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Category Archives: Saunders Island
We are currently at anchor off the north-west coast of the Falkland Islands. Peale’s dolphins accompanied us as we approached the islands and now we are swingling gently at anchor surrounded by the rolling green hills of the islands with albatross and the occasional seal swimming about. It is always easy to forget the beauty of the Falklands as we head towards South Georgia with its excess of wildlife, but once you arrive you are quickly reminded of the fact that 80% of the worlds black browed albatross nest here and that the white sandy beaches of Carcass and Saunders islands offer a unique and unforgettable experience all of their own. Tomorrow we will be walking among mixed colonies of albatross, rock-hopper penguins and shags and taking advantage of the home grown hospitality of the islanders. A great way to start a fantastic journey, and a huge itinerary ahead of us …can’t wait!
Today we arrived in the Falkland Islands and had two stops where birds where definitely the main feature. The first stop was Saunders Island with nesting black brow albatross, Magellanic penguins and gentoo penguins, all attended by their attendant crown of hungry scavenger including Striated Caracaras and Turkey Vultures – an amazing sight with some stunning wildlife and behaviours to observe, but for me the highlight was Carcass Island. Not as spectacular in terms of piles of wildlife, but here you sit on the beach and are literally harassed by the birds. The cheeky tussock birds flit around the strand line on the beach and will sit on your knee with a curious expression wondering what kind of strange apparition you are. The birds here are pretty unique as the island is cat and rat free which means these guileless birds are safe for now, whilst in much of their previous range they have disappeared. And it is not surprising – today on sat in the palm of my hand briefly. They have absolutely no fear, which does not bode well in the face of introduced predators. Not that the island doesn’t have it’s own predators… well scavengers really. When the tussock birds aren’t stealing the show, the striated caracaras are always happy to perform. One particular opportunistic individual spent several minutes trying to tear my gumboot apart (with my foot inside) while others hovered only feet above wondering if I presented a meal opportunity. It is really splendid to see a host of animals that are absolutely fearless of humans.
What a way to start the New Year! This morning we pulled into the North West islands of the Falkland group and got ashore to wander amidst the fantastic avifauna of the Falklands set amidst rolling green hill and intense aqua blue water that is crystal clear and inviting despite being just a tad to cool for a swim. The first stop was a pretty spectacular location – Saunders Island. Here we see Gentoo Penguins with well-grown chicks nesting on grass with Striated Caracaras and Turkey Vultures prowling around looking for a free meal. Kind of strange seeing the penguins on a green backdrop after a month of seeing them on the clean white blanket of Antarctic snow … well clean except for the deposits of pink guano. After a while looking at the Gentoos we were then free to roam around the shore amidst the Magellanic Penguin burrows towards the cliffs where the Rockhopper Penguins have staked their territory just next door the Black-browed Albatross nests. The Falklands is the largest and most important breeding site for both these species, with the albatross in particular representing 80% of the global population. Just stunning to watch these majestic animals glide in and then greet their mate and chick with delicate mutual preening displays and calls. And that was just the morning! In the evening we landed at Carcass Island and managed to stretch our legs while walking through the tussock grass to the local homestead where we were plied with home cooked cake and tea in the best English tradition. All up we saw 28 species of birds including two endemic species, the Cobb’s Wren and the Falkland Steamer Duck which are both found no where else on the Earth and former are becoming hard to find even here due to the introduced rats, cats and mice that make an easy meal of these incredibly trusting creatures. My favourite bird for the day is the Tussock Bird, which is happy to sit on your toes and twitter at you … no wonder the cats have a liking for them! And talking of twittering… after the silence of the Antarctic it is pretty special to hear the song of birds flitting around the trees on New Years. Very sweet music to greet 2011.