D1437 Snow MC7D1492 SnowMC7D1492 Snow The light was pretty poor and the rain kept falling, albeit lightly. The conditions meant I could really test the ISO capabilities of the Canon 7DII to see how it fared. It handled the conditions much better than I thought it would, but the images still lack a bit of punch and are quite flat. However, I couldn't really complain. It was a fantastic few hours spent in the company of the Snow Bunting. MC7D1481 SnowMC7D1481 Snow MC7D1558 SnowMC7D1558 Snow MC7D1674 SnowMC7D1674 Snow MC7D1604 SnowMC7D1604 Snow

Another species literally made my heart stop...a fly-by juvenile White-tailed Eagle came up along the coast before it made its way over the Wicklow hills! Amazing to see such a magnificent species flying freely in our country. A couple of Purple Sandpipers were also milling around on the rocks, giving the area a real Nordic feel! Once the area started becoming busy with Sunday morning walkers, joggers and dog walkers, I decided to head back to Dublin and into the office for a few hours after a relaxing morning. 

There was also a Snow Bunting staying in and around the piers of Dun Laoghaire all winter. I had tried (and failed) to see the bird on a two previous occasions but struck lucky on the third attempt. I also bumped into my good friend Shay Connolly down on Trader's Wharf that Sunday morning and both of us enjoyed photographing the confiding Snow Bunting there for a few hours. Mind you, we spent more time chatting and catching up than photographing the bird! 

MC7D1828 Snow BuntMC7D1828 Snow Bunt MC7D1923 Snow BuntMC7D1923 Snow Bunt MC7D1962 Snow BuntMC7D1962 Snow Bunt MC7D1749 TurnstoneMC7D1749 Turnstone MC7D2038 TurnstoneMC7D2038 Turnstone

The Trader's Wharf is also a great place to get photographs of Ruddy Turnstones. They are quite approachable and are also fantastic characters. Seems that Snow Buntings and Turnstones inhabit the same environment in Ireland during the winter! And I am sure they are close neighbours in Iceland and the Arctic region during the breeding season. I never tire of seeing Snow Buntings. They are just brilliant! 

[email protected] (Mark Carmody - Photography) Bunting Canon Canon Professional Network Carmody Collins Press Ireland Mark Carmody Photography Snow Snow Bunting Turnstone Mon, 11 Apr 2016 21:35:57 GMT
A Rosy Kind of Day It has been quite some time since I found the time, energy and urgency to get out and about with my binoculars and camera. Too long, in fact. I was trying to figure out the last time I took out the camera with any anger at all. It has been that kind of year really. Full of activity, full of tasks, jobs, and duties. Not much time for hobbies or such. Not much time for sitting still for a few hours, with only the bite of winter's cold for company. No time for the purpose of numbing one's toes being to photograph a chosen subject. It had been quite a while since I had done that and I looked forward to the cold, cramps, numbness and chilled bones. I like the wait. I like the quiet. I like the calmness that it brings. People often ask whether or not I get bored sitting in one spot for hours. I generally don't. I find it cathartic to be honest. And I needed to find some catharsis. 

The subject of this first outing in quite some time was a juvenile Rosy Starling in Howth, Co. Dublin, which was a great find by Dublin-based birdwatcher, Mark Stewart. Rosy Starlings breed in easternmost Europe and migrate westwards towards Asia. Ireland gets one or two stragglers  of this species every year, but typically on the south coasts. It would be my fourth time seeing one in Ireland. It was a good bird for Dublin. 

The bird was there when I arrived, just on the southern side of the harbour on the water front. It was feeding voraciously in amongst the rotting seaweed, accompanied by our resident Eurasian Starlings (or Eurasian Starlings having arrived here for the winter from mainland Europe). The juvenile birds are generally tatty and in moult when they arrive here. They stand out from the Eurasian Starlings in that they are very pale, have dark wings and have very pale and long legs. The adults are much more striking, with vivid pink and black plumage. While sitting there, along with Rob Vaughan (one of the best wildlife illustrator's I know), a few of the local Eurasian Starlings and Pied Wagtails came to visit and walk around our feet. They were obviously used to the local humans feeding them. Always nice to see up close. The colours on the winter plumaged Eurasian Starlings are quite something and often overlooked, I feel. 

The Rosy Starling stayed with us for about 20 minutes and then flew off. It came back after about 45 minutes, stayed for another 10 minutes then flew off again back in the same direction. I got a call from Rob, who had moved on to look for the bird, to say he had found it a couple of hundred meters away in the neighbouring cove. The bird was showing down to a few metres in front of the gathering birdwatchers, showing no fear at all. With that news, I got back up from my cramped sitting position and made my way to the cove. And I was glad I did. The Rosy Starling was indeed showing down to a few metres, as it busily fed on invertebrates and insects under the foliage along the edge of a concrete stand. It was a cracking bird. The only problem here was that there was no light at all. The light was stopped by the high cliffs and the eastern facing vista and absorbed by the dark clouds. The downside to the dark and dreary Irish winter weather is that it makes for slow shutter speeds despite using a high ISO. However, it was great just watching the Rosy Starling go about its business. It did look a bit ill, with drooping open wings and constant retching-like actions.

MC000165 RosyMC000165 Rosy

MC000401 RosyMC000401 Rosy MC000493 RosyMC000493 Rosy MC000381 RosyMC000381 Rosy MC000453 RosyMC000453 Rosy MC000633 RosyMC000633 Rosy MC000667 RosyMC000667 Rosy

What was quite a lovely surprise on this particular day was a pair of extremely tame Stonechats that fed around our feet as we watched the Rosy Starling. The tamest Stonechats I have ever experienced. Stunning little birds. 

So it was a good few hours spent out in the cold grip of a winter's morning. The Rosy Starling was seen again the following day but it has not been seen since, as far as I know. I just hope the bird decided to move on to a different location rather than moved on to the lunch menu for the local critters of Howth. 

[email protected] (Mark Carmody - Photography) Ave Aves Bird Canon Carmody Collins Press Dublin Howth Ireland Mark Carmody Photography Rosy Starling Starling Sun, 13 Dec 2015 21:26:00 GMT
Day 19 and 20 - The Drake Passage to Buenos Aires After getting out of the waterproof and thermal gear following our final landing on Antarctica (and the trip), we headed to the bar for a pre-dinner drink. The sun was being quickly hidden by low cloud as we ventured out over a choppy Bransfield Strait. A small flock of about a dozen Pintados had come alongside, effortlessly gliding in the stiff breeze. Peter, Jim and I were enjoying a cold bottle of beer when Jim shouted "Antarctic Petrel!" and pointed over my shoulder and out the window. I was in mid-swig and nearly choked on the beer, carelessly placed the bottle on the counter, which was caught by Johnson (best barman on the Southern Oceans), and ran out the door in just a t-shirt and a pair of jeans. This was probably the last new bird species of the trip for me and it was one I really wanted to see. My panicked reaction to Jim's shout had piqued the interest of fellow passengers. A few arrived out on deck all wrapped up, asking had I spotted more whales. When I explained that it was an Antarctic Petrel, they grumbled and just went back inside. None too impressed. I stood outside in the freezing cold and watched the Pintado flock circle the boat a dozen times, but no sign of the Antarctic Petrel. I went back inside to continue supping on my beer. No sooner had I had my first sup when Jim shouted again! Repeat the procedure. Repeat the failure. There was always tomorrow. 

The species that were coming close to the ship in the murky conditions that evening were Southern Fulmar, Pintados, Grey-headed Albatross, Wilson's Storm Petrels and Southern Giant Petrels. Nothing to turn one's nose up to. It's always a good day when one sees Albatrosses!  

MC006212 Southern FulmarMC006212 Southern Fulmar MC006320 PintadoMC006320 Pintado MC006259 Black-browed juveMC006259 Black-browed juve MC006221 Black-browed juvwMC006221 Black-browed juvw

The following morning I was up early again on Deck 5-Aft, coffee and biscuits in hand as per usual, in search of the Antarctic Petrel. This day would be my last chance to see the bird. The Drake was not behaving itself all that well during those first 6-7 hours of the day on the deck. The seas were rolling nicely and the wind was strong and head on. While it was "interesting" to experience the Drake a little bit angry, it was only a 5-6 metre swell. Nothing like the 8-10 metre swell Jim experienced on the previous crossing of the Drake he did. I was thankful when the Drake calmed down such that it took on the appearance of the mythical "Drake Lake" for the remainder of the journey. The light improved during the day and it remained dry. It was quite a surreal journey back. A touch of melancholy mixed with bewilderment and disbelief. I did not want this to end. 

The birds were starting to change as well, noticeably so from the Antarctic. The constants were Black-browed Albatross, Southern Giant Petrel, Pintado, Southern Fulmar and Wilson's Storm Petrel. Brown Skuas went past every now and then, while White-chinned Petrels and Southern Royal Albatrosses put in an appearance from time to time. One Southern Giant Petrel in particular became very interested in the ship, and flew literally inches over our heads at the stern of the boat on numerous occasions - it was an amazing thing to behold. One could hear the wind ruffle the feathers on the bird. The only disappointment was not seeing any Antarctic Petrels at all that day. Despite scouring the seas and every flock of Pintados that went by or hung about the ship, no Antarctic Petrel materialised. I was gutted. What was even worse, Johnson told me he saw one from the bar window that afternoon. I thought he was taking the piss but when he described the bird he saw to me, it was definitely an Antarctic Petrel. I was gutted. 

MC006421 SGP juveMC006421 SGP juve MC006438 PintadoMC006438 Pintado MC006443 SGP closeMC006443 SGP close MC006691 SGP portraitMC006691 SGP portrait MC006709 Antarctic Prion headonMC006709 Antarctic Prion headon Antarctic Prion was flying high over the ship...fantastic to see these small birds in total control in the strong winds. 

The other highlights of sailing back across the Drake towards South America were very close encounters with Light-mantled Sooty Albatross, Southern Fulmar, Southern Royal Albatross, Northern Royal Albatross, Wandering Albatross, Black-browed Albatross and Antarctic Prions. It was still exciting to see these giant albatrosses coming in from distance and heading up and along the wake of the ship, looking for food and scraps. Even thinking of it now, almost a year later, I still get an adrenaline rush. 

MC006468 LMSA sideMC006468 LMSA side MC006487 LMSA head oneMC006487 LMSA head one MC006644 Southern FulmarMC006644 Southern Fulmar MC006857 SRAMC006857 SRA MC006922 SRA bowMC006922 SRA bow We made good time, too good in my opinion, getting back to Ushuaia. So much so that we had to anchor up outside the Beagle Channel overnight. What struck me most about this was that when were still about an hour or more away from sighting land, one could catch the spicy scent of the Patagonian forests. It was the first time in over a week or 10 days that one caught a scent of foliage or earth or plant matter. It was quite surreal on the senses to breath that scent in, to get a first whiff of land without seeing it. In fact, it was quite overwhelming. It gave one a real sense of what the early explorers must have felt like after weeks at sea to finally get a sniff of land. To be honest, I was not sure I was looking forward to getting back to civilisation, unlike the explorers who probably couldn't wait to get to land. 

As we contemplated the trip we just experienced and were looking out on Cape Horn to the port side, we had an amazing close encounter with at least 3 Sperm Whales off the stern and we within touching distance of Tierra del Fuego. They were logging on the surface, breathing and just acting like typical Sperm Whales. I was delighted as it was the first time I had seen Sperm Whales alive and it was totally unexpected. The only other experience I had with Sperm Whales was of a beached and dead Sperm Whale in Dungarvan Co. Waterford, Ireland a few years back. To see them in all their glory alive and breathing was a great moment for me. Chilean Skuas were flying overhead that evening and gave everyone (well, me at least) a sense that we had definitely left the magical world of South Georgia and Antartica far, far behind. 

MC006968 Chilean SkuaMC006968 Chilean Skua MC007093 BBA headonMC007093 BBA headon

The final night on board consisted of a farewell dinner, the Captain's speech and swapping of email addresses and contact details. During the farewell speech from Cheli Larsen, the Expedition Leader, the total piss was taken out of me for not seeing Antarctic Petrel on the trip, despite spending a minimum of 18 hours a day staring at the sea! A lovely image of the species was put up for all to see so that everyone could show me what it looks like when it flies by! Antarctic Petrel has now become my ultimate bogey bird, my arch nemesis of the Antarctic seas. 

It was sad saying good bye to some great people I met on board, and to the fantastic staff who worked on the trip. The slideshow from the DVD we received at the end of the trip was also shown in the lounge that evening, with some great images of the Polar Plunge crew as they, including me, jumped in (proof I did it is below!).

CGM_QUARK_2014_4116CGM_QUARK_2014_4116 The passengers and field staff from our trip...can you spot where I am?

Polar Plunge 1st Dec 20140077Polar Plunge 1st Dec 20140077

CGM_QUARK_2014_2160-2CGM_QUARK_2014_2160-2 CGM_QUARK_2014_2166-2CGM_QUARK_2014_2166-2 G0135502G0135502 Polar Plunge 1st Dec 20140090Polar Plunge 1st Dec 20140090

To say it was cold is an understatement! My cousin Peter and I doing the Polar Plunge. It was Peter's second time doing it!

After packing my bag in a solemn mood the night before, and after a deep sleep, I woke at dawn to find that we were pulling in and docking at Ushuaia. It was sad having to leave the ship. I had had a wonderful time and made some friends along the way. It was also brilliant, and fitting, to share the experience with my uncle and cousin, Jim and Peter. After all, it was Jim who started me birdwatching as a kid and it was in one of his seabird books I had first seen a depiction of the Cape Pigeon (Pintado) that I had dreamt of seeing all my life. It made the trip for me very special indeed. 

2014-11-20 14.56.162014-11-20 14.56.16

2014-12-06 06.52.492014-12-06 06.52.49 2014-12-06 06.52.552014-12-06 06.52.55 2014-12-06 06.53.002014-12-06 06.53.00 2014-12-06 06.53.112014-12-06 06.53.11 2014-12-06 06.57.162014-12-06 06.57.16 2014-12-06 06.58.042014-12-06 06.58.04

Not a happy camper having to leave the ship and go back to Buenos Aires, before heading home to Dublin.

We departed the ship after a hearty breakfast in the morning, and headed to a cafe in Ushuaia to get a coffee and some WIFI. I had not checked my email, turned on my phone or tuned into the outside world for 3 weeks. It was bliss being totally unplugged. I got a bit of a fright to see how many personal emails I had to trawl through and I was getting the Glenroes thinking about how many work emails I would have to go through when I was back in the office! I had a final coffee and bite to eat with Jim and Peter, said my goodbyes and went to the local airport for the 3 hour flight to Buenos Aires. Being back in Buenos Aires was horrible (going from sub-zero to +35C was a shock to the system). So, once I got to the hotel room, showered and refreshed, I went out for a quiet stroll and a coffee down the side streets near the hotel. It was very strange sitting down, having a coffee and watching the world go by. The noises, smells, sounds, sights, the frantic pace, the constant delivery of information...the senses were being attacked from all angles and I really didn't want it! Hence, I returned to my room, ordered a steak and some Malbec (when in Rome...), a local beer and slept like a baby in a bed that did not move. The following day, it was back to London and Dublin...back to reality. Back to the stresses and strains of 21st Century life. 

2014-12-06 20.17.362014-12-06 20.17.36

And so has ended a trip of a lifetime and a journey I will never forget. Thank you all for sticking through the blog posts and images. I hope that you have enjoyed reading them as much as I have enjoyed writing them. I have priceless memories and thousands of images to remind me of how lucky I was to travel to these magical lands. I just hope that the Antarctic Treaty is signed by all (including my own country, Ireland!) and that this wondrous place is never touched by man's hands again. I hope that I can get back down there again to finally see my Antarctic nemesis, the Antarctic Petrel, before it is too late. 


[email protected] (Mark Carmody - Photography) Albatross Birds Canon Carmody Jim Wilson Mark Carmody Penguin Photo Photography Plunge Quark South South Georgia Steak Whale bird petrel Sun, 15 Nov 2015 21:38:18 GMT
Day 18 - Cierva Cove, The Antarctic Peninsula...the last day This was it. This was the last morning I would wake up looking upon the glory and majesty of Antarctica. The last morning where I would be greeted on deck by icebergs, glaciers, snow-covered islands and landmasses. The last morning I would look up at the sky and not see any contrails from man. 

MC005715 Sea Spirit Deck 5 aftMC005715 Sea Spirit Deck 5 aft The view from Deck 5-Aft looking into Cierva Cove

The sight that greeted Damo and I as we stood on the Deck 5-Aft was white and blue heaven. Icebergs, sea ice, fast ice, mini-bergs, snow, snow-capped mountains and snow-covered land surrounded us. It was a glorious, yet freezing, morning with no windIt was frankly quite ridiculous. As we stood supping our coffee and brushing the biscuit crumbs off our fleeces, there was no need for any words to be exchanged. The vista was breathtaking. Then, the unmistakable sound of a whale taking a breath broke the silence. A quick scan off the stern revealed the leviathan to us. Well, a mini-leviathan. The characteristic arched back of a Humpback Whale, a juvenile, emerged from the icy waters again, taking a breath and diving. It did this for the entire morning we were there, albeit keeping a good distance from the Zodiacs and the ship. What a welcome to Cierva Cove on the Antarctic Peninsula. 

MC005732 Humpback whaleMC005732 Humpback whale A juvenile Humpback Whale surfaces amongst the icebergs and sea fast ice.

The area was just covered with sea ice and icebergs. A massive glacier spilled down to the sea, with a face that was over 100 feet high. The icebergs that calved from this glacier were, to me, enormous. The scale of the scene was so difficult to take in. A scout Zodiac zipping across the sea and light sea ice, going past some icebergs, did put a scale on the vista we were looking out on. Once we were out on the water, seeing the ship against some of the 'bergs were really put into context. The different colours of the 'bergs were quite amazing. From pure whites to off-white to blue to being totally transparent. Very small chunks of floating ice that rise only about 1 meter/3 feet out of the water are called "growlers". When trapped air escapes as the iceberg melts, it sometimes makes a sound like the growl of an animal, and that's how growlers got their name. Some of these growlers are transparent (called black growlers) and are a serious threat to shipping lanes where icebergs or growlers occur, as they are very difficult to see. The Cove was simply covered with growlers and black growlers. It was tricky navigating through them in the Zodiac. 

MC__5227 Antarctica IcebergMC__5227 Antarctica Iceberg MC__5250 Cierva Cove ZodiacMC__5250 Cierva Cove Zodiac MC__5255 Glacier scoreMC__5255 Glacier score MC__5295 Cierva Cove growlerMC__5295 Cierva Cove growler Black Growler  MC__5300 Antarctica IcebergMC__5300 Antarctica Iceberg MC__5346 Antarctica Iceberg Sea SpiritMC__5346 Antarctica Iceberg Sea Spirit MC005799 AntarcticaMC005799 Antarctica MC__5358 IcebergMC__5358 Iceberg

The next thing on the agenda was to land and set foot on the Antarctic Peninsula. For that, we headed around to Base Primavera, an Argentinian base on the peninsula. Each Zodiac took it in turns to land, have a photograph taken with the flag and then back on the Zodiac again for further cruising around Cierva Cove. I was fortunate to be on the Zodiac with Paul Nicklen, Cristina Mittermeier, Jim and a couple of other passengers. It was great to be piloted around by Paul. His eye for a photograph was just amazing to see in action as he pointed the Zodiac in the right place, using the light and reflections from the sea and 'bergs. Cristina was also incredible to watch in action, swapping cameras and using different focal length lenses and different perspectives for particular situations. It was a brilliant learning experience from a photography standpoint. In case you are wondering, I did set foot on the peninsula and the photograph below is proof!  There were about a dozen Weddell Seals hauled out in well-worn dips in the ice there. It was great to see them so close and they did not pay us any attention at all save for a fleeting glance. A South Polar Skua was also lounging around, waiting for any scraps that surrounded the seals. 

MC005826 Weddell SealMC005826 Weddell Seal MC__5376 Cheli Paul CristinaMC__5376 Cheli Paul Cristina Paul Nicklen, Cheli Larsen and Cristina Mittermeier  MC005865 South Polar SkuaMC005865 South Polar Skua MC005883 Bawe PrimaveraMC005883 Bawe Primavera MC__5384 Mark Carmody on AntarcticaMC__5384 Mark Carmody on Antarctica

A rare photograph of me, and an even rarer one of me standing on the Antarctic Peninsula (with thanks to Jim Wilson for taking the photograph). 

After the stop off, we headed back to the ship to have lunch. Paul took us by some seriously impressive icebergs, some of which were close to flipping over, which would be quite dangerous to be near if it happened. We also swept by a Chinstrap Penguin colony high up the slope near Primavera Base. The penguin highways were clearly visible through the snow and ice. It is amazing how these birds survive down here and how they manage to walk up those slopes. Very impressive. Antarctic Imperial Shags balanced precariously on top of unstable icebergs, while Snowy Sheathbills, Kelp Gulls and both Brown and South Polar Skuas patrolled the area for an easy meal. "Danger" Dave Riordan then gave a fine example of daredevil Zodiac driving while sitting in a kayak...

MC__5394 Antarctic IcebergMC__5394 Antarctic Iceberg MC005898 Chinstrap colonyMC005898 Chinstrap colony MC__5411 AntarcticaMC__5411 Antarctica MC__5475 Base PrimaveraMC__5475 Base Primavera MC005924 Antarctic ShagMC005924 Antarctic Shag MC__5557 Dave in kayakMC__5557 Dave in kayak MC__5490 proper Cierva vistaMC__5490 proper Cierva vista

After lunch, we headed off across the Gerlache Straits to Mikkelsen Harbour on the south side of Trinity Island, and the smaller D'Hainaut Island which is found in the middle of the harbour and home to a small Argentinian refuge and a series of Gentoo Penguin colonies. We passed some massive icebergs on our transit across the Straits, as well as one of the only ships we encountered on our trip in these waters. This was one of the Russian-owned cruise ships, meandering through those massive icebergs. Having to gaze across another ship was almost an affront to our perceived isolation and expedition-esque journey. There were very few birds on this crossing, the odd Wilson's Storm Petrel and Southern Giant Petrel. A White-chinned Petrel or two was the best there, while a couple of Snow Petrels flew past as well. I spent some time just leaning against the hull of the ship, taking it all in. The realisation that we would be on our way later that evening was beginning to sink in. 

MC__5609 Gerlache StraitMC__5609 Gerlache Strait MC__5637 Russian ShipMC__5637 Russian Ship

Once the Gerlache Strait was traversed, we arrived at D'Hainaut Island, which is home to Weddell Seals and Gentoo Penguins. The typical raiders of South Polar and Brown Skuas, Southern Giant Petrels and Kelp Gulls, and the enigmatic Snowy Sheathbill were also present. A handful of Adelie Penguins, looking suitably lost, were near the landing area. The nearest breeding colony of Adelie's was quite a ways away, so we were not sure what they were doing there. Maybe they were spreading out and looking for new breeding areas. Only time will tell, I guess. This little island was very easy to walk around, despite the hilly terrain. There were Gentoo colonies dotted all around. It was lovely to just stroll around, take in the vista and breathe in the odour of penguin pooh for the final time this trip. The weather was glorious, with blue sky, little cloud and no wind. It was a fitting end to what had been a trip of a lifetime. I had loved every second of it. I could not take enough in. I was knackered but exhilarated all at the same time. 

MC__5659 Weddell SealMC__5659 Weddell Seal MC__5668 Gentoo RidgeMC__5668 Gentoo Ridge MC006018 Gentoo PortraitMC006018 Gentoo Portrait MC__5699 Gentoo portraitMC__5699 Gentoo portrait MC006097 Gentoo screamMC006097 Gentoo scream MC006104 Snoozing gentooMC006104 Snoozing gentoo MC006121 Kelp GullMC006121 Kelp Gull MC__5772 Gentoo colonyMC__5772 Gentoo colony MC__5774 Gentoo pairMC__5774 Gentoo pair MC006167 Antarctic SkuaMC006167 Antarctic Skua MC006141 Adelie pair lostMC006141 Adelie pair lost

MC__5814 Antarctic Skua and Weddell SealMC__5814 Antarctic Skua and Weddell Seal

As we walked back down the slope to the landing area, we were greeting once again by the slumber party that had congregated there; a couple of Weddell Seals and the five Adelie Penguins. A Brown Skua had joined the party, its bill dripping dark red blood from its latest snack, a penguin egg. Kelp Gulls scooted by, saying their goodbyes and the Giant Petrels zoomed over our heads like the Nazgûl about to strike terror into everything below. I made sure to savour the last moments ashore on Antarctica, and sat down on the snow-covered hill with the bones of slaughtered whales for company, watching a large Elephant Seal snooze on the rocky shoreline, and a Snowy Sheathbill picking its way around it. As I was implored by our great leader Cheli Larsen to "get in the bloody Zodiac", I rubbed some Antarctic dirt into my de-gloved hands and said goodbye to the most amazing place I have ever visited. 

It was with a really heavy heart that I stepped foot in the Zodiac for the last time. When we bounced off the pontoon of the Zodiac and on to the splash deck of the ship, I washed my boots as normal in the biocidal wash for the final time and we set sail once more. We were heading into the Bransfield Strait, named after the man who is credited as being the first person to see Antarctica and who was born and raised a mere 20 miles from my home. Once clear of the Bransfield Strait, it was a 2 day journey to Ushuaia across the dreaded Drake Passage...

[email protected] (Mark Carmody - Photography) Sun, 08 Nov 2015 20:47:57 GMT
Day 17 - Livingston Island and the Aitcho Island Group, South Shetland Islands, Antarctica Our second morning on the Antarctic Peninsula and our second-to-last day of the Antarctic leg of the trip. It was sort of setting in that the trip was coming to an end. The mental and physical fatigue had also started to take its toll, as I struggled out of the leaba (Gaelic for "bed", pronounced lah-bah) to make sure I did not miss anything. The original plans for the day were changed over night due to an over-abundance of sea ice clogging up some of the bays we had planned to visit. This being due to the excess ice in Antarctica that winter and an excess shedding of ice from the glaciers there. It was a significant reminder of the effect mankind has had on our planet. Up on deck, assuming the position, there was Caniglia in his usual spot, wide-angle in hand with a look of disbelief and a smile on his face. Damo was very generous with his camera gear, and let me borrow his 17-40mm lens at times, which was great to get some really nice wide views. We were entering Halfmoon Bay of Halfmoon Island and heading for Livingston Island. The island was home to Gentoo and Chinstrap Penguins, as well as Antarctic Terns, South Polar Skua, Northern and Southern Giant Petrels and Snowy Sheathbills. The lack of variety and number of species was noticeable the more we sailed around the Antarctic continent. 

MC004872 (1) Chinstrap portraitMC004872 (1) Chinstrap portrait MC004876 (1) Chinstrap snoozingMC004876 (1) Chinstrap snoozing MC004881 (1) Chinstrap carrying stoneMC004881 (1) Chinstrap carrying stone MC004895 (1) Chinstrap portraitMC004895 (1) Chinstrap portrait MC004925 (1) Antarctic SkuaMC004925 (1) Antarctic Skua A Brown Skua keeping a watchful eye out for an easy meal.  MC004945 Antarctica Kelp GullMC004945 Antarctica Kelp Gull A pair of Kelp Gulls

MC004963 (1) Chinstrap groomingMC004963 (1) Chinstrap grooming

The Chinstrap Penguins were the first species we encountered on this island. They were nesting in dug out holes in the snow and ice, and making their way up the slope of the island to little nesting groups dotted about the ridges. The South Polar Skuas and Kelp Gulls were keeping a sharp lookout for any opportunity to nick in and steal an egg. We were too early for chicks. No doubt quite a few of those would be part of the daily takings of these top aerial predators. A lot of the Chinstraps, I noticed, when they came out of the sea, would eat some of the snow. Others would be carrying stones up the hill to their partner on the nest site. There was lots of grooming going on around the place. 

MC004967 (1) Weddell SealMC004967 (1) Weddell Seal A sleepy Weddell Seal having a scratch. Note the thick, short fur. 

MC__4836 ChinstrapMC__4836 Chinstrap MC__4845 Chinstrap Sea SpiritMC__4845 Chinstrap Sea Spirit The view from the nesting colony of Chinstrap Penguins. The M.V. Sea Spirit in the background.  MC__4853 Chinstrap SheathbillMC__4853 Chinstrap Sheathbill Can you spot the Snowy Sheathbill?

MC005008 (1) Screaming ChinstrapMC005008 (1) Screaming Chinstrap MC005020 (2) Screaming ChinstrapMC005020 (2) Screaming Chinstrap MC__4860 Chinstrap Sea SpiritMC__4860 Chinstrap Sea Spirit The view from the nesting colony of Chinstrap Penguins. The M.V. Sea Spirit in the background. 

MC__4869 VistaMC__4869 Vista

Walking up the slope from the landing zone, we were greeted by crying Chinstrap Penguins, arguing over space and robbing stones from each other's nests. It was quite good fun to watch. The Snowy Sheathbills were hanging around like the scavengers that they are, the Antarctic's own garbage collectors. South Polar Skua's patrolled vigilantly. A Weddell Seal or two were hauled out up the slopes, having a snooze and a scratch. The weather was changeable, with squally snow showers rushing through, making the temperatures drop below zero and freezing even further. Remnants of sea ice and icebergs were dotted along the shoreline of the island. But the vista these guys had from their nesting areas was stunning. It was getting to a point now where I did not know where to look. The birds were captivating, the scenery was jaw-dropping and the seals were just adorable. I was becoming emotionally drained at this stage. It was getting all a bit too much!

MC__4873 Jim Cierva CoveMC__4873 Jim Cierva Cove

Some people have asked did I hang around with Jim and Peter much when I was on board. Apart from a couple of drinks at the end of the day, and meeting at the coffee machine in the bar when we were motoring along to a new destination, I did not see much of the lads on a daily basis. They were busy working and I was busy standing on the deck freezing my proverbials off or wandering around on my own during the Zodiac landings. This was one of the few times I actually could take a photo of Jim working as I was usually off on a jaunt somewhere else, under guidance from Jim as to where to go on a landing. Having worked for the first time this summer past, I understand now how much time one does NOT have to spend taking photographs as one is far too busy looking after passengers and making sure nobody is straying beyond where they are supposed to be going. Still, I was delighted to catch this image of Jim just as he realised it was me pointing the camera at him.  

MC005120 (1) Antarctic TernMC005120 (1) Antarctic Tern Antarctic Tern riding the wind  MC__4881 PassengersMC__4881 Passengers

The squally showers did not deter my fellow yellow penguins from wandering around, following the marked-out route of luminous flags, which were clearly visible from some distance. There was a feeling and atmosphere of awe from everyone there. It was quite humbling to be stood there, talking it all in. The quietness and scale of the place is impossible to describe. So is the smell from the penguin colonies! The Argentinian base, Camp Livingston, is visible in the image below. Some grounded icebergs were also a treat to see. What was also quite a unique moment to witness was the wedding of a couple of guests! The Captain came ashore and officiated the exchange of vows, with Jim and Colin Baird being the witnesses. Colin insisted that he was best man while Jim was maid of honour! I got the impression that the Captain did not like being on terra firma...

MC__4883 Quark passengersMC__4883 Quark passengers The landing at Livingston Island, with the Argentinian base in the background. There are snow shoes laid out in rows at the landing site.  MC__4920 Cristina PaulMC__4920 Cristina Paul Cristina Mittermeier and Paul Nicklen - incredible people, photographers and conservationists  MC005158 (1) Chinstrap blizzardMC005158 (1) Chinstrap blizzard The squalls produced these rough conditions on the slopes, but the Chinstraps kept waddling along and not bothered by anything. 

MC__5015 Antarctic PassengersMC__5015 Antarctic Passengers

MC__4960 PassengersMC__4960 Passengers MC__5014 SandpiperMC__5014 Sandpiper Colin Baird, a.k.a Sandpiper, walking along the slopes of Livingstone Island, with the M.V. Sea Spirit moored off in the background.  MC__5017 Jim and MarlaMC__5017 Jim and Marla Marla and Jim trying to determine what the plan of action is. It was getting very cold now.    MC__5039 South Polar SkuaMC__5039 South Polar Skua South Polar Skua MC005250 (1) PintadoMC005250 (1) Pintado Pintado off the back of the M.V. Spirit on our return. Beautiful birds. MC005274 (1) EuropaMC005274 (1) Europa The Europa sailed past us on that day, while we were having lunch on the ship. The first time we saw another vessel since South Georgia.  MC__5064 IcebergMC__5064 Iceberg
With everyone safely aboard the ship, we had lunch on the open deck and headed back out into the Bransfield Strait. The Europa, a three-masted sailing ship built in 1911, sailed past us on the horizon. It was the first of only two ships we saw on our South Georgia/Antarctica leg of the trip. It was quite a strange feeling seeing another ship, a reminder of the world that I had left behind and a reminder that the feats of those who journeyed here over 100 years ago were very brave and adventurous souls. As we headed back out into the Bransfield Strait, icebergs began to increase in their size and different colours of white and blue. It was quite something to behold and there were times where I just started laughing, smiling and shaking my head in disbelief that I was actually here, in Antarctica. What was also in the back of my mind was that we were sailing on a stretch of water that was named after a man (Edward Bransfield) born less than 15 miles down the road from where I grew up! It is quite a small world we live in. 

MC005362 Gentoo Head onMC005362 Gentoo Head on MC__5100 Chinstrap colonyMC__5100 Chinstrap colony MC__5127 Chinstrap stoneMC__5127 Chinstrap stone MC__5135 ChinstrapMC__5135 Chinstrap MC__5138 Gentoo PenguinsMC__5138 Gentoo Penguins MC__5142 Chinstrap BWMC__5142 Chinstrap BW MC__5152 Antarctic GentooMC__5152 Antarctic Gentoo MC__5165 Sea Spirit and DaveMC__5165 Sea Spirit and Dave

As we sailed across the Strait to the Aitcho Island Group, we came across some small groups of Humpback Whales and the odd Antarctic Minke Whale or two. It was always exciting to see some blubber surfacing and sending out their plumes of breath. Black-bellied and Wilson's Storm Petrels had increased slightly than on previous days, with Northern and Southern Giant Petrels, Southern Fulmar, Pintado and both Brown and South Polar Skuas flying by the ship. When we approached Barrientos Island, Snowy Sheathbills flew out to the boat for a gander, while a couple of Snow Petrels also flew a couple of times around the ship. The Zodiacs were put down and the scouting party went out to set up the landing. The island hosted both Chinstrap and Gentoo Penguin colonies throughout the island. There were a few Elephant Seals beached up on the rocky shore at our landing site. We were allowed wander around the marked out path on the island for a few hours. So, off I went in search of wonder. 

MC__5186 Gentoo climbMC__5186 Gentoo climb

A Gentoo Penguin begins the trek up to its nesting site along a clearly marked out penguin highway on the snow MC__5199 Gentoos on whaleMC__5199 Gentoos on whale Gentoo Penguins perching on a the vertebrae of a long-deceased Fin or Blue Whale. 

MC__5203 ChinstrapMC__5203 Chinstrap

A Chinstrap Penguin making its way up the slope to its nesting site. A clearly marked highway is at the base of the image.

MC__5205 Gentoo Colony BarrientosMC__5205 Gentoo Colony Barrientos

The Gentoo Penguins nested on the rocky shore but the Chinstraps did not. The penguins lying down on the slope in the background are eating snow. 

MC005319 Gentoo face offMC005319 Gentoo face off MC005333 Chinstrap walkingMC005333 Chinstrap walking MC005394 Gentoo pairMC005394 Gentoo pair

The areas where the penguins were nesting were quickly becoming quite wet mud baths from the defrosted snow and ice, caused primarily by the body heat from the penguins. What was interesting to note was that those penguins that had buried into the snow and earth underneath, were now sitting in a pool of cold water trying to incubate what was probably a lost egg. It is quite remarkable how the feet of these guys don't freeze standing around in freezing mud and the harsh conditions. The colonies are quite independent as well. Any Chinstrap Penguin that decide to navigate through the Gentoo Penguin colony got a good nipping from those that it ran by. This could be become quite aggressive and no holds were barred on some occasions. 

MC005409 South Polar SkuaMC005409 South Polar Skua

A South Polar Skua looking for a unattended egg. 

MC005415 South Polar Skua huntingMC005415 South Polar Skua hunting MC005423 Gentoo cry tripleMC005423 Gentoo cry triple MC005432 South Polar Skua snowMC005432 South Polar Skua snow MC005511 Gentoo head portraitMC005511 Gentoo head portrait MC005597 Southern Giant PetrelMC005597 Southern Giant Petrel

A Southern Giant Petrel also looking for a free meal, flying against the snowy backdrop

The island was criss-crossed with compacted, shiny snow highways that were patted down by the countless journeys the penguins make too and from the sea. We were warned, quite vehemently, NEVER to stand on a penguins highway for fear of putting a big ugly footprint on it, thus creating a nasty hole that these guys could trip up in. I sat down on a slope looking down on a Gentoo Penguin colony for what must have been 30 minutes and just watched. I didn't take any photographs, didn't raise my binoculars, I just watched. It was nice to do that. There was a lot of courtship, bickering, stone carrying, stone stealing, egg laying, egg abandoning, egg stealing and snow eating going on all around me. South Polar and Brown Skuas were flying low overhead and Southern Giant Petrels soaring higher up. It was quite epic against the backdrop of snow-laden slopes and mountain tops. Once again, the only sound one could hear was the cry of the Gentoo and Chinstrap Penguins. It was quite something. 

After a few hours of walking around, we were all beckoned back to the Zodiacs. As always, I was on the last Zodiac back to the ship, my hands frozen solid, my bladder bursting (one is not allowed to relieve oneself when on Antarctica or any of the islands...AT ALL!), my camera batteries draining due to the cold and my mind blown by what my eyes were feasting upon. After dinner, a couple of bottles of beer in the bar with Jim and Peter, I went to bed with a somewhat heavy heart as I knew that the following day was my final day in Antarctica. 


[email protected] (Mark Carmody - Photography) Albatross Antarctic Antarctica Canon Canon Professional Network Carmody Cork Elephant Ireland Jim Wilson Mark Carmody Penguin Photography Quark Seal Sheathbill Skua Snow South South Georgia Whale Sat, 03 Oct 2015 20:55:16 GMT
Day 16 - Gourdin Island, Antarctic Sound The "Café" on Deck 5-Aft was occupied with the usual nutters in yours truly and Damian Caniglia just prior to sunrise. The morning sky was cast with a flat grey cloud that had the slightest hint of a red glow behind it. The possibility of some sun warmed the soul in the bitter cold. The air temperature outside was a cool -2C, with a constant falling of light snow. Thankfully the wind was non-existent, which negated any potentially crippling windchill factor. Suitably wrapped in thermals and layers, we stood there in silence for quite some time. What we were gazing out on was the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula, a sea packed with sea ice and icebergs, and glaciers tumbling and rolling into the sea from the numerous islands that were around us. All we did for the first 20 minutes while drinking coffee, eating biscuits and taking photographs in total silence was smile as wide as Cheshire cats. With spare batteries tucked in our pockets to keep the charge fresh, we continued to fill the CF/SD cards over the next couple of hours prior to the Chef's Special for breakfast.

MC__1334 Icebergs DaveMC__1334 Icebergs Dave Dave Riordan in his Zodiac approaching a grounded iceberg. The small dot on top is an Antarctic Skua. The larger blob on the right is a large boulder that would have come off another iceberg or the glacier which calved this beast. 

MC__1343 BS on BergMC__1343 BS on Berg An Antarctic Skua sitting on top of a grounded iceberg.

MC__1356 BergsMC__1356 Bergs MC__1560 Hiding AdelieMC__1560 Hiding Adelie A lone Adélie Penguin hiding on some sea ice. MC__1810 Zodiac scaleMC__1810 Zodiac scale The sense of scale is hard to convey...can you spot the 16 foot (5m) Zodiac near the sea ice edge?

MC004132 MountainMC004132 Mountain

The enormity of the mountains here, the amount of snow. It was epic.

MC__1206 AntarcticaMC__1206 Antarctica The morning was spent just cruising around the area on the Sea Spirit. The plan had been to visit Brown Bluff, an extinct volcano that formed about 1 million years ago, but the amount of sea ice that had built up from the storms we had managed to navigate around the previous couple of days, had prevented us from getting anywhere near it. This is the beauty of the expedition beast. All was not lost however, and as the cloud cleared and the sun shone, we boarded our Zodiacs for a 4 hour tour around the frigid waters and air of Gourdin Island in the Antarctic Sound. There were large icebergs and large blocks of sea ice in the area of Gourdin Island. The island is home to hundreds, if not thousands, of Adélie Penguins. So, the blocks of sea ice generally had a handful or more, or sometimes less, of Adélie Penguins lounging or travelling on. When our Zodiacs puttered up to them, they would get very curious and sometimes just amble over for a look. These are my favourite penguin species. Fantastic characters. The pale eye-ring on the plain black face adds to the anthropomorphic expressions they appear to be making. 

MC__1279 Adelie tripleMC__1279 Adelie triple MC__1269 Adelie singleMC__1269 Adelie single MC__1294 AdelieMC__1294 Adelie

There were also our first Crabeater Seals of the trip on the sea ice. They are more rotund and bilcoloured than the Weddell Seals. They were just snoozing on the ice, taking no notice of anything, or us. By turning off the outboard motors on the Zodiacs, we were able to glide past them resting on the ice. They are big mammals and very cool to see. This was my sixth seal species of the trip. They were colourful characters in the sense that they were neither black, brown, grey or white! Apart from that, they just slept and growled at us if we disturbed their sleep. A bit like me first thing in the morning and up until I have drank my coffee. 

MC__1466 Wedell SealMC__1466 Wedell Seal MC__1472 Wedell sealMC__1472 Wedell seal MC__1493 Wedell SealMC__1493 Wedell Seal MC__1629 Sea SpiritMC__1629 Sea Spirit

The M.V. Sea Spirit on the calm sea of the Antarctic Sound. My home for 20 days. The icebergs can be seen in the background.

The area was packed sea ice, icebergs and snow. It was quite remarkable. I had, not for the first and not for the last time, never seen anything like this before. It was both beautiful and intimidating all wrapped up in its virgin white and azure blue colours. The harshness of the dark mountains against the pristine snow fields was mesmerising. It was so quiet. It was quite eerie. The sense of scale, as I've said above, is difficult to get across without a reference point. Having the 16ft Zodiacs with passengers in the foreground lends some form of scale for you, dear reader, of the sea ice, icebergs and glaciers. What struck me most when cruising amongst the sea ice and icebergs. was the clarity of the sea water, the blueness of some of the ice, and the quietness. The lack of noise. The Zodiac drivers turned off their engines. We simply drifted through the ice, the only sound being the click of the camera shutters and the scraping of the sea ice off the bottom of the Zodiacs. I closed my eyes and just breathed in the clean, cold air; concentrating on the noise in my ears that only pure silence can bring. In amongst the white noise of the silence was the occasional hissing of trapped air bubbles, thousands of years old, pop and hiss as the glacial mini-icebergs melt. It was a lovely moment. A moment of calm in what had been, thus far, a mind-bending trip. 

MC__1641Blue iceMC__1641Blue ice MC__1731 Sea Ice ZodiacMC__1731 Sea Ice Zodiac MC__1741 Blue IceMC__1741 Blue Ice MC__1771 GlacierMC__1771 Glacier MC004153 IcebergMC004153 Iceberg

The Gourdin Island colony of Adélie Penguins was the largest we had seen yet. There were Gentoo and Chinstrap Penguins present as well, albeit in much smaller numbers. The silence was broken by the sounds of the penguins and the splashes in the water from porpoising penguins. I was fortunate to be in the Zodiac that was being driven by Paul Nicklen. Paul's huge experience driving in these conditions meant that he pushed the Zodiac's limits and got into places other Zodiac drivers may not try. It was also beneficial because of Paul's undoubted knowledge and unparalleled understanding of polar light. He always positioned the Zodiac in the right place to get the right light on the subject. It was a huge privilege and honour to be with him for this trip. It made a huge difference. The Adelie's were in great spirits, with hundreds of them trying to get into the water after their stint incubating eggs, or digging nesting areas. A lot of them were bunched on the edges of the islands, itching to dive in to the water. Apprehension of what may be in the water holding them back. Leopard Seals should have been arriving at that time, just before the start of breeding season. To pick off slow swimmers, the first divers into the was something to see. Unfortunately for me, but fortunately for the penguins, we didn't see any Leopard Seals. We enjoyed the show they put on, just going about their normal, daily business. Jumping, waddling, belly sliding and porpoising their way around their home. See if you can spot the odd Chinstrap or Gentoo Penguin in the following shots. 

MC004176 AdelieMC004176 Adelie MC004198 AdelieMC004198 Adelie MC004214 Adelie PortraitMC004214 Adelie Portrait MC004250 Swimming AdelieMC004250 Swimming Adelie MC004268 Adelie and GentooMC004268 Adelie and Gentoo MC004275 AdeliesMC004275 Adelies MC004306 Gentoo and Chinstrap AntarcticaMC004306 Gentoo and Chinstrap Antarctica MC004326 AdeliesMC004326 Adelies MC004366 Adelie jumoMC004366 Adelie jumo MC004384 Jumping AdeliesMC004384 Jumping Adelies MC004404 Adelie ChinstrapMC004404 Adelie Chinstrap MC004551 Adelie prortraitMC004551 Adelie prortrait MC004649 skating AdelieMC004649 skating Adelie

MC004603MC004603 MC004619 AdelieMC004619 Adelie

MC004684 AdelieMC004684 Adelie MC004673MC004673

MC__1505 SandpiperMC__1505 Sandpiper

Colin "Sandpiper" Baird with his yellow penguins in the frigid conditions amongst the glacial ice debris. MC__1684 Damo and DaveMC__1684 Damo and Dave

Dave "Danger Dave" Riordan, cleanly shaven, drives the Zodiac that Damian Caniglia is in guiding his group. Damo is the crazy Aussie not wearing gloves in these conditions. Hard core. 

After the cruising was finished, it was time for the Polar Plunge!! 26 brave souls jumped into the icy Antarctic waters, including yours truly. The water temperature was -1.1C!! For those of you wondering, sea water freezes when it reaches -2C. My cousin, Peter, wanted the two of us to go in last and together. Let's be honest, when is the next time I could get a chance to jump in the waters of the Antarctic Sound with my cousin? Probably never... So with that, we donned our Antarctic tartan ties to accompany our swimming shorts and jumped in. One has a safety rope tied around one's waist, just in case the frigid waters induce a coronary or other nasty shock to the system. If it happens, at least they can drag you back in! While Peter jumped straight down, I decided to go for a swim, so dove outwards. I swam out, underwater and it was then that the shock of the cold water really hit home, so much so that all I wanted to do was breath. It was a strange feeling. I knew I had enough oxygen in my lungs for a minute or more under water. But after 5-10 seconds, I felt like I had none. All I wanted to do was breath. So, up I surfaced and gulped in lungful after lungful of, the air felt warmer than the water! After being hauled back in, Peter and I were wrapped in towels, and we made our way to the hot tub on Deck 6 to warm up. After getting into the steaming water, we cracked open a beer and toasted the beauty of the Antarctic that surrounded us on all sides. What a day...

Peter and I antarctic plungePeter and I antarctic plunge My cousin, Peter, smiling for the camera operated by Colin Souness (thanks for the photo, Colin!). The legs, seemingly attached to the rope, in the background are mine :) (c) Colin Souness

As this is currently the only photograph I have of me swimming in Antarctica, and I have misplaced my DVD of the trip, if anyone reading this has a one or two photographs of me in the water or out of it following the swim, I'd appreciate if you could email them to me!!

The sights to be had in this area were a quick reminder that we really have to do as much as we can to preserve this wonderful and magical place. 

MC004696 Giant Petrel glacierMC004696 Giant Petrel glacier MC004730 Crabeater SealMC004730 Crabeater Seal Weddell Seal MC004769 Antarctic GlacierMC004769 Antarctic Glacier MC004418 Lonely AdelieMC004418 Lonely Adelie MC004425 Crab-eater SealMC004425 Crab-eater Seal Crabeater Seal on some sea ice MC004487 GlacierMC004487 Glacier MC004414 Iceberg MountainsMC004414 Iceberg Mountains MC004463 GP take offMC004463 GP take off Southern Giant Petrel taking off from some sea ice

[email protected] (Mark Carmody - Photography) Albatross Antarctic Antarctica Blue Bucket Bucket List Canon Canon Professional Network Carmody Expedition Ice Iceberg Jim Wilson List Mark Carmody Mountain Penguin Photography Quark Rock Snow South Travelling Whale cloud Tue, 01 Sep 2015 20:05:18 GMT
I've made the Long-list! Longlisted-Buttons-300x250Longlisted-Buttons-300x250

Not quite the Booker, but I made the Long-List for the Irish Blog Awards 2015 in the photography category. The long-list will be further reduced to a shortlist which will be announced on September 2nd. #bloggies2015

[email protected] (Mark Carmody - Photography) Blog Awards 2015 bloggies Sun, 30 Aug 2015 13:02:27 GMT
Days 13 to 15 - Retracing Shackleton's steps to Elephant Island, Antarctica It's been quite a while since I updated the blog. It has been a busy few of months for me, for many reasons. One of the main reasons was that I was fortunate to spend two weeks on board the M.V. National Geographic Explorer (operated by Lindblad) sailing around the British and Irish Isles. My purpose on board was as a Naturalist (read that carefully), showing people the wildlife we encountered, giving a talk on Seabirds and generally managing the passengers expectations on board. To say I loved it would be an understatement! There was not much time for concentrated photography, but I did manage to get a few here and there. But more of that anon. Now it's back to the reason you are here. 

MC001889 TabularMC001889 Tabular A huge(!)tabular iceberg indicated we were heading south and into the polar waters of Antarctica. This was 10km long!

Following the mind-bending ending to the South Georgia leg of the trip, we headed southwest towards the Antarctic continent. We spent two days at sea, essentially tracing, in reverse, the route that Shackleton, Crean and Worsley & Co. took to get get from Elephant Island to South Georgia. This was to take us two full days from leaving South Georgia to reaching Elephant Island. Along the way, we experienced some variable sea-states, with one of the days a bit nastier than normal. The wind was getting colder and wilder. Snow started to become a regular occurrence and the second day at sea was hampered by fog. Icebergs, LARGE icebergs started making appearances. I was buzzing again. The emotional exhaustion from the South Georgian experience was replaced with the excitement and anticipation of what was to come. 

MC001849 Snow PetrelMC001849 Snow Petrel Snow Petrel

MC002045 LMSAMC002045 LMSA Light-mantled Sooty Albatross

MC002387 Antarctic PrionMC002387 Antarctic Prion

Antarctic Prion

MC002501 White NellieMC002501 White Nellie Southern Giant Petrel ('White Nellie')

MC002497 NGP NellieMC002497 NGP Nellie Southern Giant Petrels

The birds played ball as well, with albatross (Light-mantled Sooty, Grey-headed, Black-browed), petrels (Northern Giant, Southern Giant Cape, Snow, Blue, White-chinned, Wilson's Storm, Black-bellied Storm, Diving), penguins (King and Chinstrap), Antarctic Prion, Southern Fulmar and Brown Skua. These were the species that were pretty much evident each day at sea, but at much lower numbers than we were used to seeing. A white-phase Southern Giant Petrel (known as White Nellies) was a real treat. 

MC002636 Antarctic PrionMC002636 Antarctic Prion Antarctic Prion

MC002599 Southern FulmarMC002599 Southern Fulmar Southern Fulmar

MC002551 LMSAMC002551 LMSA A very pale-headed Light-mantled Sooty Albatross

MC002540 LMSAMC002540 LMSA Light-mantled Sooty Albatross

It was getting colder and colder out on deck. Despite the layers and two pairs of gloves, my hands would be the first to go cold. I would nip into the bar and grab a coffee. Defrost for 10 minutes, carefully scanning the Pintado (Cape) Petrels for a stray Antarctic Petrel, and venture back out again. But the cold and the numbness was soon forgotten when we stumbled upon a massive gathering of large blubber...there were Humpback and Fin Whale blows as far as the eye could see! I estimated that at least 35 Humpback Whales and at least 30 Fin Whales. We also saw 10 Antarctic Minke Whale and, unexpectedly, 6 Southern Bottlenose Whales. Another new whale species for me and others on the ship. It was also incredible to see Antarctic Fur Seals so far out to sea and away from land. 

MC001932 Beaked WhaleMC001932 Beaked Whale MC001978 Beaked WhaleMC001978 Beaked Whale MC001979 Beaked WhaleMC001979 Beaked Whale

Southern Bottlenose Whales (heavy crops) MC002988 (1) HumpbacksMC002988 (1) Humpbacks Humpback Whales

MC003107 (1) Fin WhaleMC003107 (1) Fin Whale Fin Whale

The second day at sea came to an end and we all went to bed with the knowledge that the morning would bring us to quite an historic venue...Elephant Island and Point Wild.

We were greeted on our first morning at the South Shetland Islands with a dissipating fog, wind, heavy seas and snow. Not to mention bitterly cold temperatures. Damian and I were up on deck early, as usual. When we ventured out, there lay Elephant Island and Point Wild in all its mythical glory. Point Wild is a point 11 km (6.8 mi) west of Cape Valentine and 2 km (1.2 mi) east of Saddleback Point on the north coast of Elephant Island, in the South Shetland Islands of Antarctica. It was named Cape Wild by the Shackleton Endurance expedition of 1914-16, but was later changed to Point Wild to avoid confusion with Cape Wild on George V Coast. It was named for Frank Wild, leader of the party from Shackleton's shipwrecked expedition. What I noticed first upon gazing at the area where Shackleton's men hunkered down for 4 months until being rescued in August 1916 was that it was so, so desolate. The cliffs were sheer, steep and imposing. The glaciers swept down into the ocean without providing any break. There was so little shoreline here. So little to hold onto. They spent the Antarctic winter there. It must have been hell. It was so difficult, almost 100 years later, trying to imagine what it must have been like. Here I was, layered up with Merino Wool base layers, thermal mid-layers and windproof, insulated outer layers, not to mention thermal underwear and wind-proof pants, hats, gloves, neck get the picture. And I still felt the cold. They did not have all that current technology can provide, nor did they have a heated ship with fantastic food and a constant supply of hot water and hot drinks. It is mindboggling to think what they had to endure and how incredible their sense of survival must have been. Having been here now, these adventurers are held in my highest esteem. Truly remarkable. 

MC002797 Point WildMC002797 Point Wild MC002800 Chinstrap ElephantMC002800 Chinstrap Elephant MC002832 (1) Point WildMC002832 (1) Point Wild Point Wild and the bust of Captain Pardo (the Chilean Captain of the tug Yelcho that rescued the men, with Shackleton on board) DSCF1260 Point Wild, Elephant Island, Antarctica where Shackelton's men stayed for 3 months prior to resuceDSCF1260 Point Wild, Elephant Island, Antarctica where Shackelton's men stayed for 3 months prior to resuce A view of Point Wild, Elephant Island from the ship in the morning gloaming. 

We stayed in the area for an hour or more. I really couldn't tell how long to be honest. It was not possible to land on Point Wild, or even Elephant Island along this coast, due to the direction of the wind, its strength and the state of the tide. We would have to find a more sheltered bay and set foot on Elephant Island at a different site. However, we were still treated to hundreds, if not thousands, of Chinstrap Penguins along the snow-covered slopes. How these intrepid birds get up the slopes here is a head-scratcher. They, rather than the Rockhoppers, are known as the climbers of the penguin family. Quite remarkable little birds. 

MC002810 (1) Point WildMC002810 (1) Point Wild MC002864 Chinstrap Point WildMC002864 Chinstrap Point Wild MC__1198 (1) Chinstrap WildMC__1198 (1) Chinstrap Wild Chinstraps as far as the eye could see on the mountainsides. Amazing. 

After our fill of Point Wild, we headed off around the corner to a sheltered bay so that we could take a Zodiac cruise and step foot on the hallowed "turf" of Elephant Island. On our way around the corner we came across a lot of icebergs, some with Chinstrap or Gentoo Penguins idling standing around, or with Brown Skuas floating overhead looking for an easy meal. Gentoo Penguins porpoised out of the water, while Black-bellied Petrels dragged their left leg in a characteristic fashion as the fed ahead of the wash from the ship's bow. The landscape was truly remarkable. Quite surreal after South Georgia, which now seemed like an age when, in fact, only a couple of days had passed. Time just seems to behave differently down here, or maybe it just behaved differently for me.

MC002711 South Polar SkuaMC002711 South Polar Skua Antarctic Brown Skua MC002737 Black-bellied PetrelMC002737 Black-bellied Petrel Black-bellied Petrel, dragging its left leg in the water as it fed in front of the wash from the ship's bow. A typical sight.  MC002902 (1) Southern FulmarMC002902 (1) Southern Fulmar Southern Fulmar in the snow.  MC003068 (1) Gentoo porpoiseMC003068 (1) Gentoo porpoise A porpoising Gentoo Penguin MC003081 Point Wild, Elephant Island Antarctica IcebergMC003081 Point Wild, Elephant Island Antarctica Iceberg An iceberg with an Antarctic Brown Skua sitting on top.  MC003088 (1) Elephant Island glacierMC003088 (1) Elephant Island glacier An Elephant Island glacier Chinstrap on Berg copyChinstrap on Berg copy Chinstrap Penguins chilling out on an iceberg

As we rounded the corner into the sheltered bay, one could smell the penguin rookeries. It was quite something. There was a big colony of Macaroni Penguins here. A few of the staff went out on a scouting mission to see if they could land anywhere and to see what was about. After about 20 minutes, the guys came back and the other Zodiac drivers buzzed and jostled for position at the marine deck at the stern of the ship. We were dispatched into our Zodiacs, all wrapped up in a lot of layers to combat the wind chill and snow. The temperatures certainly plummeted since yesterday. 

MC003193 (1) Elephant IslandMC003193 (1) Elephant Island MC003199 (1) Chinstrap IcebergMC003199 (1) Chinstrap Iceberg MC003207 (1) SP SkuaMC003207 (1) SP Skua Antarctic Brown Skua

We ventured out and were provided a fantastic taste of life ashore on Elephant Island. I was in the Zodiac with Colin Baird (a very interesting man who helped to rehabilitate Keiko or "Free Willy"), while Peter Wilson was shadowing us with his passengers. The area we were now touring was a bit more sheltered. However, the waves were still quite choppy and the snow was still driving across our faces. It was cold and uncomfortable but to be honest, who cares?! Where we were was sensational. I had my gloves off because I couldn't operate the shutter and buttons on the camera. It was bitter. But the sights of Macaroni Penguins, Chinstrap Penguins and my first Adelie Penguin made up for the cold. While we did miss a Leopard Seal, we did some more Elephant Seals and some nice views of Snowy Sheathbills as well. The views of all the species were close, spectacular and mesmerising. As a couple of small 'bergs had grounded themselves along the shore of Elephant Island, which gave us a chance to drive around and over one of them! The 'berg had been weathered and beaten to a U-shape, so the Zodiacs could drift across between the two sides...very cool. 

MC__0989 Peter ElephantMC__0989 Peter Elephant

Peter Wilson with his, very cold-looking, passengers. It was a bit lumpy, which made for difficult photographic conditions, particularly in the low light and snow.

MC003294 (1) SheathbillsMC003294 (1) Sheathbills Mating Snowy Sheathbills amongst none-too-impressed Chinstrap Penguins

MC003306 (1) ChinstrapMC003306 (1) Chinstrap

Chinstrap Penguin

MC003382 (1) MacaroniMC003382 (1) Macaroni Macaroni Penguin colony

MC__0971 (1) Iceberg Elephant IsleMC__0971 (1) Iceberg Elephant Isle

Some nice grounded icebergs were about - we went over this one!

We also had a chance to land and step foot on Elephant Island. A bucket list tick for many people on board. We had fantastic close views of Chinstrap and Gentoo Penguin at the landing site, with a sleep female Elephant Seal ignoring us. The Sheathbills were curious as ever and came over to investigate everything and everyone. We had literally 5 minutes ashore before we had to get back on the Zodiac and continue our tour of the area. We stumbled across a sleeping flock of Pintado on the water, which allowed us to get quite close. They were chattering away amongst themselves. It was a great sound. We were also very lucky to stumble upon a moving party of Macaroni Penguins coming down to enter the sea from their breeding colony. It was the best views of Macaroni Penguins we had all trip. They are really beautiful penguins, with their colourful feathering and bills. It was also a great opportunity to see Chinstraps really up close, with their vibrant pink legs and pinky glow to their underwings. 

MC003538 (1) ChinstrapMC003538 (1) Chinstrap

Chinstrap Penguin MC003591 (1) GentooMC003591 (1) Gentoo A Gentoo Penguin legging it out of the water, looking very clean. We later found out that there was a Leopard Seal in the water, but our Zodiac did not see it...

MC003595 (1) ChinstrapMC003595 (1) Chinstrap

A dirty Chinstrap Penguin going down to the sea for a well-deserved wash. MC__1052 (1) Chinstrap and ElephantMC__1052 (1) Chinstrap and Elephant A Chinstrap Penguin checks us out, while a young female Elephant Seal snoozes without paying us any attention at all MC__1061 (1) SheathbillMC__1061 (1) Sheathbill The always-curious Snowy Sheathbill on the seashore of Elephant Island. Hard to believe that this is classed as a Wader! MC003744 Macaroni copyMC003744 Macaroni copy Macaroni Penguins in all their splendour

After the incredible Zodiac tour around the bay, and despite the bittersweet moment of missing the first Leopard Seal of the trip, it was time to get back in the ship, warm up and shelter from the deteriorating weather. We were out on the water for about 3.5 hours so a lot of people had had enough. I would have stayed out there all day. Even as we made our way south-west towards the Antarctic peninsula, the landscape did not fail to impress. We passed Gibbs Island, with its stark landscape and grounded icebergs. It was a sight to behold. The size of some of the tabular icebergs that floated past us were phenomenal. Quite a sight...

MC003958 (1) Pintado flockMC003958 (1) Pintado flock A resting flock of Pintados. Tough birds.   MC003975 (1) Southern FulmarMC003975 (1) Southern Fulmar Southern Fulmar MC__1081 (1) Berg SheltandsMC__1081 (1) Berg Sheltands South Shetland Islands and an big tabular iceberg  MC__1102 (1) Two bergs ElephantMC__1102 (1) Two bergs Elephant As big as ships  MC__1125 (1) Iceberg ElephantMC__1125 (1) Iceberg Elephant A big tabular iceberg grounded near the shoreline of Gibbs Island  MC__1159 (1) Elephant IcebergMC__1159 (1) Elephant Iceberg The fantastic spectacle of a grounded Antarctic iceberg against Gibbs Island. A tad surreal.

It was with bated breath that I went to sleep that night, knowing that what lay ahead the following morning would take all who have never been here by total surprise. I was more than excited. Despite the tiredness from the 6am appointments on deck, I couldn't wait to get up in the morning and freeze my proverbials off in the Antarctic conditions.  

[email protected] (Mark Carmody - Photography) Albatross Antarctica Canon Canon Professional Network Carmody Expedition Fur Seal Jim Wilson Mark Carmody Penguin Photography Quark Seal South South Georgia Whale Thu, 20 Aug 2015 22:26:00 GMT
Day 12 - Moltke Harbour and Drygalski Fjord The morning of the 12th day of the trip was rougher than normal. This was evidenced by the appearance of sick bags on the handrails throughout the ship and the bigger roll of the ship as I partook in a game of pinball with the walls of the ship's corridors. After carefully getting my coffee (and biscuits) onto its usual spot at Deck 4 Aft prior to breakfast, I set about checking to see what was around. What was noticeable was the apparent drop in temperatures. It was frickin' freezing. The sea spray was freezing on the deck of the ship and icicles were being formed along the railings. This was the coldest yet. Time went by and soon it was necessary to grab breakfast prior to our morning excursion to Moltke Harbour. I quickly made a beeline for the dining room for a massive mug of hot coffee and the Chef's Special omelette. 


Sea spray freezes on the railings of the MV Sea Spirit as we headed further south

MC000765 glacierMC000765 glacier

One of the many glaciers scattered along the coast of South Georgia.

Having warmed up during breakfast, I headed back up on deck for more punishment thrills and adrenaline rushes in the bitterly cold wind. The usual species were making themselves obvious as we steamed towards Moltke Harbour, our port of call for the morning. Pintado, Antarctic Prions, Blue Petrels, Black-browed and Grey-headed Albatross, Light-mantled Sooty Albatross, Wilson's and Black-bellied Storm Petrels, White-chinned Petrels and Northern Giant Petrels. A single Common Diving Petrel was a highlight from the deck. With snow falling as we approached Moltke Harbour, a pair of Snow Petrels appeared out of the blizzard and circled the ship for a time. What a rush!!! I was running inside looking for one of the passengers, a legend of a man called Ritch, who hails from Hawaii. He was determined to see Snow Petrel, so I was delighted to point them out to him. 

MC000612 PintadoMC000612 Pintado

Pintado or Cape Petrel or Cape Pigeon floats over the surface of the Southern Ocean. I love these birds. 

MC000622 Snow PetrelMC000622 Snow Petrel

Snow Petrels through the their element. MC000650 Snow PetrelMC000650 Snow Petrel

Snow Petrel MC000685 Wilsons PetrelMC000685 Wilsons Petrel

Wilson's Storm Petrel MC000854 Antarctic PrionMC000854 Antarctic Prion

Antarctic Prions

MC000910 Antarctic PetrelMC000910 Antarctic Petrel

Antarctic Prion MC000942 Blue PetrelMC000942 Blue Petrel

Blue Petrel MC000900 Antarctic and Blue PetrelMC000900 Antarctic and Blue Petrel

Antarctic Prion (left) and Blue Petrel (right). Easy to distinguish these species from each other by the pattern/colouring on the undertail and uppertail feathers. DSCF1191DSCF1191

Moltke could smell the Fur Seals from here! Some rare blue sky peeking through the cloud.

When we reached Moltke Harbour, the smell of the Fur Seals was very obvious on the wind. It was also soon apparent to those of us out on deck that there was no way we were going to land Zodiacs here. It was just too rough. The wave heights were too big at the back of the ship where we would get into the Zodiacs. And this was soon confirmed over the tannoy when a recon team went to suss out the landing. Time to drive on. It was the first time that a landing/Zodiac tour had been cancelled on the trip. Quite incredible really, when one considers where we were and the conditions that usually prevail. We were very lucky in that regard. However, I think some passengers looked slightly relieved as it was very, very cold out there. As Moltke Harbour was out of bounds, we headed for Dyrgalski Fjord earlier than planned. We were not sure if it was going to be possible to access the Fjord as it had a tendency to be ice-bound due to ice shed from the Risting Glacier, which sits at the end of the Fjord, and from sea ice coming up from the Ross Ice Shelf in the Antarctic. The birds continued to appear. My first Chinstrap Penguins of the trip were seen porpoising out of the increasingly rougher seas, and Albatrosses swept along in total control, accompanied by Prions and Petrels. 

MC001079 BP BBAMC001079 BP BBA

A Blue Petrel following a Black-browed Albatross in worsening conditions   MC001102 Penguin porpoiseMC001102 Penguin porpoise

A Gentoo Penguin porpoises behind 3 Chinstrap first Chinstraps of the trip! Antarctic Prion and Blue Petrel are in the background.   MC001112 Grey-headed AlbatrossMC001112 Grey-headed Albatross

Grey-headed Albatross

Soon the icebergs started appearing as well. My jaw dropped when I saw my first. I have seen plenty of sea ice before in northern Japan during the winter months, together with frozen harbours, but I had never seen an iceberg before. This was epic. We really were heading towards Antarctic waters now. The richness and depth of the wildlife we had experienced so far from Ushuaia to St. Andrew's Bay, was suddenly being usurped and replaced by the bleak and barren landscape of south-east South Georgia being brushed by a massive tabular iceberg from Antarctica. Things were changing on the horizon. 

DSCF1214DSCF1214 MC001103 Iceberg landMC001103 Iceberg land A massive tabular iceberg, probably from the Ross Ice Shelf in Antarctica, floats past our boat and the south-east corner of South Georgia. A Light-mantled Sooty Albatross heads towards it, while Antarctic Prions glide below. 

MC001124 Iceberg petrelsMC001124 Iceberg petrels Antarctic Prion and Cape Petrels fly past the iceberg.

MC001118 IcebergMC001118 Iceberg MC001143 IcebergMC001143 Iceberg As we entered Drygalski Fjord, we were greeted with snow-covered sheer cliffs and Snow Petrels. Thankfully, we were not greeted with pack ice and icebergs! Drygalski Fjord is a bay 1 mile (1.6 km) wide which recedes northwestwards 7 miles (11 km), entered immediately north of Nattriss Head along the southeast coast of South Georgia. The sheerness of the cliff faces, the size and scale of the place was so difficult to grasp. Trying to portray this in images is even more difficult. This was becoming a common theme throughout the trip! It was also the first time that many, if not all, of the expedition crew were going to tour in and around Drygalski Fjord on a Zodiac, so the excitement in all was palpable. The team were itching to get out on the water and have a look at the Risting Glacier, explore the nooks and crannies, and just see what was out there. The water was not too rough but the air was freezing. Snow was constantly falling, albeit not too heavily. It really added to the scene and atmosphere though. 

DSCF1227DSCF1227 DSCF1235DSCF1235 The entrance to Drygalski Fjord MC001174 Snow PetrelMC001174 Snow Petrel Snow Petrel in the snow MC__0582 DrygalskiMC__0582 Drygalski

National Geographic Photographers Paul Nicklen and Cristina Mittermeier take the first Zodiac out to test the waters of Drygalski Fjord. 

What we did not expect to see as we puttered around on the Zodiacs was a feeding flock of about 40-50 Snow Petrels. I was in a Zodiac with Dave "Danger Dave" Riordan (great guy), whose family originally came from Cork and Italy! Dave brought us gently towards the feeding flock. They were calling and bickering on the water, as well as roosting up on the brash ice that had broken off the Risting Glacier found at the end of the Fjord. They were truly mesmerising, sitting on the cobalt blue waters. Another aspect of the fjord was the colour of the water. It was the richest of blue, and most mineral-rich sea water I have ever seen.

MC001218 Snow PetrelMC001218 Snow Petrel MC001276 Snow PetrelMC001276 Snow Petrel MC001282 Snow PetrelMC001282 Snow Petrel MC001344 Snow PetrelMC001344 Snow Petrel MC001353 Snow PetrelMC001353 Snow Petrel MC001361 Snow PetrelMC001361 Snow Petrel MC001364MC001364 MC001371 Snow PetrelMC001371 Snow Petrel MC001379 Snow Petrel portMC001379 Snow Petrel port MC__0601 DrygalskiMC__0601 Drygalski MC001456 Snow PetrelMC001456 Snow Petrel MC001479 Snow PetrelMC001479 Snow Petrel MC001501 Snow petrelsMC001501 Snow petrels MC001511 Snow PetrelsMC001511 Snow Petrels

After leaving the Snow Petrels to do their thing, we toured around the Fjord, listening to the glacier creak, groan and moan. The cracks were loud and echoed around the Fjord, signalling a potential calving event at the front of the glacier. On one occasion an event occurred after such a crack and it was such a wonderful thing to witness, seeing a massive chunk of ice fall away into the sea from the face of the glacier. The Antarctic Terns, Snow Petrels and Pintado also feed along the front of the Risting Glacier, where the meltwater cascades into the sea. The Risting Glacier is 4.5 nautical miles long, lying north of Jenkins Glacier and flowing southeast into the head of Drygalski Fjord. 

MC001388 Snow Petrel glacierMC001388 Snow Petrel glacier MC001392 Antarctic Terns PintadoMC001392 Antarctic Terns Pintado MC001421 Snow Petrel iceMC001421 Snow Petrel ice MC__0640 DrygalskiMC__0640 Drygalski

The face of the Risting Glacier.  MC__0645 DamoMC__0645 Damo

Damian Caniglia ( at the bow of the Zodiac being driven by Emma, leading his photographic tour group around the fjord. Great guy.  MC001546 PintadoMC001546 Pintado

Pintado (Cape Petrel) MC__0697 DrygalskiMC__0697 Drygalski

The face of the Risting Glacier, with the MV Sea Spirit there for scale. A Zodiac can be seen on the left, with a few more near the front of the glacier. 

MC__0718 DrygalskiMC__0718 Drygalski

The blue glacial ice floating in the blue glacial waters.

A handful of Gentoo Penguins were dotted around, looking lost and forlorn. Brown Skuas and Kelp Gulls also quartered the skies looking for food. A handful of Antarctic Fur Seals were hauled up along the steep edges. But it was a few Weddell Seals, our first of the trip, that got the most attention. Although they are the most numerous seal in Antarctic waters, we only saw a dozen at best. We casually drove around, seeing some more Weddell Seals, Brown Skuas and a couple of King Penguins, also looking a bit lost on the steep-sided shoreline. Dave skilfully navigated the glacial ice in the water, being careful not to get too carried away as we sped over some brash ice. The sound of the ice off the base of the Zodiac was a bit unnerving! Great fun though. South Georgian Shags also hung around the rocks and scree. It was so quiet. When the engine was turned off, the quietness of the place was overwhelming. The snow kept falling and we were finally called to shore. It was time to leave one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited. 

MC__0671 DrygalskiMC__0671 Drygalski MC001573 Wedell SealMC001573 Wedell Seal

Weddell Seal  MC001630 Antarctic TernMC001630 Antarctic Tern

Antarctic Tern MC001646 GentooMC001646 Gentoo

Gentoo Penguin

MC__0745 DrygalskiMC__0745 Drygalski MC__1078 Damo, Nicklen and PeterMC__1078 Damo, Nicklen and Peter

Paul Nicklen drives the Zodiac in the background, while my cousin Peter Wilson drives the Zodiac in the foreground. It was quite cold now, having been out on the sea for 3-4 hrous in the snow and facing the wind coming off the Glacier. We did get some hot chocoloate and Bailey's delivered via Zodaic though! That was a nice touch.

This was, hands down, the best and most moving of experiences on my trip. I think the knowledge that we were leaving behind the mind-boggling mass of wildlife on South Georgia and heading towards the desolate and sparse Antarctic continent added to it. Dyrgalski Fjord gave an idea of what it would be like but the beauty and peacefulness I felt in the Fjord will stay with me forever. 

[email protected] (Mark Carmody - Photography) Albatross Antarctica Canon Canon Professional Network Carmody Drygalski Drygalski Fjord Fjord Jim Wilson Mark Carmody Moltke Moltke Harbour Penguin Photography Quark Quark Expedition Snow Petrel South South Georgia ice Wed, 15 Apr 2015 22:17:24 GMT
Day 11 Saint Andrew's Bay, South Georgia I am an emotional being. I wear my heart on my sleeve more often than I should, or at least I used to do that. The trip thus far had tested my emotions in terms of what I was witnessing, the natural spectacles unfolding before my eyes, and the joy of being totally unplugged from the stresses of the world. Yet, what I was to witness on the afternoon of the 26th November 2014 will stay with me for a long, long time. I had not been moved by anything in this way for as long as I could remember. We were to land at St. Andrew's Bay. Home to hundreds of thousands of King Penguins. Mounds of adult Elephants Seals along the beaches and young Weaner pups everywhere to be seen. Fur Seals lined the shoreline acting as sentries along their patch of stony soil, and Petrels, Gulls, Skuas and Sheathbills patrolled the skies and nesting colonies in search of an easy meal. I could wax lyrical about this place all day. I could go on to describe the beauty, its silence and solitude, the often pungent smells, the sounds, the lack of contrails, the lack of humans, the absence of man-made noise and noise of man, the feeling of being the alien, of being the observer, of being the non-native, the stranger, of not belonging...but I do not have the vocabulary to give this place the justice it deserves. All I can do instead is present a selection of photographs here to allow you to get a peek into the domain of King Penguins and their mammalian companions 

MC__0125 Kings glacial streamMC__0125 Kings glacial stream MC__0128 Kings glacial flowMC__0128 Kings glacial flow MC__0360 King Penguin weanersMC__0360 King Penguin weaners MC__0140 Weaner haremMC__0140 Weaner harem MC__0289 Elephant Seal haremMC__0289 Elephant Seal harem MC__0430 Weaners fightingMC__0430 Weaners fighting

MC__0134 King Penguin pairMC__0134 King Penguin pair MC__0158 King Penguin pair AndrewMC__0158 King Penguin pair Andrew MC__0173 King Penguins Andrews BayMC__0173 King Penguins Andrews Bay MC__0180 King Penguin AndrewsMC__0180 King Penguin Andrews MC__0206 King AndrewsMC__0206 King Andrews MC__0258 Kings St. Andrews BayMC__0258 Kings St. Andrews Bay MC__0208 King Penguins AndrewsMC__0208 King Penguins Andrews MC__0214 King Penguin rowMC__0214 King Penguin row MC__0278 Antarctic Brown SkuaMC__0278 Antarctic Brown Skua MC__0294 King Penguin gangMC__0294 King Penguin gang MC__0467 Elephant maleMC__0467 Elephant male MC__0273 King PairMC__0273 King Pair MC__0454 King Penguin profileMC__0454 King Penguin profile And while I did manage to sit down, try to take all this in and shed a tear at the beauty and wonder of the place, I also smiled and laughed at the realisation of my disbelief of where I was standing. Surreal does not even come close. 

MC__0260 Mark CarmodyMC__0260 Mark Carmody

Huge thanks to Jim Wilson for taking the photograph of me (a rare thing) standing by the King Penguin colony. I had on three layers of pants, 4 layers of tops and the waterproof/windproof jacket. It was cold and my hands were numb at this stage. 

Despite the remoteness of this island, the impact of man on the global climate was quite evident by the retreating Ross Glacier in the background. Where I am standing in the photograph was once covered by the glacier. It has retreated many kilometres back up the valley in the past 25 years. The last thing I noticed as we left the area in our Zodiac was a single Wilson's Storm Petrel zipping past my head and heading up the glacial valley, no doubt going to its nest site. What a thrill. 

[email protected] (Mark Carmody - Photography) Albatross Antarctic Antarctica Canon Carmody Elephant Elephant Seal Jim Wilson Kelp Kelp Gull King King Penguin Mark Carmody Penguin Photography Quark Seal Sheathbill Skua South South Georgia Southern Southern Elephant Seal Mon, 30 Mar 2015 16:43:55 GMT
Day 11 - Godthul Bay, South Georgia I woke early, as normal, a bit more refreshed than the day before. An early night after a relatively calm day (emotionally!) does that. It was all a bit too much after Salisbury Plain. Godthul was our destination during the morning following our visits to the historical and inhabited stops of Stromness and Grytvikan, respectively. It is a bay 1.6 kilometres (1 mi) long entered between Cape George and Long Point, on the north coast of South Georgia, between Cumberland East Bay and Ocean Harbour. The name Godthul (Norwegian for "Good Hollow") dates back to the period 1905–12, and was probably applied by Norwegian sealers and whalers working in the area.The number of seabirds have now drastically decreased the closer we are to land, with many birds on their nests or out foraging for food. The Black-browed Albatross and White-chinned Petrels were about in good numbers, as were Light-mantled Sooty Albatross which breed on the cliffs here around Godthul. Here is a map showing you whereabouts we are now along the northern coast of the island.

512px-SG-Settlements (1)512px-SG-Settlements (1)

The Zodiac tour around the bay was very relaxing and a nice introduction to a day that was going to test my emotional state to the max, more so than Salisbury Plain! But more on that later. I was very fortunate on this Zodiac trip to be in the rib with none-other than Mr. Paul Nicklen, photographer extraordinaire and regular National Geographic contributor. Paul, and his partner Cristina Mittermeier, were great company and an inspiration throughout the trip. Both were very humble, generous with their time and patience. With Paul at the helm, we motored around the bay randomly, observing and photographing the wildlife there. All the photographs in this post were taken from the bumpy and unstable platform of the Zodiac, which always made it a challenge and particularly in the poor light we had. Godthul was home to Elephant and Fur seals, parked along the shoreline in various harems and pretenders to the throne. Weaners were there in good numbers and a few young male Elephant seals were throwing shapes and bellowing loudly at one or two females that were resting up on the shore. There was also the mewing calls of Fur Seal pups penetrating the air, which were only born in the days previously. Quite a sight and sound. 

MC__0024 Fur Seal growlMC__0024 Fur Seal growl

A female Fur Seal growling at the big male making its way towards her.

MC009866 Godthul Fur SealMC009866 Godthul Fur Seal

A harem of female Fur Seals with a pup that is only a couple of days old. Females become fertile again once the pup is born. 

MC__0045 WeanerMC__0045 Weaner

Wallowing weaners along the shoreline.

MC__0097 Harem FurMC__0097 Harem Fur

A Fur Seal harem. The big male is on the left, while the females, with a pup or two visible, to its right. 

MC__0118 Fur SealMC__0118 Fur Seal A young male Elephant seal in amongst some Weaners and Fur Seals.

MC009862 God WeanerMC009862 God Weaner

A young Elephant Seal (weaner) curiously approaches the Zodiac. 

Bones bones everywhere. The past use of the bay was quite obvious all along the shoreline. The whole place was littered with whale and seal bones, all aged and weathered by the harsh environment. Thankfully this does not go on anymore. It was quite sobering, yet upsetting seeing this. I can only imagine what the colour of the water and the stench must have been like in the days when these glorious mammals were butchered. Brutal humanity doing what it does best...

MC__0029 Godthul bonesMC__0029 Godthul bones

Along the lower cliffs were found South Georgia (Imperial) Shags, Snowy Sheathbills, Kelp Gulls and Antarctic Terns nesting and feeding. The Snowy Sheathbills came to visit the ship on a couple of occasions that day and are very curious birds. I found the Sheathbills to be hilarious and quite primal in their appearance and behaviour. A small group of half a dozen Gentoo Penguins looked lost at one side of the bay. Antarctic Terns fished along the edges and shallows, while Kelp Gulls just meandered amongst the Fur Seals and ran the gauntlet though the Shag colonies. It was great seeing some South Georgia Pintails here as well, with about 6 birds present, mostly paired up. They didn't take to the Zodiacs all too well and always flew to the opposite shore when we puttered by. 

MC__0089 Imperial Shag nestMC__0089 Imperial Shag nest South Georgia Shags on their nests on the tussac grass.

MC009882 Kelp GullMC009882 Kelp Gull An adult Kelp Gull meanders through the resting Fur Seals, looking for an easy meal.

MC009893 south Georgia PintailMC009893 south Georgia Pintail

A pair of South Georgia Pintails.


An Antarctic Tern hunts along the shallows of Godthul bay.

MC009927 South Georgia ShagMC009927 South Georgia Shag MC__0055 Imperial ShagMC__0055 Imperial Shag

South Georgia Shags fish along the shallows of Godthul Bay.

MC009898 South Georgia PintailMC009898 South Georgia Pintail

A pair of South Georgia Pintail in flight.

The cliffs here were very steep, which you can sort of gauge from the image below with the Sea Spirit at the base. The weather was not spectacular, with low cloud/fog but at least it was dry and cold. The colours here are quite muted, with mosses, lichens and short grasses being weather-beaten and burned of any vibrancy. There was only one area where the colour was a bit more vibrant, along the flow of a small waterfall at one side of the cliff. There, some more lush herbage was evident and stood out against the muted greys and browns. Light-mantled Sooty Albatrosses were flying by here in their display flight, while their haunting calls and songs echoed around the bay. It was surreal.  

MC__0057 GodthulMC__0057 Godthul MC__0070 Godthul BayMC__0070 Godthul Bay

After a few hours on the water and puttering around the bay with Paul, Cristina and Jim, we headed back to the Sea Spirit for some more food and beverages. A hot mug of coffee was in order. A few Cape Petrels were hanging around the boat and fed on whatever was thrown up by the ships engines as we turned and headed out of the bay into open sea and on towards St. Andrew's Bay...home to nearly 500,000 King Penguins...



[email protected] (Mark Carmody - Photography) Albatross Canon Cape Petrel Carmody Duck Elephant Seal Fur Fur Seal Jim Wilson Mark Carmody Photography Pintail Quark Seal South South Georgia Pintail Whale Whale bone Sun, 15 Mar 2015 15:33:51 GMT
Day 10 Grytvikan, South Georgia After the mind-blowing experience that was Stromness, we steamed onwards for a few hours and headed towards Grytvikan and King Edward Point, both of which nestle in Cumberland Bay East. The journey across was peppered with flocks of Cape Petrel, Giant Petrels and Black-browed Albatross. The odd Wandering and Grey-headed Albatross patrolled behind the boat, while White-chinned Petrels were obvious by their vast increase in numbers. We only saw a single Snow Petrel but it caused enough excitement to get the blood flowing faster....not that it needed to! On approach to King Edward Point (KEP), we could see the white cross on the headland and the roofs of the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) KEP base. Civilisation. It was strange to see people walking along the shoreline. I was not sure I was happy to see it. In fact, I knew I was not happy to see it. I was enjoying being away from "civilisation". Currently nine BAS personnel overwinter at the KEP station, rising to around 18 in the austral summer. Two Government Officers (including the Governor) plus partners are stationed on KEP, overlapping by about three months during the busy winter fishing season. Summer staff from the Museum at Grytviken are also accommodated at KEP. The continued occupation of the station serves a political purpose as well: it helps to maintain British sovereignty against Argentina's claim for ownership of the territory.

MC__9876 view from GrytvikanMC__9876 view from Grytvikan

The approach to King Edward Point Bay. This looks across the Cumberland East Bay. 

Edward PointEdward Point

King Edward Point on the right, with the white cross visible. The buildings of the BAS KEP base are just visible, while the whalers graveyard, where Shackleton lies, is visible on the left and marked by a white picket fence.

GrytvikenGrytviken BAS KEP base on the right, with Grytvikan whaling station on the left and the spire of the Whalers Church visible over the BAS KEP base in the background.

As well as raising a glass of Jameson whiskey at the grave of that anglo-Irish explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton, we also spent time exploring the now-safe Grytvikan whaling station. Remnants of the old chains used to haul the whales up the beach, the old boilers and oil storage facilities, and even the old soccer pitch is present. The Whalers Church has also been preserved. It was an interesting and historical visit. It also coincided with the best day of the trip; immaculate blue skies and calm seas. The residents said they had not seen this type weather in months. 

Grytikan Sea SpiritGrytikan Sea Spirit

The view across to the Sea Spirit from the shoreline where one can walk up to Shackleton's grave.

The bossThe boss

The Boss

MC__9973 Gyrtvikan ChurchMC__9973 Gyrtvikan Church

The Whalers Church, built in 1903.

MC__9976 Grytvikan FootballMC__9976 Grytvikan Football The Grytvikan soccer pitch where the Inter-Whaling Station Football and Sports tournaments were held. 

MC__9986 Oil DrumsMC__9986 Oil Drums

The oil drums

Whaler GrytvikanWhaler Grytvikan

The wreck of the whaling ship Petrel, complete with loaded harpoon at the bow. Non-plussed Elephant and Fur seals now rest peacefully here. 

After checking out the replica of the James Caird, checking out the museum, buying some souvenirs and posting some postcards from South Georgia Post Office, I popped back out to take it all in. The wildlife here was sparse compared to Stromness and Salisbury Plain. There were female and young male Elephant Seals hauled out on the land, as well as territory-holding Fur Seals. Antarctic Tern hunted along the shoreline, while the Light-mantled Sooty Albatross called mournfully from the cliff-tops. The odd King and Gentoo Penguins stood around, looking lost. A nice number of South Georgia Pintail flew in and quickly flew out again. It was calmer here, in amongst the human inhabitants. The wildlife not as numerous where man treads. 

Female ElephantFemale Elephant

A reseting female Elephant Seal.

MC009608 Fur SealMC009608 Fur Seal A pristine and healthy looking male Antarctic Fur Seal. The hair on this individual was very dry, which provided a great opportunity to see how thick the pelt on the species is. Quite spectacular. 

MC009641 King PenguinMC009641 King Penguin A King Penguin looking a bit injured. 

MC009657 Light-mantled SootyMC009657 Light-mantled Sooty

Light-mantled Sooty Albatross gliding over the bay. 

MC009755 Antarctic TernMC009755 Antarctic Tern

Antarctic Tern at rest.

MC009642 Antarctic TernMC009642 Antarctic Tern Antarctic Tern in flight.

After being brought to the Sea Spirit for dinner, I was delighted to have the pleasure of sitting with the Governor of the Government of South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands (GSGSSI), and his wife, for dinner on the ship that evening. A very interesting way of life here. In fact, it is through their perseverance that the rat eradication program of South Georgia is doing so well ( What we were told after dinner was that the Governor had been aboard the ship checking everyone's passport and stamped each one with the GSGSSI stamp! Pretty cool thing to have. After dinner, we were treated to some spectacular lenticular clouds over Cumberland East Bay. 

MC__0001 Grytvikan cloudsMC__0001 Grytvikan clouds Cumberland East Bay with lenticular clouds.

MC__0006 Grytvikan cloudsMC__0006 Grytvikan clouds Cumberland East Bay with lenticular clouds

Now halfway through the trip, I was feeling the effect of the long days working hard on deck looking for seabirds and eating way more than I should. Early to bed. Early to rise. I was becoming weary now and headed off to bed after a couple of bottles of beer with Jim and Peter in the bar. Tomorrow promised, weather permitting, to be epic.

[email protected] (Mark Carmody - Photography) Albatross BAS British Antarctic Survey Canon Canon Professional Network Carmody Collins Press Fur Fur Seal Georgia Grytvikan Jim Wilson KEP King Edward Point King Penguin Mark Carmody Penguin Petrel Photography Quark South South Georgia Wed, 11 Mar 2015 18:58:42 GMT
Day 10 - Stromness & Leith Whaling Stations, South Georgia The alarm went off at the usual non-holiday hour and I groggily dragged myself up the bar for a coffee, a biscuit (or three) and some water. I as staring out the window at the pre-dawn gloaming outside, the sun not quite being above the horizon just yet. As I opened the door to the Deck 4 Aft, a cold and icy snow-laden wind quickly raised my chin and slapped me across the face. I was definitely awake now! Our port of call for the morning was Stromness. The harbour was a former whaling station but now holds it as a rusting, rotting monument to the former whaling activities that used to take place on the northern coast of South Georgia Island in the South Atlantic. It was also the destination of Ernest Shackleton's rescue journey in 1916. 

DSCF1175 StromnessDSCF1175 Stromness

Stromness Harbour and whaling station taken through the falling snow (taken using the FujiFilm X100, set to Velvia film simulation)

MC__9693 Stromness snowMC__9693 Stromness snow Stromness Harbour and whaling station taken through the falling snow (taken using a Canon DSLR and 24-105mm lens). The famous Villa is still standing and visible in this image. It has been boarded up to try and prevent any more damage to it. An attempt to restore it is being considered. 

MC__9687 Stromness SnowMC__9687 Stromness Snow

Stromness Harbour - the river flows into the bay here on the right along the plain. 

In 1916, Ernest Shackleton and a small crew landed on the unpopulated southern coast of South Georgia at King Haakon Bay after an arduous sea voyage from Elephant Island in the 22-foot lifeboat James Caird. Shackleton along with (the great) Tom Crean and Frank Worsley then trekked across South Georgia's mountainous and glaciated interior in an effort to reach help on the populated northern shore of the island. After 36 hours of crossing the interior they arrived at the Stromness administration centre which also was the home of the Norwegian whaling station's manager. This building has been dubbed the "Villa at Stromness" because it represents relative luxury compared to its surroundings. All men were rescued from Elephant Island. Stromness Harbour conjures up the romanticism and incredible feat of strength and endurance shown by these men. It is very difficult to believe how they did it using the equipment and provisions they had. Quite remarkable. 

MC__9710 Stromness Waterfall GentooMC__9710 Stromness Waterfall Gentoo

The plain along which Shackelton, Crean and Worsley walked along, making their way to the bay, the whaling station and the Manager's hut. My fellow passengers are the yellow dots at the base of the waterfall, which the three men slid down having traversed the island's mountainous terrain. A Gentoo Penguin colony is visible at the bottom right edge of the image. 

MC__9718 Stromness WaterfallMC__9718 Stromness Waterfall  

The waterfall at Stromness with my fellow passengers (yellow penguins). Hopefully this will be able to give you a perspective on the size of the landscape. MC__9728 StromnessMC__9728 Stromness

Looking back towards the harbour from the plain, with the Sea Spirit viewable on the right. My fellow yellow penguins are making their way back. I was retracing Crean's steps but also searching for South Georgian Pintail along the streams :)

This landing was more about the history and people than the wildlife. However, it was not possible to ignore them either! There were Antarctic Fur Seals, "Weaner" Southern Elephant Seals, Gentoo and King Penguins, and South Georgia Pintail to be seen. The Gentoos were nesting here, a long walk/waddle inland for them, but the Kings seemed to be just loafing about, moulting. It was just lovely to spend time here, taking it all in. The falling snow made for a surreal scene and added even more to the magical and serene beauty of what would have once been a blood-soaked land being lapped by blood-red waters, and the air heavy with the stench of rotting whale, seal and pengiun carcasses. 

MC009083 Stromness GentooMC009083 Stromness Gentoo

A Gentoo Penguin stands guard at the edge of the colony

MC009101 Stromness GentooMC009101 Stromness Gentoo

A Gentoo Penguin calls loudly across the valley

MC009156 Gentoo StromnessMC009156 Gentoo Stromness

A Gentoo Penguin sits on its nest of grass and mud in the colony.

MC009191 King Penguin StromnessMC009191 King Penguin Stromness

King Penguin in the verdant surroundings and melting snow. A strange combination!

MC009198 Stromness Moulting KingsMC009198 Stromness Moulting Kings

Moulting King Penguins in a huddle.

MC__9731 Stromness anchorsMC__9731 Stromness anchors

The whaling station at Stromness is off-limits to tourists due to the quite large amount of asbestos that remains within and around the buildings. The instability of the buildings is also a threat to anyone walking around them. As well as being a graveyard for thousands of whale bones, there were rusting anchors littered all over. It didn't seem to bother the Fur seals too much though.

MC009232 Stromness FurMC009232 Stromness Fur

Lots of these impressive, smelly and hormone-laden beasts were around the station and landing site. Made for a few close calls with one particular individual, who constantly charged at myself and fellow passengers. As we were two days away from any serious medical facility, getting bitten by one of these bad boys was not an option!

MC__9741 Weaner close upMC__9741 Weaner close up

And then there is the other side to the danger...a gentle Southern Elephant Seal pup, aka a Weaner! Cute and cuddly balls of fat, that yelped, snorted and squealed at everything. 


South Georgia Pintail. Despite my best efforts along the valley floor streams, I could only see a few distant birds in flight. Upon arrival at the meeting point to board the Zodiacs, there was this individual ignoring all persons, every seal and everything in its vicinity. Quite a beautiful duck, even for the only meat-eating duck known to science. 

MC__9772 Stromness no snowMC__9772 Stromness no snow

A few hours after landing, we now had different looking Stromness whaling station, minus the snow. The rusting hulks are really visible now. The "Villa" is the small white shed just right of the Large grey building on the left-hand side of the station. Incredible what a few hours in South Georgia's weather does to the scene. 

MC__9799 Stromness WaterfallMC__9799 Stromness Waterfall The valley floor where Shackleton, Crean and Worsley walked along to civilisation. The waterfall they slide down is visible here. The Fur seals can be seen dotted along the foreshore.

After our time in Stromness, we made our way back out of the harbour and nipped across to Leith Harbour, or Port Leith, in the next bay. Leith Harbour housed another decrepit and crumbling whaling station, which was once famously held by the Argentine army during the 1982 Falklands War. It is named after Leith, the harbour area in Edinburgh, Scotland. The founder of the whaling station was from there. The station there is now out of bounds to tourists since 2010 due to copious quantities of asbestos and crumbling buildings. The area is now occupied by Fur and Elephant seals, and the odd King Penguin. 

MC009560 StromnessMC009560 Stromness

The steep and unforgiving slopes are evident here. To try and put scale on this, there are Fur seals dotted along the edge where the slopes meet the sea.

MC__9849 Leith HarbourMC__9849 Leith Harbour

The abandoned buildings and oil drums of the whaling station at Leith Harbour. 

MC__9853 Leith HarbourMC__9853 Leith Harbour

The rusting eyesore that is Leith Harbour. 

MC__9869 Leith HarbourMC__9869 Leith Harbour

Very dramatic geology all over South Georgia. There are Fur seals dotted all along the water's edge...just to put some scale on the slopes. 

Following on from that quick detour to Leith, we made our way past dozens of White-chinned Petrels and Antarctic Terns flying through the snow, and then headed towards Edward's Point and the Boss's grave at Grytviken.

MC009420 White-chinned PetrelMC009420 White-chinned Petrel

Plenty of White-chinned Petrels flew about the ship and the in the snow showers.

MC009507 Antarctic TernMC009507 Antarctic Tern

Antarctic Tern driving through the falling show.

The views from the lunch buffet on Deck 5 were usually quite spectacular and this leg between landings was no different. Our first proper chucks of ice chunks in the sea after having been thrown out by the glaciers. This is, I think, the glacier in Cumberland East Bay, near Grytvikan. It was another reminder that we were heading towards Antarctica. 

MC009563 South Georgia glacierMC009563 South Georgia glacier

The first signs of sea ice being belched into the water by this MASSIVE glacier. I was very excited by this sight in Cumberland East Bay!


[email protected] (Mark Carmody - Photography) Albatross Canon Canon Professional Network Carmody Crean Freshwater Fur Jim Wilson Leith Mark Carmody Meat Penguin Photography Quark Seal Shackleton South Station Stromness Whale Whaling Worsley waterfall Wed, 25 Feb 2015 23:05:22 GMT
Day 9 - On Salisbury Plain...there were penguins After lunch, or rather two lunches (buffets, the enemy of all waistlines), we headed towards a place made famous by one of my all-time heroes, Sir David Attenborough. A place that I had seen on television programs before and looked on in awe. Salisbury Plain. Home to 60,000 breeding pairs of King Penguins. Home to mounds of Southern Elephant seals and packs of Antarctic Fur seals. The buffet table for many Northern and Southern Giant Petrels, Brown Skuas, Snowy Sheathbills and Kelp Gulls. A wildlife haven. 

MC008045 South GeorgiaMC008045 South Georgia A glacier on the northern South Georgian coast. The scale of this glacier (which is retreating) is difficult to illustrate without something familiar in the foreground. 

MC008077 White-chinned PetrelMC008077 White-chinned Petrel White-chinned Petrel skimming the water's surface.

As we steamed along the coast of South Georgia, we had Southern and Northern Royal Albatrosses, mixed in with Black-browed and Grey-headed Albatrosses, with Wilson's Storm and White-chinned Petrels circling the ship. Although these had become the usual fare, they were never taken for granted. With a backdrop of glaciers of unfathomable size, and the icy wind providing a bracing slap to the face and numbing the extremities, I really began to feel that we were heading towards the ice and snow. To add further proof of this, a couple of Blue Petrels were mixed in with the Antarctic Petrels, and a Black-bellied Petrel dipped and scooped over the surface of the water off our bow. Both ticks for me and delighted to catch up with them so well, getting quality views. 

As a few Brown Skuas and Kelp Gulls flew overhead, as Antarctic Terns ghosting by, a Snowy Sheathbill circling and landing on the ship, and seabirds beginning to peter out, I knew we must be coming closer to land than we what we had been earlier. A check from the bow revealed a massive glacier rolling down to the sea from the mountains, and what appeared to be wildlife along the shore and slopes. Tons of wildlife. A shout from my fellow birdwatchers caused my head to swivel and there were King Penguins porpoising close to the ship! It was such a calm day, and they were coming so close, it was almost possible to hear the gasp and intake of breath of the Kings as they broke the surface of the water. Returning my gaze to land, I lifted my binoculars to look at the shoreline properly... I think I uttered the words "wow" (or more than likely "holy f*&king sh*t") as I found myself staring at thousands upon thousands of King Penguins, which had Fur and Elephant Seals interspersed amongst them. This was incredible. I couldn't stop smiling and my heart started pounding. This was the fabled Salisbury Plain.  

MC008046 Salisbury PlainMC008046 Salisbury Plain Salisbury Plain, South Georgia.

MC008142 King Penguin porpoiseMC008142 King Penguin porpoise Porpoising King Penguins!

MC008951MC008951 On closer inspection, the grandeur of a massive King Penguin colony revealed itself. What a sight!!

The call for the Zodiacs went up and I legged it down to the gangway. I was already in my wet-weather gear and was itching to get on to this legendary place. It is not often that one can land here. We found out subsequently that a ship, which was a day or so behind us, could not land here because of a bad storm. These landings were not to be taken lightly and were to be enjoyed to the max! Landing on the shore and looking back along, all that we could see were King Penguins, Fur Seals and Southern Elephant Seals. No humans. It was bliss. The smell was something else, though. More pungent and musky than any seabird colony I had experienced, anywhere. This was what it was all about. This is what Attenborough had brought to the attention of the world in a big way. It was the theatre of dreams, really and I was completely overwhelmed. 

MC008218 King penguinMC008218 King penguin The shoreline of Salisbury Plain, littered with King Penguins, Fur Seals, Elephant Seals, Kelp Gulls, Brown Skua and Snowy Sheathbills. 

MC008224 Fur SealMC008224 Fur Seal A male Antarctic Fur Seal looks on. 

MC008226 WeanerMC008226 Weaner A young Elephant Seal (aka Weaner).

MC008235 Weaner yawnMC008235 Weaner yawn A yelping Weaner (Elephant Seal) cries, snorts, bellows and squeaks. 

The Elephant Seals were great value, especially the Weaners, with their squeaks, cries, snorts, bellowing and apparent farting noises providing the backing chorus to the chirrups and squeaks of the mass of King Penguins. 60,000+ pairs of King Penguin nest on this Plain. Not to mention the thousands of young King Penguins, which are also known as Oakum Boys or Hairy Penguins. The Kings were what we were here for and it was mind-blowing. This is what South Georgia is all about now. Masses of wildlife. Little human presence. Perfect.

To get a better elevation to view of the colony, I asked if it was okay to clamber up the slope a bit. I got the nod and proceeded to make my way up. The view was spectacular being that bit higher. However, no sooner had I gone a couple of dozen yards through the tussock grass, when a nice big male Antarctic Fur Seal reared up on its hind flippers out of nowhere and snorted loudly. I froze and just thought that there was no point going further. These seals can run faster than a human over 20 yards. And their bite is very, very nasty. So, I just kept an eye on him and vice versa, and took photographs from the vantage point I had. I also made sure I took the time to just watch and observe what was going on around me. It was important to take it in. 

MC008272 King PenguinMC008272 King Penguin The King Penguins in all their glory. Moulting individuals in the bottom left corner, the young Kings or Oakum Boys in their brown down, and the adults paired up or incubating eggs. 

MC008262 Antarctic Fur SealMC008262 Antarctic Fur Seal A male Antarctic Fur Seal keeping an eye on me keeping on it him in the tussock grass.

MC008335MC008335 A handful of Oakum Boys giving the yellow penguins grief. My fellow passengers loving it.

MC008443 Jim and Peter SalisburyMC008443 Jim and Peter Salisbury Jim (left) and Peter (right) keeping any eye on the passengers and wildlife. A route had to be kept clear for the penguins going to and fro from the Plain and the sea. Jim and Peter were policing this. 

MC008290 Oakum BoysMC008290 Oakum Boys Oakum Boys!

A nice surprise was a few South Georgia Pintail in a small fresh(ish)water pond near where I was standing. The only meat-eating duck in the world(!) and one of the rarest birds on the planet. Pretty cool to see. They were non-plussed by our presence and were quite tame. We saw 6 birds in all in this area. Nice new species in the bag. I spent some time here, just watching and trying to find some nice patterns in amongst the throngs of penguins. It was fun watching the Oakum Boys waddling around and annoying adult birds. Brown Skuas were constantly patrolling the skies, looking for an easy meal. Kelp Gulls were also doing the same. Giant Petrels were just sitting around as well, waiting for an unsuspecting bird to get too close. Survival of the fittest...indeed. 

MC008295 South Georgia PintailMC008295 South Georgia Pintail South Georgia Pintail - meat-eating duck!

MC008350 King Penguin OakumMC008350 King Penguin Oakum A creche of King Penguins amongst the adults.

MC008419 King Penguin SalisburyMC008419 King Penguin Salisbury The colony stretched right up the hill.

MC008432 King PenguinsMC008432 King Penguins Lovely patterns.

MC__9664 Salisbury Plain KingsMC__9664 Salisbury Plain Kings The colony stretched on for miles.

MC008496 King Penguin close upMC008496 King Penguin close up King Penguin close-up. Did you notice the square pupil?!

With the colony well and truly observed after a couple of hours, I started to make my way across the beach to see some male (Southern) Elephant Seals that were, unusually, still here. This was a great and unexpected opportunity to see these guys. They are the biggest seals in the world, weighing in at 2,200 to 4,000 kg (4,900 to 8,800lb) and measure from 4.2 to 5.8 m (14 to 19 ft) long. True behemoths of the seal world, and the biggest beasts on the beach. As I made my way along the beach, it was fun (mostly) dodging the aggressive, hormone-fuelled Fur seals. Some of the young males were practicing defending their territory by charging the yellow penguins, that is, myself and fellow passengers! Once one made oneself big and roared, with arms waving up and down, the seals generally looked on confused and turned around. It was generally the youngsters and really pumped adult males that were persistent. 

MC008522 Fur seal snoozeMC008522 Fur seal snooze A sleeping male Antarctic Fur seal.

MC008537 Fur Elephant KingMC008537 Fur Elephant King A male Antarctic Fur seal marks its territory, while a recently weaned Elephant Seal snoozes next to its companion.

MC008661 Fur seal young maleMC008661 Fur seal young male A young male Antarctic Fur seal was full of hormones and charged most people that walked past him. 

MC008808 Fur seal headonMC008808 Fur seal headon Head-on; a male Antarctic Fur seal.

The bull Southern Elephant Seal was sleeping further along the beach. And it was HUGE! The bull was battered, bruised and bloodied from its battles on the beach. The bull Elephant just lay there, with the odd snort and shifting of its enormous mass from time-to-time. It was a treat to see such a specimen, as the males are generally long gone at this stage of the breeding season. The Weaners were also very entertaining and so approachable. However, the rules when visiting these lands is that he wildlife has to come to you and you are not approach the wildlife! These rules must be obeyed to keep the lands wild and allow others to see the beauty of the place. The scattering of many Fur seal skulls around the Elephant seal probably signified that the area was once used as a seal blubber boiling spot during the days of seal hunting. 

MC008744 ELephant Seal maleMC008744 ELephant Seal male A bloodied, bruised and battered-looking bull Southern Elephant Seal...a true giant of the beach. King Penguins and Antarctic Fur seals are in the background.

MC008755 Elephant Seal maleMC008755 Elephant Seal male A close-up of the snout of the Elephant Seal that gave it its name. Note the bloody scars of battle. 

MC008594 WeanerMC008594 Weaner Weaner Sleeping, oh-so peacefully.

As I mentioned earlier, it's all about survival of the fittest here. Examples of this were apparent all over the beach. Between carcasses of young King Penguins to bloodied and sliced open adult King Penguins, to the bones of whales signifying times past, it could be easily seen how it could become a bloodbath. Skulls and bones of Fur Seals were also littered along the beach. *WARNING: Graphic images* Birds such as Brown Skuas and Giant Petrels were never far away from the death and destruction. In fact, some were (un)fortunate to witness a King Penguin getting attached by a Fur Seal on the beach, which just bit right through the abdomen of the penguin and left if for dead. The Giant Petrels then swooped and ate the penguin alive. Gruesome but true story. If I'm honest, I was disgusted to have missed it. This place takes no prisoners and to see all aspects of this wilderness would have been great. 

MC008450 King Penguin deadMC008450 King Penguin dead A decomposing juvenile King Penguin.

MC008474 King Penguin injuredMC008474 King Penguin injured An adult King Penguin with a recently sliced open abdomen. It looks like it is healing but it is unclear whether the individual will survive. Fur seals have started attacking King Penguins as they make their way up the beaches, which may be the cause behind the injured penguins we saw.   

MC008876MC008876 A very badly injured King Penguin just out of the water. Jim and I raced up to take images, which I'm sure some onlookers may have thought was weird.

MC008656 Brown SkuasMC008656 Brown Skuas Brown 'Antarctic' Skuas loafing around and having a snooze. These were very easy to approach. Cool birds.

MC008934 Brown SkuaMC008934 Brown Skua Brown 'Antarctic' Skua

MC008678 Whale boneMC008678 Whale bone Remnants of times past; a weathered whale bone. 

It was not all a gore-fest, of course. There were penguins everywhere and they were beautiful!!

MC008892 King Penguin columnMC008892 King Penguin column

MC008963 King Penguin waterMC008963 King Penguin water Swimming King Penguin in the glacial blue waters off Salisbuy Plain.

Once we were herded back to the Zodiacs and back to the Sea Spirit, I hung back as long as I could so that I could get back on the last Zodiac. I didn't want to leave (a recurring theme...) and would love to have stayed for longer. I was on the second to last or last Zodiac with Jim and some of the team. As I was getting off the Zodiac and onto the launch deck of Sea Spirit, I heard "SNOW PETREL!!' being shouted in a Cork accent..."f*ck me" I thought. I raced through the "off limits" section and saw two birds circle the ship!! Unbelievable!! I quickly, but thoroughly, went through the bio-check and bio-wash procedure before racing up to Deck 4. The birds circled two more times before heading back across the bay to the cliffs flanking Salisbury Plain...what a day....


A Snow Petrel circling the ship after Salisbury Plain.

MC008966 Salisbury Plain glacierMC008966 Salisbury Plain glacier Salisbury Plain Glacier

And so ended one of the most incredible wildlife experiences I had encountered thus far, anywhere on the planet. I'll never forget the smell, sound, sights, survival and hardiness of the wildlife I experienced on Salisbury Plain. It was truly humbling to have stood there. 

[email protected] (Mark Carmody - Photography) Albatross Black-browed Canon Carmody Elephant Elephants Georgia Grey-headed Jim Wilson Light-mantled Mark Carmody Norway Norwegian Penguin Photography Quark Quark Expeditions Salisbury Salisbury Plain Sea Spirit Sealers Seals Snow Snow Petrel South South Georgia Wandering bay bone cut glacier petrel sheathbill whale Wed, 18 Feb 2015 12:24:03 GMT
Day 9 - Elsehul Bay, South Georgia I slept fitfully the night before the dawn of the first day on South Georgia. The island evokes a land of wonder and awe in my minds eye and it did not disappoint. The dawn was once again covered in a cloud and an almost-invisible fog, which lingered about the air. It was quite eerie. However, it did permit us the first glimpse of the fabled island. The first encounter with Antarctica per se.

Bird Island, South GeorgiaBird Island, South Georgia South GeorgiaSouth Georgia Bird Island, South GeorgiaBird Island, South Georgia South Georgia - the first glimpses at dawn

While we were steaming along to our first port of call, a glimpse of a South Georgian Diving Petrel exploding off the water ahead of the ship, and Grey-headed, Light-mantled Sooty and Black-browed Albatrosses clearly visible along the coast, signalled that the wildlife was waking up. Southern Fulmar and Cape Petrels made themselves known by circling the ship, keeping low over the water but distant enough to make photography difficult. The early morning gloom did not favour photographing birds in flight all that well. Antarctic Prions, Wilson's Storm Petrel and White-chinned Petrels made various passes of the ship as we sailed along. From the bow of the ship, the sound of a blow caused me to shift my focus from left to right, and there was a single Humpback Whale making a quick dive away from us. A nice start to the day. I hadn't even finished my first coffee yet (but I did have a couple of biscuits while all this was going on).

South Georgia Diving PetrelSouth Georgia Diving Petrel South Georgian Diving Petrel moves away from the bow.

Cape PetrelCape Petrel A Cape Petrel gently flaps over a calm ocean and around the ship.

Humpback WhaleHumpback Whale

A distant Humpback Whale about to dive after taking a breath. The remnants of the blow can be seen over and behind the whale. Antarctic Prions and a Black-browed Albatross keep the whale company.

The first port of call on South Georgia was Elsehul Bay, which can be a difficult place to visit and tour by Zodiac due to the likelihood of ill-favourable weather and sea ice. Elsehul is a bay 0.5 miles (0.8 km) wide, entered close west of Cape Pride along the north coast of South Georgia. It is separated from another harbour (the Undine Harbour) by a narrow isthmus called the Survey Isthmus. The name "Elsehul" dates back to the period 1905–12 and was probably applied by Norwegian sealers and whalers working in the area. The bay is home to nice collection of wildlife, which we were lucky to encounter. The weather was calm, windless and dry. It was a perfect way to see this beautiful bay and experience a glimpse into the wildlife of Antarctica and its islands. 

South GeorgiaSouth Georgia The northern coastline of South Georgia at dawn. Low cloud and little light.

Elsehul Bay, South GeorgiaElsehul Bay, South Georgia

Entering Elsehul bay on a calm and steady day, with lingering fog but with some break in the clouds.

The first thing I noticed was the sound of calling albatross and seals. The eerie cry of the Light-mantled Sooty Albatrosses wafted over the calm morning air. It is a sound I will never forget. My nerves were tingling and I (once again) had to pinch myself. I was still in disbelief that I was here. A casual scan with the binoculars around the edges of the bay revealed Antarctic Fur Seals, Elephant Seals, Northern and Southern Giant Petrels and Brown Skuas. King Penguins were also noted along one particular inlet. Looking out across one section of cliff, I noticed a large gathering of black and white birds on nests. I immediately thought they were South Georgia (Imperial) Shags, as I had seen quite a few flying around on our way in. On closer inspection as we steered towards them, my jaw dropped...the black and white birds were Macaroni Penguins!! Hundreds of them nesting in amongst the tussock grass, with some Grey-headed Albatross next door. Magic. 

Elsehul Bay, South Georgia with Macaroni PenguinElsehul Bay, South Georgia with Macaroni Penguin Black and white nesting birds and albatross amongst the tussock grass. I first thought they were South Georgia Shags, but...

Macaroni Penguin Colongy, Elsehul BayMacaroni Penguin Colongy, Elsehul Bay was hundreds of Macaroni Penguins!!

MC007438 Grey-headed Albatross colonyMC007438 Grey-headed Albatross colony Grey-headed Albatross on their nests in the tussock grass.

After a quick breakfast was had (all-in omelette! as one does), we were called to our boarding groups and were ushered to climb aboard the Zodiacs for a 3-4 hour cruise around the bay. It is very hard to put scale on anything in South Georgia (or Antarctica). The sheer size of this bay can only be seen by comparing it to the size of the ship (91 metres or 300 feet long) and the Zodiacs (~5m or 17 feet). The place is massive. This was my first time on a Zodiac cruise. In essence, a Zodiac tour involves driving around to various sites at the landing area, and investigating the wildlife, geology, historical sites etc. Where we go, how slow/fast we go, how long we stop for, is determined by both the driver and passengers. Taking photographs from a Zodiac, even in calm conditions, is very difficult. With 7-9 other passengers looking for good positions etc., and the movement of the platform one was sitting/kneeling/standing on, one had to be quick off the mark. As we toured around the bay, we came across a lot of Antarctic Fur Seals, both male and females. The majority of the Fur seals were male, whose intention was to set up territory on the beach for the arriving females. A few females were there, and one or two had tiny pups, probably only born that morning or the day before. A pup being born was witnessed by another Zodiac as we toured around, but we missed it. All we saw was a bloody-headed Northern Giant Petrel which happened upon the birth and ate the placenta in less than a minute. Survival of the fittest. Gotta love it down here. 

Sea Spirit anchored in Elsehul Bay, South GeorgiaSea Spirit anchored in Elsehul Bay, South Georgia M.V. Sea Spirit at anchor in Elsehul Bay. A few Zodiacs can also be seen, to give one a sense of scale.

South Georgia ShagSouth Georgia Shag South Georgia Shag (note the white cheeks).

Antarctic Fur SealAntarctic Fur Seal Antarctic Fur Seal (male)

Antarctic Fur Seal (female)Antarctic Fur Seal (female) Antarctic Fur Seal (female)

Antarctic Fur SealsAntarctic Fur Seals male Antarctic Fur Seals setting up territories on the beach. Some female Fur seals are there with recently bon pups (centre of image). Others are just lounging on the scree.

MC007451 Bloody Northern GiantMC007451 Bloody Northern Giant Northern Giant Petrel blood-stained from consuming the placenta of the female Fur Seal with the newborn pup (centre). The pup is no more than 10 minutes old! A Brown Skua is running off in the top right corner. 

Wounded Antarctic Fur SealWounded Antarctic Fur Seal Territorial disputes amongst the Fur Seals can result in some nasty injuries. 

As we were puttering around the bay, a call came in over the walkie-talkies that not one but two(!) South Georgia Pipits were found along the rocky coastline!! This was totally unexpected as the team had never recorded the Pipits from this site previously. Jim was obviously very excited with this news and was trying to ensure that all the Zodiac passengers were able to see the birds. Success was had by all and there were smiling faces in all the boats. This is the only passerine in the Antarctic islands, including South Georgia, and the most southerly found passerine in the world. A rat eradication program ( has been ongoing for a couple of years, and it appears to be having great success. We saw at least 4 South Georgia Pipits in this little bay alone, where none had been recorded in recent times. Fingers crossed the island can be rat-free after 2016. 

Jim Wilson and Paul Nicklen pointing out a South Georgia PipitJim Wilson and Paul Nicklen pointing out a South Georgia Pipit Jim Wilson (red jacket) points out the South Georgia Pipit to the passengers, while Paul Nicklen (Canadian, National Geographic photographer, Zodiac driver and all round super nice guy) looks on and gets the Zodiac in a little closer. Having Paul on the trip made it even more special. 

South Georgia PipitSouth Georgia Pipit

This is what all the fuss was about - South Georgia Pipit! Tough little songbirds. 

After the excitement of the pipit, we continued on touring the bay, coming across huddles of recently weaned Elephant Seals, who are affectionately known as Weaners. They are called this as they are weaned by the female Elephant Seals after only 30 days, and are left to fend for themselves. The females leave and head out to sea to feed and get on with their lives. Some young adult males were also present, practicing their fighting, while disinterested Antarctic Fur seals ignored them. Antarctic Terns and Brown Skuas were flying overhead, the terns busily hunting in the shallows, while the Brown Skuas looked for an easy meal.

Southern Elephant Seal & Gentoo PenguiinSouthern Elephant Seal & Gentoo Penguiin A young male Elephant Seal lounges on the beach, with some Antarctic Fur seals for company. A forlorn-looking Gentoo Penguin hangs out under some overhanging tussock grass. 

Southern Elephant Seal "Weaners"Southern Elephant Seal "Weaners" Weaners!!

MC007679 Elelphant Seal fightMC007679 Elelphant Seal fight A pair of young bull Elephant Seals practice their duelling skills. A pair of Antarctic Fur seals on the shoreline are not one bit interested. 

Antarctic TernAntarctic Tern Antarctic Tern hunting in the shallows. 

MC007436 Brown SkuaMC007436 Brown Skua Brown Skua flying overhead looking for an easy meal. 

We also saw two penguin species in amongst the Elephant and Fur seals, namely the King Penguins and Gentoo Penguin. The Kings were in active moult and so are not able to go into the water. So, they just huddle in a group and wait for their new feathers to push the old feathers out. It all seems quite boring really but I am sure they are enjoying lazing around doing nothing (don't you just love anthropomorphising).

Southern Elephant and Fur Seal, King and Gentoo PenguinSouthern Elephant and Fur Seal, King and Gentoo Penguin A group of moulting King Penguins in amongst some sleeping Elephant and Antarctic Fur Seals. A single Gentoo is also there. 

Evidence of sealers from the past were evident in the bay. A trio of seal blubber boiling pots were left behind to rust and decay in the salty air and harsh conditions. Now, thankfully, the seals and penguins merely laze around these pots where once they would have fed the pot's hungry innards. 

Seal Oil Boiling PotsSeal Oil Boiling Pots

Seal Blubber Boiling Pots surrounded by Antarctic Fur Seals, a Gentoo Penguin, Northern and Southern Giant Petrels. 

Peter Wilson in Elsehul BayPeter Wilson in Elsehul Bay Peter Wilson brings his passengers on a mini-lap of the ship while he waits to drop them off. The colours here are "as shot" and have not been altered in any way. Beautiful colours, particularly the water, with the fog lingering over the tops of the cliffs. 

With the tour of bay completed, we headed back to the ship for lunch and began steaming out towards open water again. What was interesting to note as we approached land was the decrease in bird numbers and species variety, when compared to the open ocean. However, all was not boring and too quiet, as the quartet of Light-mantled Sooty, Wandering, Black-browed and Grey-headed Albatross were visible from the ship as we sailed out. All of these species breed in the area. It was some some sight. 

Grey-headed AlbatrossGrey-headed Albatross Grey-headed Albatross (adult)

Grey-headed AlbatrossGrey-headed Albatross An adult Grey-headed Albatross flying off the stern of the ship. 

Wandering AlbatrossWandering Albatross A sub-adult Wandering Albatross off the stern of the ship. 

Black-browed Albatross take offBlack-browed Albatross take off Black-browed Albatross taking off from the sea.

Cape Petrel take offCape Petrel take off Pintados or Cape Petrels take off from the water with a Black-browed Albatross looking on. 

White-chinned PetrelWhite-chinned Petrel

White-chinned Petrel banking off the bow.

Even as we sailed along the northern the coastline, mammals continued to impress. Porpoising Antarctic Fur Seals and surfacing Humpback Whales kept us company as we ate lunch, drank coffee and ate more biscuits. It really couldn't get better than this. Could it?

Antarctic Fur Seals porpoisingAntarctic Fur Seals porpoising A group of porpoising Antarctic Fur Seals head towards the coastline.

Humpback WhalesHumpback Whales Humpback WhaleHumpback Whale A group of Humpback Whales on their migration, with Antarctic Prions flying around them. We saw a dozen Humpbacks in this small area.

Cape PetrelCape Petrel

Cape Petrel (aka Pintado or Cape Pigeon)

What lay ahead, unbeknownst to myself, would just knock me for six. Salisbury Plain awaited. 


[email protected] (Mark Carmody - Photography) Albatross Black-browed Canon Carmody Elephant Elephants Elsehul Elsehul Bay Georgia Grey-headed Jim Wilson Light-mantled Mark Carmody Norway Norwegian Penguin Photography Quark Quark Expeditions Sea Spirits Sealers Seals South South Georgia Wandering bay Mon, 09 Feb 2015 22:32:27 GMT
Day 8 - Thar' she blows!!..and the Shag Rocks Another dawn, another coffee, more biscuits and more seabirds, albeit a bit quieter than the day before. A full day steaming at sea lay ahead. A thick fog lingered for most of the day, only lifting for short periods. The fog had an interesting effect on the seabirds. It basically prevented them from being seen! It also prevented the birds from seeing the ship and so there were not so many species or volume of birds around the ship. The usual suspects were around the ship: Black-browed Albatross, Northern and Southern Giant Petrels, Cape Petrel, Antarctic Prions, White-chinned Petrels and Wilson's Storm-Petrels. The sea was very calm, very flat which meant little wind, ergo, few albatross.

Calm seaCalm sea

Fog from the bow. Visibility only okay.

Northern Giant PetrelNorthern Giant Petrel

Northern Giant Petrel through the gloom. Visibility decreasing. 

Wilson's Storm PetrelWilson's Storm Petrel

Wilson's Storm Petrel in a clear moment.

White-chinned PetrelWhite-chinned Petrel

White-chinned Petrel

Antarctic PrionAntarctic Prion

Antarctic Prion.

I popped in and out of the indoors, from Deck 4 Aft, Deck 3 for the Prion images, the dining room for breakfast, the bar area to grab coffee (and biscuits) and the lounge area for some talks on geology, birds and blubber. As the day progressed, there was a distinct aroma in the air. A thick, rich and slightly ammoniac air. It smelt familiar, in a seabird colony sort of way. But we were miles from land, at least 36 hours from Falklands/Las Malvinas and at least 18 hours from South Georgia. Then, an Imperial Shag flew past the stern. Then another. And another. The smell was indeed bird poo. It was Imperial Shag poo. We must be approaching the Shag Rocks! It was so foggy, however, that there was nothing to see. The race of Imperial Shag found in these waters is known as the South Georgia Shag. South Georgia Shags have white cheeks (the Falkland Island Shag has black cheeks) and a distinct demarcation line between the white cheek and black chin and hindneck. Exciting to think we were that we were closer to South Georgia than to the Las Malvinas/Falklands, and a long way from home. 

South Georgia ShagSouth Georgia Shag South Georgia (Imperial) Shag flying very close to the ship through the fog. Note the white cheeks and distinct demarcation line between white cheek and dark face.

South Georgia ShagSouth Georgia Shag South Georgia Shag (Imperial Shag) -  sub-adult.

South Georgia ShagSouth Georgia Shag South Georgia Shag (Imperial Shag )- adult.

Over the tannoy came an announcement in Cheli's best New Zealand drawl: "We are now approaching the Shag Rocks". The smell we were experiencing was a good indicator after all! The collection of six small islands appeared in the distance through the undulating movement of the fog as it lifted and dropped constantly. We were warned previously that we may have an opportunity to see the islands but it would all depend on weather and fog. Too stormy, and it would too dangerous to approach; too foggy, and it still might be too dangerous to approach. The Shag Rocks are about 250km west of South Georgia and about 1,000km off the Las Malvinas/Falklands. Luckily for us, the fog lifted and we were in a position to make an approach on the Shag was a very cool thing to see. They reminded me a lot of the Stag Rocks off the south-west coast of Ireland and I kept referring to the Shag Rocks as the Stag Rocks all day beacuse of that! I think I confused both myself and the passengers!

From the ship, we could clearly see the fronds of Giant Kelp fastened to the base of the rocks, just where the water washed over the rocks. Hundreds of Imperial Shags were dotted around the islands, with Black-browed Albatross and Wandering Albatross soaring around the peaks and bases. It was quite an impressive sight. The Shags were busy nesting and carrying nesting materials to and from the rocks. Where they were getting the organic matter to line the rock edges was a mystery. 

Shag RocksShag Rocks Shag RocksShag Rocks Shag Rocks and WaveShag Rocks and Wave South Georgia Shags on Shag RockSouth Georgia Shags on Shag Rock South Georgia Shags on Shag RockSouth Georgia Shags on Shag Rock Shag Rocks

As we headed in towards the Rocks, the captain brought in the stabilisers from the ship. It was incredible how much of a difference the make to the stability of the ship. While it was not rough, there was probably a 2m swell with a lot of time in between the waves. However, the ship really rolled. It was quite something. As we changed course and started moving onwards again, we spotted a large, bushy blow from a whale not too far away and in towards the Shag Rocks. Once we were locked on to its position, it dived and a large stocky tail lifted straight up in the air and down. Some thought it was a Humpback whale but Peter Wilson and I didn't agree. The tailstock was nothing like a Humpback and the general shape of the tail was not that of a Humpback. The stock was thick and the tail flukes were too broad and deep. I wondered if it was a Sperm Whale. With the difference of opinion on its ID, it was decided to turn the ship around and head back in to see if we could find the whale again.

As we were slowly approaching the area where we saw the whale initially another blow materialised and the head was clearly seen..."look at the [insert expletive here] callosities on that!!!" was shouted and all our initial theories on the ID were thrown overboard! This was a SOUTHERN RIGHT WHALE!!!!! A new species of whale for many on board, including some of the experienced expedition crew. The whale logged on the surface for a while, arching its back resulting in the head and tail both at the surface. After 5-6 minutes, the whale continued to dive and finally disappeared from our view. What a moment. High-fives everywhere. Smiles all around. Two major whale sightings in two days. This trip was exceeding expectations already. 

Southern Right WhaleSouthern Right Whale

A blow from the Southern Right Whale.

Southern Right WhaleSouthern Right Whale Southern Right Whale clearly showing the callosities on its head, with a South Georgia Shag in the background

Finally leaving the Southern Right Whale to themselves, we pushed on towards South Georgia and the fog lifted. As it did so, we could see more and more out towards the horizon. Some Southern Fulmars and Southern Royal Albatrosses found the ship, as did a couple of Grey-headed Albatross. Northern Giant Petrels were flying close to the ship, as were Black-browed Albtrasses and Cape Petrels. Antarctic Prions began to show in bigger numbers. A couple of Northern Royal Albatross were picked out amongst the large albatross following in the ship's wake. It was turning into a nice relaxing afternoon of seawatching after the excitement of the Shag Rocks and our Southern Right Whale encounter. 

Northern Giant PetrelNorthern Giant Petrel Northern Giant Petrel

Black-browed AlbatrossBlack-browed Albatross Black-browed Albatross flies very close to the stern of the ship. Just stunning. 

Then, as if out of nowhere, there were blubber blows all around the ship. Up to a dozen whales were actively coming to the surface and they were all Humpback Whales. Of that we were certain. I was up on the gangway around the bridge to get a better all-round view of the horizon. News of the sightings went out over the tannoy and the vast majority of the passengers were out on deck. The most I'd seen out on deck at any one time (and was to be for the rest of the trip), clearly demonstrating the lure of Humpback Whales. A particular group of Humpback became very curious and came right up to the ship. Great views were had by all and the photographs obtained by some passengers were excellent. The water is so clear here that it is quite easy to see whales coming up to surface from a few metres down. The air was punctuated with lots of "oohs" and "aahs" as the whales performed for the ship, spy-hopping and tail fluking. 

Humpback Whale blowHumpback Whale blow Humpback Whale surfaces right by the ship.

Humpback Whale TriumvirateHumpback Whale Triumvirate Three of the Humpback Whales that came close to the ship, with the smallest of the three (on the left) spy-hopping.

Humpback WhaleHumpback Whale Two of the Humpback Whales that came close to the ship

I was unfortunate not to be in the right position on the ship when the Humpbacks came right alongside. The expedition leader said that it was the first time they had ever had Humpback Whales come up to the ship like that. It couldn't have gone any better. While I missed getting decent images of the Humpback Whales alongside the ship, I did manage to capture images of the two adult Humpbacks as they tail-fluked before diving. The underside of a Humpback's tail is like a fingerprint and is unique to each individual. I must determine where I can send these images to to catalogue the whales and see whether these whales have already been recorded in the Southern Ocean before. 

Humpback pair tailsHumpback pair tails The flukes of two of the Humpbacks we saw.

All in all, a fantastic day out on the sea. Plenty of whale action but a slower day on the seabird front. However, it was great witnessing the passenger's enjoyment of the scene of the friendly and playful Humpback whales. These are the stories that they will bring back home with them and hopefully inspire others (and themselves) to help secure our planet's future. 


[email protected] (Mark Carmody - Photography) Albatross Canon Carmody Humpback Jim Wilson Mark Carmody Photography Quark Quark Expeditions Right Rocks Shag Shag Rocks South Southern Southern Right Whale Whale Whales travel Sun, 08 Feb 2015 20:15:34 GMT
Day 7 - on the Southern Ocean heading to South Georgia Dawn broke under a low cloud, with some fog and drizzle surrounding the ship. Not ideal weather conditions for photography. Nevertheless, I donned the waterproofs, thermals, neck warmer, hat, gloves and cameras, and headed straight to the bar! Not for a pint but for a mug of strong coffee and some shortbread biscuits to get the brain going at 6am. As soon as I stepped outside to my spot at Deck 4 Aft, the wind chill was very noticeable. We were heading south, towards South Georgia and the ice of Antarctica, and is was much colder than we had experienced as of yet. Throw the drizzle and fog in, and it made for an uncomfortable first hour. However, despite the cold, once I cast my watering eyes out to the sea, all I could see was clouds of Prions. They were everywhere! Antarctic Prions to boot, with a handful of Thin-billed (or Slender-billed) Prions as well. They were circling the ship and it was difficult to concentrate on individuals as they were wheeling around so quickly. Northern Giant Petrels and Cape Petrels were in evidence, with a single Brown Skua causing a bit of havoc.

A quick look around the corner into the biting wind, I could see a nice group of Wilson's Storm Petrel off the bow albeit a bit distant. I walked quickly to the bow and quickly picked up a Grey-backed Storm Petrel in amongst the group. If the brain hadn't been quite awake yet, it certainly was now with my heart galloping and the adrenaline flowed. Again, the bird was distant so no photographs. I was hoping to pick up some Common Diving Petrels but none materialised despite my best efforts in the polar wind. After the rush of seeing another Grey-backed Storm Petrel, I headed back to the shelter of the Deck 4 Aft and the cloud of Antarctic Prions. I was no sooner back and settled into my nook when I picked up some big albatrosses coming along the wash of the ship...more Wandering Albatross, with Southern Royal Albatross thrown in for good measure. We had four Wanderers in amongst the Prions and Giant Petrels that morning. Black-browed Albatross were also evident and continued to be around the ship for the entire day. 

Wandering AlbatrossWandering Albatross Wandering Albatross (sub-adult) shortly after dawn

Wandering Albatross and Antarctic PrionWandering Albatross and Antarctic Prion Wandering Albatross (juvenile) in amongst Antarctic Prion

Wandering Albatross and Antarctic PrionWandering Albatross and Antarctic Prion Wandering Albatross (sub-adult) with Antarctic Prion

Southern Giant Petrel and Antarctic PrionSouthern Giant Petrel and Antarctic Prion Southern Giant Petrel with Antarctic Petrel 

In amongst the Prions were also some White-chinned Petrels, Grey-headed Albatross and the ever-present Black-browed Albatross. Southern Royal Albatross began to make an appearance as we headed further south. A couple of Great Shearwater and Sooty Shearwater brought a familiar feel to proceedings, as they are the typical large shearwaters we see of the coast of Ireland during Autumn, but the blizzard of Antarctic Prion they were flying amongst reorientated the geography in my head.

Wandering & Black-browed Albatross and Antarctic PrionWandering & Black-browed Albatross and Antarctic Prion Southern Royal Albatross in amongst the Antarctic Prion with a Black-browed Albatross in the background

Southern Royal Albatross, Black-browed Albatross and Antarctic PrionSouthern Royal Albatross, Black-browed Albatross and Antarctic Prion Southern Royal Albatross in amongst the Antarctic Prion with a Black-browed Albatross in the background

White-chinned PetrelWhite-chinned Petrel White-chinned Petrel with Antarctic Prion

Great ShearwaterGreat Shearwater Great Shearwater

​Late morning, Jim was giving a talk on the albatrosses and seabirds we should expect on the route down to South Georgia. I grabbed a coffee and some more biscuits (thank goodness for elasticated pants), and headed down to the lounge. Like a typical male mass-goer of old, I sat down the back of the room to ensure I could sneak away should I see anything through the window. With one eye on the screen and my full aural attention, I kept one eye on the window. From where I was sitting, I could see Southern Royal Albatross, Giant and Cape Petrels and Prions glide by. Then, a large all dark shearwater or albatross, glided past the window. Then it glided past again...sweet baby jesus it was a Light-mantled Sooty Albatross!! I quietly legged it out of the room and up on deck. There, flying around the ship and in amongst the melee of Antarctic Prions and Black-browed Albatross were a handful of Light-mantled Sooty Albatrosses. And such incredible beasts!! All grace and beauty in a streamlined form. They just glided effortlessly around the ship, sometimes at head height, and at times flying in parallel in a courtship dance. A dream bird to see and I was like a kid in a sweetshop. I think some of the passengers thought I was bonkers, jumping up and down, running around like a headless chicken, screaming obscenities in the excitement when an albatross flew by or a Cape Petrel flew within a foot of my head. This is what it was all about. This is what the utterance of Southern Oceans conjures up for me in my mind. Clouds of seabirds and majestic albatrosses. This day did not disappoint. 

Light-mantled Sooty AlbatrossLight-mantled Sooty Albatross Light-mantled Sooty AlbatrossLight-mantled Sooty Albatross Light-mantled Sooty AlbatrossLight-mantled Sooty Albatross Light-mantled Sooty AlbatrossLight-mantled Sooty Albatross Light-mantled Sooty Albatross

Light-mantled Sooty AlbatrossLight-mantled Sooty Albatross Light-mantled Sooty Albatross with a Black-browed Albatross

After the excitement of the Light-mantled Sooties, I scanned the area for what else could be out there. I came upon a small feeding flock of Giant Petrels and then noticed a small shearwater skirt by. I couldn't believe it. I followed it but it kept quite a ways out and never came in too close. I rattled off a few images and kept watching it. I managed to get one of the passengers standing next to me on to it with their camera (few passengers had binoculars) and he managed to get a few more images. It is possible to get Manx Shearwater down this far south, but it would be rare. The only other species I could think of off the top of my head was Little Shearwater. The bird flew onwards and was lost to sight. I had resigned that encounter as one that got away.

After lunch, I was hanging out with Jim on Deck 5 aft for the "wildlife hour", where Jim and Colin Baird point out to the passengers any birds and any whales encountered. We were scanning the area when Jim picked up an Atlantic Petrel coming in towards the ship. I got on to the bird and was delighted to connect with this species. While they do occur in this region, it is not always guaranteed to see one. A full fledged tick!! In the end, we had at least 5 individuals in the space of an hour or so, indicating that this particular spot was good for them.

Atlantic PetrelAtlantic Petrel Atlantic Petrel

Incredibly, I also managed to either relocate the same or find a different small shearwater at the same distance out I had seen the one an hour or two earlier. I eventually got Jim on the bird and we spent at least 5 minutes tracking it, calling out features as we observed. The "common sandpiper"-like flight behaviour, the open face and short wings led us to conclude that it was a Little Shearwater!!! This was a new species for Jim in these waters. An excellent species to add to the trip list. 

Light-mantled Sooty Albatross, Black-browed Albatross and Antarctic PrionLight-mantled Sooty Albatross, Black-browed Albatross and Antarctic Prion A pair of Black-browed Albatross and Light-mantled Sooty Albatross sweep through a flock of Antarctic Prion

After about 90 minutes of standing in the biting wind and cold conditions, it was time to head to the warmth and comfort of the bridge to keep an eye on what was coming down the line! The captain and the officers of the Sea Spirit were very tolerant of passengers being on the bridge, provided that the ship was not coming into shore or during rough conditions. From the bridge, and from the walkway around the bridge outside, a great 180 degree view was provided. As I was watching Giant Petrels, Cape Petrels and Black-browed Albatrosses wheel around in front of us, I picked up a blow from the port side and about halfway out to the horizon. It was a big blow. A very big and tall blow. The first officer spotted it as well and got excited. I threw up the bins and all I could see was a pale grey and mottled back that went on and on and on until a tiny dorsal fin finally appeared...Blue Whale?! BLUE FRICKIN' WHALE!!!! My heart started going like the clappers and the adrenaline was pumping. I didn't know what to do. I started to leg it out the door to tell the others. So as I opened the door to leg it out,  and then realised that the bridge could talk to all the expedition staff, but then I saw Jim running downing the corridor towards the bridge shouting "did you see that?!?!" and so I just turned around and went back outside. I didn't get any photographs because I simply forgot to. However, we all got great views of the whale and high-fives were being thrown everywhere. What a moment! I'll never forget the rush I felt when I realised what I was looking at. Unbelievable.

After a calming cup of coffee (and some homemade chocolate chip cookies - can you see a pattern forming here?), it was back out on deck to check what else was going by. I soon picked up some Grey-headed Albatrosses coming along the wash of the ship, in amongst the usual suspects. A very attractive and graceful albatross, which are about the same size of the Black-browed Albatross. Southern Fulmars also started to make an appearance now as well, indicating that we were heading south towards the polar convergence. We didn't need the appearance of Southern Fulmar to tell us we were heading towards the polar convergence; the air temperature and wind chill was a reminder of that! A very pale Light-mantled Sooty Albatross stood out from some distance and thankfully, came into investigate the ship providing some fantastic views. 

Light-mantled Sooty AlbatrossLight-mantled Sooty Albatross Light-mantled Sooty AlbatrossLight-mantled Sooty Albatross Light-mantled Sooty Albatross (a very pale individual)

Grey-headed AlbatrossGrey-headed Albatross Grey-headed AlbatrossGrey-headed Albatross Grey-headed Albatross (juvenile)

Northern Giant PetrelNorthern Giant Petrel Northern Giant Petrel (note dark tip to bill)

As the Prions were still wheeling about the ship, I ventured down to Deck 2 where they were flying very, very close and approaching eye level. I spent an hour trying to get some decent flight shots of the Antarctic Prions and the odd Thin (Slender)-billed Prions. It was great watching them skim and glide over the waves in an effortless fashion while into a strong headwind. Magic birds. 

Antarctic PrionAntarctic Prion Antarctic Prion

Antarctic PrionAntarctic Prion Antarctic Prion and Thin (Slender)-billed Prion

Antarctic PrionAntarctic Prion Thin (Slender)-billed Prion

As the day drew to a close, we toasted the Blue Whale and Little Shearwater in the bar that evening. The prospect of what the following full day at sea would bring, made for a very fitful and anxious sleep. 

[email protected] (Mark Carmody - Photography) Albatross Birds of Ireland Blue Whale Carmody Grey-backed Jim Wilson Light-mantled Mark Carmody Petrels Photography Prion Quark Sea Spirit Shearwater Sooty Whale Sun, 01 Feb 2015 17:41:32 GMT
Day 6 - Port Stanley, Las Malvinas/Falkland Islands Dawn broke as we approached the Eastern Falkland Islands and our destination for the day: Port Stanley. Stanely is the capital of these Islands, with a population of just over 2,000 people. The main attractions of the capital are the museum, the government buildings and the church. My interest lay in the birds, and in particular, the Rufous-chested Dotterel and Correndera/Falkland Pipit. Having only a certain amount of time in the area, I had to decide what to do. I could go for the Dotterel and Pipit in the bogs at the top of the town, or else get a taxi out to Gypsy Point (4 miles/6km away) for some Magellanic Penguins and the possibility of 2-Banded Plover. While I was think about what I was going to do, I watched Northern and Southern Giant Petrels, Northern and Southern Royal Albatross, Grey-headed Albatross, Black-browed Albatross, Wandering Albatross, Southern Fulmar, Cape Petrel and Wilson's Storm Petrel fly around the ship as we steamed through the channel towards the Stanley. Thin-billed Prions were also making an appearance in small numbers and Common Diving Petrels were scampering away from the bow of the oncoming ship. 

Wilson's Storm-Petrel (ventral view; note the feet sticking out beyond the tail)

Black-browed Albatross (sub-adult)

After a health-hearty breakfast, an "omelette with everything" as one does, everyone donned their wet gear and headed for the Zodiacs. The plan had been to moor alongside the dock in Stanley and have a "dry" landing. However, as with all expedition landings, the weather had other plans for us. A very strong and inconsiderate wind blowing from a unfavourable direction prevented the Captain from bringing the ship alongside. So, it was a rough, bumpy and wet Zodiac trip across the channel to town. While we were waiting to tie alongside, a pair of Commerson's Dolphins swam around the Zodiacs. With my camera gear in my dry bag, I was not able to get any photographs. To be honest, I was just so thrilled to get such good views of the dolphins that getting a photograph didn't really bother me. It was my first time seeing this species and they are a stunning mammal. 

Once we disembarked from the Zodiacs and took of the wet gear, Jim gave me directions of where to go for the Dotterel. My mind was set on spending the time looking for this species and hopefully some close, open views of Magellanic Snipe. There was a chance for 2-Banded Plover and Silvery Grebe along the town front later on, so I decided on the gamble of heading upwards. It took Jim three or four visits to the area he was sending me that he finally found the Dotterels. With so little time to properly stake out an area for photographs, making a decision and sticking to it was key. With that, I set off on my own and headed for the open moorland. Jim was working and guiding a group of passengers from the ship in a bird walk around the town and eventually up the moorland where I would be.

While walking up the hills, it was strange concoction of elements hitting the senses: hearing the calls of House Sparrows, seeing the flags of English Premier League football clubs in the windows of people's homes, watching the Falkland race of Austral Thrush looking for worms in the gardens, where some of the oldest and functioning Land Rover makes and models reside in driveways and looking at Turkey Vultures prowling the skies at roof height; a very surreal picture begins to unfold right in front of one's eyes. 

Turkey Vulture at just over head height along the gardens of the Stanley properties. The crows of the region!

I had to stop to take it in, to remind myself of where I was. The island had an uncanny resemblance to the islands of West Cork that I know and have been going to for years. The soaring Turkey Vultures sort of brought it all back home that I was not on Cape Clear now.

So onwards I went, nodding to the Land Rover drivers who were giving the ol' West Cork "one finger off the steering wheel" wave of acknowledgement. Reaching the top of the hilly "street", I ventured over the wire fences and started walking slowly across the bogs and heather. There were remnants of the Falklands War from 1982 scattered about, with rusted gun turrets and a few old helmets apparent in an area that saw fighting. It was a tad surreal. While searching for the Dotterel, some Black-faced Siskins flew by but not much else. A couple of distant pipits flying east could only have been Correndera Pipit but better views would be required to tick that species. The beautiful melodious song of the Long-tailed Meadowlark was audible but I couldn't find them either! After nearly an hour, I finally tracked down a couple of Dotterel in a distant fenced off section of the bog. I was thrilled!! This was a real bonus to find them so quickly given Jim's previous searches. Without his knowledge, I may not have been able to find them. After climbing over a couple of fences, I managed to sneak up on the Dotterel by lying down on my ever expanding belly (thanks to the copious amounts of food on the ship and my ability to eat it all), and crawling along with the camera at the ready. Once I found a suitable position to lay down and ensuring my background was clean(ish), I spent an hour with the birds allowing them to fly around and walk towards me. Quite stunning and a great experience. It was the wind coming in off the sea and the general quietness of the area that appealed to me most. 

Rufous-chested Dotterel (simply stunning)

While lying on the heather and bog, I was fortunate that a male Long-tailed Meadowlark came into investigate. The male bird, such a stunning creature, fed amongst the heather and chased off the Dotterel at one point, threw out a few snatches of song, before flying off again. 

Long-tailed Meadowlark (Military Starling) - a resplendent male. 

Once I had had my fill of the Dotterel, I moved off and went in search of Magellanic Snipe and Correndera/Falkland Pipits. Just as I was traversing another fence, I saw Jim and his group, just like the Pied Piper and his followers, coming down towards me. With a few well-known hand signals exchanged between us while looking through our binoculars, I intimated that the Dotterels were close. I waited for Jim and my fellow passengers and showed them where the birds were. Everyone was happy to have seen them. With Jim's guided walk now complete, it was great that the two of us could wander around and go birding ourselves, just the two of us, like we used to do when I was a kid. It was a really nice moment for me, and I was delighted to have had the chance to do it. As we walked around the area, we stumbled upon some Magellanic Snipe, more Rufous-chested Dotterel and a few Correndera Pipits as well.

Correndera or Falkland Pipit (best images I could manage - tricky to get close to)

Magellanic Snipe out in the open! Such stunning and cryptic birds. Bigger and paler than their European cousins. We saw quite a few in this area of bog/moorland. With some patience and slow movements, it was possible to get close to this beautiful bird.

However, the highlight of our walk around the area was stumbling upon a quite tame Meadowlark. We slowly crept up to the bird, taking turns to go point and using the one-two inline technique we have used for years now when sneaking up on a bird to take some photographs. This was the closest that Jim had ever got to a Meadowlark so I let him lead for most of the stealthy stalking. We were both delighted to have got so close to a male Meadowlark and also to secure some shots. We then slowly retraced our steps and decided to head back into town for some lunch. On our way back to the road, we passed some small flocks of both Upland and Ruddy-headed Geese in the fields. 

Long-tailed Meadowlark (Military Starling)

Once we had a bite to eat in one of the (strange) local pubs and had a pint of the local ale (excellent stuff, too!), we headed back out to look for the Falkland race of Austral Thrush and check the front of town for more waders, gulls and terns. Jim also wanted to pop into the local Sainsbury's(!) to pick up some supplies. Most of the crew do this here in Stanley, as it is generally not possible to get things like Cadbury's chocolate and other familiar items in Ushuaia. Turkey Vultures were gliding overhead as we exited Sainsbury's and Dolphin Gulls were chilling on the grass along the coastal path running along the front of town. Kelp Gulls and South American Terns flew past busy looking for food, while Falkland Steamer Ducks, or Loggers as they are known as locally, were busy chowing down on bivalves and mussels over the sea wall. Rock Shags were also busily feeding in the shallows. 

Falkland Island Steamer Duck or Logger (a male)

Kelp Gull 

Dolphin Gulls

As I had yet to photograph the Falkland race of Austral Thrush, Jim and I headed out towards the cemetery which is a little way out of town. No sooner had we reached the end of the road that Sainsbury's was on when we spied a couple of Thrush having a wash in a small pond in the garden of the Falklands Conservation building, an end-of-terrace house along Stanley front. They were very jittery and quite flighty but I managed to get a couple of images before we decided to push on. Time was against us as we had to get back to the collection point for the ship. 

Austral/Falkland Island Thrush

On our way to the cemetery, and passing a few Land Rover garages, we stumbled upon a Blackish Oystercatcher feeding along the water's edge!! I had only seen the species in flight in Ushuaia so we stopped to take a few photographs. This is a big Oystercatcher with a real mallet-looking bill. Once I had some record shots in the bag, we walked quickly along the coastal path, passing a flock of sleeping Upland Geese and Black-chinned Siskins feeding on the grass seed heads. As we continued along towards the cemetery, Jim spotted a Steamer Duck sitting up on the grass in amongst some Crested Duck - we were confused as to how it got there (no obvious slipway and a high wall present) and were thinking that it might be a Flying Steamer Duck. Dave, one of the expedition crew, had seen a couple of Flying Steamer Duck flying along the town front as we were approaching Stanley that morning. We crept closer and closer but the bird just didn't fly. We took some photographs for analysis later and were about to head onwards when we realised we had run out of time. We had to head back to the dock and get the Zodiacs back to the ship. It was time to leave Stanley. 

Blackish Oystercatcher

MC002674 LoggerMC002674 Logger possible Flying Steamer Duck

MC002707 Crested DuckMC002707 Crested Duck Crested Duck

Stanley was a great little town, strange, surreal and a bit weird. I wish I could have spent some time walking around and gone to visit the garden full of gnomes and the garden full of whale bones made into sculptures. Next time. For now, it was goodbye to vegetation, trees, soil, the sound of passerines chirping and singing for at least two weeks. 

We made our way out of Stanley harbour and the channel, and back into the open ocean, and then steamed south towards South Georgia! I stayed up on deck and spent the last remaining hours of light birding the day away. We were treated to fantastic views of Wandering Albatross and Black-browed Albatross, as well as White-chinned Petrel and Sooty Shearwater. However, the highlight was picking up 2 Grey-backed Storm-Petrels flying into the wind off the bow of the ship!! I had thought initially that they were Black-bellied Storm-Petrels, but the lack of white rump, overall grey back and wings pointed to Grey-backed. Thankfully, one of the other passengers, Roger, managed to grab a few record shots. We showed Jim later on, and he confirmed that they were Grey-backed Storm-Petrel, as species he has yet to see! A great bird for the trip list.

Black-browed Albatross

MC003028 TriumvariteMC003028 Triumvarite

Northern Giant Petrel, Wandering Albatross and Black-browed Albatross in gloomy conditions.

Wandering Albatross being lit by the setting sun

With the prospect of two full days at sea ahead and the weather closing in, it was time for a few beers and to bed at a reasonable hour. An early start beckoned the following day as we began our journey south. 


[email protected] (Mark Carmody - Photography) Black-browed Albatross Canon Canon Professional Network Carmody Correndera Correndera Pipit Falkland Islands Jim Wilson Las Malvinas Long-tailed Meadowlark Mark Carmody Pipit Quark Ruddy-headed Goose Rufous-chested Dotterel Upland Goose Wandering Albatross Fri, 30 Jan 2015 12:58:24 GMT
Day 5 - Las Malvinas/Falkland Islands - Day 1 Saunders Island (A 5-Penguin Day!) The plan for the afternoon of the 20th November was to land on Saunders Island. This is the fourth largest of the Las Malvinas/Falkland Islands and is run as a sheep farm. The island consists of three peninsulas connected by narrow necks, which are prone to erosion due to storms. So, after stuffing my face with burgers, salad and a hot dog on Deck 5 of the Sea Spirit during lunch, and recovering from the morning's landing on Carcass Island, we boarded the Zodiacs once again and the landing to Saunders was to begin. As with all landings, the team head across first to secure a safe landing site, map out a route to ensure nobody goes where they shouldn't go, and help all passengers out from and into the Zodiacs. 

Saunders Island. The beach is dotted with Gentoo Penguins in this image, with a handful of King, Rockhopper and Magellanic Penguins also. 

The first sight to greet one are the Striated Caracara that come in looking for food scraps. Then, being downwind of the upland region of  this part of the island, the strong scent of penguin poo is apparent. A little trek up the small sandy dune connecting two peninsulas and the penguins became very apparent. Gentoos! And lots of them. The Gentoos are a big penguin, with only the King and Emperor Penguins being bigger. They are also very elegant and have lots of personality. There were a number of colonies scattered across the top of the sand-spit linking the peninsulas. The majority of the birds were simply lying down with their heads into the wind, marking out their nest site, and sitting on eggs. There was a lot of activity in the colonies, with lots of birds coming back and forth from the sea. I spent some time with these birds before heading onwards along the beach. 

Gentoo Penguins

The next port of call was to head over to the edge of the beach and watch the Rockhopper Penguins come out of the water and climb up the steep cliffs to one of their colonies. However, as I slowly made my way along the beach, I came across a small colony of King Penguins!! This was unexpected. Due to the small number here, the expedition team would have rather us see King Penguins for the first time in the massive colonies on South Georgia, rather than the small colony that has established itself on Las Malvinas/Falkland Islands. Needless to say, it was absolutely breathtaking to see these enormous birds (1 metre tall!!) waddle up the beach, stand around in groups, or in pairs, just being themselves. There were last year's juveniles also present, with their downy brown feathers. The first explorers that came across the King Penguin colonies thought the juveniles were a different species and called them Wooly Penguins. It was a real treat to see these magnificent birds. Groups huddled together, just staring into space or at each other; pairs facing into the wind trying to cool down by leaning back on their heels and tails; and adults ignoring their youngsters! As we were going to be seeing hundreds of thousands of King Penguins on South Georgia, I moved on. 

King Penguin

On the way across to the Rockhopper Penguin route on the cliffs, I stumbled across penguin species number 3 of the day - Magellanic Penguin. This would be the last opportunity to see this species, but I was unfortunate in only seeing a handful of these different-looking penguins with their chunky bill and rounder and narrower heads than the other penguin species we had just seen. The Magellanic Penguin nests in burrows amongst the tussac grass on Carcass Island, but on Saunders Island, the grass is heavily grazed by sheep and so is kept quite low. Because of that, the land is prone to erosion and sheep can (and do) put their legs through the soil and collapse Magellanic Penguin burrows. I was mindful not to poke my head into the nesting burrows and to ensure that I didn't collapse the soil into the burrows themselves. So, with that, I moved quickly on. 

Magellanic Penguin

Wondering where the Rockhopper route was? All I had to do was look up and see the "Yellow Penguin" brigade, the Sea Spirit passengers, in the distance! We were all given bright yellow parka jackets at the start of the trip for use on the landings. The parkas are warm and waterproof. However, I found the jacket too bulky for photography and so kept to my own waterproof jacket and lots of layers! As it was easy to spot the Yellow Penguins, I headed over to watch the Rockhoppers go up and also to watch the come back down the cliffs and into the sea. It was generally easy to determine which direction birds were going as they took breaks on the cliffs, meeting halfway and having a chat (squabble!); the generally dirty and stained birds were heading down to the sea having spent time incubating one or two eggs, while the clean birds were heading up and to relieve their mate from incubation duties. Watching the Rockhoppers come in and out of the water were a pair of Snowy Sheathbills who were eating anything that looked edible, including penguin poo. Sheathbills are the only wader found on the Antarctic continent and the only species there without webbed feet! They are quirky looking birds but great fun to watch. I never tired of seeing these enigmatic birds. Dotted along the coastline were a few Kelp Goose as well, feeding and resting on the rocks. 

The Yellow Penguin brigade with the Rockhopper Penguin colony visible up the slope on the right hand side. 

Rockhopper Penguins emerging from the water and on their way up to their colony

Rockhopper Penguins coming down from the nesting colony and heading to the sea.

Snowy Sheathbill

Next part of the island which we were to trek to was upwards to the Rockhopper Penguin nesting colony and onwards again towards an accessible Black-browed Albatross breeding colony. We passed some Upland Goose family groups and Turkey Vultures soaring over the colonies looking for sick, injured or dead penguins to eat. The nesting Rockhopper Penguins held an unexpected surprise: MACARONI PENGUIN! This poor individual was certainly lost looking as it took up a nesting site at the edge of the colony, so we were easily able to pick it out. That made it 5 penguin species in one afternoon! Incredible experience. We spent a bit of time with these Rockhoppers. In amongst the penguins were breeding Falkland Island/King (Imperial) Shags. This was a great opportunity to see this race of Imperial Shag up close. One of the differences to separate the Falkland Island Shag race in the field from the main species is that it has a black cheek rather than a white cheek, such as those found on the South American mainland and seen in the Beagle Channel/Tierra del Fuego. 

Rockhopper Penguins at their nesting colony

The larger, paler Macaroni Penguin sits in the foreground and surrounded by Rockhopper Penguins. The longer, brighter and richer-toned eyebrows are easily noticeable.

Falkland Island/King/Black-cheeked Shag (a race of Imperial Shag)

The walk along towards the Black-browed Albatross (BBA) colony was quite steep and a bit slippy on the over-grazed grass, so care was required. However, the sight that was set out in front of us was mind-blowing. There, no more than 20 metres in front us, was a colony of BBAs sitting on their raised mud nests. It was jaw-dropping. Having spent the previous two days watching them at sea, it was phenomenal seeing one so close and on land. As we arrived at the site, Jim had established an imaginary line along which we were asked to stay behind, ensuring we were the required minimum distance from the breeding birds. Anyone who strayed over the line was quickly asked to move back. This is important for not just the birds, but also to ensure that the company are allowed to visit again, and that all other companies also toe the line and obey the rules for observing wildlife in these incredible places. I wish the same could be said for seabird colonies on certain islands around Ireland that get invaded during the breeding season by photographers who do not give the birds the space they deserve. 

Black-browed Albatrosses on their nests of raised mud; wing stretching on the colony; coming into land with the feet out to act as air brakes; looking out on its domain

While we sat there, a BBA landed in right in front of us and proceeded to walk right up to us. I couldn't believe it. I started shaking, the adrenaline flowing through my veins. I had to take a deep breath, compose myself and start shooting! At one point, the individual was too close to fit in the frame with the 400mm lens and ended up being too close to fit in the frame with the 70-200mm lens I had. Staggering. The size of the bird is difficult to convey in images without anything to compare it against. I think that Jim has photographs of the bird and my feet in the frame, as he was about 20 people up from me. Hopefully, if he did take those shots, they may illustrate the sheer size of these birds. The Albatross continued to look around at each and every person along that imaginary line we were to say behind. It was so special to witness that. Once the bird had had its fill of the yellow penguins, it took a couple of steps and took off with ease into the wind. 

Black-browed Albatross coming up for a look; holding its ground; headshot of BBA; taking off (note a Striated Caracara in the background)

Sadly, it was time to head back to the Zodiacs, as our time was up. The various companies who provide these trips, book time slots in each area where landings are allowed or Zodiac cruises are allowed. No two boats are allowed to be in the same place at the same time. This prevents too much disturbance to the wildlife, but also gives the paying passengers the feeling that they are on their own in these wild and remote places. Giving the whole "expedition" feel. On the way back to the Zodiacs, we spotted some Long-tailed Meadowlarks but also a few Dark-faced Tyrants up the slopes! Nice. New species for me. I scrambled up the slope hoping to get a photograph and managed to get one or two I was happy with. Super little bird and one that could be best described as a cross between a Chat and a Wheatear. We also came across some Striated Caracara sheltering from the wind, which was very strong that day, behind some some sea cabbage. 

Dark-faced Tyrant

Long-tailed Meadowlark

Striated Caracara sheltering behind some sea cabbage

One of the dangers of nesting on an island that is also run as a sheep farm is that there are sheep on the prowl, despite the best intentions of fencing off the nesting areas. Now and again, a sheep can get in and the Rockhoppers are not happy about it. There were also some Brown Skuas hanging around the colonies, waiting for a penguin to become inattentive so that the Skua can get in and steal an egg.

Rockhopper Penguin with an invasive species and some sheep-proof fencing.

Brown Skua surveying the Rockhopper Penguins. This sighting meant I had now seen all the species in the Skua/Jaeger family!

Once we were back at the meeting point to go back on the Zodiacs, more Striated Caracara were hanging around the area, looking for some food. Looking back across to the Rockhopper Penguin and Black-browed Albatross sites, one could see Striated Caracara and Turkey Vultures just cruising along the cliff faces and slopes, looking to pounce and find an easy meal. It was quite something seeing both flying together. The Striated Caracaras hanging around the Zodiac landing area were very tame, coming up and investigating shoe laces, bags, the lifejackets...anything that all!

Striated Caracara

Turkey Vulture and Striated Caracara

While waiting to get on the Zodiacs, and back to the Sea Spirit, I noticed some rusting metal pots. When I asked Jim what these were, he said that they were used by whalers/sealers to boil penguins in order to extract the fat from the birds. I can only imagine that it was very easy for the whalers/sealers to simply walk up to the birds, grab then and pop them into the pots. Even down here has not escaped our cruel ways. 

Penguin boiler.

After a biological wash-down of the footwear, bags, jackets and waterproof pants, I headed for my room, took off the boots and waterproofs and headed to the bar to pick up a Beagle Red Ale and ponder on the day's sights, sounds and smells. Disbelief washed over me as I realised that this was really happening. I was on an adventure of a lifetime. Tomorrow would be a day in Port Stanley. I couldn't wait....

[email protected] (Mark Carmody - Photography) Albatrosses Cabbage Canon Caracara Carmody Gentoo Goose Imperial Jim Wilson Kelp King Las Malvinas Magellanic Maracroni Mark Carmody Penguins Rockhoppers Shag Sheathbill Sheep Skua Snowy Striated Turkey Upland Vulture Sun, 25 Jan 2015 17:18:10 GMT
Day 5 - Las Malvinas/Falkland Islands - Day 1: Carcass Island Dawn broke on the third day of being aboard the ship and I woke to what would become a familiar sight - a hint of blue followed by quickly covering cloud cover. However, that morning also brought my first sight of the West Las Malvinas/Falkland Islands. Our first port of call was to be Carcass Island, a small island of the West Point Island group. Even though the cloud came in, it quickly disappeared again when the sun managed to get up and burn off that cover. 

Dawn over the Western Islands of East Falklands/Las Malvinas

The scenery at dawn was quite breathtaking. There were birds slowly beginning to emerge and I was one of a handful of people on the deck. Damian and some of his crew were up photographing the dawn. I generally set myself up on Deck 4-Aft as it was close to the bar where there was a coffee machine and biscuits made by the pastry chef on the ship. I could be found there every morning as dawn broke, coffee at the ready and evidence of biscuit consumption sprinkled down the front of my neck warmer, actively scanning the sea for signs of life. This would become my routine for the trip. 

Western Islands of East Falklands/Las Malvinas

As I left Damian and his group to their sunrise images, I went in search of birds. The first few species I clocked were Southern Fulmar, Black-browed Albatross, Southern and Northern Royal Albatross, Northern and Southern Giant Petrel, Cape Petrel, Sooty Shearwater, White-chinned Petrel and Wilson's Storm-Petrel. Rock and Imperial Shags were also flying by in small numbers, gliding past the bow of the ship in squadron formation. The incredible thing, however, was the number of Common Diving Petrels zipping away from the bow of the boat as we steamed along the coastline of the archipelago. There were hundreds of these auk-like seabirds. In fact, there were probably the smallest seabird we saw on this trip, on par with the Storm-Petrels. However, given the poor light and the speed these birds fly off the water, it was quite a challenge to get any photograph at all. I only saw them if I was standing at the bow of the ship, facing into the teeth of the cold wind, as they took off away from or dove under water from the oncoming ship. It would be the only day of the trip where we would see such numbers. 

Common Diving Petrel

When we crept around one particular headland, we were met with a noise and a sight that I will never forget. There were hundreds, if not a few thousand, Black-browed Albatross wheeling and soaring around the face of the cliffs. A wonderous sight. I could only imagine what it would be like seeing this off the cliffs of the Old Head of Kinsale in Cork, or the Blasket Islands off the coast of Kerry. Fantastic. Hopefully, this sight will never diminish. 

Black-browed Albatross wheel around the cliffs

Southern Fulmar - one of the most beautiful seabirds on the trip, in my opinion. Just so elegant. 

As we moved further along, I spotted a group of something porpoising out of the water at incredible speed, hovering over the surface for a split second. I first thought "fur seals" or maybe a small dolphin species. I raised my binoculars and couldn't believe what I was seeing - PENGUINS!! I was gobsmacked. I did not think they would appear out of the water like this, porpoising the way they did. I have seen a lot of footage from BBC's Attenborough programs where this behaviour was filmed. But it just does not prepare one for the spectacle in the flesh. It was mesmerising. The penguins were difficult to follow and judge where they would exit the water due to the speed they travelled at through the water. I was watching separate groups of Gentoo Penguin and Rockhopper Penguin. Two new species for me. They literally were flying out of the water. I just couldn't stop smiling. It was quite overwhelming. And we hadn't even landed anywhere yet!

Gentoo Penguins

 Rockhopper Penguin

After the excitement of the penguins, I was torn between eating breakfast down in the dining room or staying out on deck for the journey through the islets of the West Point Island group towards Carcass Island. I was buzzing and didn't want to miss anything. Knowing that we had a long morning ahead, I legged it down for a quick omelette (freshly made by the chef...fantastic breakfast) and coffee, and pegged it back up on deck. As we sailed towards Carcass Island, I noted Kelp Geese along the shorelines, Black-crowned Night Herons and Rock Shags also. The odd Elephant Seal and South American Fur Seals were dotted along the edges of the islands. Then, I picked up a flock of a dozen Brown-hooded Gulls! I was thrilled. Too far for decent photographs so I spent my time just observing them. A well-earned tick. Then the call went up for the landing instructions on Carcass Island. Frantic dashing to the cabin to don the waterproofs. Then headed for the Zodiac's and a landing on Carcass Island beckoned. This island is the home of the Cobb's Wren, one of the world's rarest birds. It is the only place in the world where this species is found. Also present should be Falkland Steamer Duck, Magellanic Snipe, Striated Caracara, Tussac Bird, Magellanic Penguin, Long-tailed Meadowlark and Ruddy-headed Goose. Ticks ahoy!

MC__1075 MarlaMC__1075 Marla What a Zodiac landing is all about. 

When we landed on the beach, the expedition team were there. Jim immediately pointed out Tussac Bird (aka Blackish Cinclodes) darting around our feet, Speckled Teal, Falkland Steamer Duck, Magellanic Oystercatcher, Turkey Vulture being mobbed by Magellanic Oystercatchers, a Variable Hawk flying over the ditches, Gentoo penguins coming out of the sea and onto the beach...I was just spinning around 360 trying to take it in. I hadn't even taken my lifejacket off, let alone get my camera out of the bag!! I, literally, had to sit down to take it in. We were here. This was bonkers. Throw into the mix the National Geographic photographer Paul Nicklen standing next to me, and a very surreal scenario began to unfold in front of my eyes. This definitely was not Kansas!!

Falkland Steamer Duck (male)

The Tussac Bird (C. a. antarcticus, a race of Blackish Cinclodes) is endemic to the Falklands/Las Malvinas and are very tame!

Magellanic Oystercatcher

When I started to breath again, got my camera out of the bag and finally plucked up the courage to speak to Paul Nicklen (one of the nicest and inspiring persons one could every meet), and his partner Cristina Mittermeier (another ridiculously talented photographer), we quickly found a Cobb's Wren feeding amongst the seaweed. Further down the beach, there was a Turkey Vulture feeding on a Gentoo Penguin carcass. Another Variable Hawk flew over and we could see geese up along the hills of the island. It was superb.

Cobb's Wren

Turkey Vulture feeding on a Gentoo Penguin carcass

The landing was to last a few hours, where we had walk along a marked trail towards the settlement at the other end of the beach. This was a 4 mile hike along the gentle slopes. This was my very first "group outing" with a camera. I found it a bit strange and frustrating but I had accepted that that was the way it was going to be. I was determined to make the best of the situation and enjoy myself without regret. Walking along with Paul and Cristina made the experience something I'll always treasure. Along the way over to the dwellings, we passed Upland Geese with their chicks, the beautiful Ruddy-headed Geese, vocal Magellanic Oystercatchers along the slopes and Magellanic Penguins nesting among the large tussac grass mounds. More Cobb's Wrens were seen close to the shoreline and Kelp Geese were feeding along the water's edge. We also had some Falkland Steamer Ducks with chicks along the shoreline. At nearly ever fence post with long grass growing around its base, we found a nesting Magellanic Snipe. Another new species for me. It's quite a striking bird, with pale cryptic plumage. 

Upland Goose (female) and her goslings

Ruddy-headed Goose

Falkland Steamer duck and chicks

Magellanic Oystercatcher calling, or rather squeaking, amongst the tussac grass

Magellanic Snipe

When we reached the dwellings, we were greeted with tea, coffee, water and some of the finest cakes and biscuits I have ever tasted (with the exception of my mother's baking!!). We had one hour to chill out around the dwelling, eat cake and sit about. Around the settlement were Striated Caracaras that would eat out of one's hand, Black-throated Finches, Austral Thrushes, Blackish Cinclodes (Tussac Bird), Magellanic Oystercatcher, and the Long-tailed Meadowlark. The Meadowlark is a stunning bird and also goes by the moniker Military Starling. Quite a stunning bird. 

Striated Caracara

Long-tailed Meadowlark (Military Starling; male)

I hung back from boarding the Zodiacs when the call went up, which were taking the passengers back to the Sea Spirit. I just didn't want to leave. This was heaven. I wanted to squeeze as much time as possible out of these landings. The beauty of the place? It was quiet. There was no noise from traffic. There was no noise from mobile phones beeping, dinging and chiming. There were so few people. It was all about the wildlife. It was the way it should be. But still, our influence as humans was evident with the presence of introduced plants such as gorse, Monterey Cypress trees and New Zealand Cabbage palms. The gorse is in danger of spreading across the island, destroying the native tussac grass, which the native birds depend on for breeding sites. There seems to be nowhere that we haven't influenced.

The last couple of species photographed before climbing into the Zodiacs and boarding the ship were the tame Blackish Cinclodes (Tussac Bird) and Black-throated (White-bridled) Finches. What a first landing!

Tussac Bird (Blackish Cinclodes)

Black-throated (White-bridled) Finch

The port of call in the afternoon, and after lunch on Deck 5 (more food...a common theme), was Saunder's Island. More on that later!

[email protected] (Mark Carmody - Photography) Argentina Blackish Cinclodes Canon Caracara Carmody Cinclodes Cobb's Cobb's Wren Falkland Steamer Duck Jim Wilson Mark Carmody Steamer Striated Striated Caracara Turkey Vulture Tussac Tussac Bird Variable Vulture Wren Thu, 22 Jan 2015 22:59:18 GMT
Days 3 and 4 - All At Sea On the third day I woke early, had breakfast, paid my bill at the B&B and headed off in a cab. I was meeting up with Jim and Peter, together with the rest of the core staff of the Quark expedition team of the Sea Spirit, in a cafe on San Martin (the main drag of Ushuaia). Of course, I would have to get lost on the street, going east instead of west. My sense of direction is bad enough in the northern hemisphere without having it all turned upside down in the southern hemisphere! It was interesting to observe, through the sweat pouring down my face after lugging my gear right across town having lost my bearings, during those first 5 minutes that I met the core staff of the Sea Spirit in a cafe, was their desire to find fast and unhindered WIFI before having to get back to the ship and prepare for the next round of passengers. Being out of contact with loved ones and the rest of the world for 10 days with only satellite connection to the internet of all things does play on people. Everyone was furtively downloading, answering emails quickly, and catching up on news local to them. The internet of all things has become so integral to us now (watching The Walking Dead and having read The Bone Clocks makes this observation quite interesting; to me at least). Jim, Peter and I made our excuses and we headed off to dump my gear on the ship before getting lunch.  

2014-11-18 12.39.122014-11-18 12.39.12

Peter and Jim download emails and other files for reading later on. Satellite Internet is uber expensive on board the ship. 

I was granted permission to board the ship early, before any of the other passengers. Jim gave me my boarding pass, I went through "customs" on the pier, observing the "Brits Out" mural that flanked the gates to the pier, and we walked up the gangway of the Sea Spirit. This allowed me to drop off my bags and freed myself for the rest of the day to hang out with Jim and Peter, grab some lunch get ready for the excitement. It was great to see Jim and Peter, have a coffee and catch up on the happenings of their first trip of the season. Jim was regaling tales of Antarctic Petrels and Snow Petrels buzzing around the ship and Snow Petrels flying around Peter's head as he was driving his Zodiac through the packed ice. (Remember this sentence for later.) I couldn't wait.

We had to get back to the ship for a certain time and I met with some other crew. I was sharing a 3-berth cabin with two other guys I had  never met before. Luckily for all of us, we got on well and they were to help make the trip very memorable. Damian Caniglia, a photographer from Australia, was just as mad as me in not bothering with sleep and getting up for dawn most mornings. We were delayed leaving the quay due to having to load more fuel than expected. This meant waiting for more fuel trucks to arrive. However, just before dusk, we were on our way. I was hoping to be able to see some of the sights of the Beagle Channel before we departed, but it was not to be. By the time dawn would break, we would be leaving the sight of Tierra del Fuego behind and making our way towards Las Malvinas/Falkland Islands. 

2014-11-18 15.34.342014-11-18 15.34.34 Waiting to leave, looking towards the bow of the Sea Spirit from Deck 2.

Finally, the engines start. Kelp and Dolphins Gulls, as well as Southern Giant Petrels, come in for a gander at what is stirred up by the engine wash.

I woke to a pleasant first morning after a decent night's sleep and there were plenty of birds about. I was on deck before 6am, relishing the prospect of albatrosses, petrels, shearwaters and blubber. We were fortunate that the weather was at our back and was not too rough. A 2 metre swell and a favourable wind pushed us onwards and were fortunate to see Northern and Southern Royal Albatross, Black-browed Albatross, Grey-headed Albatross, Northern and Southern Giant Petrel, Thin-billed Prion, Southern Fulmar, Cape Petrel, Great, and Sooty Shearwaters, Wilson's and and White-chinned Petrels, Common Diving Petrel and Magellanic Penguins on our first day at sea. Chilean and Brown Skuas flew around the ship, as did a couple of Snowy Sheathbills while we were still in sight of land. All very surreal. We were fortunate to witness a small pod of six Peale's Dolphin and a small group of 4 Long-finned Pilot Whales.

Imperial Shags in flight.

Black-browed Albatross.

Southern Royal Albatross.

Southern Royal Albatross.

Southern Royal Albatross.

Wandering Albatross (note the black edging to the tale and slight "gilling" around the neck).

Southern Giant Petrel. 

Giant Petrel feeding flock in the wake of the ship, with a couple of Cape Petrel and a Black-browed Albatross lurking.

Northern Giant Petrel (note the dark-tipped bill).

Southern Fulmar - one of the most beautiful seabirds seen during the entire trip.

Cape Petrel (Pintado).

Snowy Sheathbill in just looks wrong!

It was an incredible first day at sea, with thousands of Cape Petrel, Black-browed Albatross and Giant Petrels. Everywhere I looked, there were seabirds. It was a magical christening and introduction to the Southern Ocean. It was strange, yet comforting, to see three species here that I can see most autumns off the south and west coasts of Ireland - Sooty and Great Shearwaters, and Wilson's Storm Petrel. These species breed in these waters and spend the non-breeding part of the year flying around the Atlantic Ocean looking for food, even up around by the Irish coast. Incredible. The day was topped off with what would become a daily occurrence...a few well-earned Beagle ales. Bed by 10pm and the alarm set again for 5am. Who needs sleep!?!?! That can be taken when I get back to civilisation. Las Malvinas/Falkland Islands awaited us the following morning. 

Please leave a comment on the blog if you've enjoyed it or if you can see ways I can improve on it. Thank you!

[email protected] (Mark Carmody - Photography) Albatross Antarctic Antarctica Canon Canon Professional Network Carmody Jim Wilson Mark Carmody Petrel Photography Sea birds Shearwater Sheathbill seabirds Mon, 19 Jan 2015 21:23:35 GMT
Day 2 - The Beagle Channel and Ushuaia Town After another solid night's sleep, the hungry cries of the Rufous-collared Sparrow fledglings outside my window was better than any alarm clock. There was plenty of snow on the ground shortly after dawn, which confused my northern latitude senses as I watched the fledglings being fed by a weary-looking adult Rufous-collared Sparrow. Where I come from, there should not be any snow when adult sparrows are feeding their young. A non-native Eurasian House Sparrow flew past my sleepy gaze and confused me further. I roused my sleepy self and got ready to eat and head down to the town front to book a place on a trip out to the Beagle Channel. The targets were South American Fur Seal, South American Sea Lion and Magellanic Diving Petrel, and any seabird that decided to present itself!

Ushuaia from the sea.

I booked a place on the Navegando el Fin de Mundo's charter called Tango; a small boat which would allow us to get a closer to some of the smaller islands. While waiting to board the boat, I paid the customs tax in the harbour master's office and had a cup of coffee while watching Dolphin Gulls, Kelp Gulls, Southern Giant Petrels, Rock Shags and Imperial Shags in the harbour. A small group of 4 Black-faced Ibis flew along the Ushuaian skyline, quickly followed by what was probably a Peregrine Falcon. While watching a Turkey Vulture quarter over the town dump in the distance, I also spotted a single Andean Condor over the mountains in the distance. Incredible sight and not something I had expected. Tick and run!

The view across the channel to Ushuaia from one of the outer Bridge Islands.

The weather conditions were still a bit breezy, cold and overcast, but we headed off out after a brief safety talk, with only 7 passengers on board. A nice small crew. We cruised around the channel for about 4-5 hours in choppy conditions. With the boat being small, we were thrown around a bit in the deceptive swell. Although the conditions were comfortable in general, it was not easy for photography. There were plenty of Imperial Shags, Southern Giant Petrels and Chilean Skuas flying around the area. We also stumbled upon a King Crab fishing boat, which handed over two crabs to the skipper of our boat. The boat was also surrounded by a cloud of Southern Giant Petrels and a single Black-browed Albatross. The first one of the trip and a lifer for me.

South American Fur Seals

King Crab Boat surrounded by Southern Giant Petrels, Kelp Gulls and Chilean Skuas. A single Black-browed Albatross also joined the melee. 

King Crab

Les Eclaireurs Lighthouse and breeding Imperial Shags

South American Sea Lions, Kelp Gulls and Dolphin Gulls

South American Sea Lion surveying all his surrounds

South American Fur Seal

South American Sea Lion, Dolphin Gulls and Snowy Sheathbill (one of only two species native to Antarctica).

Chilean Skua (very warm, cinnamon tones)

Southern Giant Petrel (pale tip to the bill)

Imperial Shags

Imperial Shag with nest material

Rock Shags

We then motored over to a series of small islands which separately held colonies of South American Sea Lions and South American Fur Seals. These were massive beasts and quite intimidating. The colonies were interspersed with Dolphin and Kelp Gulls, as well as Snowy Sheathbills. I was quite surprised to see the Sheathbills in amongst the seals, but it was great to see and really brought home the fact that we weren't in Kansas anymore. A French couple on the trip were thrilled to see the Sheathbill as they were not venturing south than Ushuaia. The sight of the Les Eclaireurs Lighthouse was something.

We also stopped off on one of the islands, so as to walk up to the top to get a view across the islands and Tierra del Fuego. The island was covered in low-lying shrubs, bushes, and grass. There were Austral Thrush, Austral Negrito, Southern Caracara, Patagonian Sierra Finch, Dark-sided Cinclodes, and Rufous-collared Sparrows there. Along the edges were Kelp Goose and more Chilean Skuas. A brief view of a single Southern Fulmar set the hearts racing but I didn't manage to take any photographs of that bird. More of those were seen and many photographs taken later on in the trip. Stay tuned for those! Unfortunately, we never connected with Magellanic Diving Petrels so my only chance of seeing that species was now dashed. 

On the left is Argentina. On the right is Chile.

Chilean Skua

Southern Giant Petrel

Imperial Shag

Southern Caracara

Patagonian Sierra Finch

Once we got back to shore, I walked along the shorefront towards the airport to check for waders. The only birds of note were Crested Duck, Chiloe Wigeon, fly-over Black-faced Ibis, Chimango Caracara, Kelp Goose, Dolphin and Kelp Gulls and Southern Lapwing. There were very few waders about; the only species I saw on the trip being the Lapwing. Stunning birds nevertheless. There were South American Terns in display flights and a Yellow-billed Pintail in a small pond which was very skittish. Another Austral Negrito was also about the long grasses but I could never get close enough for a decent image. A pair of Kelp Geese flew across the bay and landed right in front of where I was, spooking the Dolphin Gulls feeding on a sewage outflow. These are a very striking species, closely related to the Shelduck. There are only about 30,000 birds in existence, so feel very privileged to have seen them. 

Kelp Goose (male and female)

Crested Duck

Yellow-billed Pintail

Chiloe Wigeon

Southern Lapwing

Dolphin Gulls

Kelp Gull

South American Tern

The Southern Lapwing are striking birds and I stumbled upon a pair during my walk along the shore edge. A pair of Chiloe Wigeon in amongst the Crested Ducks were a pleasant and welcome surprise. The walk back along town produced a fly-over Turkey Vulture and Rock Shag close to the shoreline.

Rock Shag

Turkey Vulture

The evening involved getting some grub and a couple of beers in the Dublin pub. Cliched Irish Pub, I know, but the beer choice there was excellent. The local beer called Beagle (particularly their ale) is well worth sampling. I retired early as the following day was the day I was to join the Sea Spirit and the Quark Expedition. I couldn't wait. After two incredible days in and around Ushuaia, I could only begin to imagine what the trip ahead would bring...

[email protected] (Mark Carmody - Photography) Argentina Canon Carmody Duck Giant Jim Wilson Lapwing Mark Carmody Petrel Photography Rock Rock Shag Shag Skua Tierra del Fuego Ushuaia Vulture Wigeon Thu, 15 Jan 2015 22:48:42 GMT
Day 1 of the Antarctic Adventure 2014 At long last, after years of salivating over photographs taken and stories told by my uncle, Jim Wilson, I was on my way south of the equator for the first time. I was on my way to sail on the Southern Ocean for 20 days. I was on my way to see my first wild, penguins. I was on my way to South Georgia and Antarctica. This was a trip of a lifetime. What was going to make it even more special? Jim and his son, my cousin, Peter Wilson were going to be working on the ship I was to be on. The ship is called M.V. Sea Spirit and leased to Quark Expeditions, the company that Jim and Peter were working for for the Antarctic season. I could not wait to get going. After leaving Dublin on Friday afternoon in mid-November, hitting three airports, boarding three flights, I landed in Ushuaia on Saturday night. The most southerly city in the world; the end of the world. 

I was staying in a B&B called La Maison de Ushuaia, nestled in the hills of Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego, Argentina and only a 5 minute walk to the main drag. It was cold when I arrived, despite it being the beginnings of summer. I had a chat with Solange in the B&B and made plans for the following day. I headed into town 5 minutes walk away for something to eat and a beer. After an hour, with the Sandman entering the fold, I was back in the B&B and asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow. I was shattered from the three back-to-back flights, even though the excitement at the thought of what the following day could bring was palatable. 

I woke early, the sound of unfamiliar birdsong unsettling my sleep. The sounds was to become a familiar sound over the few days I spent around Ushauaia - Rufous-collared Sparrows! The view that greeted me having breakfast (above) was stunning. Once I had had my fill, I walked down to the main town front to determine what to do. If it was too windy for the Beagle Channel, I would head to the national park on the outskirts of town. It was too windy for the Beagle Channel. So, it was a day for the Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego; a mere 10km west of Ushuaia. A subantarctic forest and reputedly the most southerly national park in the world. With some time to spare before the taxi bus left, I wandered along the seafront of Ushuaia and was greeted with my fist sightings of Northern Giant Petrel, South American Tern, Dolphin and Kelp Gulls. Steamer Ducks flying along the town-front confirmed they weren't Flightless. A nice one to get in the bag early. 

The South American Terns have taken up residence during the breeding season on the wreck of the Saint Christopher (HMS Justice) aground in the harbout (see above). After the war, she was decommissioned from the Royal Navy and sold for salvage operations in the Beagle Channel. After suffering engine problems in 1954, she was beached in 1957 in Ushuaia's harbour where she now serves as a monument to the shipwrecks of the region. 

The National Park was stunning. Nestled along the shore of the Beagle Channel towards and beyond the Chilean border. There is Antarctic and Lenga Beech everywhere. It was cold, bright, but very windy. My main targets here were Magellanic Woodpecker, Austral Parrot and Andean Condor. There was plenty of evidence of the Woodpecker but I didn't see any, nor was I to see the Parrot or Condor. 

However, as I walked up to 15km along the trails and the forests, I did see some amazing birds. Everything was new. I was like a child in a sweet shop. I lugged about 15kg of camera gear with me so thankfully I was dressed in layers! The weather was getting windier as the day went on but not too cold. The sun was out for the morning and the cloud swept in for the afternoon. 

2014-11-16 10.20.262014-11-16 10.20.26 2014-11-16 12.04.452014-11-16 12.04.45 2014-11-16 14.46.102014-11-16 14.46.10 The typical view along the shoreline trail I took through the National Park. 

Great Grebe (Podiceps major)

Fuegian (Magellanic) Flightless Steamer Duck (Tachyeres pteneres)

Patagonian Crested Duck (Lophonetta specularioides specularioides)

Ashy-headed Goose (Chloephaga poliocephala) - female

Upland Goose (Chloephaga picta) - male

Chimango Caracara (Milvago chimango)

Southern-crested Caracara (Caracara plancus)

(Patagonian) Tufted Tit-Tyrant (Anairetes parulus patagonicus)

Fire-eyed Diucon (Xolmis pyrope)

Austral Thrush (Austral Thrush (Turdus falcklandii magellanicus)
Rufous-collared Sparrow (Zonotrichia capensis)

White-crested Elaenia (Elaenia albiceps

Dark-bellied Cinclodes (Cinclodes patagonicus)

Southern House Wren (Troglodytes aedon group) 

2014-11-16 17.05.192014-11-16 17.05.19 Lake Roca looking towards Chile

Other species of note during the trek through the national park included Black-faced Ibis, Yellow-billed Pintail, Speckled Teal, Chiloe Wigeon, Chilean Skua, Chilean Swallow, Patagonian Sierra Finch, Black-throated Finch, House Sparrow and Black-chinned Siskin. While I had really hoped to see Magellanic Woodpecker and Austral Parrot, it was not to be. There were a lot of people walking the trail, including what appeared to be a trail running race, and with the very high wind blowing through the channel, the birds were hard to find. It was a beautiful setting though, and a day well spent. I had toyed with the idea of hiring a bird guide for the day, but I was really there for the seabirds. The National Park and passerines were a bonus so I just treated it like that; a bonus day to chill, relax and follow my feet. 

Upon returning to Ushuaia that evening, the Terms were getting busy on the boat (above) and I was starving. I returned to the B&B, dropped off my gear and headed downtown for some grub and a well-earned beer. Tomorrow looked like it was going to be calmer so the hope was to head out on the Beagle Channel. The targets: seabirds and mammals.



[email protected] (Mark Carmody - Photography) America Antarctica Canon Carmody Frontier Jim Wilson Mark Carmody National Park Photography South South America Tierra del Fuego Trek Ushuaia Fri, 09 Jan 2015 22:00:13 GMT
The Terns of Dublin Docks The Common Tern (Sterna hirundo) is a seabird of the tern family Sternidae. This bird has a circumpolar distribution, its four subspecies breeding in temperate and subarctic regions of Europe, Asia and North America. It is strongly migratory, wintering in coastal tropical and subtropical regions. Breeding adults have light grey upperparts, white to very light grey underparts, a black cap, orange-red legs, and a narrow pointed bill. Depending on the subspecies, the bill may be mostly red with a black tip or all black. There are a number of similar species, including the partly sympatric Arctic Tern, which can be separated on plumage details, leg and bill colour, or vocalisations. Breeding in a wider range of habitats than any of its relatives, the Common Tern nests on any flat, poorly vegetated surface close to water, including beaches and islands, and it readily adapts to artificial substrates such as floating rafts. The nest may be a bare scrape in sand or gravel, but it is often lined or edged with whatever debris is available.
The terns, family Sternidae, are small to medium-sized seabirds closely related to the gulls, skimmers and skuas. They are gull-like in appearance, but typically have a lighter build, long pointed wings (which give them a fast, buoyant flight), a deeply forked tail, slender legs, and webbed feet. Breeding adult Common Terns have pale grey upperparts, very pale grey underparts, a black cap, orange-red legs, and a narrow pointed bill that can be mostly red with a black tip. The Common Tern was first described by Linnaeus in his Systema Naturae in 1758 under its current scientific name, Sterna hirundo. (wikipedia)
The images below are images of a few adult birds, which fish, fight, scream and jostle for each other's attention during the summer months in Dublin Bay and around the basin of the grand canal. The birds are quite tame and often fly, unbeknownst to those walking by, within inches of their heads. It's always a great place to spend some time relaxing and watching the terns do their thing in the summer months. 
Common Tern (adult) Common Tern (adult) Common Tern (adult) Common Tern (adult) Common Tern (adult) Common Tern (adult) Common Tern (adult)
[email protected] (Mark Carmody - Photography) Birds of Ireland Birdwatch Ireland Canon Canon Professional Network Carmody Collins Press Dublin Freshwater Ireland Jim Wilson Mark Carmody Photography Thu, 30 Oct 2014 21:49:40 GMT
The Results from Bling The Sanderling (Calidris alba), also called the wave runner, is a long-distance migratory wader that occurs worldwide in coastal areas (particularly on sandy beaches) during the non-breeding season. The breeding range is restricted to the High Arctic tundra of eastern Canada, Greenland and central Siberia. Despite their presence on sandy beaches visited by people, such as Dollymount Strand in Dublin or Red Barn in Cork, strikingly little is known about Sanderlings compared to many other common wader species. 

The Sanderling uses what is called the African-Eurasian flyway, migrating from their breeding grounds down along the Eastern Atlantic coastline to their wintering grounds along the coast of western Europe, the Mediterranean, Africa and the Middle East regions. The knowledge gained from studies carried out by determined and dedicated biologists has lead to the beginning of our understanding of these flyways. One way of accomplishing this understanding is to place metal bands on the legs of the birds with a unique code, which requires the bird to be either retrapped for the code on the metal ring recorded or by means of using a telescope and lots of patience! The advent of light plastic bands (called Darvic rings) allow the biologists to trap the birds, apply a specific code of coloured bands and then rely on the "citizen scientist" to record the combination of colour bands and report the each unique combination to the relevant authority. An example of this is illustrated below on an adult 'Icelandic' Black-tailed Godwit on its breeding grounds in Iceland. This bird breeds on the same farmland every year but has been re-sighted over the years during the Winter and Spring in Ireland, Britain and France!

I was fortunate to be able to record some colour-ringed waders recently while photographing a mixed flock of Sanderling and Dunlin on a high tide roost in Dublin Bay. The flock numbered about 300. I spent about 4 to 5 hours at the site (a couple of hours either side of the high tide) taking photographs of the birds, and looking primarily for juvenile Sanderling and adults moulting out of breeding plumage. It is imperative that the birds are not disturbed on their high tide roosts as they are tired, hungry, cold and in recovery from their long migration from the hight Arctic. For example, at one point, while I was patiently waiting for a Sanderling with a set of Darvic rings to lower its right leg to reveal the full combination needed on both legs for the researcher, a person on a bicycle went by with a fishing rod pointing to the sky and flushed the flock out into the bay. I lost the bird with the combination of rings but luckily refound it again when the flock circled around and came back in again to land and snooze along the rocks. If this disturbance is constant, then the birds become tired, can't rest and recuperate, and may succumb to exhaustion. Therefore, using a telescope, binoculars and a long lens for photographs is important in these situations. (a flock of Red Knot is shown below)

While scanning the mixed flock, I picked up a total of 4 ringed Sanderling, three with Darvic rings and one with a metal ring but with no Darvic rings. I was able to secure the combination of all the Darvic rings and read the ring number on the other bird, but could not get a complete code. I sent off the code combinations to Jeroen Reneerkens based in the University of Groningen, who is coordinator of the colour-ringed Sanderling project in Europe. Jeroen emailed me the data from each of the colour-ringed birds within a week (he was on holidays, otherwise it would have been even quicker). The results of the ringed birds were quite remarkable.

The bird above was trapped and rung in Iwik village, Banc d' Arguin, Mauritania (west Africa) on 12th December 2012. This is the first resighting of this bird. Incredible!! Will it head back down to Western Africa again this winter?

The bird above (blue flag) was trapped and rung in Samoucoo harbour, Rio Tejo, Portugal on 8th November 2012 by Jose Alves and Pete Potts. In fact, Pete has been putting Darvic rings on the Black-tailed Godwits like the one shown above in Iceland for many years. I had the pleasure of working with him for a few days in Iceland in 2009 so it was really great to read the rings on a Sanderling that was tagged by Pete. This is the first resighting of the bird as well! I emailed the image onto Jose and Pete, who were delighted to receive the resighting news and a photograph of one of "their" birds. I wonder will the bird head back to Portugal for the winter?

The bird above was trapped and rung on Sandgerdi, "first beach", Iceland by Jeroen on 22nd May 2011. The bird has been resighted back at this spot in Iceland during the breeding season. However, what is fascinating is that this bird has been resighted every Winter and Spring since 2011, the year it was banded with the Darvic rings, in Dublin Bay. As the colour bands are easily seen and recorded, we are learning a lot from "citizen science" in this regard. It is quite cool, in my opinion, to see birds that breed in Iceland, come to Ireland together during their autumn migration and stop over to refuel. Some members of the migrating flock stay in Ireland, but others will move on to southern Europe or the coast of Africa or the Med or the UK. 

Where this guy with the metal ring, and all the unringed birds, have been during their breeding and non-breeding cycles is anyones guess. The worrying thing about this flock was the small percentage of the birds were juvenile (less than 10%), which reflects the very poor breeding season the waders have had in the tundra this year. 

Huge thanks to Jeroen Reneerkens for the sightings information ([email protected]). More information about the project can be found at the International Wader Study Group ( Please send any resightings of colour-ringed Sanderling to Jeroen at the email address provided and be mindful of the fact that these birds are tired and just want to get a bit of sleep. 

[email protected] (Mark Carmody - Photography) Wed, 03 Sep 2014 19:15:24 GMT
Short-listed for Blog Awards Ireland 2014 Just a quick note to say that my blog has been short-listed in the photography category of the Blog Awards Ireland 2014 competition! Many thanks to all who have read and shared my posts. This is motivation for me to write more blog posts and increase my interaction with all you avid readers :)

blog awards ireland

[email protected] (Mark Carmody - Photography) Awards Blog Blog Awards Ireland Carmody Tue, 02 Sep 2014 15:40:08 GMT
California Dreaming... I was over in San Diego (SD), California attending a conference at the end of June. It was my first time on the west coast of the USA, so I was hoping to get some free time to see some birds. As it was a business trip, I could only take my Canon 400mm f/5.6L lens (plus camera body) and my FujiFilm X100 walk-around camera with me. I was fortunate to speak with someone I know in Boston who had been to the Convention Centre in SD before, so he gave me a few places to visit that were within walking distance of, or a short cab ride away from, the Convention Centre (the very same one which hosted the Comic Con a week or so later!). I had a trio of species I really wanted to see: Hummingbird (any species would do!), Heermann's Gull and Brown Pelican. As it turned out, I managed to bag all three on the first morning as I took a jet-lagged walk along the waterfront of SD near the Gaslamp Quarter at 7am :) Pressure was off, so it was a case of just enjoying what birds I saw when I was out and about. 

The following is a summary of the areas I visited and some of the photographs I managed to get. I think I was there during the "doldrums" of bird migration, where the resident species were busy finishing their breeding season and so were busy feeding chicks etc., and migration had yet to begin, so there was a lack of variety. I imagine that had I been there a month before or after, I would have seen a lot more variety in the areas where I visited. However, it's always exciting to see new species when travelling, so I am not complaining. 

San Diego Waterfront

I was staying in the Gaslamp Quarter, which is only a 5 minute walk away from the waterfront. This was a very pleasant area to walk along, looking at the yachts and being greeted by everyone out on their walk or run at 7am. One thing I noted about San Diego is that everyone I encountered were very friendly. Such a wonderful place. The birds which I saw along the waterfront were Heermann's Gull, Western Gull, California Gull, Caspian Tern, Forster's Tern, Elegant Tern, Least Tern, Royal Tern, Double-crested Cormorant, Great Blue Heron, Green Heron, Snowy Egret, Night Heron, House and Song Sparrow, House Finch, Anna's and Allen's Hummingbird, Mourning Dove, Brewer's Blackbird, Starling, Mallard, Osprey, American Crow, Brown Pelican, Feral Pigeon, Western Kingbird, Mockingbird, Black Phoebe, Yellowthroat and Peregrine. 

Western Gull

Snowy Egret

Night Heron

Heermann's Gull


House Finch

Unconditional Surrender - a statue of the famous scene caught on camera in Times Square, New York when Japan unconditionally surrendered, effectively signalling the end of World War II.

Botanic Gardens in Balboa Park

Balboa Park is a short cab ride north of downtown San Diego. There is a lot more here than just gardens, with a Shakespeare Globe-type theatre, a few churches and museums and of course, San Diego Zoo. A beautiful place to walk around. I was hoping to photograph dragonflies here but all the ponds I visited were being cleaned so no dragons flying around, which was disappointing. The US has some spectacular dragons. However, the birdlife here was fantastic. Very similar passerines as observed along the waterfront, but the gardens also held California Towhee, Orange-crowned Warbler, Black-chinned Hummingbird, Bushtit, Hooded Oriole and Cooper's Hawk. With a bit more exploration, I would probably have found more. I can only imagine what it would be like during migration time!

The Hummingbirds were just bundles of energy; loud, aggressive and great fun to watch. I could have sat there all day taking photographs of them. I was delighted with how the lens handled them, more of which I will touch on later. There was a very tame family of Cooper's Hawk in the area as well, allowing quite close approach. Nothing like I've experienced with our Sparrowhawk here. All-in-all, a great place to visit, particularly if one is stretched for time. The Monarch butterflies here were also a huge thrill for me to see. 

Anna's Hummingbird

Allen's Hummingbird

Cooper's Hawk

Monarch Butterfly

Song Sparrow

Black Phoebe


La Jolla 

I managed to spend a morning up in La Jolla on my last day in San Diego. It is such an idyllic place. Very quiet, lots of cafes, big houses and pleasant people to chat with. I really enjoyed it there. This is where one can see California Sealions hauled out on rocks, and the richardsi race of Harbour Seal. Brandt's Cormorant breed on the cliffs, as do Double-crested Cormorants (albeit in small numbers). Pelagic Cormorant is also a possibility. I also (fortuitously) saw my only Black Skimmer of the trip here, as well as some close fly-by views of Royal Tern and squadrons of Brown Pelicans. The sight of tens of Brown Pelicans flying in formation right over the heads of people walking along the footpaths was something to behold. California Ground Squirrels are very common along the cliffs and people are asked not to feed them. Bird Rock (below) was cool to see as it held Brandt's and Double-crested Cormorants, as well as Harbour Seals and Brown Pelicans. I am sure it has appeared in many movies and TV series in the past. The Harbour Seals were easily seen from the breakwater walkway at the Children's Pool area, while the California Sealions can be easily seen a little bit north at La Jolla Cove. Heermann's Gulls were loafing around on Scripp's Park in reasonable numbers. The Brown Pelicans breed along the cliffs at La Jolla Cove and are within spitting distance of people walking along the public footpath. It is a fantastic sight to see and the smell of guana is quite powerful!

Bird Rock

Brown Pelican

Brandt's Cormorant

Double-crested Cormorant

Royal Tern

Black Skimmer

Heermann's Gull

California Ground Squirrel

California Sealion

This Sealion has a piece of rope embedded in its neck. This will slowly kill the young Sealion as it grows. The rope will tighten and gradually cut off its ability to swallow and so will slowly starve to death. Very sad to see and highlights the need to clean up our seas. 

Harbour Seal (richardsi)

The Camera Gear - how it fared

As I was limited with what I could bring with me, I took my Canon 400mm f/5.6L lens for wildlife and my FujiFilm X100 for scenery etc. This was the first time I was taking the 400mm with me on a trip, so it was a bit risky not having used it in anger too much. I also used my HTC One to take photographs when I was walking around without my Fuji, even though it is a very poor camera. The 400mm behaved admirably, despite a lot of flight images being dumped due to blurriness. That was effectively user error as opposed to a dodgy lens. As there is no Image Stabilisation on the lens, a pair of steady hands and a steady platform is necessary really to capture sharp images. However, I am delighted that I know that this lens works well, managing to capture Hummingbirds in flight and seabirds in flight as well. I will have to practice using this lens more if I am going to bring it with me on trips such as this. This is going to be particularly important to do in poor light. The light in SD was actually quite nice and so shutter speed and aperture were never an issue. Overall, I am very pleased with the 400mm. 

All in all, a great trip to San Diego in terms of wildlife. I would love to head back during migration time and rent a car to check out other habitats such as marshes, estuaries, gardens, woodland, desert and mountains further afield in California or Mexico. 

[email protected] (Mark Carmody - Photography) Balboa Birds California Canon Canon Professional Network Carmody Collins Press Gaslamp Gull Hummingbird La Jolla Mark Carmody North America Pelican Phoebe Photography San Diego Sealion Squirrel USA Wildlife Fri, 15 Aug 2014 13:04:58 GMT
The Irish Winter GullFest of 2013/2014 It was a winter to remember in terms variety and quantity of stellar "Northern" Gulls. Multiple numbers of Ivory and Ross's Gulls made the headlines, while the amount of Glaucous and Iceland Gulls, and in particular the 'Kumlien's' race of Iceland Gull, were mind-boggling and breaking records. Another few stray waifs such as Ireland's first Slaty-backed Gull (a gull of the Pacific), a young Laughing Gull (of North America), Thayer's Gulls (also of Northern latitudes) and a Caspian Gull (of a more Eastern flavour) added to the impressive list of Larid species. The 'Northern' Gull influx was most certainly attributed to the 3 winter months of persistent Atlantic storms.  The storms were originating from the high Arctic due to the lower-than-normal jet stream, and were being funnelled down through Baffin Bay, which lies between Greenland and Canada.  This provided the conditions for a few 'perfect storms', resulting in records being set for wind, rain and waves in Ireland.  Our coastline was being relentlessly pummelled as a result, making for a winter of hardship for many, particularly those on the islands off our west and south-west coasts. Other species of note making landfall were the North American species American Herring Gull, Ring-billed Gull and Bonaparte's Gull. Despite the battering and resulting destruction, birdwatchers were revelling in what had become Irish Winter Gullfest 2013/2014.

Ivory Gull (1st winter/2cy; Tacumshin, Co. Wexford. 18th January 2014)

Ross's Gull (adult winter; Poolbeg, Dublin Bay. 23rd February 2014)

 Laughing Gull (1st winter/2cy; Ballycotton Pier, Cork. 7th February 2014)

Kumlien's Gull (1st winter/2cy; Ferrypoint, Co. Wexford. 18th January 2014)

Kumlien's Gull (1st winter/2cy; Ballycotton Pier, Co. Cork. 7th February 2014)

Iceland Gull (1st winter/2cy; Sean Walsh Park, Tallaght, Co. Dublin. 17th March 2014)

Glaucous Gull (2nd winter/3cy; Ballycotton Pier, Co. Cork. 7th February 2014)

Yellow-legged Gull (adult; Inner Cork Harbour. 9th February 2014)

[email protected] (Mark Carmody - Photography) Ballycotton Birds of Ireland Birdwatch Ireland Canon Canon Professional Network Carmody Collins Press Cork Dublin Glaucous Gull Iceland Ireland Ivory Ivory Gull Jim Wilson Kumlien's Laughing Gull Mark Carmody Photography Ross's Ross's Gull Wexford Yellow Yellow-legged larus laughing Fri, 11 Apr 2014 09:39:20 GMT
Laughing in the face of the storms Laughing Gulls are found primarily on the Atlantic coast of North America and the northern part of South America. It is a rare vagrant to Western Europe. The species for me, as a birdwatcher in Ireland, has always meant one of rarity and excitement. The reason for this is that before I started birdwatching in the mid-80's, Jim Wilson found a 1st-winter Laughing Gull in Cobh, which is my hometown. Having not started birdwatching yet, the story of the "Cobh Laughing Gull" told by Jim and others who saw it, always conjured up a feeling of wonder and excietment. This wonderment was further fuelled by pouring over the black & white photographs of the species in the "gull bible" of its day - "GULLS An Identification Guide" by PJ Grant, particularly as Jim's photo of the "Cobh Ross's Gull" from 1985, which I saw, was in the book.

The Laughing Gull still is a very rare bird for Cork, and for Ireland. I had to wait a long time to see my first one in Ireland, missing out on the unprecedented influx in 2005 following a spate of violent hurricanes which whipped up from the Gulf of Mexico along the eastern US and across to Europe. In that October 2005 episode, at least 18, possibly as many as 40, individuals occurred on one day across the UK and Ireland. I was living in Japan at the time and couldn't believe what I was witnessing from reading blogs and reports online. However, it was in July 2010 that I saw my first Laughing Gull in Ireland; a second-summer bird in Ballycastle on the Antrim coast (see photo below). To top it all, it was my 300th species of bird seen on or from the island of Ireland! A nice bird to hit that milestone with. 

Roll on January 2014, and following a spate of violent hurricane-force storms ripping up the North Atlantic, a first-winter Laughing Gull is found in Ballycotton, Co. Cork. It is the first record for Cork since the influx of 2005. Happily, the bird stayed around for a long period of time and was still present 2-months later up to 16th March 2014. Luckily for me, as well as the bird staying around, I had planned a trip to Cork in early February 2014, the week after seeing the Pacific Diver in Co. Tyrone. A quick trip to the pier on a cold, wet and grey Friday morning looked like it was not going to pay dividends. There were plenty of gulls about, but no sign of the "Laugher". Norma Gleeson, the finder of the bird, arrived on the pier and we were chatting when the bird appeared right in front of us. The feeling of panic had subsided and was replaced with one of elation and joy. Smiles all around, a few record shots, a few minutes watching it fly by with the binoculars and the naked eye. I had forgotten how small these birds are, no bigger than a Kittiwake. I was thrilled. A Cork "tick" and my first time seeing a Laughing Gull in this plumage. Once that was all done and absorbed, it was time to concentrate on the photographs. 

The gull was sometimes in the company of odd companions such as a Grey Heron (not superficially unlike the American Great Blue Heron) and the energetic Pied Wagtail. There were also a swarm of Herring, Great-black Backed and Common Gulls to keep it interesting, with plenty of Kittiwakes and a nice supporting cast of a couple of Glaucous Gulls and a Kumlien's Gull. I spent quite a few hours standing and kneeling on the pier in cold and blustery conditions, ever so aware of the time and having to be elsewhere. The conditions were difficult with low cloud, blustery showers and very little usable light. Concentration was required to ensure the camera settings were set properly for the changing conditions. The bird behaved so well, flying within arms reach of the enthralled bystanders on the pier. Despite the uncomfortable conditions, it was an enjoyable few hours spent with the Laughing Gull. In fact, it was difficult to drag myself away from this magnificent (that's right, magnificent) of gulls. 

Addendum: at the time of writing, what is probably the same bird was seen and photographed at Groomsport in Co. Down on 23rd March 2014. A straight line distance between the two ports of Ballycotton and Groomsport is about 360km. Not too far for this trans-Atlantic vagrant. I wonder where this bird will end up next?

[email protected] (Mark Carmody - Photography) Ballycotton Birds of Ireland Birdwatch Ireland Canon Canon Professional Network Carmody Collins Press Cork Ireland Jim Wilson Laughing Gull Mark Carmody Photography larus laughing Mon, 24 Mar 2014 16:34:25 GMT
Winter Visitors Snow Buntings are a regular winter visitor to Ireland, and in particular the west, north and east coasts of Ireland. They are much scarcer along the south coast. The area around Dublin Port appears to be a regular wintering haunt each year for a small number of Snow Buntings. Each of the winters since 2008 that I have been living in Dublin, Snow Buntings have been present around Dun Laoghaire piers, Bulloch Harbour and Bull Island. Some have been seen within striking distance of Dublin, such as further south in Bray Co. Wicklow and further north along the beaches of Laytown Co. Meath and and Cruisetown Co. Louth. Whenever Snow Buntings are reported within striking distance of Dublin, I always make a point of going to see them. They are such stunning birds. 

Not all Snow Buntings are tame but some are more tame than others. This series of images were taken along Dollymount Strand on the Great North Bull Wall of the Dublin Port/Dublin Bay area, in the company of my good friend SC. I spent 5-6 hours lying down in the sand, hunched along the rocks or kneeling in rotting seaweed to get the photographs, and all the time cursing inconsiderate dog walkers who let their dogs off the lead to blatantly run at any birds along the shoreline. Such an activity is illegal on places such as Dollymount Strand and Bull island as they are both nature reserves and have been tagged Special Protection Areas (SPAs) under EU Law, as well as being a UNESCO Biosphere area. As such, by law, dogs are to be kept on leads at all times. Unfortunately, due to lack of enforcement and lack of a dog warden, dogs run riot and roosting shorebirds get constantly harassed, thus robbing them of critical energy stores required to thrive. In addition, petty thieves have been targeting birdwatchers/photographers, and also breaking into cars, in this area. This means that you have to be aware of your surroundings and so cannot focus 100% on the birds. Crime is, unfortunately, rife along this stretch of the Dublin coastline.  A sign of our times.

Despite all that, I was determined not to let those vagaries of society detract from my enjoyment of watching and studying the Snow Buntings.




[email protected] (Mark Carmody - Photography) Birds of Ireland Bunting Canon Carmody Collins Press Dublin Ireland Jim Wilson Mark Carmody Snow Snow Bunting Wed, 19 Mar 2014 11:14:24 GMT
Pacific Vagrant...the Loon! Pacific Divers are regular winter visitors around the coast of Japan, particularly around the northern coastline, where I had seen hundreds of them during my tenure there.  A couple of birds have been recorded off the Irish and UK coasts in recent years. Whether this is a result of an increasing population pushing east or pushing west to reach the Atlantic Ocean; or whether the decrease in the north polar ice cap allows species such as the Pacific Diver reaching the North Atlantic by coming "over the top"., is unclear  A small population of Pacific Diver is believed to have started to populate NE Canda/North America. It is also possible that the birds which have been seen around Ireland and the UK may have come from this area. 

When a bird was found on a small loch in Northern Ireland near Cookstown, called Lough Fea, it was quite unexpected and surprising. The bird was first identified in mid-January 2014 by a visiting birdwatcher from the UK.  The Lough is a small course-fishing lake with little or not bird life on it.  The Pacific Diver was the only large bird on the open water of this very exposed Lough.  I had seen Pacific Diver in Ireland before, off Finvarra Point in Co. Clare back in 2010.  However, when it emerged that the bird on Lough Fea was showing down to a few meters, I knew I had to get up there to try and get some photographs of this very rare visitor. 

I planned a trip at the start of February 2014, typically a good number of weeks into the birds' stay. I went up with a couple of other birdwatchers/photographers. It was a great day out but the bird was proving wary and kept its distance. The weather was clear but bitterly cold.  After struggling for 4 hours to get any decent photographs of the bird, our luck changed. The bird changed its behaviour for whatever reason and swam towards the gathered crowd of onlookers and admirers. The light was now in front of us and the glaring, quite harsh reflection off the water was not making it easy. The clouds were gathering and so the light was becoming even more tricky and changeable very quickly. I know it's the usual excuse given, but today it was relevant. 

The bird finally played ball and I enjoyed watching it as well as taking photographs of it. The chinstrap was so obvious, even at a great distance. This diagnostic of plumage features with which to separate it from the similar Black-throated Diver. The plumage is very smooth and sleek. Divers, for me, are very beautiful birds, very powerful in appearance yet so graceful. To have one of the rarest for these shores to make such close passes to the gathered crowd was quite something. Once we had our fill, and our disappointment in the paparazzi-type behaviour of some there made us uncomfortable, we headed back for home quite happy with seeing this beautiful bird. 

[email protected] (Mark Carmody - Photography) Birdwatch Ireland Canon Canon Professional Network Carmody Collins Press Fea Ireland Jim Wilson Lough Fea Mark Carmody Pacific Pacific Diver Photography Sun, 16 Mar 2014 17:41:43 GMT
There's something special about...Ivory Gulls There really is something special about high Arctic species such as Polar Bears, Arctic Foxes, Narwhals, Beluga Whales and....Ivory Gulls. Ivory Gulls have always been a mythical bird for me since I was a young kid. Jim Wilson found a well-marked juvenile bird in Ballycotton, Co. Cork back in January 1980. He inked a fantastic drawing of the bird and it still hangs on the wall at his home. I used to stare at it with wonder when I was a kid, and look at images of the species in Lars Jonsson's books. I never thought I would ever see one, unless I was fortunate enough to travel to the high Arctic to see them and their polar counterparts. 

I missed one in Kinsale Co. Cork in 1999 but was lucky to connect with a juvenile bird in March 2009 in Baltimore, Co. Cork (see the image above). It was a dank and dreary day and the last day the bird was seen - haunted doesn't even come close to describe how lucky I was. I have a tendency to wait until very late in a rare bird's stay to twitch it. It is something that has become normal with me these days, for reasons only known to my evil imaginary friend called "Sleep" and the comfort of a warm bed at 4am on a Saturday morning.

With the repetitive storm surges across the North Atlantic, which began in December 2013 and are still ongoing now in February 2014, originating in the channel between North America and Greenland, it was looking good for possible Arctic strays such as Glaucous Gulls, Iceland Gulls, Kumlien's Gulls, and the rarer Thayer's Gull, Ross's Gull and Ivory Gull. Incredibly, an Ivory Gull turned up on Tacumshin Lake in Co. Wexford after the devastating Storm Christine in early January 2014; a great find by Tony Murray. One of the last places one would expect to find an Ivory Gull in Ireland. True to form, I managed to get down to see the bird 3 weeks after it was found. I figured the crowds would have abated at that stage and I might enjoy the bird more, less the madding crowds. 

(Canon 500mm; f/4; ISO 2000; 1/100; 0 eV; tripod mounted)

I arrived pre-dawn to constant rain and low, grey cloud cover. Not the ideal really. I was sitting in my car waiting for acceptable lux levels to find themselves in the soupy morning dawn. I got out of the car to be greeted by a couple of like-minded souls, donned my wet gear, put on my camera's wet gear and trundled off across a ploughed field towards the lake edge. At the edge of the field, as I was walking across, were the two like-minded souls giving me the thumbs-up. Happy days. The bird was there. I joined them and could see the Ivory Gull feeding on the by-now famous rotting Porpoise carcass. The bird just glowed in the cold light of the grey dawn. Almost angelic-like (if one believes in such things). I was wet, but I was smiling. I clambered down and the bird didn't move. It was so tame. The light conditions were appalling, which made for difficult photography. Concentrating hard on the fluctuating light conditions in the constant rain was not pleasant.  However, it was an Ivory Gull. Who cared!?


(Canon 500mm; f/4; ISO 2000; 1/250; 0 eV; tripod mounted)

It seemed to have a pattern where it would feed for a period of time on the carcass, wander off behind the stump, wash its bill, have a drink and then fly out a bit on the (exceptionally flooded) lake for a wash and then wander off. Then it would return and land on the stump, look around, flop down on the carcass and continue to feed. Repeat. All through the morning it just rained and stayed grey. It was cold, uncomfortable but a mythical Ivory Gull was no more than 20 metres away from me. It was worth the soaking. It was worth constantly changing the camera settings. It was a great learning experience photographing a white bird in such grey and dark conditions. 

(f/8; ISO 800; 1/1000; 0 eV; tripod mounted)

Luckily, at one point during the 5 hours I sat there, the sun sort of belched through the clouds for a few minutes allowing some light to be thrown upon the bird. It was nice while it lasted and the only moment in my life when I've seen an Ivory Gull in direct sunlight. It reminded me of a short film that I saw as a child, which has haunted me to this day. The short film is called "All Summer in a Day", based on a short story by Ray Bradbury. The story is about a class of school children on a world of constant rainstorms (much like our winter), where the sun is only visible for one hour every seven years. Google it and you'll get the idea. The day I spent with the Ivory Gull felt like that day on the world of constant rainstorms. So when the sun shone ever so briefly, it was glorious and memorable. 

(f/4; ISO 1000; 1/800; tripod mounted)

At one point, after the bird had disappeared for an hour, it arrived again out of nowhere behind me from the east and landed on a hay bale which had been blown in by the recent storms. It was on odd combination of a bird, which normally lives inside the Arctic circle feeding alongside Polar Bears at a seal carcass, sitting on a bale of hay wrapped with mire mesh. It was a surreal day. But then again, seeing an Ivory Gull will always be a surreal experience. 

(f/4; ISO 1000; 1/800; 0 eV; tripod mounted)

(f/4; ISO 500; 1/1250; 0 eV; tripod mounted)

[email protected] (Mark Carmody - Photography) Birdwatch Ireland Canon Canon Professional Network Carmody Collins Press Freshwater Gull Ireland Ivory Ivory Gull Jim Wilson Mark Carmody Photography Tacumshin Wader Wexford Tue, 25 Feb 2014 20:51:02 GMT
Lesser Yellowlegs (Tringa flavipes) When news broke in September 2013 that a juvenile Lesser Yellowlegs (Tringa flavipes) from North America was found at Wexford Wildfowl Reserve in Co. Wexford, I imagined that the bird was going to be visible from either the Tower Hide or through the thick glass of the centre in an area with no access to Joe Public. When I received an email from a friend of mine with phrases such as "Frame-fillers", "within focusing distance", "tamest Legs I've ever seen" were staring back at me from the screen, I was intrigued.  The bird was in the ornamental duck pond at the front of the reserve!  I had to do a double-take. For those of you (yes, you John) who do not know the layout of the reserve, the ornamental duck pond is the first thing that greets visitors and is generally bereft of any wild birds with the exception of some Mallard or Teal and the odd Dunlin, Snipe and Black-tailed Godwits first thing in the morning. The great thing is that the birds are always close...very close :) 

Needless to say, without a decent photograph of Lesser Legs in my portfolio, I headed straight down the following Saturday morning both to clear the cobwebs from a work and study-ravaged brain, and also to secure a photo of the usually wary Lesser Yellowlegs species. Lesser Legs generally breed near ponds in the boreal forest region from Alaska to Quebec and migrate to the Gulf coast of the United States and south to South America. This species is a regular vagrant to western Europe, and the odd bird has wintered in Ireland. My experience of them in Ireland have always been of views through telescopes and very wary, which is unusual for juvenile North American shorebird vagrants which end up on our shores in Autumn. 

Upon arrival at the Reserve, I managed to get in through a side entrance before the main reserve was open...but there was no sign of the bird. I have always rode my luck in terms of twitching birds, heading down a few days or even a few weeks after they have been initially found. I was now beginning to think that this strategy had finally back-fired. I had checked the muddy area to the back of the buildings with my binoculars but no joy. I figured it may have been feeding in one of the channels, out of view. 

Then, I heard the distinctive double-noted "tu-tu" call and looked up to see the bird fly past within 10 feet of me and land on the edge of the pond in glorious sunshine on the far side. I slowly made my way around and the bird just continued to preen and bask in the early morning light. Bingo...

I spent the next 6 hours with the bird as it flew back and forth between the ornamental pond and the muddy channels at the back of one of the buildings. The light varied from bright sunshine and blue skies to overcast grey cloud. I generally set the camera settings to f/8.0, ISO 200-320, 1/800-1/200 and -0.33 eV.  I also used fill-flash with the Better Beamer. The flash was set to fully manual, set at -2, full power output and the camera set at 1/200 at f/8.0. I think the settings for the flash worked well in bright light and delivered a nice texture and detail to the images. In grey and overcast conditions, I am not sure if I got it right, so I need to work on that again. 


It was a great privilege to have spent time with this bird. It stayed for a further two days on the Reserve and was not since subsequently. No doubt, at least I hope, it headed south and to warmer climes. 

I would be interested to know which image you like, so please leave a comment letting me know. Thanks!

[email protected] (Mark Carmody - Photography) Birdwatch Ireland Canon Canon Professional Network Carmody Collins Press Diary Ireland Jim Wilson Lesser Lesser Yellowlegs Mark Carmody Photography Shorebird Wader Wexford Yellowlegs trip Tue, 10 Dec 2013 21:53:12 GMT
Dubai - world in a bubble To continue the UAE experience, I bring you Dubai- the city that lives in a bubble and is like a movie set. If anyone has seen the movie "Inception" (one of my favourites), driving around Dubai and seeing if from the Burj Khalifa reminds me of the scene near the end of the movie where they walk through the imaginary city. The decadence of the buildings and incredible feats of engineering required to build some of them really need to be seen to be believed. It really is an incredible city. It's no wonder people call it Gotham, the most opulent city of modern civilisation according to the League of Shadows. Whether the city will fall - only time will tell but it certainly has teetered a few times over the last 5 years. As Dubai has no oil, it depended on Abu Dhabi to bail it out on a number of occasions. 

My trip to Dubai was a surprise 21st birthday present for me from my brother and his partner. We took a cab there early morning because they had booked tickets for a tour of the Burj Khalifa - the world's tallest building. The cabbie was probably Nepalese or Indian and, it turns out, had only arrived in Abu Dhabi a few months previously. We had left in plenty of time (it's a 90 minute drive) but every time he approached the speed limit on the 4-lane motorway, the sat-nav/radio would beep with a Siri-type voice warning him that the car was approaching said speed limit. He kept breaking and time was getting tight now. Cars were passing us out left and right. Anyone who knows me will know that I am a generally calm, relaxed car passenger with little or no temper (*cough*, *cough*, ahem). However, I was starting to lose it in the front seat and offered to drive for the poor unfortunate cabbie so that we would get there on time. He said that it was the taxi base Siri warning him of the speed limit. I explained to him, in the calmest voice I could muster, that that was a load of rubbish (or some such word). We could see the building in the distance and the sense of "near yet so far" started to creep in.

I think the spirit of Paul O'Connell came out  of me because I must have put the fear of god/allah/yahweh/shiva/buddha/khuda/santa claus/me (take your pick) in him. Had we missed our time slot, that was it...we wouldn't be going up the Burj Khalifa. With much beeping and the Siri-esque-like warnings blaring out of the sat-nav as we pulled into the basement of the Burj with a few minutes to spare, we ejected ourselves from the moving taxi and ran like we were appearing in a Tom Cruise movie and made it on time...but only just.  Speaking of Tom Cruise, this is a clapper board from one of the MI movies signed by the man himself which greets one as one begins the tour of the Burj (what a segue, eh). 

And so, the tour began. At over 828 metres (2,716.5 feet) and more than 160 stories, Burj Khalifa holds the following records: tallest building in the world, tallest free-standing structure in the world, highest number of stories in the world, highest occupied floor in the world, highest outdoor observation deck in the world, elevator with the longest travel distance in the world and tallest service elevator in the world. The ticket allows you to gain access to the observation platform, which is 124 floors up! It takes less than 1 minute to travel up to floor 124 in the elevator, with ear popping and the stomach lurching - here is a video of us coming down from the 124th floor. 

The elevator ride in the highest elevator ride in the world to the highest open observation platform in the world in the world's tallest building.

The building itself is incredible and seems outrageous to be honest. Is there really a need for something like this? To state the obvious about dominating the skyline seems redundant just dominates the skyline. It's mind boggling really. I've seen very tall buildings elsewhere but this was like looking at the cover of a Philip K. Dick, Isaac Asimov or William Gibson book cover. It is a fantastic feat of engineering and the tour is superb in illustrating what had to be done to design it, redesign it, redesign it again and finally build it. 

The views from the observation platform are superb. The air was a bit dusty (unsurprisingly) so clear views at that height over a long distance were not brilliant but it didn't take away from the "wow" factor. It is just phenomenal. The wind forces at the top of this building are immense and how anything could find shelter up here seems impossible. However, right outside the observation platform glass was this massive Oleander Hawkmoth. The first time I had ever seen one so I was delighted. Such a cool and beautiful moth with a 4 inch(!) wingspan. 

Apart from the moth, the views of the surrounding buildings and desert were fantastic and well worth seeing. The tour lasts about an hour but one can spend as much time as one wants on the observation platform. I would highly recommend going to see the building and if possible, take the tour. I know that my brother booked the tickets quite a bit in advance so I would recommend doing this to avoid disappointment :)

After the trip to the top of the Burj, we headed to the Dubai Mall...unsurprisingly the world's largest shopping and entertainment area (5.9 million square feet, 150 escalators etc.). Here is a view of the Mall from the observation platform of the Burj...the building is just enormous. 

If one is into shopping, then this is obviously orgasmic but if one is not into shopping, then the Aquarium and Zoo is worth a visit. The Aquarium tank is one of the largest in the world (51m x 20m x 11m) and packed full of sharks, rays, fish and other aquatic beasties. Upstairs from the tank are further ecosystems such as rainforest, desert, coral reefs and island life. Myself and my brother went off in there while T went on a walkabout. There was also a Cheesecake Factory eatery which I was very excited about. For any BBT fans out there, Penny wasn't working...unfortunately. I was hoping to get her number!

As well as having the aquarium, shops, eateries etc., there is also an ice rink (with some clever advertising on the ice shaver), fantastic sculptures, water features and, of course, the indoor ski-slopes and chairlifts. Bizarre looking at people walking in in full ski gear when it is 40degC outside. Within the ski slope arena it is -4degC so it is quite cold but I imagine a nice dry cold. It's like looking into Santa's grotto. The money required to provide this must be ridiculous. Just another hint at the extravagance of the city/country. 

Apart from the Burj and the Mall, there is also the Palm Jumeira, the Burj Al Arab (4th tallest hotel in the world) and some nice eateries with some nice pints along the way. It was a brilliant day out, hitting the tallest building in the world, tail gating Lamborghinis, getting a boat trip around the hotel near the Burj Al Arab and getting cabs everywhere. There is a fantastic bazaar in the grounds of hotel near Burj Al Arab where we walked around, had some nice coffee and fed the Common Mynah's hanging around the tables. Tom Cruise stayed in one of the villas amongst the buildings there, which is only accessible by boat! It's a crazy town, totally disjointed with lots of wallet-waving and a "mine is bigger than yours" mentality. Buildings just appear out of the ground with nothing else around so the city itself is like a collection of islands linked by cab rides and traffic jams. 

The building below is one of my favourites

Dubai is well worth going to visit but only to visit, just to take it all in. I wouldn't fancy living there - just not my cup of tea. There are decent birdwatching areas there so if I spent some time looking there, I might like the city a bit more ;) All in all, it was a superb day out and we had such a laugh. We ended the day supping on pints and eating some nice food while looking out on a marina and the setting sun before heading back to Abu Dhabi by taxi again that night. A wonderful and unexpected birthday present. 

With thanks to my legend of a brother and his amazing partner T for their unfailing hospitality and for making my holiday during my 21st b'day year a memorable one. For anyone who doesn't know what my brother looks like, here is a photo I took of him while we were in the zoo section of the aquarium in the Dubai Mall :) 

All photographs were taken with the Canon PowerShot G12. 

[email protected] (Mark Carmody - Photography) 2013 Canon Canon Professional Network Carmody Diary Dubai Mark Carmody Photography Travelog Sun, 20 Oct 2013 13:28:11 GMT
Cityscapes in Abu Dhabi, UAE I was fortunate to spend a week or so in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) back in April 2013. My brother (currently) lives in Abu Dhabi with his missus and so I headed out for a well-earned break to visit them. While not my first time in the Middle East, it was my first time in the UAE. I spent the vast majority of my time in Abu Dhabi and a day's visit to Dubai. As this will be a photo-heavy post, I will do one post on Abu Dhabi and the other on Dubai. 

I flew into Abu Dhabi in the middle of a sand storm (see above) and the biggest thunder and lightening storm the region has seen in a long time. I woke up to a sand-covered and sand-enshrouded Abu Dhabi the following morning but thankfully that only lasted 24 hours. The pandemonium caused by the rain signified how one becomes accustomed to certain things in life, such as lack of rain. The earthquake on the 3rd day was the icing on the cake for the trip. I had brought armageddon or armageddon had followed me.

I found Abu Dhabi to be a more relaxed and friendlier city than Dubai. The buildings are less garish and pompous than those in Dubai but they were still incredible. The shopping malls and wealth within them was hard to take or comprehend at times. I was surprised (at least it was unexpected) at the relaxed and quite "liberal" mood within society there. This is comparing the country to my experiences in Egypt (Cairo, Luxor) and Sinai in the early 2000's. 

A view of the marina and largest flag in the world when looking in the direction of downtown Abu Dhabi from the largest mall in Abu Dhabi, the Marina Mall. 

Part of the beachfront of Abu Dhabi (above) along the fantastic Corniche. 

The wealth is quite obvious looking at the cars, boats, types of shops selling high end wares etc. but there was the regular shops as well selling wares for folk not benefitting directly from the oil wealth. Those folk are the non-nationals brought in to work in the service industry, construction, etc. They also work the taxis, which are a crucial way of getting about the city, particularly in the heat of day for an unclimatised Corkman. The taxis are cheap and equivalent to a bus fare here in Irish cities when getting from A to B. The taxi fares in Abu Dhabi are cheaper than the LUAS fares in Dublin for equivalent distances and longer! With fuel at 10c/litre, it is not surprising that cars are cheap to run and hence taxi fares are comparatively very very low. 

Construction is still ongoing in the city with new buildings popping up here and there. Here are a new set of buildings across from the Emirates Palace Hotel. The hotel is a 7-Star hotel and situated on over 100 hectares of landscaped gardens, and has 1.3 km of private beach (see below and spot the bird if you can). The designs of the new buildings are right out the imaginations of a film set designer. 

The modes of transport in Abu Dhabi range from the humble bicycle to buses bringing cheap labour into the city for the day to top end sports cars. With no road tax to pay and insurance quite cheap (relative to rip-off and litigious Ireland), the cost of fuel at 10c/litre, a lot of big, fast and thirsty cars are affordable to run...if one can afford to buy one of those big, fast and thirsty cars in the first place :)

The person who has put all this in place is the founding father Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, who died in 2004. He put a huge emphasis on educating his people and so set up numerous schools, universities and places of research. While the money is there to set this up now, the oil and the revenue that brings won't last for ever. Education and educating the local people is seen as the key to the future of the Emirates. 
The Grand Mosque Centre (below - was built to honour the "noble deeds and contributions to humanity, and to commemorate the legacy" of the founding father Sheikh; and it is a most magnificent sight. The cost to build this complex would have quite easily covered the bail-out money "we "(the Irish people) "agreed" to take on board. 

Oh, by the by, the carpet inside the Grand Mosque (above) is the biggest single-piece carpet in the world (5,700 square meters) and the chandelier in the background weights 12 tons and contains Swarovski crystals. Madness!
Out near the Mosque is the Yas Marina circuit where the Formula 1 Grand Prix takes place. We popped out on a Tuesday night to check it out as the venue is open to the general public to walk, run or cycle around the track. And it was FREE!!! All one had to do was sign a waiver form absolving the track owners of any responsibility for an accident to your person. A lot of cyclists and triathletes were out training when we there, with pelotons speeding by in formation. My brother was telling me that the triathlon and ultra-running has become popular among the ex-pat population here. It was cool to see a grand prix circuit and there was a good atmosphere there. Mad place. 
The buildings in Abu Dhabi are varied in their age and appearance. A lot of the windows are covered with coloured sun filters which allow light in but not the glare of the sun. It adds to the character of buildings and used to emphasis shape and structure throughout the city. 

Of course, the desert climate is harsh and construction materials suffer from the cold and hot cycles of the desert environment. Some buildings, such as the apartment complex below, are ravaged by this environment and crumble over time. This building is probably 20-30 years old and has now been abandoned and was due to be pulled down over the summer. 

Even the positioning of the small mosques around the city can be dwarfed and somewhat lost among the upwelling of buildings. 

Certain projects just don't get off the ground at all. This is, literally, a road and, what has now been named, a "Bridge to Nowhere". It is on the outskirts of the city, officially called the Hodariyat Bridge, and is used by folk to run and cycle on. It is (currently) the largest cable-stay bridge in the UAE and links the western coastline of Abu Dhabi to Hodariyat island (1.3km long and 29m vertical clearance of the channel). It was very surreal walking over this fantastic bridge with a perfect tarmac surface across the six lanes and ending on a desert island with little on it but sand and hardy plants. 


I wonder how long it will be before the ravages of the desert environment take its toll (pardon the pun) on the bridge and it crumbles into the Persian (Arabian) Gulf? The island is marked for development under the Abu Dhabi 2030 plan where Emirati housing will be built initially on Hodariyat island. We walked across it in 40degC heat which was a tad unpleasant :)

It was a great week spent with my bro and his missus. I had a blast and would love to return to the country again for longer and head south for some birding so as to give the bro a bit of peace! 

A classic tourist photograph of the bro and I by the gold dispensing ATM situated in the Emirates Palace Hotel. "GOLD to go"...different world. 

All photographs were taken with the Canon PowerShot G12, Samsung Galaxy SIII or iPhone 4. I used the G12 at either auto ISO or auto aperture with the ND filter constantly on. I found that I got mixed results and went fully manual at times. The zoom lens was handy for getting nice and close but to be honest, the quality of the images were not what I had hoped for. The lack of image quality prompted me to look into getting a different "point-and-shoot" camera. More on that in a later posting. 

[email protected] (Mark Carmody - Photography) Abu Abu Dhabi Brother Canon Canon PowerShot G12 Canon Professional Network Carmody Dhabi G12 PowerShot carpet cars family flag fuel holiday mall marina mosque trip Mon, 30 Sep 2013 15:01:06 GMT
Pelagic Photography The opportunity to photograph typically pelagic birds such as shearwaters, skuas and petrels comes around infrequently.  The reason being that it requires hiring a boat, getting a source of chum ready to induce vomiting by all on board and a hardy bunch of birdwatchers and/or photographers together to make it economically viable. This opportunity arose during August 2013 from Dingle in the form of the famous "Ed's Pelagic". Ed's trips out of Dingle in August generally score Wilson's Petrel (or your money back apparently!), skuas and large shearwaters. With a massive passage of Cory's and Great Shearwaters off the south-west Irish coast tand a trio of Fea's Petrel off Galley Head the previous week, hopes were high of scoring some good species. As kick-off was 8am at Dingle Harbour, I spent the previous day enjoying the good weather and the Dingle Peninsula/Slea Head area. Getting a good nights sleep was important before heading out on the boat the following day in what could be heavy seas.

The image above was taken using the Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III and the Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS USM lens (1/800; f/8; 70mm; ISO 200; +2/3 eV). Slea Head itself is a fantastic place with incredible vistas and windy, narrow roads to test the driving skills. I was fortunate that the day was glorious with some scattered clouds and blue skies. The wind picked up later in the day and some rain came in that night, which was all forecast. I was hoping that the wind would die down the following day and some high cloud would settle in. I think that high cloud when photographing seabirds makes getting the exposure correct much easier. When in a seabird comes flying in at speed towards a small boat being thrown about by the North Atlantic swell, the last thing one needs to be fumbling around with is exposure compensation!

(Looking across at the Blaskets (An Fear Marbh) - taken with the iPhone 4)

The following day, the day of the pelagic, was calm, zero cloud cover...but lumpy. This was going to be challenging. The problems with working from a platform that moves about unpredictably, gets turned by the tide and waves into the glaring sun are many. Getting the settings on the camera correct, keeping the subject in-frame and in-focus, not getting the gear hit with spray and rogue waves(!), and not falling over when concentrating on taking an image - these are just a few things to think about. The biggest enemy on this day was the glaring sun...there was no cloud cover which made judging the exposure difficult against the water. The bounce of the light from the waves illuminated everything quite harshly. I was hoping for some cloud but alas, it never arrived. 

We did see some nice species such as Sabine's Gull, Great Skua, Sooty Shearwater, Great Shearwater, Manx Shearwater, Blue Fulmar, Storm Petrel and a single Wilson's Storm Petrel. The swell was lumpy, not too bad but enough to make locking on to a subject difficult. Another factor which didn't help matters was the amount of Great-blacked Gulls around the boat. This didn't encourage the shearwaters or petrels from staying around the chum for too long. If I get out next year again, I think going further out to avoid the large gulls will be important to hold the smaller seabirds around the boat. 

Some people ask me what lenses I would recommend bringing on such a trip. I would most certainly leave the 500mm in the bag because on a such a small boat, it will be impossible to handhold it. If I was on a larger boat, such as a passenger ferry or cruise liner, then I would use it on a monopod or tripod. I bring a lens with a focal length of 400mm and have the 70-200mm in the bag on a second body for cetacean action. Ideally, I'd have a 300mm f/2.8 or f/4 with a 1.4 extender. This combination works really well apparently, having spoken to fellow photogs who use it. On this trip, I used the 400mm f/5.6L Non-IS lens with the Mark IV body. The 70-200mm f/4 was on the Mark III (full frame). 

Below are a selection of images from the pelagic: 

Sabine's Gull

Great Great Skua (aka Bonxie)

Great Shearwater

Sooty Shearwater

Storm Petrels because petrels are magic....


Northern Fulmar

"Blue" phase Northern Fulmar (from the Northern latitudes)

The above bird images were taken using the Canon EOS-1D Mark IV and the Canon 400mm f/5.6L USM. The camera was set to Aperture Priority, f/8. The exposure compensation was dialled in generally at -0.33eV but this was changed plus/minus as the boat turned into the sun etc. I also was using back-button focus which resulted in me missing a lot of images. I ended up deleting about 98% of images due to camera shake and other factors. The lack of IS on the lens does not lend to the use of back-button focus on a moving platform! For the next trip on such an erratically moving platform, I will switch the camera shutter to focus/expose instead. This should increase the number of keepers on the next pelagic. 

[email protected] (Mark Carmody - Photography) Canon Carmody Collins Press Jim Wilson ave bird dingle fulmar gannet gull ireland kerry pelagic petrel sabine skua Sun, 22 Sep 2013 11:47:20 GMT
Behind The Lens The Irish Independent magazine on Saturday 14th September 2013 featured me for their "Behind the Lens" series. The series is to feature "celebrated Irish photographers showcase their proudest works". It was quite an honour to be asked to contribute to this series. The original image and the piece itself can be seen below. 

It was great publicity for the new book "The Birds of Ireland" with Jim Wilson as well. Fingers crossed the piece received some positive feedback. 

[email protected] (Mark Carmody - Photography) Behind the Lens Canon Carmody Collins Press Ireland Irish Independent Jim Wilson Sun, 15 Sep 2013 12:22:49 GMT
Reviews for The Birds of Ireland Some recent reviews on our latest book

Also a nice review in the Wexford People:

There was a very nice piece in the Cork News about the day-in-the-life of Jim Wilson ( 
Also, we were very honoured to have an interview piece on the prestigious website (
Fingers crossed we get some more favourable reviews!
[email protected] (Mark Carmody - Photography) Canon Canon Professional Network Carmody Collins Press Cork Ireland Jim Wilson examiner review Fri, 06 Sep 2013 11:28:23 GMT
The Birds of Ireland: A Field Guide Hi all, it's been a while since I wrote anything for this blog. That is something which I wish to remedy and attempt to blog regularly on photography and aspects of wildlife photography from my experiences in the field. 

One of the reasons why I have not had a chance to write a blog post was due to the time taken up with the usual suspects like work, study, exams and the latest project that Jim Wilson and I have undertaken....a new identification guide to Ireland's birds. I knew that Jim always wanted to do an ID Guide for Ireland so I was going to ensure that we could do it and I wanted to help him in any way I could.  We sat down and devised our plan, set the cut-off for the number of species we would include and then set to work to come up with a design for the plates.  I figured that given the time frame available to us, and the images I had, I should be able to provide at least 60% of the required images.  We would have to depend upon the generosity of friends to fill the gaps. Once we had decided on the format, the species and the types of views we would require for each species, my work began on choosing the images from my catalog or portfolio of images.  The challenge for me was that any gaps I needed to fill would be dependent on getting those images at the weekends, vacation time and also on the weather being kind on those days.  I also had exams to study for! Piece of cake.

The book will be nothing like the previous iterations we have published together.  The former books were essentially "coffee table" books, meant to be enjoyed at home, to be dipped into now and then. This publication is meant to provide beginner birdwatchers and improvers alike a chance to have a high quality photographic guide to the Ireland's common and scarce birds. The book will be small enough to fit in ones pocket but large enough to provide clear images of all the species. There are up to 12-14 images for each species on each plate. Here is the front cover: 

We are fortunate that the book is being produced in association with BirdWatch Ireland (BWI), the largest NGO of its kind in Ireland.   The high-res printer proofs (running sheets) came back in mid-July and it is all systems go now! Printing has already begun, so the books should be arriving in the book stores in late-August. It is very exciting now that the printed material is so close to arriving. 

From the 50,000 to 60,000 or so images I had (coming in on well over 1 TeraByte of storage), I chose about 4,000 images to select from.  Of course, the beauty of this process is that the holes in my portfolio suddenly become canyons and the need for certain species or certain images of species became quite apparent.  This is a great way of determining what is missing from a portfolio of wildlife images! For example, I had no images of Long-eared Owl, Common Scoter in flight, Collared Dove and Woodpigeon in flight, Brambling, Yellowhammer, Tree Sparrow, juvenile Starlings, winter plumage Starling…the list was looking endless. At the end of putting the finished book to press, we ended up using over 1,600 images…thankfully, I had provided over 90-92% of those and filled some of those gaping holes in my portfolio in the process! I was delighted to have been able to supply more than the vast majority of images required for the book. The remainder were kindly provided by friends and fellow wildlife photographers. However, it was not all plain sailing and there was some hard work, perseverance, patience and luck involved in obtaining some of those images. It was a monumental task but thankfully it all came together in the end. Oh...and I passed the exams as well!

Since I had been back in Ireland after my time in Japan, there was one thing that Jim had drilled into my head…get as many profile images of the local species as possible and then concentrate on the images illustrating action and the rare and scarce. I always wondered why he said that...

Here are a couple of sample plates to give you a taster of what is to come.


















[email protected] (Mark Carmody - Photography) Birds of Ireland Birdwatch Birdwatch Ireland Canon Canon Professional Network Carmody Collins Press Cork Ireland Jim Wilson Mark Carmody The Birds of Ireland: A Field Guide Wilson Tue, 30 Jul 2013 08:00:00 GMT
Epson Photo Competition Prize Winner!  

I was fortunate to have had a competition entry placed in the Birdwatch Ireland/Epson Winter Birds Photo Competition 2011. Here is a PDF showing the winning entrants.


[email protected] (Mark Carmody - Photography) BirdWatch Birdwatch Ireland Canon Professional Network Carmody Collins Collins Press Competition Cork Epson Freshwater Ireland Winner Tue, 27 Nov 2012 22:16:16 GMT
The birth of the books
By way of introduction really, I just want to briefly explain how I was lucky to be able to publish two books on Irish birdlife.  I spent a few years in Japan, living and working in Osaka, and returned to Ireland in mid-2008.  Having come back with very little in the way of Irish bird species photographed, Jim Wilson (my uncle) approached me with a project proposal - would I be interested in supplying images for a book on the shorebirds (waders) of Ireland? I didn't have to think for very long and just said yes straight away.  The idea of having a book with my photographs was something I really could not pass up. 
So Jim and I devised a list of what species we wanted to include and I set about looking to secure the images required for the book. As Jim was writing the text and sending me chapters to proof, I had a better idea of what images would be good to accompany the text.  It was with this operatus modi that I set out to photograph the subjects. 
All-in-all, I spent roughly 12 months getting the photographs that we required for the book.  This involved spending my weekends and holidays taking photographs. I used portable hides to sit and wait for rising and dropping tides at high-tide roost areas, and also borrowed some local knowledge of areas where only certain species were guaranteed. Without the help of local birder/photographers, I would not have been able to get some images for the book. 
The book was published by Collins Press, Cork in October/November 2009 with some help with the publishing cost from the Heritage Council. The book was well-received critically by reviewers and is considered a best-seller in terms of the Irish book market for this area. An exhibition entitled "Lost souls, pioneers and long-distance travellers" based on the images from the book travelled around the 4 provinces for about 18 months. It is a piece of work I am very proud of and luck to have been involved in. The book is still available in book stores and online. 
   With the Heritage Council being inhibited to fund publications due to the lack of funds, the Collins Press were willing to publish a follow-up project devised by Jim once again.  We were delighted  that Collins Press were happy to go with it and so set out again with the same operatus modi as for Shorebirds but this time concentrating on the freshwater birds.  This would turn out to be a more challenging project not only because it spanned two of the worst winters in Ireland in 50 years (thus preventing me from travelling any distances at all by car or foot!), but also because the majority of the subjects to be included in the book were hunted. This made the birds very nervous on their wintering grounds and so very jumpy, keeping their distance the majority of the time. Much stealth was going to be required. I learned even more about patience for this book! Despite the difficulties thrown at us, and some last minute dashes to get photographs of Call Ducks, we put together an excellent body of work I think. The book is approximately 30% larger in volume than the Shorebirds book, including many more photographs. Jim did an incredible job on the text once again and the book sits proudly on my book shelf. The book was published in Oct/Nov 2011 and is for sale in all bookstores and online. 
Having these projects to focus my mind and the focus of the camera, I learned an awful lot about wildlife photography, and in particular bird photography. I improved as a photographer doing the Shorebirds book and improved again while doing the Freshwater book. Each time I go out with the camera, I aim or at least try to learn more about wildlife photography and to push the limits of the camera and lens in my hands. It is a fantastic interest for me as it gets me out into the outdoors and away from the desk I sit at all week. I shall finish this with a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson that sums up why I love photographing nature and what it takes to get "that image"; "Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience".
Shorebirds of Ireland and Freshwater Birds of Ireland with Jim Wilson.
[email protected] (Mark Carmody - Photography) CPN Canon Canon Professional Network Carmody Collins Collins Press Cork Dublin Emerson Freshwater Freshwater Birds Ireland Jim Wilson Mark Carmody Patience Photography Shorebirds Waldo Wed, 24 Oct 2012 14:33:33 GMT