My Not-So-White Christmas

For years I had been dreaming of a White Christmas.  You know the kind – you buy your tree and decorations from an amazing European Christmas market, drink your body weight in Gluhwein and wake up on Christmas day to frolic in the freshly fallen snow.

So how was it that I found myself in the Falkland Islands on Christmas Day in the middle of summer, wiping Albatross poo out of my hair with not a skerrick of snow to be seen, or a sniff of Gluhwein to be had? My original plan for a White European Christmas had morphed into the ultimate ‘White’ of all Christmases – Antarctica.  I just hadn’t banked on being nowhere near the coveted ‘white’ on Christmas Day.

All the same, it was certainly a Christmas to remember.  The little farm on West Point Island in the Falklands was the first landfall on our 19 day Antarctic Cruise and we were excited to not only have survived the dreaded Drake Passage, but to be having our first up-close-and-personal wildlife encounter.

The farmer greeted us warmly even though we were clearly interrupting his Christmas and we proceeded to slog over hill, dale and prime sheep paddock to what can only be described as a cacophony of sights, sounds and smells.

West Point Island is home to a large breeding colony of Black Browed Albatross and Rock Hopper Penguins, and they certainly know how to make their presence felt!   The shrieks and cries could be heard even before the rookery came into view, not to mention the warm smell of birdlife en masse, but that still didn’t detract from our first view of thousands of birds perched on nests cascading down a rocky slope overlooking a wild sea.  

Albatross roosted on chimney-like nests cheek by feathered jowl with the penguins and aside from the occasional warning peck, they all seemed to just get along just fine.

Male and female Albatross bowed to each other in elegant mating rituals,

new parents took care of chicks with looks only a parent could love,
while penguins tipped their heads backed and squawked their lungs out trying to attract just the right kind of mate.

We slowly moved around the edge of the colony careful not to disturb the birds and trying to remember to close our mouths when we looked up at Albatross cruising effortlessly overhead.  In some places we were only metres away from the birds so my long lens was almost wasted (almost!).

To add to the drama of the day, a Striated Caracara (or Johnny Rook as it’s known locally) swooped in on the colony in search of unattended chicks, must to the consternation of the Albatross!  The Caracara is the world’s most southerly bird of prey so I guess it has to make a living somehow.

I could happily have spent the entire day marvelling at the incredible aerobatics of the Albatross and giggling at the poor penguins trudging up and down well worn paths to the ocean, but Christmas morning tea was beckoning and we were all invited into the farmers house to sample some of his wife’s incredible baking.  I had to tear myself away from the rookery but another feathered surprise was waiting for us near the farmhouse.

A Turkey Vulture had perched in a nearby tree and looked on balefully as we all scrambled to take his photo.  Seems like we disturbed his Christmas too.

Turkey Vulture

Our first wildlife encounter had been everything I had hoped it would be, and I reluctantly made our way back down to the dock to wait for our boat.

The only white that day was the brilliant plumage of the Albatross, the icing on the delicious carrot cake for morning tea and the unfortunate deposit on my head, but it was still a ‘White’ Christmas I will never forget.

To see more photos of the West Point Island Rookery, click here

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16 comments

  1. years ago a friend in the Army ended up serving 6 months on the Falkland Islands. Her biggest fear was being crushed by the sea lions while posing for a souvenir pic with them 😉 my biggest fear now is 400,000 king penguins turning up for xmas 🙂

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  2. Wow, what an amazing experience. I once missed Christmas altogether as I flew to Australia on Dec. 24th and missed it because of the time difference and travel time. Not a memorable one — but yours definitely was even if it wasn’t white. Come to Canada for a white Christmas …although it is not guaranteed in Toronto. Loved learning about the Albatross.

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    • I’m surely not as free spirited as I would like to be (fingers crossed for a large lottery win one day!!). So pleased you enjoyed seeing the shots, hopefully you will get to see them in person one day, even if just a penguin at the zoo. Yes the little ones were very comical looking!

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    • It was Christmas 2010 (ahem, yes a little behind on my photo processing!). It had been a huge goal of mine for years and I still can’t quite believe I managed to pull it off! It’s hugely expensive but, for me, totally worth it. Problem is I’m hooked on ice now, I have to go back!!!! Hopefully you’ll get there one day soon.

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