Day 2: Ushuaia and the Beagle Channel

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Navigating the Beagle Channel at dusk

December 19, 2016

Our morning flight south was delayed due to a strike at the airline, allowing for a relaxed cup of espresso at the hotel and a morning stroll to the Plaza de San Miguel.  At the airport over lunch, I was able to speak more with Ken Garrett, a National Geographic photographer.  The majority of his work focuses on ancient civilizations, and a current project involves King Tutankhamun and the ongoing search for the tomb of Queen Nerfertiti. Many of Ken’s photographs have appeared on the cover of National Geographic, Time, and Smithsonian Magazines (check out his website here).  I look forward to learning more about photography from Ken during this expedition.

In the early afternoon, we finally boarded the plane for a scenic 4-hour jaunt across Patagonia and the southern Andes Mountains to Ushuaia, a small city located on the southern tip of South America.


We departed the tiny Ushuaia airport on a bus, and a quick 10 minutes later, arrived at the expedition vessel, the National Geographic Explorer.  I was impressed by the size of the ship – although smaller than a cruise ship, it is definitely much larger than the Gulf research vessel I lived aboard last summer.  The inside of the ship made it seem even larger, as there are 6 accessible decks.  Our cabin is located on the B deck, along with the cabins for the rest of the expedition staff.  On the ship, I got to meet Ian Strachan (naturalist and photographer from the USA, our mentor for the trip), Alyssa Adler (undersea specialist from the USA), and Doug Gualtieri (naturalist from the USA, specializing in ornithology).

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Before I could even unpack, we were already sailing into the Beagle Channel, a strait in the Tierra del Fuego named after the H.M.S. Beagle, whose first voyage took the ship throughout the southern portion of South America (1826-1830).  The Beagle’s second voyage (1831-1836) was famously attended by naturalist Charles Darwin.  I quickly took my cell phone up to the observation deck to begin tracking our route via GPS, then headed up to the bridge of the ship, were I met Captain Oliver Kruess (from Germany) and Chief Officer Aaron Wood (from the UK).

I spent the rest of the afternoon and evening enjoying the amazing views (especially of the sunset) and looking for birds.  Captain Kruess and Chief Officer Wood are both very gifted naturalists, and I really appreciated their help in identifying the birds I saw.  After about an hour of travel into the Beagle Channel, I saw the first albatross my life, a Black-browed Albatross!  I also saw Kelp Gull, Upland Goose, Imperial Shag, South American Tern, and Southern Giant Petrel.

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Tomorrow morning, we will wake up well into the Drake Passage, the body of water between South America and the Antarctic Peninsula.  The waters are supposed to be relatively calm for the Drake, but I just took a Dramamine to be on the safe side.  I’m planning to wake up at 5 AM, as the birding during the crossing of the Drake Passage is sure to be amazing.

David Walker
Grosvenor Teacher Fellow

Antarctica Expedition
National Geographic Society
Lindblad Expeditions

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