Month: May 2018

Sailing to New Island with Jerome Poncet

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Jerome is the man when it comes to the waters of the south Atlantic. He is 72 years young, and has been taking researchers, tourists, and film crews to the Falklands for decades. In 1973 Jerome and a friend were the first people to sail a yacht into Antarctica.

Jerome is French, and as such, has what you might call an irreverent approach to his work, making sure his guests completely enjoy themselves.

So this is our captain and his first mate for our boat ride! Where do I get off?

Jerome is quite the character. He made us lunch of cheese sandwiches, and showed us how he cleans his stove top with a goose feather.

He picked us up at Weddell island in his 65 foot reinforced hull sailboat

New Island, our final destination at the end of this day, is at the top left. Below that are the islands around Weddell Island, where we spent the day sailing

Jerome on his bridge, plotting our course around these islands

Off we went on a gorgeous day

Jerome raised the sail for part of our trip, and we enjoyed the experience of sailing the southern ocean on a beautiful day

Now was a good time to break out those pistachios we brought from home

We had visitors as soon as we motored away. These are Peale’s dolphins, found almost exclusively in this ocean. They live along the coastal waters, eating a wide variety of fish, crustaceans, mollusks, and octopus. Being dolphins, they are playful, and they surfed our bow wave for hours, entertaining us with their jumping and spinning out of the water.

We encountered blue skies, calm seas, and plenty of wildlife on the ride to New Island. We saw Imperial (King) cormorants, peregrine falcons, petrels, and more dolphins.

Georgina showing off the latest in hair do’s as we motored past islands with large numbers of birds

Most of the islands were covered in birds

The cormorants flew by constantly

Can you tell looking at this cormorant’s eye why it is sometimes referred to as a Blue-eyed shag?

The highlight of the afternoon was a stop at Stinker Island to visit the huge southern Sea Lions. They gather in large groups of males, females, and pups. Without Jerome’s experience we never would have landed on this island and walked amongst them.

As we approached Stinker Island the Sea Lions were quite apparent due to their large size

The Stinker Island welcoming committee came out to greet us and make sure our passports were in order before we landed. We were given permission to anchor as long as we paid the landing fee of 6 squid.

Out came the zodiak and off we went. We couldn’t have asked for a better guide than Jerome, with his knowledge of the area, and his confidence in the face of such large marine mammals

As soon as we stepped foot on the island we were treated to the sight of a large male with his harem and pups. His enourmous size was quite apparent, especially when compared to the females. 

When we first arrived he ignored us and kept on working on his suntan 

As we walked inland we came across another adult male moving around the tussock grass

We approached closer and both of us kept a wary eye on each other

A younger male southern sea lion was near this large male, so we kept an eye on him also. This younger male soon decided he did not want us between himself and the water, so he charged at us to get us out of the way. In this first video he starts slowly, but then he lets out a loud bark and rapidly accelerated towards Dr. P who was in his way. You can tell the point that Dr. P started running away from the video.

In the second video Dr. P gets his act together just in time to watch this sea lion blast past toward the water. It all happened fast, and gives you an idea of how you need to be observant at all time around these large and powerful animals. We would not have gotten this close without Jerome being there.

All too soon it was time to say good bye to our newfound friends and make our way to New Island, the final destination of our trip

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Rockhopper Penguins of the Falkland Islands

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These are the athletes of the penguin world, braving the stormy ocean get to get a meal for their chicks, then literally hopping up cliffs that are up to 600 feet high to feed their chicks at a rookery. And they do this every day while the chicks are growing!

The first time we saw them was at Sea Lion Island, high up a cliff, with cormorants as neighbors. Their rookery was high on this cliff, and they were feeding their chicks.

One of them offered us a rock as it was walking past. How appropriate for a Rockhopper penguin!

They were a raucous group and chased each other continuously

Just like all of the other penguin families we encountered, the ravenous chicks chase the adults non-stop until they were fed

We spent several days with the Rockhoppers at New Island. We first saw them when we photographed the Black-browed albatross.

This is the view from the albatross takeoff spot looking down at the waves the Rockhoppers brave. In the distance in the middle of the photo on the cliff  is the rookery, giving you an idea of the distance they need to climb to reach their chicks.

This is the view the Rockhoppers see as they return from fishing

Dr. P wanted to get a Penguin’s eye view of the action, and decided to set up shop near the waters edge

When he saw these rogue waves come in on occasion he decided that it just might not be the best spot to stand

With waves this strong, and a water temperature of 45 degrees F, it was time to move the studio to a new spot

Ready to shoot at the new location. Some of the Rockhoppers, that have already returned from fishing and are on their way to scale the cliffs in the background to feed their chicks, hop right past Dr. P is if he is not even there. 

A different vantage point from the new studio location to give you some perspective. You can see one of those rogue waves in the background where the Falklands branch of Paramount Studios was first located. 

These are the waves they brave coming back from fishing

In the following three short videos, taken at slightly different times, you can see the Rockhoppers coming in on waves in slow motion. They get pushed backed, but eventually make their way through the kelp and past the wave gauntlet. They do this every day while feeding their chicks.

Once they get past the first group of waves it’s a race to get past this rocky landing before the next set of huge waves, that are starting to crash behind them, catches them. It is amazing how fast they move by mostly just hopping.

The waves can come from any direction

If they don’t move fast enough the next set of waves catches up to them

They are happy once they make it this far without getting swamped by a wave, and live up to their Rockhopper name. They prefer to hop over walk, as they continue to make their way inland.

They continue on and push each other off the edge of the last shelf of rock in their haste to make it to dry land. Once one of them lands in the water the next one takes off, sometimes landing on the prior one. Over the course of an hour hundreds of them put on a show by running this gauntlet.

When they are completely out of danger from waves they give a good shake and start hopping up the cliff

Sometimes they hung out with Dr. P for a while before they started the hop up the rocks

Off they go for the long hop to the top

They walk only inches away, and love to show off their hairdos when the sun catches them just right. Sometimes they would just stop and stare at Dr. P for a few moments before continuing their hop. You gotta wonder what they were thinking!

When this adult finally make it to the top it was greeted by one very hungry chick, wondering what took it so long. Just like the other penguins, the chicks peck at the beaks of the adults to get them to regurgitate their meal of krill and fish. These chicks are getting older, and soon will be venturing out on their own, staying in the sea until they return the following season.

These two Magellanic penguins were hanging out under the rocks for protection from the waves, watching the crazy Rockhoppers brave the waves. They were smart, and stayed right there the whole time, never once going near the waves.  We hated to say good bye to them!

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Black-browed Albatross of the Falkland Islands

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After a 30 minute walk from Georgina’s digs we were surrounded by Black-browed albatross adults and chicks. They did not seem to be bothered by our presence, and went about their business right in front of us.

At the start of our walk we passed some of the original buildings in the New Island settlement

We felt like we were hiking in the English countryside

The Black-browed albatross and the Rockhopper penguins had their rookeries at the same location at the cliffs. It is amazing to think that these penguins climb to this height every day to feed their chicks

The albatross chicks sit in these cylindrical nests for 4 months as they are fed by the adults

If you move slowly and quietly they sit there calmly and just stare at you

If you get too close they will clack their beaks at you as a warning to back off

They were 3 months old when we saw them, and were starting to gain their strength by flopping their wings. In another month they will take to the skies

These chicks have ravenous appetites, just like many large chicks that are growing rapidly. They would peck at the adult’s beak to get the adult to regurgitate the krill and small fish they have been eating from the vast ocean around this area. These photos show dinner time (and lunch time, and breakfast) at the rookery.

Dr. P brought along some Joe’s O’s from Trader Joe’s, and had breakfast with the chicks one morning. The chicks are never fed this or any other food because it is against the regulations, and could cause them to have serious digestive disease that could kill them.

After feeding the chicks the adults commence a ritual that for a better word is best described as “beaking”. They do this in a slow and somewhat sensual manner, as they confirm their bonds before they go off to the supermarket for more chick food.

After they “beak” they walk to the cliffs and fly off to feed. This is the opportunity to get some nice close ups as they walk past, only a foot away.

They would walk to the edge of the cliff and fly away on a fishing expedition. The wind was strong so the launch was easy. They are accomplished fliers, spending most of their lives on the wing, and took advantage of the strong guests at time.

This ground zero for the launch

Dr. P set up his telephoto lens at the cliff edge to capture the action

They would slowly walk to the edge of the cliff, wait a moment, then launch

They would streak away as they plummeted

The strong wind would cause them to rise as they picked up speed 

They came from many directions as they flew out to feed

Some of them were curious of us and had to check us out

The wind would gust on occasion, and after Dr. P desperately held the tripod and lens to prevent it from crashing to the ground, the albatross would float like helicopters

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The Rogue Sea Lion of New Island

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This page has graphic photos of a sea lion hunting Gentoo penguins. It is nature at its rawest. 

This dude is famous, and he has been seen in documentaries before like the BBC’s Frozen Planet series. Learn about his behavior from Georgina as she talks about him at the beach where he does his hunting.

It is quite a drive over some very bouncy terrain to get from Georgina’s house to North End beach where the sea lion is hunting. He hunts in the afternoon, and if the weather cooperates, and the waves are the right height, he just might be there.

The best way to get there is to take Route 66

It’s an authentic sign from Montana, bullet holes and all

With Georgina’s experience at driving this rugged terrain, and the durability of our Land Rover, we arrived safely with only slightly bruised kidneys

The North End beach of New Island is beautiful, and the sight of some long-term research projects

 Here we are setting up camera equipment while the Gentoo penguins are supervising. I am using a Canon 1 Dx Mark II with a Canon 400mm DO II lens attached to a 1.4X teleconverter. 

Our sea lion friend lurks in the waves just offshore. He knows the Gentoo penguins are returning from their feeding, and need to get back onshore to feed their chicks. It’s all about timing for him.

When he sees his opportunity he moves in. At this point the penguins know he is after them, and there is a race to get to the beach. As soon as they get near the beach they pop out of the water and attempt to scurry inland and out of his grasp. In his first attempt at hunting  the penguins got away.

After this failed attempt he went back into the water to continue his search in the other direction. He bided his time until he exploded out of the water when he saw two penguins coming from the beach and attempting to go into the water. This time he did not miss. He brought the penguin into deeper water, and ate it surrounded by Giant Petrels.

In his next attempt he went after a lone Magellanic penguin. He trapped it on the beach, pinned it, grabbed it by the flipper, and took it out to the water to eat it.

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Our Falkland Islands Photographic Team

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We brought plenty of camera equipment, and needed all the help we could get to lug it through airports, on to airplanes, and out in the field. It took 4 people to accomplish this. Here they are in action. At the end of this page there is a list of the equipment we used.

Our Enthusiastic (and giggly) Film Crew in Action

To be able to fit all of this equipment, along with our clothes, in the back of Georgina’s land rover, we had to get a little cozy

Georgina in her element, with a big smile on her face because she is using Dr. P’s 400mm DO lens

Molly using the C-100 Mark II with 16-35 mm to video the elephant seals

Liana using the 1 DX with the 400mm DO to photograph the elephant seals

Molly recording the Gentoo penguins at the beach at Seal Lion Island with the C-100 Mark II

Liana was our plant expert, so we oftentimes found her in this position with one of the wide angle lenses

Liana just enjoying the view and not taking any photos as we walked around Sea Lion Island

Georgina, doing one of the many interviews Dr. P made her do, with the C-100 Mark II and 24-105mm lens at the Gentoo rookery at Sea Lion Island

Liana, Dr. P, and Dr. K, working hard at the beach at Sea Lion Island, while Molly supervises

Dr. P setting up the shot of the cormorants at the cliffs at Sea Lion Island

Dr. P using the 1Dx Mark II with 400mm DO while Dr. K tells him how to use all of this equipment

Dr. P using the 1Dx Mark II and 400mm DO to do slow motion video of the elephant seals at Sea Lion Island

Molly, Georgina, and Liana taking a break from a long hike around Sea Lion Island lugging camera equipment

Dr. P using the 1 Dx Mark II with 400mm DO to photograph the southern elephant seals

The two photo directors taking a break from the action

Dr. P making a video of the King penguin

Dr. P recording the elephant seals with the 1Dx Mark II at Sea Lion Island

Dr. P recording the Rockhoppers at New Island with the 1 Dx Mark II and 400mm DO

Dr. P photographing the elephant seals at Sea Lion island with the 1Dx Mark II and 70-200mm f/2.8


Canon 1DX Mark II

For much of the still photography of wildlife along with the slow motion video

Canon 1DX

For most of the remainder of the still photography of wildlife

Canon C-100 Mark II video camera

For all of the interviews with Georgina along with wildlife video in 4K and slow motion

Canon 400mm DO IS II lens

It was used for a high percentage of wildlife photos, with and without teleconverters

Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 IS II lens

It was also used for the remainder of the wildlife photos, with and without teleconverters

Canon 16-35mm f/2.8 IS II lens

For wide angle boat, people, and scenery shots

Canon 24-105mm f/4 IS II lens

For wide angle boat, people, Georgina interview and scenery shots

Canon 1.4X ver III teleconverter

Canon 2X ver III teleconverter

Two Apple iPhone 7’s

For various people and scenery shots

Two Apple MacBook Pro computers

Two 4 TB Thunderbolt 2 external hard drives

Two Manfrotto tripods

1 Sennheiser external microphone

Miscellaneous equipment to utilize the above equipment like cables, flash, batteries

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