Last Updated on 12/28/23 by Rose Palmer
One of my biggest wish list items on my Princess cruise to South America and Antarctica was to see and photograph penguins. I saw penguins floating on large icebergs as our ship cruised the Antarctic peninsula, but even with my big telephoto lens, they were small black dots on a bluish white surface. I finally had the perfect photo opportunity when the ship docked at Port Stanley in the Falkland Islands.
A few of the many cruise enrichment lectures that we had on board the Sapphire Princess talked about life in the Falklands. This was where I learned that during breeding season, the penguins outnumber the humans about 300 to 1. With the islands’ population at roughly 3800 people, that’s a whole lot of penguins.
Getting to the Falkland Island penguins
We were fortunate that the weather cooperated and that the Sapphire Princess was able to drop anchor as scheduled in Port Stanley’s deep harbor. This was a tender port and since I wasn’t doing an organized tour, I made sure to pick up my tender ticket around 8 AM to try and get on one of the early boats ashore. That turned out to be a good thing because the winds were strong and the tenders moved slowly. So, despite my early start, I did not get ashore until almost 10 AM.
Since I had booked this Antarctica Princess cruise last minute, the ship’s excursions to see the penguins in the Falkland Islands were all full. The island folks also offered a variety of penguin sightseeing tours when a cruise ship was in town and I reached out to many of these via e-mail, but they were all sold out as well.
I needn’t have worried. The tourist center made it very easy and convenient to get to nearby Gypsy Cove on my own where I could easily see the penguin colonies nesting there. Large buses provided a shuttle service from the Visitor’s Center at the dock where the tender had dropped me off, to the Gypsy Cove parking area.
It was a quick 20 minute drive one way to Gypsy Cove and cost me $20 US (cash) for the round trip. Then, when I had my fill of watching penguins (which took most of the allotted time on shore), the shuttle bus took me back to the dock at my convenience.
Seeing the Magellanic penguins
From the Gypsy Cove parking area, a trail wound up hill and to the left. There was informative signage describing the penguin’s life cycle. There were also guides stationed along the trail that were also very knowledgeable (and also to make sure tourists did not bother the penguins).
As I climbed it wasn’t long before I saw my first Magellanic penguin poking his head from one of the nests. I observed that much of the hillside from the beach up to the viewing platform was pockmarked with these nesting holes.
Early in the breeding season, the adults land on shore and make their way up the hillside to mate and lay their eggs in these protected underground nests. A male and female Magellanic penguin mate for life and these breeding pairs then recognize each other by their call.
At the beginning of the mating season, the male arrives first and prepares the nest. Once they have mated, the female usually lays two eggs a few days apart. Both mom and dad share the tasks of incubating the eggs and raising the chicks to maturity.
I was visiting in early February, and by this time, the chicks had hatched and were already quite large. In fact, the penguins I was seeing were the juveniles waiting for their parents to come back home with food from their daily fishing expeditions in the sea.
While many of the young penguins stayed obediently inside their holes and only poked out their heads, some were more adventurous and waddled about, as curious about us as we were about them. Occasionally I also saw a penguin coming out of the water on the beach below, or one heading back into the water.
I chose to continue walking the trail inland and around the point where I had some very nice views of the Sapphire Princess docked in the harbor nearby.
The regal King penguins
The main King penguin population on the island was at Volunteer point. Visiting this colony was one of the most popular excursions on the island, though it takes a very long and bumpy 4×4 ride to get there. However, it turned out that a few juvenile King penguins had also made their way to the Gypsy Cove beach.
After seeing the Magellanic penguins, I continued my walk along the larger crescent shaped beach for another 30 minutes toward the far eastern point and then crossed the sand spit to the other bay.
A small group of King penguins were standing there, just preening themselves. Surprisingly, these birds were not disturbed by our human presence as a group of tourists surrounded them, though a park ranger made sure that we did not get too close.
Unlike the Magellanic penguins that seemed somewhat interested in us or the nearby Gentoo penguins and their silly antics, these King penguins earned their royal moniker. They pretty much just stood in one place, preening and fluffing their feathers, happy to be admired.
The king penguins were certainly beautiful to photograph, but not as entertaining to watch.
Watching the Gentoo penguin antics
About 100 yards from the King penguins, a large colony of Gentoo penguins was resting in the sand. These were mostly juveniles, with a few adult “baby sitters” left behind to keep an eye on them. These guys and gals were certainly the most fun to observe.
Many of the Gentoo’s were just lazing about, clearly enjoying the warm sun. It seemed odd to see them covered in sand when the usual image of penguins is surrounded by ice and snow. Though some were clearly napping, others were more active. Some would walk together, with one penguin following another. Others pecked at each other in what seemed to be a good natured play. An some even tried running.
At one point I saw two penguins interacting and thought at first that they were fighting. One penguin was persistently bothering the other one. Penguin two would walk away only to be followed closely and harassed by penguin one again.
This happened a few times and I realized that penguin one was a juvenile who was trying to get food from adult penguin two who did not have any food for him. Eventually, after penguin two firmly scolded the younger one a few times, penguin one finally gave up and penguin two went off into the sand dunes on his own.
I spent quite a bit of time sitting here, just watching and photographing the Gentoo colony. It helped that it was fairly warm (around 60 F) and sunny.
At around 2:30 I started my walk back along the beach to the parking area and the waiting shuttle bus which took me back to the Falkland Island Visitor’s Center. I then spent another hour walking along the town’s main street, perusing the sights and the shops.
In the end, not booking a formal excursion or guided tour to see the Falkland Islands penguins worked out for the best. I was able to easily see three different penguin species at my leisure at a fraction of the cost of a formal tour. And the best part was that I could spend as much time with them as I wanted to and take photos to my heart’s content.
It truly was a pleasure to observe all these penguins before they leave the islands and travel on to parts unknown.
Other related posts:
My favorite photos from my Antarctica cruise: Penguins, and Ice, and So Much More – My Favorite Antarctica Cruise Photos
My tips for getting your best Antarctica photos: Photographing in Antarctica – 19 Antarctica Photography Tips for all Skill Levels
Detailed review of the Sapphire Princess: My Blue Heaven on a Princess Cruise – A Detailed Sapphire Princess Review With Photos
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