Saturday, 13 February 2016

Falkland Islands - 2

The Falklands archipelago comprises more than 750 separate islands.  Of these East Falkland is the largest and covers a little over half the total land area.  Stanley, the islands’ capital, is in East Falkland and we spent three nights there during our trip, one at the beginning and two at the end of our stay.

We spent our first night in Stanley at the Malvina House Hotel.  Birds seen during a short walk along the waterfront on arrival and another one early the next morning included Southern Giant Petrel, South American Tern, Kelp Gull, Magellanic Oystercatcher, Upland Goose, Crested Duck, Kelp Goose and Falkland Steamer Duck.  Two ‘lifers’ amongst these so not a bad start!

Kelp Gull was the largest, most numerous and widespread of the three gull species we saw

 Magellanic Oystercatcher - note the conspicuous yellow eye and eye-ring

 Kelp Geese - these birds favour rocky shores where the all-white male is hard to miss

Crested Duck - the crest is hardly noticeable but the red eye is distinctive

Falkland Steamer Ducks - 
known locally as Logger, this flightless species is numerous around the coasts

The Falkland Islands rely heavily on just a small number of industries, mainly fishing, sheep farming, tourism, and increasingly oil.  The number of tourists arriving by air each year is surprisingly small (about 1,600) but of major importance are those that come to Stanley on cruise ships.  It is reported that as many as 60,000 cruise ship passengers come ashore each year and their spending makes a valuable contribution to the economy.

Cruise ship passengers are pointed towards the excellent Falkland Islands Museum and Christ Church Cathedral, while some simply want to buy souvenirs or fish and chips.  However, two popular attractions are excursions to see penguins at Gypsy Cove and Volunteer Point.  I have never seen as many Land Rovers and other 4x4s in such a small town as there are in Stanley and when the cruise ships arrive many of these vehicles are brought into use as taxis.

At the end of our trip we were taken on the two and a half hour drive to Volunteer Point, where the main attraction is the colony of more than 1,000 King Penguins.  Much of this trip is off-road in the true sense in that there is no road or track and a 4x4 vehicle is essential. 

King Penguin colony

Over 3,000 visitors come to see the penguins at Volunteer Point each year and clearly there has to be some management to prevent undue disturbance or harm to the wildlife.  Measures initiated by Falklands Conservation include a car parking area roped off to limit vehicle use and a ring of white rocks arranged around the King Penguin colony to mark out the recommended distance from which to observe the birds.  In addition information boards have been provided with maps of the site and facts about the main bird species.

Gentoo Penguin

We were lucky that there were relatively few other people visiting Volunteer Point on the morning we were there.  Not only were there King Penguins but also Gentoo and Magellanic Penguins.  Most of the Kings were packed tightly together in the colony, some with eggs and some with young.  Others were nearby on the white sandy beach.  Wherever we looked there were penguins and I’m not going to say how many photographs I took!

King Penguins

Unfortunately, the weather prevented our planned boat trip to Kidney Island where thousands of Sooty Shearwaters are the main attraction.  However, there were a few of these birds visible from the beach at Volunteer Point.

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