Carcass Island – Wednesday

After a huge breakfast featuring homegrown rhubarb with homemade yoghurt and porridge with homemade cream I spent a little time out in the garden on the swing, before getting a lift back down to the airstrip with the guests who were leaving on the first flight. I collared the poor pilot and told him that I’d be heading out on the next flight and that he’d be my friend for life if he was able to save me the front seat!

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Having seen the plane off I wandered over to the beach where the island’s main population of elephant seals can be found. I got distracted by the birds before I even reached the beach, but as I approached I could hear the telltale sounds of elephant seals snorting and huffing. There is quite a bit of tall tussac grass at the beach, so I could hear the elephant seals long before I could see them. The tussac grass is over 6 feet tall in most places so you really had no idea when approaching the beach whether you were about to find yourself in the middle of a group of seals, so caution was required!  When I approached the beach two of the seals caught sight of me and headed straight for the water and further up the beach, a couple of young males were tussling with each other. The seals were scattered all along the stretch of beach, making walking the beach quite difficult if you didn’t want to disturb them (or if you’re nervous of getting trampled by an over-enthusiastic pair of sparring males).

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Southern elephant seal

I took a walk along the beach to a small point where there were about 30-40 magellanic oystercatchers and a large number of kelp gulls.

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All the islands I’ve visited have been littered with bones from birds and sheep, but this beach also had the remains of a whale to be seen.

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There were a huge number of birds around both on the beach and in the grasses. I spent quite a bit of time trying to photograph the small finches which flitted around from bush to bush, and most exciting of all, the magellanic snipe which were very well hidden in the long grass and would suddenly take to the air with a loud cry when I approached them. But for that I wouldn’t have known they were there. Trying to get photos of them was well nigh impossible as they were mostly gone before I had time to press the shutter, and those that did hang around were very well camouflaged in the grass.

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Tussacbird

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Black-throated (canary-winged) finch

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Long-tailed meadowlark

 

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Magellanic snipe

 

By lunchtime the wind was getting very strong and I set myself down by a small pond to watch the ducks and eat my lunch in a small bit of shelter.

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Speckled teal

The plane was due in some time after 1pm so I made my way back to the airstrip and sat against the fire fighting equipment whilst I waited for the other passenger and the plane to arrive. By this time the wind was getting a lot stronger and I was cold enough to wear my woolly hat for the first time this trip! It seemed like all the sheep of the island had congregated in the area and once they arrived with the rover we had to chase all the sheep off the airstrip. There’s almost always something that has to be chased off the airstrips, mostly sheep or geese.

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When the plane arrived I was in luck, the front seat was mine! We had a good flight, albeit a bit bumpy in the strong winds, with a short stop at Port Howard. When we crossed the Falkland Sound between West and East Falkland we could see all the squid jiggers taking refuge in the relative shelter there. They don’t stop work for much so it was a sign that the weather was really deteriorating. Approaching the airport we flew right past town and I managed to finally spot Kay’s B&B where I am staying.

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Bleaker Island – Sunday

Knowing that I needed to be ready to be picked up just after 11am I got myself out of the house at about 7.30 on Sunday and set off for a walk down to the beach and then across to the coast on the other side of the island and back up to the settlement. 

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Rufous-chested dotterel (I think)

 

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Blackish oystercatcher

 

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Kelp gull

 

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Brown-hooded gull

 

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White-tufted grebe

 

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Dolphin gull

 

 

 

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Tussacbird

 

 

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Crested duck

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King shag

 

As I approached the settlement and was trying to find the best way to get over a fence, I startled a black-crowned night heron.

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Dolphin gulls

 

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Speckled teal

 

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Snowy shearwater

 

Having a little time left I went for one final visit to the rockhopper colony and passed by the cormorant rookery, now deserted.

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My flight back to Stanley was quite an epic experience. Although it’s only a 25 minute hop direct, we had a number of stops along the way, at Sea Lion Island, Pebble Island, Mount Pleasant Airport and then finally back to Stanley.

Bleaker Island – Saturday

Despite my plans to be up for sunrise I ended up falling back to sleep and having a rather late start. When I finally managed to get myself moving I headed over in the direction of the rockhopper colony, just a 15 minute walk from the settlement. On the way, though, I was distracted by a group of skuas which were hanging around and scrapping with each other, both on the ground and in the air.

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Once I’d had my fill I carried on to the cliffs and clambered down onto the rocks in the hope of walking around to the rockhoppers were they would exit the water. Unfortunately my plan didn’t work out as I encountered a large chasm in the rock, known as Long Gulch, and I had to work my way back up through the tussac grass and walk around it to finally get to the rockhoppers. This was probably the biggest rockhopper colony I’d seen and there were also a large number of cormorants. I spent some time photographing them, and then settled myself down with my back to the tussac to read my book for a while and enjoy the penguin chattering in the background. The penguins are moulting at this time of the year and look rather sorry for themselves.

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Rockhopper penguin

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Rock shag

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Dark-faced ground tyrant

Having decided to move on I headed back towards the gate only to be surprised by a person emerging from the tussac grass. I had heard the plane come in earlier so I suppose that the appearance of other people shouldn’t entirely have been a surprise, but I was in my own little world! Having shown her around the rockhopper colony, we set off together to see what we could find in the pond and on the beach.

The pond was rather quiet although there were a few silver teal at the far end and some crested ducks closer by, so we didn’t stay for too long before continuing on to the beach.

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Crested duck

There were far less birds on the beach than there had been the previous day and we didn’t really stop too much on our way down to the far end where the gentoos can be found. When we got there we found a hive of activity with gentoos porpoising and coming in on the rocks. I spent quite a bit of time trying to photograph the gentoos porpoising and I wish I’d stayed there for longer. Whilst I was busy I put my bag down to make things easier, and fortunately my companion was more alert than I was as she caught the Johnny Rooks attacking it and had to rescue it. It now has a small hole through to the padding on the back but fortunately is not damaged beyond use!

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Getting rather cold, we took a short walk along the path that the penguins follow to their rookeries and then headed back towards the settlement, where we had a very welcome cup of tea. I also had an important date with the radio at 6pm as the telephones and internet had been down, so it was the only way to find out what time my flight would be leaving on Sunday. Until recently, radio was the main method of communication on the islands and the next day’s flight schedules are still broadcast every evening after the weather and shipping forecast. Luckily for me I was scheduled on a midday flight giving me the full morning to enjoy myself.

 

listening to flight on radio

Carcass Island – Tuesday

Having completed our doctors’ visit we made the half hour drive from the north end of the island back to the settlement. Carcass Island is the only place that I visited on my 2009 trip to the Falklands that I’ve been back to on this trip, but I couldn’t remember what to expect or match my memories of that trip to individual locations. As we approached the settlement and I saw the beach and the Nissan hut by the jetty it began to seem familiar. 

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After some lunch, a very welcome salad (vegetables are expensive here), I headed out for a walk down to the south end of the island. I started out with a walk along the rocky beach, which was full of tussacbirds and caracaras, as well as driftwood and bones.

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I could hear a lot of songbirds chattering in the bushes next to the beach so I headed inland a little in the hope of spotting something I hadn’t seen yet. No such luck, but I did find a Falkland thrush.

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Climbing up the hillside towards Jason Hill, there were some great views down to the two beaches where the penguins hang out.

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I also spotted some teaberries, a Falklands favourite.

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Along the way I was followed by yet more caracaras, numerous everywhere, but particularly on Carcass it seems.

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Having made it up to the top of the hill and then back down again, avoiding the magellanic penguin burrows, I skidded down a steep sandy bank onto the beach.

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Magellanic penguin

Walking along the beach I accumulated a trail of caracaras and startled a group of crested ducks, who took to the water.

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Crested duck

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Falkland steamer ducks

The gentoos were congregating at the far end of the beach and I caught sight of a group porpoising in to the shore.

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According to the map there are South American terns at the tip of the island, but the tussac grass was so thick and tall that I didn’t try and fight my way through to find them but instead cut across to the other side of the point to the other beach.

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After a long stretch of beach, the rest of the walk was clambering over rocks, getting distracted by all the birds.

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One of the species I was hoping to see was the Cobb’s wren and there were plenty of them along the way playing hide and seek amongst the rocks. The biggest problem in photographing them was that they kept coming too close!

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As I was happily pootling along I was startled by a hissing sound and I turned around to find that I’d nearly tripped over an elephant seal. Gave me quite a shock.

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Camp Doctors’ Visit

One of the highlights of coming out to the Falkland Islands for my elective was always going to be accompanying the doctor(s) on a visit out to camp (i.e. outside of Stanley). Camp visits take place each Tuesday with a different group of settlements being visited each week on a 6 week rotation. I had hoped to go out to Fox Bay a couple weeks ago, but there was no room for me on the plane, and last week’s visits didn’t take place so I was excited to get an email last Friday asking me if I wanted to go out on this week’s visit which would include Hill Cove (which is on West Falkland) and Carcass Island. As I set off for Bleaker Island soon afterward replying to the email there wasn’t time to think further about the visit, but as I was lying in bed on Sunday night I couldn’t help but think it was a shame to go out and not spend any time at Carcass, so when I had a break after the ward round on Monday morning I called up FIGAS (the air service) and asked if it would be possible for me to stay overnight and return a day later than planned. They hadn’t yet scheduled the flights so I had half an hour to call up the settlement and see if I could arrange accommodation before confirming my plans. Unfortunately for me Carcass were fully booked for the night as they’d had some guests who needed to return from one of the outlying islands a night earlier than planned due to the strong winds forecast, but when I asked if I could bring a tent and camp out they kindly agreed, even though they don’t usually allow camping, and said I could have full use of their facilities and that they’d feed me as well.

It ended up being an early start as I wanted to send some emails before we left the hospital for the airport at 7.40am. We took off at around 8.30am and had a stop at Saunders Island before making the short hop over to Hill Cove where we were picked up and driven to one of the settlement houses to see our patients. The plane waited for us whilst we had our consultations and the pilot was dropped off to feed some very cute lambs whilst he was waiting!

As is the custom here we all divested ourselves of our shoes before entering the house and so I had one of the most unusual consultations I’ve yet experienced – two doctors, a medical student and a patient, gathered in a bedroom, all of us in our stocking feet. Of course, this suited me perfectly, with my love of walking around everywhere in my socks! The owners of the house were also the guardians of the settlement’s ‘camp chest’, a cardboard box containing a supply of medications such as antibiotics, steroids and strong analgesics in case anyone is acutely unwell. In this case, having spoken to the patient over the phone the doctor will call the camp chest holder and ask them to issue the appropriate medications to the patient.

Having completed our mini surgery at Hill Cove we returned to the plane and set off again to Carcass Island. This was to be a ‘strip visit’, meaning that our patients would come out to the airstrip to see the doctors. The consultation doesn’t quite take place on the airstrip itself, but rather in the land rovers that are there to meet the plane. I had the interesting experience of trying to measure someone’s blood pressure whilst the plane was taking off again and another land rover was idling next to us! I also had to keep guard of the doctors’ bag to make sure that nothing blew away, and more importantly, that the caracaras (also known as Johnny Rooks) didn’t steal anything from it. They’re very inquisitive birds and real hooligans.

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Whilst we were busy seeing our patients the plane made a short visit to Westpoint Island to drop off another passenger before returning to pick up the two doctors and take them back to Stanley. It was about 11.30am by then and I was delighted in my decision to stay on the island, especially as I had most of the day yet ahead of me. Having had pouring rain overnight and flown through quite a bit of rain and cloud on the way to Carcass, the weather had now improved and it was a lovely sunny afternoon, just perfect for hiking and bird watching.

Bleaker Island – Friday

So far my island hopping has taken me northwest, but this week’s visit to Bleaker Island has me travelling southwards for the first time. The flight is only 25 minutes but we took a small detour, first dropping off some passengers on Sea Lion Island before heading back to Bleaker. We had some lovely views of the gentoos from the air and it was great to get an overview of the colonies.

Once we landed I had a small drive around the part of the island around the settlement and the landing strip so that I would have an idea where to head out to see the wildlife. The main attractions here are the large gentoo and rockhopper colonies as well as some magellanic penguins. If you get lucky there are also the occasional king and macaroni penguins to be seen.

After getting myself settled into the accommodation, which I have to myself for the weekend, and having some lunch I headed back toward Sandy Bay with my cameras. The wind had got up quite a bit and there were occasional showers of rain. For the first time I wished that I had my hat with me, I’d debated bringing it but left it at Kay’s since I hadn’t needed it yet. I’d also been lazy and left my waterproofs in the house. Although I never got properly soaked I could have done with them, if only to keep me a bit warmer.

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Although I did wander down to the far end of the beach and spend some time with the gentoos, I spent most of my time watching the other birds. There were quite a few pools of water which were teeming with birdlife, including huge numbers of two-banded plovers and white-rumped sandpipers.There were also quite a few types of gull, mainly kelp gulls and dolphin gulls, both juvenile and adult, and also some brown-hooded gulls in their winter plumage. From the duck family there were both falkland steamer ducks and crested ducks. Closer to the water’s edge were the magellanic oystercatchers. Last but not least, there were plenty of falkland skuas hanging around. For the most part all of the birds were busy feeding, but every now and again they would get into small arguments and chase each other around.

 

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Magellanic oystercatcher

 

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Falkland steamer duck

 

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Brown-hooded gull (winter plumage)

 

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Two-banded plover

 

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White-rumped sandpiper

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Falkland Skua

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Immature dolphin gull

 

Heading back to the house I saw what was probably the most impressive double rainbow I’ve ever seen, sadly too wide to get the whole rainbow in shot.

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Pebble Island – Final Day

My last day on Pebble and my flight was due to go at around midday so I stayed fairly close to the settlement. I went out with a couple other guests and was dropped at Elephant Beach so that I could walk back via the ponds and see the birds there. It was a rather overcast day which got windier as the morning went on, but nothing like as strong a wind as on Friday when I arrived.

I spotted quite a few different birds on the ponds including black necked swans, white-tufted grebes, steamer ducks, silver teals and the ubiquitous upland geese. They were all at quite a distance and I wished I had my binoculars with me, not to mention a longer lens, so these are all just record shots.

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Black-necked swans, with steamer ducks

 

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White-tufted grebe

 

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White-tufted grebe (juvenile)

 

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Silver teal

 

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Upland goose (male)

 

I then headed back to the settlement and spent some time on the beach, mainly trying (not very successfully) to get photos of the long-tailed meadow larks but also photographing the magellanic oystercatchers and a couple rock shags.

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Magellanic oystercatcher

 

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Kelp geese

 

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Crested duck

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Rock shag

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Long-tailed meadowlark

The Islander plane turned up nicely on time at around 12.30 and offloaded all its passenger. As the only passenger for the first 10 minute hop to Saunders I got the front seat again and caught up with pilot Dan who’d flown me back to Stanley a fortnight ago. At Saunders we dropped off three boxes of crisps and picked up 3 more passengers who had been camping. When we got back to Stanley I took advantage of my newly found cheekiness and asked them for a lift back into town!

Back at Kay’s I went out for a short run (three weeks in, my first run here!) and after dinner settled down with my laptop to go through my photos to the background of Dancing on Ice which has entered my life the last 3 Sundays.

Pebble Island – War Memorials

Pebble Island is known for both its wildlife and its numerous wrecks of Argentine planes dating back to the 1982 war. We came across a number of the wrecks on my tour down to the west end of the island. It’s incredible how well the wrecks are preserved, and also how scattered the sections of the planes are from their original impact sites. There are also a couple of memorials, to the crew of the HMS Coventry who was sunk north of the island and the crew of an Argentine Learjet.

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Pebble Island – Landscapes

I spent all of Saturday on a tour down to the west end of the island. Pebble has a beautiful coastline with sandy, rocky and pebbled beaches and I was lucky to have a mainly sunny day to enjoy them. Unfortunately whilst I was happily tramping around the rocks the sole of one of my hiking boots detached itself so I flapped around for the rest of the day!

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Pebble Island – Birds

We saw plenty of birds on my tour of the islands, most notable being another few macaroni penguins mixed in with the rockhoppers. I also saw my first rock shags, some blackish oystercatchers and a juvenile black-crowned night heron. 

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A lot of the rockhoppers are moulting and looking rather miserable!

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There were a large number of turkey vultures around, particularly at the shag colony, which was explained when I spotted a shag corpse being guarded over by a couple of caracaras. Despite their size, the turkey vultures are rather timid and flew off quickly when I walked in their direction. They made a very impressive sight circling around overhead whilst I sat on the rocks with the shags.

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I’ve seen a lot of king/imperial shags but until today had yet to see any rock shags. At first I only spotted king shags in this colony but then I noticed that there were some rock shags mixed amongst them. They were all on the north side of the rocks so the sun was directly behind them. 

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This juvenile night heron was standing amongst the rock shags but then flew off to another set of rocks, far more convenient for me in terms of the light direction!

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Finally, at the same stretch of beach I spotted a family of blackish oystercatchers, which seem to be less common than the magellanic oystercatchers.

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