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 – 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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Pebble Island

I had some good news this week as the first step of our job allocations was published and I have been allocated to Scotland. The next step is to rank the job programmes in Scotland and I’ll find out which programme I get in another fortnight or so. Fingers crossed that I’ll get one of my choices in Dundee.

I’ve spent most of this week in theatre, assisting in an appendectomy at the start of the week and working with the anaesthetist the rest of the week. We’ve got an oral-maxillofacial surgeon here for two weeks and he’s got a long list of patients for surgery, not only a lot of dental procedures but also plastics. It’s been a great experience for me, and also rather intense, as the anaesthetist has been doing what all anaesthetists seem to do and grilling me mercilessly.

I woke up this morning to strong winds and pouring rain, but fortunately my flight out to Pebble Island still went ahead. The flights wasn’t as bumpy as I thought it might be but having stopped at Port Howard to pick up a couple of passengers it felt like we were flying sideways for the remaining 10 minutes to Pebble. When we arrived the pilot had to do some nifty work to get us down on the ground, and his take off a few minutes later was even more impressive as he fought the wind. I made a small video which I’ll try and get online once I’m back home and have easier internet access.

It was already late afternoon by the time I arrived and after a quick cup of tea I headed out in the rover with my host for a short drive down to the east end of the island where there are magellanic penguins, gentoos, cormorants, rockhoppers and if you’re lucky, the occasional macaroni, the one type of penguin here that I haven’t yet seen.

It was another good bit of Falklands offroad driving, including a long stretch along Elephant Beach, the longest sandy beach in the islands and currently home to a decomposing whale.

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After a short stop at the whale we continued on to the penguins, stopping first at the gentoos for a few minutes before heading on to the cliffs where the rockhoppers and cormorants hang out. It was difficult to keep my balance in the strong winds and even harder to keep the camera anything approaching steady so I didn’t get many photographs. The gentoos were really struggling to come in out of the sea as they were being buffeted by the waves.

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We then stopped at another cliff where a macaroni penguin can sometimes be found. We struggled out of the rover against the wind and went to the cliff edge to peer over. Sure enough, there huddled against a rock was a single macaroni, orange features easily distinguishing it from the rockhoppers. Looking straight down to it, with grass waving in the wind in front of me, the composition wasn’t brilliant, but at least I’ve seen my first ever macaroni penguin. Tomorrow I’m heading up to the west end of the island where there are more rockhopper colonies and the possibility of additional macaroni sightings, so perhaps I can muster up something more photogenic. Hopefully the weather will improve overnight and make things a little easier.

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Volunteer Point

This weekend’s visit was to Volunteer Point, renowned for its king penguins, but also home to a large population of magellanic and gentoo penguins. I was planning to go out on Friday afternoon, but having arrived at the hospital to find that the Caesarian section I was going to attend had already taken place during the night, the surgeon suggested that I go out with the visiting specialists in the morning and take advantage of the extra time. Who was I to argue?!

There is a house you can stay at but I decided to camp, taking advantage of being able to borrow a tent and sleeping bag from Kay. I also had to take my own water for the weekend so I was heavy laden and had to conscript a fellow guest to help me carry everything down to the hotel where we were picked up.

Volunteer Point is not actually that far away from Stanley, but it takes about 2 and a half hours to get there as the final 10 miles or so are off road, and take about 90 minutes to cover. It takes an experienced driver to both tackle the terrain and to find their way. Having not seen a single road sign since I’d arrived in the Falklands, I was amused to see the number of signs for Volunteer Point, the last one pointing off into the distance as the road ends and the off road section begins!

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Cake is very popular in the Falklands! This was at Johnson’s Harbour, the end of the road.

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It’s a popular tourist destination, and when the large cruise ships come in forty or so rovers are required to transport passengers for their dose of penguin spotting. Fortunately it was a quiet weekend and there were never that many people about. I wasn’t the only one camping, by coincidence one of the physios from the hospital was camping too with her husband and a couple of friends which made for sociable evenings, particularly as they were generous with their tea and alcohol supplies!

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My home for the weekend, amazing to go to sleep listening to the penguins.

We had fairly good weather, with mostly bright sunny days but unfortunately it was quite cloudy in the mornings and evenings and the sunrise/sunsets weren’t as good as we had hoped. It has a reputation for spectacular skies but it wasn’t to be on this occasion. The second night we had rain and strong winds and I woke up at 2.30am to find the tent trying to collapse in on me, which necessitated a speedy reorganisation of everything before I ended up with a lot of wet belongings. It settled eventually and I got back to sleep somewhere around 4am, still managing to drag myself up before sunrise.

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The first morning, having been up at 5.30 in the hope of a good sunrise, we were just thinking of heading back to our tents for a little while when we spotted a sea lion coming into shore in the hope of nabbing himself some penguins for breakfast. In seconds all the penguins had fled the beach and left him disappointed. He made another landing further up but with no luck. The sun having gone behind a large cloud, all the penguins having fled and the sea lion back in the water we decided a bit more sleep was in order.

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The main attractions for the weekend were, of course, the penguins but there were also a lot of smaller birds on the beach feasting on the abundant supply of insects. They were a mix of plovers and sandpipers and both moved very fast but I did manage to get some photos that I was pleased with eventually. Most of the penguin photos are in separate posts.

 

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Two-banded plover

 

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Two-banded plover

 

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White-rumped sandpiper

 

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Falkland steamer ducks

 

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Magellanic oystercatchers

 

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Magellanic oystercatcher

 

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Dolphin gull