TRAVELLING NATURALIST TRIP REPORT

Fantastic Falkland Islands

20 January to 1 February, 2004


Leader:
Tim Earl

Highlights:

Rockhopper penguins coming up to investigate us as we sat watching them on Saunders and Sea Lion islands - one even pecked at the sole of Dee's hiking boots.

Five penguin species on the trip overall.

The surreal experiences of driving along beaches past penguins and the ever-present albatrosses when looking out to sea.

Silvery grebes on Big Pond, Pebble Island.

Albatrosses with chicks on Saunders Island - their eye-brows seemed to be applied mascara.

Daily sightings of Orcas on Sea Lion Island.

Two Striated caracaras that hopped up to Anne and Veronica as they sat next to the Rockhopper colony on Sea Lion Island.

Black-browed albatrosses coming up behind the boat with Sooty and Great shearwaters, White-chinned petrels, and six Peale's dolphins off Kidney Island on the boat trip.

DAILY DIARY

Tuesday 20 January

We met at Brize Norton and ate at the Gateway refectory prior to the flight. Sadly, we learned that the RAF needed their Tristar jets elsewhere and a British Midland Airbus was to take us down to the islands. Departure was on time and we settled down to sleep.

Wednesday 21 January

We arrived in Ascension on time just after dawn. A number of Sooty terns, the first we have seen on a Falklands trip, were drifting past. They were joined after 15 minutes by a few distant Ascension Island frigatebirds. Common (Indian) mynah and Island canary were also seen. Happily, a frigatebird came extremely close just before we re-boarded the aircraft.

The flight to the Falklands is one of the easiest (and most expensive) long-hauls in the world. Some of us had slept well overnight and after buying postcards and souvenirs in the NAAFI shop on Ascension we settled down for the day flight to the Falkland Islands.

After an uneventful journey we arrived at Mount Pleasant Airport, East Falkland, at 1.30pm. Our first birds at the airport were Upland geese and a few Turkey vultures. Jenny Luxton from Stanley Services, who had organised our visit, was at the airport with Bonny and Ken Greenland from Darwin Lodge.

A competition broke out between our host and hostess as they drove us in two vehicles to the settlement with Bonny taking great delight in finding eight Black-necked swans before Ken.

We had plenty of time before dinner and after freshening up went for a walk around the enchanting Darwin settlement recording 24 species at the pre-dinner call-over. These included Antarctic (Southern) giant petrel, South American tern, Rock shag, breeding precariously on the piles of an old jetty, Black-crowned night-heron, the endemic Falkland flightless steamer-duck, Magellanic and Blackish oystercatcher, Falkland (Austral) thrush and Long-tailed meadowlark. A pool behind the lodge was checked to discover three Speckled teal and our first Long-tailed meadowlarks. Ken and Bonny gave us their fabulous (but standard) welcome, not only in friendly and homely hospitality but also in the form of a meal of soup, followed by Falklands' lamb and two huge chocolate desserts.

Ascension Island birds:

FRIGATEBIRDS

Ascension Island frigatebird

TERNS

Sooty tern

STARLINGS

Common mynah

FINCHES

Island canary

Thursday 22 January

Some of us awoke at 4.30am, finally realising by the darkness and lack of bird song that something was wrong - the alarm had gone of as set at 7.30 but the clock was still on UK timeÖ Overcast weather at breakfast was replaced later by bright sun and a warm breeze.

Dark-faced ground tyrants were flitting around during breakfast accompanied by a few Black-chinned siskins. A European hare seen in the lodge garden the night before was still nibbling grass as we tucked into our meal.

Ken and I drove us out to San Carlos in the morning, stopping to admire lots of White-rumped sandpipers found picking around on a beach close to the road, Two-banded plovers with a chick, Rufous-chested dotterel, Black-throated finches and a Red-backed hawk. We visited the British war cemetery at San Carlos, always a moving experience, where a second hawk was seen. We were running late for lunch and stopped only to take a few photographs on the return journey.

Lunch was followed by a tour of the Darwin battlefield in which the events leading up to the Argentinean surrender of Goose Green were charted in detail by Ken. It was an illuminating and somewhat chilling experience, widely appreciated by the group.

As ever in the Falklands we watched birds here and there but things really got under way as we walked back to the lodge from Goose Green in the late afternoon sunshine.

Our first find was a party of Magellanic penguins waddling ashore on a tussock island giving us distant but good 'scope views. A couple of juvenile Black-crowned night-herons were seen in an old wreck while several Brown skuas, both oystercatchers and the resident steamerducks were also studied. Our first Dolphin gull put in an appearance prompting the description by Janet that it had been 'dusted in soot and blown clean'.

Birds of Darwin:

PENGUINS

Magellanic penguin

SHEARWATERS & PETRELS

Antarctic (Southern) giant petrel

CORMORANTS

Rock shag

King cormorant (Blue-eyed shag)

HERONS, EGRETS & BITTERNS

Black-crowned night-heron

SWANS, GEESE & DUCKS

Black-necked swan (en-route)

Upland (Magellanic) goose

Kelp goose

Ruddy-headed goose

Falkland steamerduck

Speckled teal

Mallard

(Patagonian) Crested duck

NEW WORLD VULTURES

Turkey vulture

HAWKS, EAGLES & KITES

Variable (Red-backed) hawk

OYSTERCATCHERS

Magellanic oystercatcher

Blackish oystercatcher

PLOVERS & LAPWINGS

Two-banded plover

SANDPIPERS

White-rumped sandpiper

SKUAS

Brown (Sub-Antarctic or Southern) skua

GULLS

Kelp gull

Dolphin gull

TERNS

South American tern

TYRANT FLYCATCHERS

Dark-faced ground-tyrant

WAGTAILS & PIPITS

Correndera pipit

THRUSHES

Austral thrush

OLD WORLD SPARROWS

House sparrow

FINCHES

Black-chinned siskin

TRUE BUNTINGS

Canary-winged finch

TROUPIALS & ALLIES

Long-tailed meadowlark
Mammals of Darwin:

RABBITS & HARES

European hare

Friday 23 January

The weather dawned calm and sunny - a perfect Falkland Island summer's day. And an early departure - the first of five inter-island flights organised brilliantly by FIGAS, the Falkland Islands Government Air Service.

It was with some sadness we said our goodbyes to Bonny and Ken. A telephone call told us that the two aircraft we were to leave on were arriving at 9.20 with only a few minutes between them and we scrambled for Darwin International Airport.

After a 25-minute flight we arrived at Pebble Island where Jacqui and her uncle Pat met us and took us down to the lodge. After sorting ourselves out we set off on a walk to the island's jetty and out to Elephant Beach where we were thrilled to see two Commerson's dolphins close inshore.

The group returned to the lodge for lunch after which some walked to and along Elephant Beach while I drove the rest to a large pond where we were joined by the walkers. Jacqui caught up with us at the pond where we were enjoying views of Silvery and White-tufted grebes, three pairs of Black-necked swans each with cygnets, and a pair of Chiloe (Southern) wigeon, again with young.

Suddenly the Falklands' unpredictable weather struck and in minutes we went from beautiful warm sunshine to drizzle and dense mist which was to hang around for the next 36 hours. This seriously hampered our exploration of Pebble Island's ponds and we made our way slowly up towards Tamar Point where we were greeted by our first Rockhopper penguins which appeared to be guarded by a Brown skua which was sitting on a post of a fence line which ran through the colony. It was waiting for opportunities to raid the colony. Amazingly, King cormorants were nesting with the rockies, missing the wire fence by a hair's breadth as they came in to land. A Peregrine shot past us in the mist giving poor views to some group members.

Magellanic penguins had been rolling their heads at the vehicles as we passed on the way up, giving the group almost a surfeit of penguins. Jacqui and I decided to keep quiet about the last colony we visited - Gentoo penguins and it was Stephen who discovered their identity as we approached.

We returned to the lodge happy despite the weather. Your author was able to hide his worry about the effect weather might have on the next day's activities.

Saturday 24 January

A day trip to Saunders is always a great treat but today's weather looked as if it would prevent our departure. Low cloud, mist and a strong cross-wind made flying look tricky. The FIGAS planes turned up at 9.15, however, and picked us up. After fascinating flights along Pebble Island, plotting the course of tomorrow's day-trip to the west end of the island, around Kepple Island, they arrived at Saunders with a gap of about 15 minutes between them. This gave time for the first passengers to see two Crested caracaras, three Brown-hooded gulls and a feeding flock of Southern giant petrels. Sadly, all had gone by the time the second aircraft arrived.

We stopped off at the island's shearing sheds to see some of the 15,000 sheep being fleeced, a fascinating activity.

There is something about the gentle way in which Black-browed albatross go through their domestic arrangements which is particularly endearing. The wind had risen to gale-force and the birds were in their element as they sped in to drop next to mates on the egg-cup shaped nests. Sitting next to the colony, watching birds come in from the sea, greet their mates with intricate tail-fanning, bill clapping and mutual preening is a great wildlife experience. The birds appear to accept their human visitors as rather odd looking albatrosses and ignore us as we wonder at their activities.

After watching them for some time we hiked the mile or so to a Rockhopper colony where the standard technique of sitting well away from the birds prompted a delegation to march out and examine us - well Dee at least. They even picked bits of mud from her boots.

Walking down to a lower sub-colony, we were delighted to find a lone Macaroni penguin braying for a mate among the Rockies. It was larger than the Rockhoppers and had beautiful orange, pasta-like plumes.

The penguin experience was marred a few minutes later when we went down to watch the penguins coming ashore through massive waves breaking at the base of the cliffs. After a horrendous-looking landing the birds hopped, true to their name, up the rocks and onto ledges which led up the cliffs - an arduous journey.

To our horror, two other tourists were walking down the ledges used by the penguins. They continued with the thoughtless venture despite pleas from us to return and leave the penguins in peace.

We were driven back to the settlement to catch our planes back to Pebble. On the way we stopped to admire a Brown-hooded gull 'paddling' in a rock pool. Low cloud encouraged our hostess to take an alternative route back via the first British settlement in the Falklands where remains of the original warehouses and homes still exist.

The weather looked terrible and we had visions of staying on the island overnight but FIGAS chief pilot Eddie ?? came to the rescue and had the whole group back on Pebble in just a few minutes of brilliant airmanship.

Birds of Saunders Island:

PENGUINS

Rockhopper penguin

Macaroni penguin

Magellanic penguin

ALBATROSSES

Black-browed albatross

SHEARWATERS & PETRELS

Antarctic (Southern) giant petrel

CORMORANTS

Rock shag

King cormorant

SWANS, GEESE & DUCKS

Upland goose

Kelp goose (hundreds)

Falkland steamerduck

Crested duck

NEW WORLD VULTURES

Turkey vulture

FALCONS & CARACARAS

Crested caracara

OYSTERCATCHERS

Magellanic oystercatcher

Blackish oystercatcher

PLOVERS & LAPWINGS

Two-banded plover

Rufous-chested dotterel

JAEGERS & SKUAS

Brown skua

GULLS

Dolphin gull

Kelp gull

Brown-hooded gull

TERNS

South American tern

TYRANT FLYCATCHERS

Dark-faced ground-tyrant

WAGTAILS & PIPITS

Correndera pipit

THRUSHES

Austral thrush

TRUE BUNTINGS

Canary-winged finch

Sunday 25 January

Five penguin species in a day can be achieved in only one place in the world, Pebble Island - to the best of our knowledge - but we missed that target seeing Gentoo, Magellanic, Rockhopper and Macaroni on our trip up to the west end. A King penguin sometimes associates with the Gentoos but was missing this year.

The day started with a pre-breakfast drive to Jenesta Point to do a seawatch. The weather was still miserable and I missed the turning to the point with the result that we had just 45 minutes for seawatching. This was enough for us to see hundreds of Sooty shearwaters, with the bonus of a few Great shearwaters and White-chinned petrels, besides the usual Black-browed albatrosses in their hundreds.

Setting off west after breakfast, the first penguins we saw were a colony of Gentoo, at least two miles from the nearest beach, way up on the slopes of Middle Mountain. These were entertaining as some pointed their beaks to the sky and brayed, while the newly returned birds were chased around and through the rookery by hungry chicks.

We drove on to a Rockhopper rookery near Marble Mountain where another two Macaroni penguins were found by Dee. Birds were watched coming in through the surf and one half-way up the cliff was checked carefully in case it was an Erect-crested - it was not.

It was with reluctance that we set off back for home, stopping at Green Rincon for a late lunch (which included a penguin biscuit) and views of the Southern giant petrel colony. Closer views were obtained from a headland about 150m away but we were upwind of the birds which are terribly timid. When one or two started to leave we turned around and left the colony in peace.

Birds of Pebble Island:

PENGUINS

Gentoo penguin

Rockhopper penguin

Macaroni penguin

Magellanic penguin

GREBES

White-tufted grebe

Silvery grebe

ALBATROSSES

Black-browed albatross

SHEARWATERS & PETRELS

Antarctic (Southern) giant petrel

CORMORANTS

Rock shag

King cormorant

HERONS, EGRETS & BITTERNS

Black-crowned night-heron

SWANS, GEESE & DUCKS

Black-necked swan

Upland goose

Kelp goose

Ruddy-headed goose

Falkland steamerduck

Chiloe wigeon

Speckled teal

Crested duck

NEW WORLD VULTURES

Turkey vulture

HAWKS, EAGLES & KITES

Variable (Red-backed) hawk

FALCONS & CARACARAS

Peregrine falcon

OYSTERCATCHERS

Magellanic oystercatcher

Blackish oystercatcher

PLOVERS & LAPWINGS

Two-banded plover

Rufous-chested dotterel

SANDPIPERS

South American snipe

Fuegian snipe

White-rumped sandpiper

SHEATHBILLS

Snowy sheathbill

JAEGERS & SKUAS

Brown skua

GULLS

Dolphin gull

Kelp gull

TERNS

South American tern

TYRANT FLYCATCHERS

Dark-faced ground-tyrant

PIPITS

Correndera pipit

THRUSHES

Austral thrush

FINCHES

Black-chinned siskin

TRUE BUNTINGS

Canary-winged finch

Mammals of Pebble Island:

CATS

Wild Cat (Feral cat)

MARINE DOLPHINS

Commerson's dolphin

Monday 26 January

It was a big birthday for Dee today and the celebrations started with a pile of cards and small presents from home. Her big gift from the Falklands was a pod of about six Orcas waiting for her arrival at Sea Lion Island. She was in the second aircraft to arrive and met the others waiting for her impatiently. They had seen the largest of the dolphin family while enjoying 'smoko' - tea and cakes - in the lodge lounge.

Sea Lion Lodge is the most popular site in the Falklands and was quite busy as a result, quite a contrast to the tour to date on which we had seen only six or seven other tourists.

We left on a familiarisation tour which turned into a wildlife bonanza. Our first stop was at the South American sea lion cliffs where, with a little difficulty, we were able to see the huge beachmaster males which appeared to be sleeping while guarding their harems.

Up on the Rockhopper penguin colony we watched Blackish cinclodes (Tussock-birds) as they picked up sand-hopper-like insects from under stones turned over for them. Snowy sheathbills and Dolphin gulls were working the mixed colonies of penguins and King cormorants, looking for dropped food, smashed eggs or dead chicks, accompanied by a few ever-present Brown skuas.

The sea seems to boil at the base of a steep ramp which leads up the cliff making the attempts of Rockhoppers to get up to the cliff-top colonies all the more impressive. We watched small groups appear to take several poundings before gaining a toe-hold and finally emerging at the cliff top some minutes later. These truly are extraordinary birds, although Denise thought they had chosen a rather difficult way of life.

A memorial to HMS Sheffield also sits on the cliff top and we took a few minutes to think of those who died in her. Our thoughts were quickly dragged back to reality and wildlife when two Striated caracaras flew up to Veronica and Anne, settling down as if in telepathic communication with the two visitors.

A quick stop at Beaver Pond (named after the sea-planes which used to land on it) produced a pair of Crested Caracaras and a Black-crowned night-heron.

Cobb's wren, an endemic species closely related to House wren, was found picking among the stones and kelp fronds when we stopped at Gulch Beach. They and the ubiquitous Blackish cinclodes were picking among sleeping South American elephant seal groups.

Rock shags were nesting at the Gulch harbour where the supply ship is unloaded and Austral (Falklands) thrushes sat on the Land-Rover as we explored.

Huge waves were calmed by massive kelp beds and we considered the protection afforded to the islands from these two plants.

Dee's birthday celebrations continued into the evening with excellent Chilean champagne and a huge cake in lieu of a dessert.

The party spilled out into the sunset as we tramped up to the lodge garden a mile away where we saw at least two Short-eared owls in the failing light. A spell on our backs in the grass enabled us to continue star-watching, although our identification of the various heavenly bodies was a little suspect. Jupiter and its moons was clear as was Orion's Belt with the Betelgeuse nebulus. A snipe was heard drumming.

Tuesday 27 January

The prospect of seeing Orcas was too exciting to stay in bed and several us set off before breakfast for a vigil at Elephant Corner. We were rewarded with a beautiful tranquil morning with a large roost of Brown-hooded gulls on the brilliant white sand (pictures of the beaches give one of the reasons people falsely believe these holidays are to snow-covered islands) and South American elephant seals sparring with each other.

The Orcas turned up at about 7.50 - they must have known breakfast was at 8.00. We watched the pod trying to estimate numbers for half an hour. There were at least three females and a calf, which seemed attached to one of the females by an invisible rope so closely did they swim together, and possibly two males. They came close to us as we sat on the beach causing a group of Magellanic penguins to dither nervously rather than go to sea.

Happily, Rob McKay and his Chilean staff are well used to guests distracted by wildlife and we enjoyed a great breakfast with lots of Orca talka.

One or two guests had not ventured out but were still able to get good views of the great mammals from the lodge just after breakfast.

We hiked down to the Gentoo colonies where four King penguins were also found - our fifth species of penguin on the trip. Orcas were again seen before we cut across the Neck to Cow Point. A huge flock of roosting terns was found - almost all South American tern, but after searching we spotted two of our home-grown Common terns, like us having a break in the Falklands from the northern winter. A sea-watch produced good sightings of Sooty shearwaters and Black-browed albatrosses.

Some folk decided to go their own way today but the main walk was up to the Long Pond where we spent time getting pictures of the Silvery grebes, some of which had chicks on their backs which were fed by the other parent.

We went down to the Sea Lions and watched them before experiencing the tussock habitat with a walk to Elephant Corner. Happily, a Sedge wren, put in an appearance at one of our stops and a young Sea Lion was found on a pebbly beach.

Many of the now familiar birds were seen on the way back and we commented on how the experience was a little like walking through a David Attenborough set.

We again went out after dinner but only your author saw a Short-eared owl - from the top of the Land-Rover. We again watched heavenly bodies, this time with the benefit of book knowledge gained by Denise and Stephen during the day. An early setting planet we thought might be Mercury, Saturn and its ring was showing well, Mars and the real Southern Cross were found as was Sirius.

Wednesday 28 January

This was a go as you please day although some of us returned to look for Orcas (with success) before and after breakfast. Everyone, except me, chose to take a packed lunch.

Denise and Stephen went to the Rockhoppers, returning later to watch the Gentoo penguin colonies. Dee, Janet and Nigel walked to the Long Pond and I returned to Elephant Corner with Veronica and Anne.

I explored the east end of the island, walking along a beach I had never visited before to do a sea-watch in the afternoon. Lots of Sooty shearwaters were seen and I discovered some of the Elephant seals missing from their main beach - 73 in total.

Birds of Sea Lion Island:

PENGUINS

King penguin

Gentoo penguin

Rockhopper penguin

Magellanic penguin

GREBES

Silvery grebe

ALBATROSSES

Black-browed albatross

SHEARWATERS & PETRELS

Antarctic (Southern) giant petrel

CORMORANTS

Rock shag

King cormorant)

HERONS, EGRETS & BITTERNS

Black-crowned night-heron

SWANS, GEESE & DUCKS

Upland (Magellanic) goose

Kelp goose

Ruddy-headed goose

Falkland steamerduck

Chiloe wigeon

Speckled teal

Crested duck

Silver teal

NEW WORLD VULTURES

Turkey vulture

FALCONS & CARACARAS

Striated caracara

Crested caracara

OYSTERCATCHERS

Magellanic oystercatcher

Blackish oystercatcher

PLOVERS & LAPWINGS

Two-banded plover

Rufous-chested dotterel

SANDPIPERS

South American snipe

Fuegian snipe

White-rumped sandpiper

SHEATHBILLS

Snowy sheathbill

JAEGERS & SKUAS

Brown (Sub-Antarctic or Southern) skua

GULLS

Dolphin gull

Kelp gull

Brown-hooded gull

TERNS

South American tern

OVENBIRDS

Blackish cinclodes

TYRANT FLYCATCHERS

Dark-faced ground-tyrant

WAGTAILS & PIPITS

Correndera pipit

WRENS

Cobb's wren

Sedge wren

THRUSHES

Austral thrush

FINCHES

Black-chinned siskin

TRUE BUNTINGS

Canary-winged finch

Mammals of Sea Lion Island:

EARED SEALS

South American sea-lion

EARLESS SEALS

Southern elephant seal

MARINE DOLPHINS

Orca (Killer whale)

Thursday 29 January

For the fourth day running we started with a successful Orca watch before breakfast. This species has never been seen by a Travelling Naturalist group in January before and we were thrilled to have seen them every day.

It was with reluctance that we boarded the FIGAS aircraft for the 30-minute flight to Port Stanley. The airline had done us proud once again with excellent timings and we were all in our rooms at the Malvina Hotel by 11am.

The second flight taking off from Sea Lion circled Elephant Corner looking for the Orcas but without success.

The two or three hours we had in Stanley were used to buy souvenirs, remaining postcards, philatelic products, wildlife prints and Falklands woollens.

We met for an early lunch and were picked up by Jenny from Stanley Services to catch our boat for the trip out to sea. The previous night's strong easterly wind had dropped but there was a good swell, particularly as we came out of Stanley Sound. By then, however, the boat had been able to approach a raft of about 60 Sooty shearwaters and we were looking forward to the treats ahead.

Our first stop was at Kidney Island where about eight juvenile Sea lions were on the beach. They clearly considered coming out to investigate us but finally entered the water for a few metres only. A Blackish cinclodes (Tussock-bird) flew out to the boat and we noticed a few Dark-faced ground-tyrants on the beach.

As we left the island the boat was joined by about six Peal's dolphins which followed us around a point into the open sea. The boat paused briefly for us to look at a Rockhopper penguin colony from the water and then we headed out into deep water.

The engines were throttled back after about half an hour and we slowly motored south as 'chum' was dropped into the water forming an oily slick, marked by floating Rice Krispies.

Soon seabirds were swooping around the boat looking for the potential food source. Sooty and Great shearwaters, White-chinned petrels and Black-browed albatrosses were all seen superbly close but sadly no storm-petrels, prions or Wandering albatrosses were attracted.

It was a terrific spectacle, nevertheless, and we were all absorbed by the wonder of seeing birds which had been passing the British Isles on migration only a few months before.

Seabirds seen on the pelagic trip:

PENGUINS

Rockhopper penguin

Magellanic penguin

ALBATROSSES

Wandering albatross

Black-browed albatross

SHEARWATERS & PETRELS

Antarctic (Southern) giant petrel

White-chinned petrel

Sooty shearwater

DIVING-PETRELS

Common diving-petrel

CORMORANTS

Rock shag

Imperial shag (King or Blue-eyed cormorant)

JAEGERS & SKUAS

Brown (Sub-Antarctic or Southern) skua

GULLS

Dolphin gull

Kelp gull

Brown-hooded gull

TERNS

South American tern

Common tern

Mammals of the pelagic trip:

EARED SEALS MARINE DOLPHINS

South American sea lion Peal's dolphin

Friday 30 January

Volunteer Point is home to 700 pairs of King penguins besides being one of the most beautiful headlands in the Falkland Islands. Getting there used to be a long cross country marathon but with new roads built out to Johnston's Harbour access involves only a short section off-road. Nevertheless, we were pleased when our two vehicles pulled up at the isthmus, within sight of the enormous colony of kings.

Fishing South American tern indicated that the lake-like waters of Berkley Sound were indeed a sea-water inlet, as did the Falklands flightless steamer duck, Patagonian crested duck and Kelp goose families along the beaches.

But the object of our wildlife desires was the King and Gentoos penguin colonies. After a brief introduction from the warden, we set off to study the colonies, managing to find a couple of King penguin chicks from last season looking like Guardsmen's busbies. Moulting birds were sitting separate from the colony, looking forlorn.

Kings are dramatic looking penguins but more gentle and placid than raucous Rockhoppers, slower than the galloping Gentoo. Occasionally a male would point its beak to the sky and call loudly, allowing its head to flop forward onto the chest afterwards. Sometimes jabbing pecks would be thrown at some poor bird attempting to reach its mate deep in the colony, but otherwise activity was a regal pace.

We watched Gentoo penguins coming ashore on the wide white-sand beach, then to walk up through flocks of White-rumped sandpipers not knowing the great journey they had made from the Canadian Arctic to be on the beach.

Sadly, an injured King penguin was one of the last birds we saw at Volunteer Point - attacked by a Sea lion as it came ashore the day before. We consoled ourselves that it had survived the night (having been spotted by the warden the day before our visit) and was making its way back to the colony.

Our return to Stanley was uneventful except for a stop to take photographs of two White-tufted grebes.

The day had been a fitting end to a wonderful visit to the fantastic Falklands.

Birds of Volunteer Point and Port Stanley:

PENGUINS

King penguin

Gentoo penguin

Magellanic penguin

SWANS, GEESE & DUCKS

Kelp goose

Ruddy-headed goose

Falkland steamerduck

Speckled teal

Crested duck

NEW WORLD VULTURES

Turkey vulture

OYSTERCATCHERS

Magellanic oystercatcher

PLOVERS & LAPWINGS

Two-banded plover

Rufous-chested dotterel

JAEGERS & SKUAS

Brown skua

GULLS

Dolphin gull

Kelp gull

Brown-hooded gull

TERNS

South American tern

WAGTAILS & PIPITS

Correndera pipit

THRUSHES

Austral thrush

TRUE BUNTINGS

Canary-winged finch

TROUPIALS & ALLIES

Long-tailed meadowlark

Mammals of Volunteer Point:

RABBITS & HARES

European hare

Friday 30 January

We were still eating breakfast when the bus arrived early to take us to the airport. After scrambling aboard we settled down to see our last Black-chinned siskins, Black-throated finches, Rufous-chested dotterel and a Red-backed hawk on the way to Mount Pleasant Airport.

A Tornado jet escorted us out of the island, the first time this has ever happened to us. After a brief stop in Ascension Island we settled down for a night's sleep waking in time for breakfast before arriving at RAF Brize Norton at about 7.15am.

ANNOTATED LIST OF SPECIES

BIRDS

ASCENSION ISLAND

FRIGATEBIRDS Pelecaniformes Fregatidae

Ascension Island frigatebird Fregata aquila

Distant views of about five from the enclosure with a bird almost overhead as we left to re-board the aircraft.

STARLINGS Passeriformes Sturnidae

Common mynah Acridotheres tristis

Several flying around the base.

TERNS Charadriiformes Sternidae

Sooty tern Sterna fuscata

Lots drifting past at a distance while we were in the enclosure. These are the first ever seen on a Travelling Naturalist trip passing through the island (they were seen when we were stuck on the island for a day on the return journey in 2002).

FINCHES Passeriformes Fringillidae

Island canary Serinus canaria

A few seen from the enclosure.

FALKLAND ISLANDS

PENGUINS Sphenisciformes Spheniscidae

King penguin Aptenodytes patagonicus

Sea Lion Island, four with the Gentoo penguins; Volunteer Point, colony of 700.

Gentoo penguin Pygoscelis papua

Pebble Island, a colony on Middle Mountain; Saunders Island, a few on the beaches; Sea Lion Island, three colonies of about 500 pairs; Volunteer Point, colony of 500 pairs.

Rockhopper penguin Eudyptes chrysocome

Pebble Island: Tamar Point, two mixed (with King cormorants) rookeries, Green Rinco pure Rockhopper colony with two Macaroni penguins; Saunders Island, three small rookeries, one with a Macaroni penguin in residence; Sea Lion Island, one rookery.

Macaroni penguin Eudyptes chrysolophus

Pebble Island, Green Rinco, two in a pure Rockhopper colony; Saunders Island, one in a pure Rockhopper colony.

Magellanic penguin Spheniscus magellanicus

Darwin: 12 on an offshore island; Pebble Island: 10 on Elephant Beach; Tamar Point, hundreds, similar numbers at the west end; Saunders Island: good numbers; Sea Lion Island: lots; Volunteer Point: good numbers; pelagic trip: 20 or so.

GREBES Podicipediformes Podicipedidae

White-tufted grebe Rollandia rolland

Pebble Island: Big Pond, 20; Johnson's Harbour, Volunteer Point trip, a pair.

Silvery grebe Podiceps occipitalis

Pebble Island: Big Pond, four; Sea Lion Island: Long Pond, 20 with their chicks;

ALBATROSSES Procellariiformes Diomedeidae

Black-browed albatross Thalassarche melanophris

Pebble Island: our first on arrival, hundreds on the pre-breakfast seawatch; Saunders Island: huge six-mile colony; Sea Lion Island, a few daily; pelagic trip, 50.

SHEARWATERS & PETRELS Procellariiformes Procellariidae

Antarctic (Southern) giant petrel Macronectes giganteus

Common daily at Darwin, Pebble Island (colony of 63 pairs), Saunders Island, Sea Lion Island and the pelagic trip. A few quartering moorland looking for dead sheep on the Volunteer Point trip.

Slender-billed prion Pachyptila belcheri

Several seen from the aircraft as we flew around Kepple Island on our day-trip to Saunders Island.

White-chinned petrel Procellaria aequinoctialis

Pebble Island: Elephant Beach, one on 25th; Sea Lion Island, a few on 27th; pelagic trip, 25.

Sooty shearwater Puffinus griseus

Pebble Island: 50 on pre-breakfast seawatch; Sea Lion Island:20 on a seawatch; pelagic trip: hundreds, many close to the boat, and including a raft of 50.

CORMORANTS Pelecaniformes Phalacrocoracidae

Rock shag Phalacrocorax magellanicus

Darwin: 10 pairs nesting on the jetty; Pebble Island: lots on the jetty and a few pairs on the Tamar Point cliffs; Saunders Island: a few small colonies; Sea Lion Island: colonies at the Gulch and near the Sea lions.

King cormorant Phalacrocorax atriceps

Darwin: five at the causeway; San Carlos 20 on the jetty; Pebble Island: mixed colonies with Rockhopper penguins; Saunders Island: one small colony; Sea Lion Island: one large colony next to (and within) the Rockhopper penguins.

HERONS, EGRETS & BITTERNS Ciconiiformes Ardeidae

Black-crowned night-heron Nycticorax nycticorax

Darwin: two on the causeway, one in a wreck at Goose Green; Pebble Island: five around the jetty; Sea Lion Island: immature at Beaver Pond; Kidney Island: one out on the kelp.

SWANS, GEESE & DUCKS Anseriformes Anatidae

Black-necked swan Cygnus melanocorypha

Eight on the way down to Darwin; Pebble Island: four pairs plus cygnets.

Upland (Magellanic) goose Chloephaga picta

Abundant daily

Kelp goose Chloephaga hybrida

Darwin: five pairs; Pebble Island: abundant; Saunders Island; millions - 140 on one beach alone; Sea Lion Island: 20 pairs.

Ruddy-headed goose Chloephaga rubidiceps

Darwin: 30 or so; Pebble Island: hundreds; Sea Lion Island: a few.

Falkland steamerduck Tachyeres brachypterus

Common daily: Darwin; Pebble Island; Saunders Island; Sea Lion Island; Port Stanley and Volunteer Point.

Chiloe wigeon Anas sibilatrix

Pebble Island: Big Pond, two pairs with ducklings; Sea Lion Island: Long Pond, a pair with ducklings.

Speckled teal Anas flavirostris

Common, a few daily.

Patagonian crested duck Anas specularioides

Common: up to 20 pairs at each site we visited.

Silver teal Anas versicolor

Sea Lion Island: one on Long Pond.

NEW WORLD VULTURES Falconiformes Cathartidae

Turkey vulture Cathartes aura

Common: a few daily.

HAWKS, EAGLES & KITES Falconiformes Accipitridae

Variable (Red-backed) hawk Buteo polyosoma

Males at San Carlos, Saunders Island, and over the road to Mount Pleasant as we left the islands. Pebble Island: two males at the east end, two males and one female on our trip to the west end.

FALCONS & CARACARAS Falconiformes Falconidae

Striated caracara Phalcoboenus australis

Sea Lion Island: at least 10 daily. Two kept Anne and Veronica company at the Rockhopper colony on Sea Lion Island.

Crested caracara Caracara plancus

Saunders Island, an adult and immature on arrival; Sea Lion Island, two at Beaver Pond.

Peregrine falcon Falco peregrinus

Pebble Island: Tamar Point, one adult in thick mist; Sea Lion: one possible at Long Pond.

OYSTERCATCHERS Charadriiformes Haematopodidae

Magellanic oystercatcher Haematopus leucopodus

Common, seen daily.

Blackish oystercatcher Haematopus ater

Common, seen daily, including some past the albatross colony on Saunders Island.

PLOVERS & LAPWINGS Charadriiformes Charadriidae

Two-banded plover Charadrius falklandicus

Fairly common: Darwin, birds with chicks; elsewhere flocks of up to 100 (Pebble Island).

Rufous-chested dotterel Charadrius modestus

Fairly common: a few seen on each island with quite large numbers on Pebble Island.

SANDPIPERS Charadriiformes Scolopacidae

South American snipe Gallinago paraguaiae

Pebble Island: two individuals seen; Sea Lion Island; one drumming on night of 27th.

Fuegian snipe Gallinago stricklandii

Pebble Island: one at the west end; Seal Lion Island: one with chick off the path to Elephant Corner, several elsewhere on the island.

White-rumped sandpiper Calidris fuscicollis

A great year for this species which we saw in large numbers. Darwin: a flock on the beach as we went to San Carlos; Pebble Island: big flocks at the far end of Elephant Beach, 12 at Elephant Point; Sea Lion Island; at least 20 on the Neck in front of the lodge; Volunteer Point: at least 100 on the beach.

SHEATHBILLS Charadriiformes Chionididae

Snowy sheathbill Chionis alba

Saunders Island: three at the Rockhopper colony; Sea Lion Island: 20 around the Rockhopper penguin colonies, three at the east end.

SKUAS Charadriiformes Stercorariidae

Brown (Southern) skua Catharacta antarctica

Common daily.

GULLS Charadriiformes Laridae

Dolphin gull Larus scoresbii

Goose Green: six; Darwin: one or two; Pebble Island: lots in and around the Rockhopper colonies; Saunders Island: 50 along the beaches; Sea Lion Island: 30 at a roost near Elephant Corner; a few elsewhere.

Kelp gull Larus dominicanus

Common daily

Brown-hooded gull Larus maculipennis

A good year for this species with our first breeding on an island (sadly containing goats) off Saunders Island settlement, and a single bird feeding in a sand-pool; Sea Lion Island: a daily roost of up to 80 birds; Stanley harbour: about 20 feeding with Kelp gulls and giant petrels.

TERNS Charadriiformes Sternidae

South American tern Sterna hirundinacea

Common daily on all the islands. Saunders Island: a colony on an island off the settlement (the one on which Brown-hooded gulls were breeding); Sea Lion Island: a large roost near Cow Point.

Common tern Sterna hirundo

Sea Lion Island: two at the South American tern roost.

PIGEONS & DOVES Columbiformes Columbidae

Rock dove Columba livia

Saunders Island: three domestic pigeons.

Owls Strigiformes Strigidae

Short-eared owl Asio flammeus

Sea Lion Island: two, possibly three, near the garden.

OVENBIRDS Passeriformes Furnariidae

Blackish cinclodes Cinclodes antarcticus

Sea Lion Island: 200 island wide; Kidney Island: several including one which flew to the boat. This species is found only where there are no rats and cats.

TYRANT FLYCATCHERS Passeriformes Tyrannidae

Dark-faced ground-tyrant Muscisaxicola macloviana

Common: found on all the islands, Stanley and Volunteer Point.

WAGTAILS & PIPITS Passeriformes Motacillidae

Correndera pipit Anthus correndera

Patchy this year: lots on the San Carlos drive, east end of Pebble Island, Sea Lion Island and Volunteer Point.

WRENS Passeriformes Troglodytidae

Cobb's wren Troglodytes cobbi

Sea Lion Island, common on the beaches daily, reflecting the absence of rats and cats.

Sedge wren Cistothorus platensis

Sea Lion Island, maximum of six each day, in tussock grass beds.

THRUSHES Passeriformes Turdidae

Austral thrush Turdus falcklandii

Common daily.

OLD WORLD SPARROWS Passeriformes Passeridae

House sparrow Passer domesticus

Common at Darwin but then none seen until we reached Stanley where they we the commonest passerine.

FINCHES Passeriformes Fringillidae

Black-chinned siskin Carduelis barbata

Fewer in number this year with most sightings close to settlements. Darwin: two pairs; Pebble Island: two pairs; Sea Lion Island: a few in tussock stands; a few on the way to Mount Pleasant as we were leaving the islands..

TRUE BUNTINGS Passeriformes Emberizidae

Canary-winged finch Melanodera melanodera

Abundant at all sites. Particularly common close to gates in sheep-fences.

TROUPIALS & ALLIES Passeriformes Icteridae

Long-tailed meadowlark Sturnella loyca

Common everywhere except Sea Lion Island.

MAMMALS

RABBITS & HARES Lagomorpha Leporidae

European hare Lepus europaeus

Daily around Darwin with one animal in the lodge garden; one at Johnson's Harbour on the way to Volunteer Point.

CATS Carnivora Felidae

Wild Cat (Feral cat) Felis silvestris

Pebble Island, several daily.

EARED SEALS Carnivora Otariidae

South American sea-lion Otaria byronia

Pebble Island: reports of a female / young male sleeping on the jetty, but we missed it; Sea Lion Island: colony of 50; Kidney Island: eight immatures.

EARLESS SEALS Carnivora Phocidae

Southern elephant seal Mirounga leonine

Sea Lion Island: more than 70 in total around the beaches.

APES Primates Hominidae

Human Homo sapiens

A few daily in most sites. Many more when we arrived in Port Stanley.

MARINE DOLPHINS Cete Delphinidae

Orca (Killer whale) Orcinus orca

About four females, two males and a calf seen daily off Sea Lion Island.

Peale's dolphin Lagenorhynchus australis

Six off Kidney Island on the pelagic trip.

Commerson's dolphin Cephalorhynchus commersonii

Pebble Island: two in the surf on Elephant Beach.

SELECTED PLANTS

DARWIN

Gorse Ulex europea (introduced)

Fachine Chiliotrichum diffusum

Sundew Drosera uniflora

Scurvy grass Oxalis enneaphylla

Common daisy Bellis perennis (introduced)

Prickly burr Acaena magellanica

Christmas bush Baccharis magellanica

Sheep's sorrel Rumex acetosella

White grass Cortaderia pilosa

PEBBLE ISLAND

Gorse Ulex europea (introduced)

Tall fern Blechnum magellanicum

Cotula scariasa

Thrift Armeria macloviana

Pig vine Gunnera magellanica

Diddle-dee (some in berry). Empetrum rubrum

Azorella caespitosa

Pratia repens

Christmas bush Baccharis magellanica

White grass Cortaderia pilosa

Scurvy grass Oxalis enneaphylla

Cotula scariosa

Sea cabbage Senecio candicans

Groundsel Senecio vulgaris

Vanilla daisy Leuceria suaveolens

Falkland lavender Perezia recurvata

Sheep's sorrel Rumex acetosella

Orange hawkweed Hieracium aurantiacum

SEA LION ISLAND

Wild celery Apium graveolens

Arrow-leaved marigold Caltha sagittata

Mouse-eared chickweed Cerastium arvense

Native box Hebe elliptica

VOLUNTEER POINT

Sea cabbage Senecio candicans

Sundew Drosera uniflora

HEAVENLY BODIES

MOON

Seen most night, if we were up late enough.

MERCURY

Seen setting on two evenings on Sea Lion Island.

MARS

The red planet was seen from Sea Lion Island.

JUPITER

Seen, complete with moons, from Sea Lion Island.

SATURN

Seen, complete with rings and moon, from Sea Lion Island.

ORION'S BELT

Seen, with sword pointing upwards, from Sea Lion Island. Betelgeuse was seen in the top left corner and the Nebula in the centre of the sword.

SOUTHERN CROSS

Perhaps the most sought after heavenly body, this was seen from Sea Lion Island. The bottom star of the cross was always indistinct.

SIRIUS

The brightest star in the sky seen by us all from Sea Lion Island. We all made a wish on it and I hope they come true.

Tim Earl

Principal leader


© The Travelling Naturalist 2004