Sunday, 29 December 2013

The Falklands

My first view of West Point Island, dull, rainy & windy!
You can tell it must be British!

It was a dull, dirty, windy, wet & chilly dawn. We were anchored just offshore from West Point Island in the extreme north-west of the Falklands. We had made great time, despite the large swells which we ploughed through. While having breakfast we were informed of the mornings happenings - I was excited & keen to get ashore.

Fellow Rockjumpers - Me, Avril & Alan.

We donned our wet skins & headed down the gangway (for what was to become a familiar routine). I enjoyed my rather wet, although quite exciting, zodiac ride to shore. I scrambled onto the quay & I was on the Falklands!

Speeding away, to land on the Falklands!

The bay where we landed.

Male, Falkland Island Steamer Duck

This species are usually found in pairs.

The amazing male, Kelp Goose.

And the equally amazing female!

Immediately I spotted Falklands Island Steamer Ducks, an abundance of Upland Geese & around 12 Kelp Geese feeding on wave splashed rocks in the surf zone. Closer scrutiny revealed the rare Ruddy-headed Goose feeding higher up in the bay.

On the way to the colonies.
Black-browed Albatross colony - 
they stretched a long way down the cliff!

I get a little closer!

They just don't care about human presence!

A little argument with a close neighbour!

Southern Rockhoppers nest in very close proximity
 to the Albatrosses.

King of the castle?

Sitting very tight!

We enjoyed a quick hike up a nearby hill and down the other side, to our first spectacle of the day - a mixed Southern Rockhopper Penguin & Black browed Albatross colony! Whow! The noise and the smell are the first things that hit me! I go closer, for some truly intimate moments with these nesting birds. It was just a pity that the weather was dull & overcast & very poor for photography. And it was raining!

Just a fraction f the wild & spectacular coastline
 of West Point  Island.

We then moved on, over a steep hill & onto the coast. It was a wild, rugged scene which we viewed, but it was full of birds! Magellanic Penguins nested in low densities, among the dunes & tussock grass. They were surprisingly shy & disappeared underground if one got too close.

Magellanic Penguin.

 Hoards of seabirds were just offshore & I managed to find a couple of Sedge Wrens singing in the tall tussock grass.

 Sedge Wren.

The only house on this island!

The local weather station!

The local race of Austral Thrush - 
a bit different from those on the mainland. 

The very smart, Long-tailed Meadowlark.

Time was pressing & we walked briskly back along the hillside back to the bay where we briefly visited the house & gardens of the only two inhabitants of this island! The Falklands Island race of Austral Thrush was common, as were Long-tailed Meadowlarks.

Falklands Island Shag.

On the way back to the ship, we saw flocks of Falklands Islands Shags & plenty of Black browed Albatrosses sat on the sea. It was a great introduction to the Falklands Islands.

As were were enjoying lunch, the sun came out & although it was still very windy, the conditions looked good for a landing on Saunders Island & so it proved. We had a very wet zodiac ride onto the beach, but once landed we all realised what a special island this really is! Birds were everywhere, to be more specific Penguins were everywhere! The sun was shining & it was great day to be alive & on the Falklands!

Just a small part of the Gentoo Penguin colony.

A single egg peeps out!

A young chick!

They make a lot of noise!

Around 2,000 pairs of Gentoo Penguins greeted us, & what handsome birds they are too. Some had eggs, while a few had small chicks tucked on top of their feet! others were coming & going along the beach & into the sea. Of course Striated Caracaras were lurking around the edge of the colony looking for any unattended eggs or chicks.

It is hard to believe, that this species is one
 of the most endangered raptors in the world!

Striated Caracara

Other scavengers/pirates include 
the Brown (Subantarctic) Skua.

A little further along the beach were a few pairs of King Penguins. This species is a fairly recent colonist to the Falklands and on our visit around 35 pairs were nesting. They arrive much earlier than the Gentoo Penguins & consequently they had well grown chicks.

A young King Penguin.

This individual is quite well on the way
 to attaining adult plumage.

View from the penguin colony, 
looking back along the beach.

A quick walk up the nearby cliffs, gave us fantastic views of a 10,000 bird Southern Rockhopper Penguin colony, and in their midst, was a lone Macaroni Penguin, which has been present for the last few seasons, but is all alone, without a mate.

The Rockhoppers are tightly packed &
 disputes with neighbours are frequent.

Some disputes get quite nasty.

A good hair day!

And now for something a little different!

Macaroni Penguin - all alone!

Several hundred pairs of Falkland Island Shags
 are also nesting on these cliffs.

Just look at those feet!

Yet another great hair do!

A small number of Black browed Albatrosses 
were also nesting.

Turkey Vultures were a constant feature overhead
 looking for...

Rockhoppers  have to make the dangerous climb
 from the beach up the steep cliff, to where they nest. 
Not all make it!

Striated Caracara, coming in for the kill!

Turkey Vultures & Striated Caracaras rip apart,
 an injured Rockhopper Penguin.

Within thirty minutes of this attack, 
virtually nothing was left of the Penguin.

A very satisfied bird!

Other species patrolling the skies
 include Brown Skuas.

Snowy Sheathbills are always around 
to pick up the scraps.

However, this individual is feeding on mussels!

Kelp Geese - amazing plumage and 
even more amazing habitat!

Keeping the geese company - 
a pair of Falkland Steamer Ducks.

As the afternoon wore on, more & more penguins of three species, arrived on the beach from their fishing expeditions in the sea, to relieve their mates of child minding duties. 

This King is returning for child minding duties!

This one is going to the sea to fish.
 Which looks the happier?
Magellanic Penguin.

Magellanic Penguins nested the furthest from the beach,
 in rough grass where the soil could be deeply excavated.

Gentoo Penguins.
Gentoo Penguin
Yes, they really are that cute!

We returned to the ship, elated after the day's activities. We enjoyed a quiet night, as we were repositioning around the coast of the Falklands (& were quite close inshore for most of this trip). We woke, to find ourselves in Port Stanley harbour, ready for a day ashore, exploring both the town & its surroundings. We began by visiting the nearby Gypsy Cove in brilliant sunshine. And so another great day had begun.

Part of the wonderful natural harbour
 which is Port Stanley.

 The view from the ship, over part of the harbour.

The town on the far side.

The very scenic Gypsy Cove.

We enjoyed a short bus ride to Gypsy Cove & what a beautiful place it turned out to be!

The only life on this beach were a few
 Gentoo penguins - there is a reason for this!

Still not fully cleared of mines, from the early 1980's.

A little further round the bay, the scenery 
looked reminiscent of southern England!

David, our resident artist on the boat 
gives the scene his best!

Alan & Avril enjoying the sunshine!

A few of us walked further along the coastline, there were plenty of Upland Geese & a few Falkland Steamer Ducks. Both Gentoo & Magellanic Penguins were seen. A small colony of Rock Shags nested on some nearby cliffs, with a few Black-crowned Night Herons. Kelp Gulls were common & a few Dolphin Gulls loafed around. 

Magellanic Penguin giving it some!

The scarce & range restricted Blackish Cinclodes

Dark-faced Ground Tyrant

I was very pleased to see this superb
 male White-bridled Finch.

The increasingly rare, Ruddy-headed Goose.

Two Blackish Cinclodes at first proved elusive, but eventually gave good views along the cliffs. A scattering of Dark-faced Ground Tyrants were seen. But pride of place went to three White-bridled Finch. I then went back & walked an area of pasture, on the edge of town,  finding a superb Rufous-chested Dotterel, (which both John & Rigton managed to see as well) & a couple of the scarce Ruddy-headed Geese. 

Port Stanley

The wonderful cathedral.

A little bit of home!

Reminders of the past, are everywhere in Stanley.

Sign of the day! It made me smile!

Car of the day!

Today was a day for the ship to be re-provisioned & for the crew to go ashore for a few hours off. It was also a chance for me to explore Port Stanley  & its immediately surroundings. Stanley is the largest settlement (1,800 people) on the Falklands & the centre for everything there. It is a small, quirky kind of place, with a lot of charm & bits & pieces which make you smile a little! It was fun to walk around & just gently explore. I headed straight for the famous Globe Tavern!

Read the label!

The interesting interior of the bar!

After a couple of beers, it was time to head back to the ship & catch up on the local news!

Setting course for South Georgia.

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