Thursday, February 06, 2014

West Point and New Islands, Falkland Islands

Our first landing from the boat, via zodiac, was West Point Island on the far South-West of the Falkland Islands.   We were greeted by a Striated Caracara on the beach, which seemed as interested in us as we were in it (and to think I was worried about how I would see one!):

From the beach it's a short walk (I ignored the little shop on the seafront) to the Rockhopper and Black-browed Albatross colony, you can see one of the latter stood here:

And a healthy-looking chick:

Ever-present in breeding colonies, preying on the parents, their eggs and particularly the chicks, a Falkland Brown Skua:

The ring on this bird is an indication that this island has active field research ongoing.  

As well as the Albatrosses of course are the Penguins, Rockhopper Penguins:

They are cracking looking birds:

Especially close-up:

Having seen a Penguin colony you will never forget the experience, it's a mix of colour, sound and smell, particularly the latter!  I happened to breathe in with my mouth as the wind blew from the colony towards me, not a flavour I'm going to be able to extinguish from the memory banks any time soon.

I decided to skulk away from the colony; as my objective was to see as many birds as possible on this trip, on the basis I was visiting some very inaccessible parts of the planet.  It turns out by doing so I missed out on the Tussockbird (another Cinclodes species), as they were in the colony but down by the opposite shore, where the Penguins come to land from the sea.

Hey ho.  I did get to see the local Austral Thrush, this one carrying food suggesting an active nest:

Grass Wren:

Dark-faced Ground Tyrant:

And the spectacular, Long-tailed Meadowlark:

Alongside the path are a number of holes.  Once the bulk of my fellow passengers had passed and while I was heading back along the path, a number of rabbits came out to preen and feed.  I was told they haven't been culled (yet) because they are possibly quite rare, being a cross-breed between pet and various other breeds of rabbits.  

Upland Geese, a vocal male:

And the rufous female:

It's a dramatic landscape, which I tried to capture (never sure how you can really achieve the sense of place with a single lens):

Back in the landing bay, a shipwreck:

I walked up a hill path, somewhat toward the out-of-bounds settlement to take the above picture, which I am very pleased with.  In doing so I noticed one of the Striated Caracaras in the doorway, it looks like the are nesting on board:

As well as spotting the Caracara I also got talking to two German research students, who offered to help me find more birds and invited me into said settlement.  I didn't want to get into trouble on the very first landing but couldn't refuse their offer.  We trudged up to a number of bushes and small trees in search of passerines but in fact were rewarded with a distant but definite Variable Hawk.  I didn't want to outstay my welcome, what with the Falkland Island Governor due to land in his helicopter at any moment and with my uber-conspicuous red coat, so headed back down to the bay before the last boat left back to the ship.

Magellanic Oystercatcher was feeding along the shoreline:

Falkland Flightless Steamerduck was about too (so called as all four species in this group paddle away with their wings furiously, resembling a steamer ship, even the ones that can fly):

The ship further out from the bay:

We headed then to New Island, to the North-West of the Falkland Islands.  On the way I managed a couple of decent pictures of what I think are Dusky Dolphins that kept the ship company for a while:

In the bay of New Island, South Atlantic Fur Seals, as curious of us as we were of them:

A Kelp Gull on the rocks at our landing spot:

Also in the bay, Crested Duck:

The walk to the colony was quite tough in welly boots, and with some real elevation gain, but still doable even laden with kit, and worth it.  The Albatrosses were joined by Imperial/King Cormorants/Shags (pick any one of each pair and it's correct!):

I saw my very own march of the (Rockhopper) Penguins at this spot, as the adults came back from the sea to feed their chicks:

This is a view taken back to the bay from the top of the walk, which hopefully gives a sense of scale.  As I'd been asking about the passerines again, the local volunteers had offered to put together a walk (off to the left of this picture), meeting on top of a higher hill and then walking around the shoreline and back to the bay.  I was weighed down with all my kit and not enjoying the boots so declined, even though they sent scouts to locate me (I was found taking this picture).

They did the walk anyway and picked up a huge quantity of scattered plastic, which was then bundled and taken aboard the ship for disposal at the end of the voyage.  The volunteers, expedition staff and passengers were all chuffed with this.

In the house (amongst the pictured trees) we were provided a very rich tea with a huge selection and volume of cakes and scones, which were delicious.  Apparently Tussockbirds were around the house too but I still managed not to see one.  I did see the Siskin though, and juvenile Austral Thrushes.

On the way back to the ship however we had one of the most magical wildlife experiences I've ever had the privilege of enjoying.  We were in the zodiac and had pulled alongside the ship when some Commerson's Dolphins appeared by the bow.  Our zodiac driver said 'let's see if they want to play' and they did!  We headed out into the wider bay with a group of these dolphins, up to five at once, porpoising around the bow, which felt like touching distance.  They followed-us around as we approached a group of shags on the surface and then a group of penguins.  We handed them off to another boat that was coming in but they soon rejoined us.

We eventually pulled back alongside the ship and left the dolphins to play with others.  This is a picture a fellow passenger took of another boat with the Dolphins, you get the idea:

Back to sea and top-side, once more with close flying seabirds, but this time with some sunshine too, a Black-browed Albatross (BBA):

One on the water took off as we approached:

We also had fly-by Imperial Shags:

And as the sun started to set I took this snap of a distant BBA flying above sun-drenched waters:

This was part of another spectacular sunset:

During the night we sailed East to enter Port Stanley the following morning.



Anonymous Alan said...


12:13 am  

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