Antarctica, Day 13 Part 2: Saunders Island

January 1, 2020

Paul Kay

We’re traveling Antarctica on the Silver Cloud with Silversea Cruises. Today, we arrived in the Falkland Islands and visited West Point and Saunders Islands. Post 1 covered West Point Island. This post covers Saunders Island. Here’s how our day went.

West Point Island was all about birds. Saunders Island was all about penguins. We saw Magellanic, rockhopper, king and gentoo penguins. In past days, we’ve seen chinstrap and macaroni penguins. The two species we haven’t yet seen were emperor and Adélie, though one day Silversea told us Adélie were swimming in the waters around the Silver Cloud.

Gentoo Penguin, Saunders Island, Falkland Islands, Antarctica

 A gentoo heading to the surf

On our wet landing on the beach, a gentoo penguin greeted us. He looked like he was heading out for some surfing.

Gentoo Parent Feeding Chicks, Saunders Island, Falkland Islands, Antarctica

 Gentoo chicks getting lunch...

Gentoo Penguins Chicks, Saunders Island, Falkland Islands, Antarctica

 ...and hanging out

Moms and dads fed their new chicks. Because of their coloring, we could tell many of these younger gentoo penguins had not yet reached maturity.

When you look at the adults, you notice the coloring on the beak and feet. And all the black feathers are grown in. The young ones are still gray; but they grow up fast!

Sheep, Saunders Island, Falkland Islands, Antarctica

 Sheep live on Saunders, too

Sheep roamed all over the Saunders Island. They didn’t go near the penguins, but they didn’t seem to be bothered by them.

Gentoo Penguins Strolling the Beach, Saunders Island, Falkland Islands, Antarctica

 Gentoos strolling on the beach

Two gentoo penguins marched toward the beach at a rapid clip—for a penguin! I managed to catch them mid-step.

Gentoo Penguins and Chick, Saunders Island, Falkland Islands, Antarctica

 A big gentoo chick with the grownups

Many of the youngsters hung around the adults. You can see the kids are grayer compared to their elders.

Rockhopper Penguin, Saunders Island, Falkland Islands, Antarctica

 A rockhopper on the rocks

We saw gentoos and chinstraps earlier in our trip. And we saw rockhoppers on West Point Island. A rockhopper rookery stands on Saunders Island among the rocks.

Kelp Gulls, Saunders Island, Falkland Islands, Antarctica

 A couple of kelp gulls chatting

Lots of birds live here, too. We saw two kelp gulls hanging out in the shallow water, watching their penguin friends from a distance. The kelp gull is a scavenger and a fish eater. They also are known to steal food or eggs. They nest along rocky shores and sometimes farther upland. Both males and females incubate eggs and care for chicks.

Magellanic Oystercatcher, Saunders Island, Falkland Islands, Antarctica

 A day at the beach for some Magellanic oystercatchers

On the beach, we also saw Magellanic oystercatchers. Bernardo, our expert bird leader, said they rarely eat oysters. Magellanic oystercatcher eat earthworms and insect larvae. It finds them in the sand in shallow water or in the moss near the water. They look for mussels, limpets and even crabs. But their main diet are worms.

Striated Caracara with Pebble in its Beak, Saunders Island, Falkland Islands, Antarctica

 A nest-building striated caracara

We spied striated caracaras as well. They appeared fearless. We saw them earlier in the morning at West Point Island. Saunders Island attracts the birds for the same reasons as West Point Island: sheep, penguins and grubs. All are plentiful on Saunders Island. I found a caracara with a pebble in his mouth. I supposed he was heading to a nest.

Turkey Vulture Among Rockhopper Penguins, Saunders Island, Falkland Islands, Antarctica

 A fox among the chickens

In the rockhopper penguin rookery, I noticed a turkey vulture. I’m sure he was waiting for a chance to grab a rockhopper egg. But the parents were wise to the vulture, so he flew off to look for something else to eat.

Magellanic Penguins near Their Burrow, Saunders Island, Falkland Islands, Antarctica

 Magellanic penguins by their burrow

So far, we had not seen any Magellanic penguins. Traditionally they build their homes in sandy soil and create burrows. Magellanic penguins get their name from Ferdinand Magellan whose crew first spotted them in the 1520. The Magellan Strait is named for him as well.

Like other species, Magellanic penguins swallow a lot of ocean water, which has far too much salt for their bodies to absorb. They excrete the extra salt using special glands located near their eyes. Magellanic penguins face the usual group of predators at sea. They need to lookout for hungry sea lions, leopard seals and orcas. Luckily, they are very fast swimmers and turn on the proverbial dime.

Magellanic Penguin, Saunders Island, Falkland Islands, Antarctica

 A striking Magellanic penguin hanging outside his burrow

Magellanic penguins sport pink around his eyes and on his forehead.

Magellanic Penguins About to Mate, Saunders Island, Falkland Islands, Antarctica

 Two Magellanic penguins gettin' frisky

Two Magelannic penguins got a bit frisky as we passed their burrow. The larger male was behind the female, and they discussed their next moves.

Magellanic Penguins Mating, Saunders Island, Falkland Islands, Antarctica

 Two Magellanic penguins making a new penguin

This was a unique opportunity, so we stuck around and watched what happened next. The inevitable occurred. The two decided to engage in the horizontal mambo. After all, it was mating season, so it was time to make another chick.

King Penguins, Saunders Island, Falkland Islands, Antarctica

 Our first sighting of kings

We had yet to see king or emperor penguins. Kings size up as the second largest penguin, with only the emperor growing larger. Kings look like emperors but are noticeably shorter. They sport orange spots near their ears and on their necks. Kings eat fish and some squid and crustaceans.

King Penguin Molting, Saunders Island, Falkland Islands, Antarctica

 Molting king penguin among his friends

In captivity King penguins live to more than 30 years old. In the wild their survival skills in the sea dictate their age. Both seals and whales eat penguins. In the Falkland Islands, kings return to the same site to breed throughout their life. Breeding is preceded by the period of molt, lasting four to five weeks. We saw one molting on Saunders Island.

Silver Cloud, Silversea Cruises, Saunders Island, Falkland Islands, Antarctica

 The trusty Silver Cloud awaiting our return

We headed back toward the beach. Our loyal Silver Cloud waited for us, as usual.

Schalk, Silver Cloud, Silversea Cruises, Saunders Island, Falkland Islands, Antarctica

 Our fearless expedition leader, Schalk

Our terrific expedition guide, Schalk, also waited for us. While safety is always his number one concern, he helped us see some incredible things. The first time we met Schalk he worked with the captain to change our entire itinerary to do it in reverse. Because the Falkland Islands were suffering from very high winds and rain we wouldn’t have been able to land. Schalk was ready for anything. And you could tell the expedition team enjoyed working with him.

After getting back on the Zodiacs, we headed to Port Stanley to see what we could do. Port Stanley is more of a tourist port with plenty of souvenirs and shops to visit.

That's it for Day 13 of our trip to Antarctica. More tomorrow!

Tips: You can learn how we planned our trip by reading Planning Our Antarctica Trip. Learn what we read to prepare at Reading Antarctica. And you can find out what we packed at Packing for Cruising Antarctica on Silversea.

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Read More

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Planning Our Antarctica Trip
Cruising Antarctica 101
Reading: Antarctica
Packing for Cruising Antarctica on Silversea
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