Thursday, 18 February 2016

Falkland Islands - 5

From Bleaker Island we transferred to Weddell Island, the third largest in the Falklands archipelago.  We were expecting a direct flight from one to the other but instead we had five flights!  We went from Bleaker to Stanley, then to Mount Pleasant, from there to Darwin, then to Sea Lion Island and finally to Weddell.  At each stop we either picked up or dropped off passengers or bags and sometimes mail or supplies of food.  Working out the FIGAS flight schedules can’t be an easy job!

Weddell Island is situated to the west of West Falkland.  It has an area of 265.8 square kilometres and a coastline of about 175km.  The highest point (Mt Weddell) is 383m above sea level.

The plan was for us to have just one night on Weddell but the weather intervened and instead we had two nights.  It was windy but otherwise the weather on Weddell itself wasn’t too bad at all, it was fog around Stanley that prevented planes from taking off.  This surely made scheduling the flights even more difficult!  For us it just meant that we could see a little bit more of the island but with no roads we weren’t able to go very far!

Our accommodation on Weddell

We were also able to enjoy more of the excellent hospitality of Martin & Jane Beaton who I have seen frequently in the past at the Rutland Water Birdfair.  Martin and Jane are the only inhabitants of Weddell Island and after ten years have learned from necessity to turn their hands to an infinite variety of tasks.  Martin is an accomplished chef, an artist, an expert fisherman and something of a raconteur. On Weddell he has also become a capable mechanic and engineer as well as a sheep and cattle farmer!  Jane, too, has learnt over the years to turn her hand to the 1001 tasks essential to life on a remote island.  It was a bit strange finding these two familiar faces in this distant location in the South Atlantic!

For some reason the Patagonian Grey Fox, native to Chile and Argentina, was introduced to Weddell in the late 1920s.  On a couple of occasions we were able to watch a family of them chasing each other around.  What impact these aliens have on Weddell and its wildlife is unclear but there were plenty of birds on show and lots of young penguins.

Patagonian Grey Fox

As many as 54 bird species have been recorded on the island.  Those we saw included Falkland Steamer Duck, Southern Giant Petrel, Black-crowned Night Heron, Turkey Vulture, Falkland Skua and several more that were by now quite familiar.  It was the Gentoo Penguins that received most of our attention and it was interesting to see how quickly they came out of the sea onto the safety of the beach whenever a Sea Lion came close.  Young Gentoos constantly chased their parents begging for food.

Turkey Vulture

Falkland Skua

Upland Goose

Kelp Goose

Black-crowned Night Heron

Falkland Steamer Ducks

Southern Giant Petrel

I think I would have to say that it was the penguins, all five species of them, that have left the most lasting impression from this trip.  It would be nice to think that before long I might have the chance of another visit to the Falklands and perhaps an opportunity to see some of the other islands such as Carcass, Sea Lion and Saunders.  And, of course, I still need to see Cobb's Wren!

Gentoo Penguins

Thanks again to Tony Mason, to the Falklands Island Tourist Board and to everyone in the Falklands who contributed to making the trip possible. 

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