Birding trip to Falkland Islands with extension to Patagonia

16 October - 6 November, 2006

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Where to go to see penguins and lot of birds?

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This trip review focuses on a travel to the Falkland Islands, one of the most exciting and easily accessible destination for nature lovers and birdwatchers, the ideal place to observe several species of penguins, like the rockhopper, magellanic, gentoo and king, in addition to cormorants, rare caracara, albatross, sea lions and elephant seals, the list is actually very long! But a birding trip and the other wildlife is not the only reason to visit the Falklands, because the islands offer also spectacular landscapes dominated by either immense white sand beaches and dramatic cliffs falling straight into the stormy ocean. The itinerary illustrated in this trip review includes three days on Bleaker Island, three days on Sea Lion Island, three days on Saunders Island at The Neck cabin, and three days at Volunteer Point. A short excursion in the Falkland's capital Stanley is also included. As my flight to the Falkland Islands was through South America, I got this opportunity for a trip extensions of a few days in Patagonia, visiting Punta Arenas, Puerto Natales, Torres Del Paine, Perito Moreno glacier, Balmaceda and Serrano glaciers.


The best time to visit the Falkland Islands corresponds to the austral spring and summer, when each month offers opportunities to see different animals engaged in various activities or stages of development. Between September and October, the penguins return from the ocean after having spent the winter at warmer latitudes and they are busy in both construction of the nest and mating (so, you could see long processions of penguins carrying in its beak the materials needed to build their home, and you might observe during courtship). November sees instead hatching of the eggs of most penguin species, while the first chicks begin to emerge from the nest around the beginning of December. The time of New Year holidays is the period in which the penguins parents take turns between fishing and caring for the chick, with an activity that can become very frenetic. In February most chicks replace the juvenile plumage with the final one, shortly followed by the adults molting too. Between March and April, when winter arrives, almost all the penguins leave their colonies, scattering into the sea and migrating somewhere. The only exception to this pattern is the king penguin, which is present throughout the year due to its reproductive cycle of 14 months (which sees the constant presence in the same colony of adults , chicks and eggs in all periods of the year). If you want to go to the Falklands to see southern elephant seals, the best time is around September when the dominant males take possession of their harem after fierce battles (in October you might observe the puppies and their mothers on the beach). The best time to observe the sea lions goes instead from the end of December to April.


At the writing of this travelogue, the Falkland Islands can be reached from Europe through weekly flights by RAF (Royal Air Force) departing from Brize Norton military base, near London in UK. The flight is operated by Lockheed L-1011 aircraft as combo cargo + passengers and the seats available are always very limited. The journey takes about 18 hours and includes a stop at Ascension Island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean (where, if you wish, you may arrange a brief tour extension). Alternatively, LAN Chile offers a weekly flight every Saturday from Punta Arenas to Mount Pleasant (the main airport of the Falkland Islands) and vice versa (Punta Arenas can be easily reached from all over the world every day with a stopover in Santiago del Cile and Puerto Montt).


If you decide to get to the Falklands from Punta Arenas, you might take this opportunity to visit Patagonia where, however, you should stop for at least three or four days. One possible route could include Torres del Paine national park, Balmaceda and Serrano glaciers as well as the Perito Moreno Glacier in Argentina. All these attractions are available through day tours from Puerto Natales in southern Chile, not too far from Punta Arenas. Having a few spare days available in Punta Arenas also allows to prevent missing the only weekly flight to the Falkland Islands, in the event of international flights delays.


The Falkland Islands are connected to each other via an air taxi service that includes both scheduled and on-demand flights. These flights are operated by FIGAS (Falkland Islands Government Air Service) by small prop airplanes and can be booked either by contacting FIGAS directly or by letting your travel agent to add them in your Falkland Islands travel package (see below).


If you wish to arrange a tour to Falkland Islands, we suggest to visit International Tours & Travel Ltd where you can choose between standard itineraries, or you can completely customize your trip including all the islands you would like to see. They can take care of booking domestic flights, accommodations and transfers (if desired, they can also organize food supplies during the tour of the the most isolated places) and on request they may also issue tickets for intercontinental flights, including the RAF flights from and to the UK. If you are instead looking for more information about penguins and environmental protection in the Falklands, please visit the Falklands Conservation.

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Perito Moreno glacier Flight to Punta Arenas over Patagonia and travel to Puerto Natales <<-- GO
Flight from Santiago to Punta Arenas via Puerto Montt and bus transfer from Punta Arenas to Puerto Natales. An unusual clear day offers spectacular views over Patagonia glaciers, including the famous Perito Moreno, while the LAN Chile's Airbus A320 is en route to Punta Arenas.
Torres del Paine, Chile Day tour to Torres del Paine national park and Milodon cave <<-- GO
A full day excursion in Torres del Paine national park and Grey lake, starting and ending in Puerto Natales. The city of Puerto Natales in southern Chile is conveniently located near most attractions in Patagonia, making possible to visit them through just day tours.
Perito Moreno glacier, Argentina Day trip to Perito Moreno glacier in Argentina <<-- GO
With a 5 hours trip (each way) on a partially paved road, it is possible to visit the Perito Moreno glacier in Argentina through a full day trip from Puerto Natales. The Perito Moreno glacier is a natural wonder known all over the world and is a very active glacier offering spectacular calving.
Serrano glacier, Chile Day trip from Puerto Natales to Balmaceda and Serrano glaciers <<-- GO
A full day cruise inside the Ultima Esperanza fjord, reaching the Balmaceda and Serrano glaciers. Short hike inside the Bernardo O'Higgins national park. This day trip departs and returns to Puerto Natales, offering beautiful views into the pristine nature of southern Chile and Patagonia.
King cormorant, Falkland islands Bleaker Island trip review <<-- GO
After a flight from Punta Arenas to Mount Pleasant and one night in Stanley, the Falkland islands' capital, I take a FIGAS flight to Bleaker Island, to spend three days with penguins and other birds. Bleaker island offers accommodation in a charming cottage inside a farm, from where there are several trails to penguin colonies and other beautiful places.
Gentoo penguin, Falkland islands Gentoo penguins and white beaches of Bleaker Island <<-- GO
A full day to explore the island on foot, visiting the Gentoo penguin colony and the beautiful Sandy Bay beach, made of incredibly bright white sand, where I meet even more penguins. The gentoo penguins have arrived from not long time in October and are busy in nest building and courtship.
Rockhopper penguin, Falkland islands Rockhopper penguins and king cormorants on Bleaker Island <<-- GO
A second visit to the vast Rockhopper penguins and cormorants colony, where I spend most of the day observing these beautiful and funny birds. The colony is just twenty minutes easy walk from the cottage on Bleaker island and in addition to excellent birding, it offers also beautiful landscapes.
Southern elephant seal, Falkland islands Tour to Sea Lion Island to the southern elephant seals colony <<-- GO
Sea Lion Island is particularly interesting to observe the huge southern elephant seals, but here you will find more Gentoo, Magellanic and Rockhopper penguins, as well as caracara and many other birds. Sea Lion island is just a few minutes flight from Mount Pleasant and is the southernmost island in the Falklands archipelago.
Sea Lion Island, Falkland islands Day hike to Rockhopper Point on Sea Lion Island <<-- GO
A place of staggering beauty, where vertical walls of rocks, falling straight into the southern ocean, are the home of Rockhopper penguins, king cormorants, rock cormorants and many other birds. If you are looking for an excellent birding trip and for beautiful landscapes, Sea Lion Island is the place to go.
Gentoo penguin, Sea Lion Island Birding tour to Sea Lion Island (Falkland Islands) <<-- GO
Sea Lion Island has also vast colonies of Gentoo and Magellanic penguins, and is not difficult to observe caracaras, southern giant petrels, skuas and other birds. Everything is available through easy walking distance from the island's only lodge where you will find excellent accommodation and good food.
Saunders island, Falkland islands Tour to Saunders Island and The Neck cabin <<-- GO
I spend three nights at "The Neck" on beautiful Saunders Island, where there are colonies of Rockhopper penguins, Gentoo, King (few penguins only) and Magellanic penguins in addition to other birds like albatross, king cormorants, caracara and skuas, all of them immersed into fantastic scenery.
Rockhopper penguin, Saunders island Albatross colony and Rockhopper penguins of Saunders Island <<-- GO
Just 10 minutes walk from the cabin at "The Neck" on Saunders Island, there is a vast colony of Rockhopper penguins living together with albatrosses and king cormorants. During the month of October, most of them are busy in nest building, courtship and mating.
Volunteer Point, Falkland islands Day trip to Volunteer Point from Stanley (Falkland Islands) <<-- GO
Volunteer Point is located about two and half hours from Stanley, driving on gravel roads as well as off-road in a good 4x4. The place offers wonderful landscapes dominated by an immense white sand beach and many penguins, including the Falkland's biggest King penguin colony.
King penguin and chick, Falkland islands King penguins colony at Volunteer Point (Falklands) <<-- GO
I spend hours observing the beautiful King penguins, having now many juveniles. This is the most easily accessible colony of the world, as the others are all located on remote sub-antarctic islands requiring a cruise ship with fixed schedules (usually not allowing to enjoy the penguins with peace of mind).
King cormorant, New island Cruise to Falkland Islands - March 2005 <<-- GO
Returning from a cruise to Antarctica and South Georgia, I had the opportunity to visit Stanley, Carcass Island and New Island for a couple of days (that time I was pretty sure that a couple of days is certainly not enough to enjoy the Falkland Islands, so I've promptly planned the two weeks itinerary illustrated in this trip review).

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