Falkland Islands Photo Journey

The first thing to make clear about the Falkland Islands is that it offers, by far, the easiest wildlife photography in the world. While the Galapagos Islands receive many more plaudits for the approachability of the wildlife and the phenomenal photo opportunities available, the Falkland Islands are equally as good, if not better. The birds and animals on the Falklands are similarly fearless, and unlike the Galapagos, this archipelago is still largely off the beaten track, as most visitors just stop in for all too brief visits as part of an Antarctic cruise, missing both the essence of the islands, and the best photo spots. Thus, we expect to be largely alone, amongst a sea of photo opportunities for much of the trip. We’ll have an extended stay on the islands, which is absolutely crucial if you want to truly capture many of the wildlife images available.


There’ll be plenty of time for long photo shoots with crowded penguin colonies (four species breed in good numbers on the islands), or to shoot albatrosses either clambering clumsily on the ground, or gracefully cutting the air above a rookery. We’ll visit a number of cherry-picked locations in the archipelago where the very best photo shoots can be had, from tame songbirds hopping around at our feet to action shots of seabirds coming to shore, there will never be a dull moment on these remarkable, and oft forgotten islands. There is never, nothing to shoot.

When you look this good, you need to preen regularly
When you look this good, you need to preen regularly (Iain Campbell)

Day 1: Santiago (Chile) to Stanley, East Falkland. After meeting at Santiago Airport in Chile, we’ll take an afternoon flight to the capital of the Falkland Islands, Stanley. We’ll settle on East Falkland for a two-night stay.

Please note:Although the guide often meets the group in Santiago, (and usually accompanies the group back there at the end of the tour), these international flights are not included in the tour fee. Tropical Birding will though, make the arrangements for this flight, so please contact the office before making any flight arrangements.

Intimacy, provided by a pair of Magellanic Penguins
Intimacy, provided by a pair of Magellanic Penguins (Iain Campbell)

Day 2: East Falkland. A full day will be spent photographing on the island of East Falkland. Top quality photo opportunities will be in the mix straight off the bat, as we a key spot on the tour, the mixed King/Magellanic Penguin colony at Volunteers Point. Much of our day will be spent among these majestic creatures, taking advantage of the myriad photo opps. available. The immaculate King Penguins nest on the bare ground, making all the action visible, and photographable to us all, as we literally walk among them, shoulder-to-flipper, as it were! In this season we’ll not only be able to shoot the intimate moments between the life long partners in the colony, but also between parent and offspring, as large fluffy brown chicks dot the colony in this season. The Magellanic is a burrow nester, and so the chicks will be hidden from our lenses, although the adults will provide both plenty of entertainment, and images in our first action-packed day on the islands. At the end of our session here, we will have to drag ourselves away, and back to Stanley, for another night. Penguins are not the only fare on the islands though, while songbirds are thin on the ground this far south, handsome White-bridled Finches abound in these parts, as do large photogenic Upland Geese that litter the roadsides throughout the islands. The males and females are so strikingly different you could be forgiven for thinking they are two completely separate species. We’ll have a second night in our fancy lodging right in downtown Stanley.

A Rockhopper Penguin enjoys a cold shower
A Rockhopper Penguin enjoys a cold shower (Iain Campbell)

Days 3-6: Pebble Island. On day 3 we’ll take a short domestic flight within the Falklands, heading east to Pebble Island, which lies off of the northeast corner of West Falkland. Another island; and another extended photo shoot virtually guaranteed to convince you that you have not brought enough memory cards with you. Like the Galapagos, you could argue that the biggest challenge in the Falkland Islands is not getting photos, but managing the heaps of images that are obtained, each and every day. There are further penguin colonies to visit, with a large Southern Rockhopper Penguin Colony offered on Marble Mountain, which is notable, as it often holds the odd Macaroni Penguin too (the fifth and most difficult of the penguin species, as just a handful occur scattered through the islands); two of the most ludicrous headdresses in the penguin world, and both possible within the same photogenic colony! The island also boasts the largest colony of Magellanic Penguins in the entire archipelago, and so will be worth visiting for the sheer spectacle alone, which will provide more than enough for our hungry cameras to feast upon. With such large colonies comes their attendant predators too; dashing Dolphin Gulls, scavenging sheathbills, and ominous jaegers often wait in the wings for an opportunistic moment to pounce, providing plenty of drama too. Other regular birds in the area, which are sure to feature, are majestic Black-necked Swans, Falkland Island Steamerducks, and ever-conspicuous, and vociferous Magellanic Oystercatchers. Four nights will be spent in comfortable lodging on Pebble Island.

How close do you want your caracaras?!
How close do you want your caracaras?! (Iain Campbell)

Days 7-9: Saunders Island. After taking a short flight over to Saunders Island on day 7, we’ll be ready to up the ante. One of the highlights of our time on Saunders will be the massive colony of Black-browed Albatrosses, allowing for many intimate shots to be taken of this ocean-going giants. We expect to have opportunities to photograph them not only on their terrestrial nests, but also when they are at their most majestic-in the air-as they swoop low over their neatly arranged colony. The Falkland Islands is arguably the Penguin Capital of the World, and Saunders Island reflects this perfectly, as it is home to multiple species. It is particularly famed for its large Southern Rockhopper Penguin colony, which is easily accessible, and will encourage us to spend hours looking for shots of birds not only at the colony itself, but in the surf of the nearby beaches, where great action shots can also be taken. One of the rarest penguins on the islands, Macaroni, also occurs within this colony in small numbers. While never guaranteed, as they are sometimes expelled from the colony by the aggressive rockhoppers, which vastly outnumber them, we’ll be keeping a sharp eye out for any of these interlopers. Saunders also hosts a large nesting colony of Gentoo Penguins too. Wherever there are large colonies of penguins, local scavengers are often present, to take advantage of any stray chicks. This is also true on Saunders Island, where the Striated Caracara, a predator related to falcons, can often be found hanging around the colonies, and like most of the birds on these islands can be so remarkably tame that it encourages headshots to be taken! Three nights will be spent on Saunders Island.

A Magellanic Oystercatcher makes its thoughts known
A Magellanic Oystercatcher makes its thoughts known (Iain Campbell)

Days 10-13: Sea Lion Island. On day 10 we’ll take another short internal flight to Sea Lion Island, in the far southeast of the archipelago. This island has it all, and we have saved the best until last: Multiple penguin colonies; predatory skuas and sheathbills keeping a watchful eye on the penguins for the weaker individuals to be plucked from the crop; tame songbirds foraging around our toes; colossal bull Southern Elephant Seals hauling themselves onto the beaches; and even menacing Orcas patrolling the shorelines to prey on seals. Subjects will be everywhere, and there will be no moments where you will lack for inspiration. Blackish Cinclodes are so tame in these parts they have even been known to enter our lodging, and the locally distinct form of Peregrine Falcon frequently uses our lodge roof as a perch. Sea Lion Island as you would expect, also offers seals aplenty, not only do immense beachmaster male Southern Elephant Seals protect their individual beaches, there is also a huge colony of Southern Sea Lions too, after which the island gets its name.

Our time on Sea Lion will feel precious, and it is certain we are to leave with a tinge of sadness, at the realization that you have visited a truly special place, which will be the envy of all your fellow nature photographers who have not had the privilege. There will simply be so many images to capture, it is hard to know what to focus on next. Sea Lion provides arguably the best action shoots with Gentoo Penguins, as they launch themselves from sea to shore on dramatic fashion. It is also famed as the place where the BBC filmed the fascinating behavior of the predatory Orcas, or Killer Whales. Young seal pups venture into the water in shallow rock pools, where the Orcas attempt to trap, then capture them, as when an Orca enters through the narrow opening, there is no way out, forcing the seals to leap dramatically over the whale. This is amazing to watch and photograph, as you can literally perch yourself several meters away from the Orcas, and watch this regular drama unfold; on a recent tour, the group was able to watch this performance over and again, as the mother Orca and her young calf made FIFTY attempts to capture the nimble seals!

Gentoo Penguin plays in the surf
Gentoo Penguin plays in the surf (Iain Campbell)

A large lagoon on Sea Lion is also good for waterfowl shoots (in the photographic sense of the word!), with Yellow-billed Teal, Silvery Grebe, and both Upland and Ruddy-headed Geese all residing there, and often sitting well within photographic range. Finally, this island also offers the drama, and pictures provided by a large Imperial Cormorant colony. These handsome birds put most others in the family to shame, with their neat, penguin-like, black-and-white plumage, strange, fleshy golden-yellow caruncled crown on the forehead, and crisp crest feathers. An extended photo shoot in the colony will allow us to take in a multitude of behavioral shots available. We will sit alongside, lenses trained, while the cormorants fly in at eye level, carrying nesting material to the colony. There are plenty of other possible subjects for our lenses, from melodious meadowlarks to gorgeous Rufous-chested Dotterels and striking Two-banded Plovers. Four nights will be spent in a wonderful hotel, with super-friendly hosts, ensuring we get to the very best spots for all the latest action.

Day 14: Sea Lion to East Falkland. We’ll return to Stanley (by air) for a final night, before departing the Falklands the next day. Much of this day will still be to race around getting our final images from Sea Lion Island, before an afternoon arrival in the capital.

Day 15: Stanley to Santiago, Chile (departure). Today we’ll transfer to Mount Pleasant Airport in Stanley for international departures. There’ll be some final hours in the morning for souvenir shopping or to get some final shots near the capital, before departure.

The most handsome shorebird on the islands is the Rufous-chested Dotterel
The most handsome shorebird on the islands is the Rufous-chested Dotterel (Iain Campbell)

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TRIP CONSIDERATIONS

PACE: Relaxed. Once on the Falklands, there are no long journeys, or especially strenuous days. Breakfasts do not need to be taken especially early, as we will be staying close to the colonies, where light tends to be better later in the morning. Typically there will be breaks taken in the middle of the day too.

PHYSICAL DIFFICULTY: Easy to moderate. Generally, the walking is easy, taken at a slow pace, with no steep gradients involved. Most days this involves a walk of around up to 3 miles (4.5km), although optional walks of up to 5 miles (8km) may be taken on a few days.

CLIMATE: Weather in the Falklands, at this time of year (springtime), is highly changeable, with temperatures varying between 45 Fahrenheit (7 Celsius) and 68 Fahrenheit (20 Celsius); and clear sunny days, and windy and rainy days, all possible. Rain gear and warm clothing are essential items.

ACCOMMODATION: All of the accommodations are of a good to excellent standard, with full time electricity and hot water. The accommodation on Saunders Island (for three nights), is also of a good standard, but involves 4 people sharing a room, and shared bathroom facilities. All others have private facilities.

WHEN TO GO: The Falkland Islands are highly seasonal, with the austral springtime (November and December) being the optimal time to go, when the key photogenic species are all breeding on the islands. Trips during other seasons would miss many of the key breeding species, (like penguins and albatrosses), which move well away from the islands at other times of year.

PHOTO PHILOSOPHY: Most of the photography on this tour is based around breeding colonies of penguins and albatrosses, at specific traditional sites. Thus, much of it will involve walking to a colony, and then spending hours in one location. This allows great opportunities to photograph birds like penguins and albatrosses and the attendant predators of nesting birds like Striated Caracara and Snowy Sheathbill. There will also be some sessions on beaches to get action shots of penguins and other wildlife, like seals.

GEAR: A 300mm lens or higher is recommended for this tour. 300-600mm lenses will all be useful on this tour.

OTHER INFO:

TRAVEL REQUIREMENTS: A valid passport is required; the passport must be valid for at least six months past your intended stay. Tourist visas are currently not required for citizens of the US, Canada, UK, Australia, and some other European countries. A printed document of onward travel from the Falklands is required for entry, and also documentation of the tour itinerary; (the Tropical Birding office can assist with this). Travel requirements are subject to change; if you are unsure, please check with the nearest embassy or consulate, or ask our office staff for help.

WHAT’S INCLUDED?: Tips to drivers, local guides, and lodge staff; accommodation from the night of day 1 to the night of day 14; meals from dinner on day 1 (unless you arrive too late for dinner service) to breakfast on day 15; safe drinking water throughout; one of our photo guides with camera and audio playback gear from the afternoon of day 1 to the morning of day 15; all domestic flights and transport within the Falklands from day 2 to day 15; entrance fees to all sites mentioned in the itinerary; a printed and bound checklist to help keep track of what you have photographed (given to you at the start of the tour – only electronic copies can be provided in advance).

WHAT’S NOT INCLUDED?: Optional tips to the Tropical Birding tour leader; tips for any luggage porters used in the Quito hotel; RETURN INTERNATIONAL FLIGHT BETWEEN SANTIAGO (CHILE) AND PORT STANLEY IN THE FALKLANDS AT THE START AND END OF THE TOUR-THESE NEED TO BE COORDINATED BY THE TROPICAL BIRDING OFFICE, AND SO THESE SHOULD NOT BE BOOKED BEFORE SPEAKING TO THE TROPICAL BIRDING OFFICE FIRST, AS A SPECIFIC FLIGHT IS REQUIRED (we are happy to assist in the booking of this, although it is not included within the tour price); departure tax from the Falklands, currently 22 British Pounds; snacks; additional drinks apart from those included; alcoholic beverages; travel insurance; excursions not included in the tour itinerary; extras in hotels such as laundry service, minibar, room service, telephone calls, and personal items; medical fees; excess luggage charges; other items or services not specifically mentioned as being included.