Tag Archives: Oystercatchers

Falkland Islands 1 – Saunders

Sunday 10 March 2024 – During yesterday evening’s recap and the briefing for today, Pippa warned us that it might be a bit blowy as we made our way from Stanley, on East Falklands, around the north to Saunders Island, off the coast of West Falkland.

She was right.  It was very blowy.  Hondius did her best, and I suppose it could have been worse; we sailed into the teeth of a westerly of some 50 knots, so the motion was just pitching, rather both pitching and rolling.  But sleep was difficult during the night as we discovered all the bits of the cabin that creaked and rattled as they were shaken up.  However, having arrived at a part of Saunders called The Neck

all appeared to be calm and the sun appeared to be about to rise.  So the landing was On.

The attraction for Saunders was the possibility of seeing a black-browed albatross colony, which would include chicks, something we hadn’t seen before,  When we landed, there were, of course, penguins

and also a reception committee in the form of the owners who turned up in a Land Rover laden with possible goodies for us punters to buy.

We didn’t take up on the offer, but instead set off in search of the albatrosses, past an old try pot, as would have been used by sealers in the Good Old Days

and masses of gentoo penguins, who were moulting, and therefore not all that active.

They were using a considerable breeze to help in the process, and the feathers were everywhere.

Some penguins were building nests, which largely involved stealing building materials from other nest builders

and this was happening all around a variable hawk

which appeared to be eating the remains of a dead penguin.  As with the skua at St. Andrews Bay, the penguins didn’t appear to be too affected by this,

and just carried on moulting around the hawk.

The route we followed to the albatross colony (marked out, as ever, by red poles placed by our guides) led past a uniquely Falkland Islands scene.

Observant readers will note that these penguins are not gentoos, but actually king penguins; there were a few of these around also, some with their fur-coated chicks,

and not, it would seem, in the best of moods at times.  Our track led us past what we assume is an art installation

since it was rather far inland for a whale to have stranded itself on its own – and then have a dolphin land on top of it.  The path led up a hill, past the inevitable uplands geese,

peaty soil

and evidence of a penguin variety we were meeting for the first time – magellanic penguins,

who nest in burrows.  We even found one with a chick in it

and Jane managed to capture a shot that included another inhabitant of that burrow

which we think might have been the mother.  The penguins and their burrows dotted the landscape

to the extent that one had to be a bit careful not to stumble into one as we walked.

Because stumbling became the standard method of progress; as we climbed the hill and rounded the headland

the wind increased enormously, to the point where it was at times difficult to keep one’s balance.  Burrowing suddenly seemed to be quite a good survival strategy.

Shortly after I took the shot above, we passed another penguin colony,

and these were of, again, a variety new to us – rockhoppers.

You can see how impressed they are with the wind. The colony also includes cormorants

which give the rockhoppers added protection, since a skua won’t take on a cormorant.

Finally, in the teeth of a really, really strong wind, we reached the albatross colony, with the chicks clearly visible. Albatross nests are tall mud structures with a concave top, wherein sits first the egg and then the growing chick, which only leaves its “throne” when it is fledged and flies. The nests get taller each year.

This is what the punter had really come to see.

I divided my time between trying not to fall over and watching the behaviour of the parents and chicks.  The chicks were hungry, and pestered the parent for food

which was occasionally dispensed in traditional fashion.

When the parent had dispensed all the food it had brought, it walked away from the chick, faced into wind and

simply flew away.  Yes, I have video….

After a while of watching this we started the journey back to the landing area, which was a little less tiresome as the wind was behind us.  We retraced our steps to find that a few striated caracaras had arrived.

These are birds of a curious disposition, also known as Johnny Rooks, and unafraid of humans – I nearly got a shot of the arse end one which was dive bombing me; and someone else nearly had a hat taken off his head.

We got back to the landing area, where we could see magellanic oystercatchers fossicking about

alongside flightless steamer ducks

kelp gulls and, of course, penguins.

So ended the morning, and we splashed our way back in very gusty winds to Hondius on a Zodiac and headed for lunch.   The afternoon promised a visit to another island and the possibility of tea and cakes, which sounded quite appealing.  Watch this space to see how it turned out.