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Falkland Islands wildlife.


douglaswise

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douglaswise

I had not originally intended to produce a TR on this topic. However, having met several Americans on this trip, I learned that the Falkland Islands were possibly not such a well known destination for wildlife enthusiasts as they are, perhaps, in the UK. Furthermore, most tourists tend to head for Antarctica and the South Georgia Islands on cruise ships and only drop in on the Falklands. What I will be describing is an entirely land-based Falklands trip that took place between Dec 4th and Dec 17th, 2016. I left the UK on Dec 1st, returning on Dec 19th. I should have actually arrived on the archipelago on Dec 3rd, but lost a day due to closure of Mount Pleasant international airport due to high winds from an adverse direction. This resulted in my having to spend a total of 3 rather than the planned 2 nights in Santiago hotels, greatly adding to the tedium of the outward journey and losing me my only day of scheduled fly fishing. There is typically only one LATAM flight/week from Santiago to the Falklands (Saturday), which stops at Punta Arenas. Other than flying with the RAF from Brize Norton, UK, a more expensive travel option, LATAM is the sole international carrier.

 

I did originally consider an Antarctic cruise as an alternative, but it would have been a considerably more costly option and I would have been exposed to a very high chance of seasickness during the two days needed to cross the Drake's Passage on both outward and return legs of the cruise (potentially 4 days of misery). Having opted for an entirely Falklands-based trip and in the knowledge that one would have to plan in weekly blocks due to international flight arrivals and departures, I initially decided on a week's sea trout fishing and a week's wildlife viewing. However, further research persuaded me that the window during which I had opportunity to visit would not coincide with prime fishing conditions, which, in any event, I might have been too infirm to exploit. My bespoke itinerary, including international flights, was entirely arranged by falklandstravel.itt@horizon.co.fk (www.falklandislands.travel) after considerable and very helpful e-mail correspondence. I had the time and budget to travel during this period because I had given up shooting at the end of last season due to balance issues. However, I travelled alone as my wife wished to continue working her gun dogs in the field. The total cost of my trip - including international flights of £1200 - was approximately £4500 (US$5500), which, given that I was a single traveller staying in full service accommodation, was considerably less that what a wildlife trip of equivalent duration is likely to have been in Africa.

 

The detailed itinerary consisted of the first night in a hotel in Stanley (the capital, the size of medium English village and housing over three quarters of the total Falkland population.) This was followed by visits to various

outlying islands which tend to provide high quality wildlife viewing and full service lodges for tourists. I had 2 days/nights on Pebble Island, 3 on Carcass Island (incorporating a boat trip to West Point Island to visit a black-browed albatross colony), 3 on Sea Lion Island and 2 on Bleaker Island. I finished with 2 days at Volunteer Point, an approximate 2.75h journey by road from Stanley and situated due north. This is the best place on the Falklands to see king penguins. Other than the last (overland trip), all other trips to and from Stanley and between islands were by means of the excellent and relatively cheap FIGAS (Falkland Islands Government Air Service) flights in small Islander aircraft. These provided excellent overviews of the territory crossed. Pebble, Carcass and West Point Islands are north of West Falkland while Sea Lion and Bleaker Islands are to the south and east of East Falkland. An island that I did not visit was Saunders Island, which though good for wildlife (though providing no more biodiversity that that obtainable from a combo of 2 or 3 other islands) apparently only provides somewhat spartan self-catering accommodation and requires a level of fitness greater than my own to appreciate fully.

 

There are about 50 species of birds on the Falklands and one can confidently expect both to see and photograph the great majority of them. They are astonishingly confiding (except for giant petrels and upland geese). I also saw plenty of elephant seals and sea lions, but, unfortunately, no orcas or dolphins.

 

The archipelago has a land area of 12000 sq km, over 90% of which is made up of the two main islands (East and West). The total human population, excluding that on the military base (Mount Pleasant), is about 3000, along with half a million sheep. Thus, the population density is 0.25/sq km (three quarters or more of which is in Stanley) For comparison, that of Botswana is 4, of Kenya, 83 and of England, 413. Plenty of space, therefore. Most of the islands I visited had 2-4 residents who farmed, looked after tourists or did both, a couple of Chilean cooks brought in seasonally and between 6 and 12 tourists.

 

During the time of my visit the weather was mainly dry and sunny with wind varying from light to very strong. Daylight from 4.30 am to 9.30 pm. Temperatures comfortable - certainly in windproof clothing.

 

Below, I have made summaries relating to the different islands/accommodation and added a few photos. In later posts, I will show representative wildlife.

 

Pebble (103 sq km): Largish island with considerable separation between prime wildlife sites. Guided drives necessary with opportunities to get out and walk or sit at the prime sites. Suited me extremely well, given my poor locomotory ability. Very good biodiversity. Good food. Single, en suite bedroom very convenient. Communal eating (good or bad depending upon others present). As on all islands, breakfast was at 8.00 am and dinner at 7.00pm. Lunch was generally a packed picnic, but could be provided at the lodge as could other snacks.

 

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Carcass (19 sq km): Had one guided trip by vehicle on Day 1, an excellent boat visit to West Point on Day 2 and was lent a vehicle by the charming island owner to self drive on Day 3. Brilliant food. Comfortable double en suite bedroom. Fellow tourists good company. Overall, excellent.

 

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Sea Lion (9 sq km): I arrived with severe cough which may have jaundiced my opinion of this island. I believe it to be the most expensive to visit and, certainly, bar charges were the highest I experienced. I had single room with a shared bathroom (which I didn't have to share because there was no other single visitor). The food was slightly better than adequate and the place seemed understaffed. The manager provided me with a driven orientation tour on arrival and, very kindly, a second tour on the last day. Although the island is small, it was too much for me traverse on foot and I was only able to walk to and from the nearest sites. In fairness, the island has a good diversity of wildlife and offers the greatest chance to see orcas. Fitter visitors would get on better here than I did. My mood wasn't improved by the presence of a large (7 pax) professionally-led group of bird photographers who ,when in the lodge,parked themselves in the best seats and did nothing but play around with their laptops tweaking their day's photos, an activity that, in my view, should have been confined to their bedrooms.

 

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Bleaker (21 sq km): I thoroughly enjoyed my experience here, despite having been preceded here the day before by the photo-group from Sea Lion. They had already infuriated the housekeeper, but we were in separate cottages.. Unfortunately, they appeared to have taken over the two spare vehicles, post-48867-0-28148000-1483461140_thumb.jpgone of which I might have been able to hire or borrow. In consequence, after a good driven tour with the island's owner on the first afternoon, I was forced to set off on foot on the second day. Actually, there is an excellent mix of wildlife sites close to each other and to the settlement such that I could spend time with rockhoppers, both species of cormorant and waterfowl. The accommodation was the most luxurious of any I experienced outside Stanley.

 

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Volunteer Point:

 

Was fortunate to stay in the Petterson's house as the only guest for two nights. This couple are responsible for running and overseeing the site ,which is much visited via Stanley by day trippers from cruise ships. I was lucky, therefore, to have the long sandy beach and the breeding colonies, replete with king, gentoo and magellanic penguins either all to myself or shared with a single day visitor whom I had already met on Carcass. The Pettersonn's house, an ex shepherd's bothy, is small and I had an upstairs bedroom with a difficult trip down a steep, low and narrow staircase to the loo. However, the bed was brand new and comfortable and the food great. It was very good to be staying with islanders and to have the opportunities to chat about politics, economics and island life in general. I think a wildlife trip to the Falklands would have to include an almost mandatory visit to this site, even if it were only possible to spend the 3 and a bit hours that a day visit would allow.

 

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jeremie

I was in the Falklands in 2015, and I definitely agree, it is birdlife paradise. Animals are really confident, I have never been as close as the animals than in Sea Lion island or Volunteer Point. It seems that Antartica and South Georgia are even better!!!

 

Thank you for sharing this report, do you mind if I post some few pictures at the end? I have never found the time to write any TR since 2015.

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Treepol

@@douglaswise I was very excited to see this TR as the Falklands are on my longlist, however they are a long way from Australia. Thanks for the detail on the islands visited and the accommodation and tour options. Your photos capture the isolation and sparse settlements very well.

 

Looking forward to more when you have time.

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douglaswise

@@jeremie and@Treepol: Thanks. I am sure, @@jeremie that the addition of your photos would only enhance the report.

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douglaswise

I am lumping the Falkland wildlife together because one is likely to see most of the avian species on all of the islands. There are exceptions: Tussacbirds and Cobb's wrens are only found on islands that have never had rats or mice (or cats). Thus, I saw them on Carcass and Sea Lion. The only Southern giant petrel breeding colony I saw was on Pebble (too far for my camera because this species will desert nests if closely approached) although I saw them flying along the coastlines of most islands. My only sighting of a blacked-browed albatross breeding colony was at West Point and the king penguins that I saw (apart from a single stray on Pebble) were all at Volunteer Point.

 

Small, non wading birds: Long-tailed meadowlark (locally, robin), Falkland thrush, Dark-faced ground tyrant, Falkland pipit ,Black-throated finch, Black-chinned siskin, tussacbird, Falkland grass wren and Cobb's wren (endemic to Falklands. I saw all these, but will only post pix of some:

 

post-48867-0-38030600-1483529102_thumb.jpg Tussacbird with elephant seal behind

 

post-48867-0-10108000-1483529221_thumb.jpg Immature Cobb's wren

 

post-48867-0-96904700-1483529326_thumb.jpg Adult Cobb's wren

 

post-48867-0-83267100-1483529384_thumb.jpg Long-tailed meadowlark

 

post-48867-0-26841900-1483529516_thumb.jpg Another Tussacbird

 

Geese: There are 3 species. The most prolific is the Upland goose and it represents a significant competitor with sheep for grass. The Kelp goose is more confined to the shoreline and the smallest, the Ruddy-headed goose, is the only one of the three in which the plumage is similar in both sexes.

 

post-48867-0-71371400-1483530642_thumb.jpg Kelp goose with goslings

 

post-48867-0-46356700-1483530745_thumb.jpg Female Kelp

 

post-48867-0-21402200-1483530975_thumb.jpg Male Kelp

 

post-48867-0-87378500-1483531112_thumb.jpg Pair of Kelp with Striated caracara

 

post-48867-0-12843900-1483531729_thumb.jpg Upland goose, female

 

post-48867-0-50813000-1483531919_thumb.jpg Upland, male

 

post-48867-0-70117900-1483532217_thumb.jpg Upland nest

 

post-48867-0-80075300-1483532253_thumb.jpg Upland, airborne

 

post-48867-0-91540300-1483532569_thumb.jpg Ruddy-headed goose

 

I hope the above show that the wildlife isn't just penguins and seals and that the birds are very confiding - I wouldn't have had he camera power had they not been. I will continue later.

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douglaswise

I will continue plodding through my Falkland bird list (I'm an obsessive box ticker).

 

I saw all seven of the duck species that one might reasonably expect to see along with a distant pair of rare Black-necked swan plus, what I believe is, the Falklands' only heron species:

 

The only endemic duck is the Falkland steamer duck - a large and flightless species, which is aggressive in the defence of territory and is generally to be found close to the shoreline. There is also a similar-looking Flying steamer duck of slightly more slender build and having longer wings:

 

post-48867-0-83335400-1483603582_thumb.jpg Male, flightless

post-48867-0-43134400-1483603757_thumb.jpg Female, flightless

 

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The mature, flightless species develop keratinous armour on the leading edges of their elbows, presumably to bash territorial intruders as they "steam" over the top of the water in attack.

 

The most common duck, also quite large, seems to be the Crested (locally, Grey) duck:

 

post-48867-0-63803000-1483606273_thumb.jpg These Crested ducklings separated in steamer attack

post-48867-0-34769200-1483606478_thumb.jpg Crest showing

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post-48867-0-36379300-1483606806_thumb.jpg Ducklings normally well camouflaged

 

Something went wrong and the the last 2 steamer pix slipped to the end of the post, namely a wing flapping male flightless steamer and, finally, a family of flying steamers.

 

Other ducks:

 

post-48867-0-47820100-1483607769_thumb.jpg Speckled teal

post-48867-0-09553500-1483608030_thumb.jpg Similar looking Yellow-billed pintail

post-48867-0-36825500-1483608092_thumb.jpg Chiloe wigeon

post-48867-0-08908300-1483608169_thumb.jpg Silver teal

 

Finally, for this post, mature and juvenile Black-crowned night heron:

 

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douglaswise

I will continue plodding through my Falkland bird list (I'm an obsessive box ticker).

 

I saw all seven of the duck species that one might reasonably expect to see along with a distant pair of rare Black-necked swan plus, what I believe is, the Falklands' only heron species:

 

The only endemic duck is the Falkland steamer duck - a large and flightless species, which is aggressive in the defence of territory and is generally to be found close to the shoreline. There is also a similar-looking Flying steamer duck of slightly more slender build and having longer wings:

 

post-48867-0-83335400-1483603582_thumb.jpg Male, flightless

post-48867-0-43134400-1483603757_thumb.jpg Female, flightless

 

post-48867-0-22177700-1483604266_thumb.jpg

 

 

The mature, flightless species develop keratinous armour on the leading edges of their elbows, presumably to bash territorial intruders as they "steam" over the top of the water in attack.

 

The most common duck, also quite large, seems to be the Crested (locally, Grey) duck:

 

post-48867-0-63803000-1483606273_thumb.jpg These Crested ducklings separated in steamer attack

post-48867-0-34769200-1483606478_thumb.jpg Crest showing

post-48867-0-68422000-1483606530_thumb.jpg

post-48867-0-36379300-1483606806_thumb.jpg Ducklings normally well camouflaged

 

Something went wrong and the the last 2 steamer pix slipped to the end of the post, namely a wing flapping male flightless steamer and, finally, a family of flying steamers.

 

Other ducks:

 

post-48867-0-47820100-1483607769_thumb.jpg Speckled teal

post-48867-0-09553500-1483608030_thumb.jpg Similar looking Yellow-billed pintail

post-48867-0-36825500-1483608092_thumb.jpg Chiloe wigeon

post-48867-0-08908300-1483608169_thumb.jpg Silver teal

 

Finally, for this post, mature and juvenile Black-crowned night heron:

 

post-48867-0-99209300-1483609334_thumb.jpg

post-48867-0-68698000-1483609535_thumb.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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douglaswise

I now see that I have messed up and posted essentially the same material twice. Could someone with better knowledge please delete post #6?

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douglaswise

There are two quite common raptors in the Falklands, the peregrine falcon and the Variable (Red-backed) hawk (neither shown).

 

There are also two species of caracara - The Southern (crested) and the Striated (locally, Johnny Rook). The latter is globally very rare, but it is quite prevalent on the islands and so absurdly tame around humans that it appears common. In fact, it gives every indication of being duty bound to confiscate all small or loose items that are carried by or left beside unwary travellers. The predilection, however, appears to be for shiny objects. One morning an Bleaker, I came across an immature individual that was amusing itself by attempting to dismantle a telephone relay station. I decided to entertain myself by practising a little "catch and release fishing" for it. I had my long wading stick with me as a walking aid and this has a cord so that it can be hung over the shoulder. I sat down, held the stick by its end and waved the cord about, on the end of which was a chrome ring. Almost instantly, the bird showed an interest. It abandoned work on the telephone and ran at the waving silver ring. I generously allowed it to win the ensuing tug of war so that it was able to drag the whole set up from me. It worked very hard to detach the ring from the cord, but, having failed, it turned it's attention to the stick's rubber handle from which it tore lumps. At this point, I determine that it was game over. Below, this sequence is illustrated. The final caracara photo is of an adult with a distended (yellow) crop taken outside the lodge on Carcass (I think it had just feasted on the chef's scraps. Interestingly, it took meat from the hand, but rejected anything with fat on it):

 

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Other avian buccaneers include the Falkland skuas, Southern giant petrels and Turkey vultures. In fact, the first penguin chick that I saw on my trip was being hauled into the air out of a Rockhopper colony by a skua whereupon it became subject to a tug of war with a competing skua and was pulled in half. Pictures below:

 

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xelas

@@douglaswise

 

Falklands sound so exotic. There is sunshine on all of your photos; what were daytime temperatures?

Edited by xelas
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elefromoz

@@douglaswise, a very enjoyable read and liking the photos from what is for me, a very unknown spot. Grisly end for your first Penguin chick. I like the big Petrel flying over the Penguins, they wouldn't have much defence against that.

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douglaswise

@xelas: It was sunny most of the time. Two or three rain squalls of about 5-10 minutes each in total. Annual rainfall is only in the region of 55-60mm. Daytime range was apparently 10 - 22 deg C during my trip, but whether one feels warm or cold is very dependent upon wind strength and the wind resistance of one's clothing.

 

@elefromoz: Thank you.

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michael-ibk

Really enjoying this, that part of the world has long been on my mind (but unfortunately my wallet does disagree vehemently), getting to Falklands, St. Georgia and Antarctica is very high on my list. The place looks great, and incredibly sunny. Very nice photos, obviously all your questions in the the photography forum really paid off.

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douglaswise

In this post, I'll try to deal with all other birds not so far covered except for penguins.

 

Waders: Magellanic snipe, Two-banded plover, Rufous-chested dotterel, Magellanic oystercatcher and Blackish oystercatcher (I also saw White-rumped sandpiper and Sanderling, but no pix).

 

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There are two grebe species - the Silvery and the White-tufted. My photo of the former shows a harassed parent being taken advantage of by a spoilt and obese offspring. The picture of the White-tufted is horrible, but there for completeness.

 

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The only albatross to breed in the Falklands is the Black-browed. (I think about 80% of the species depend upon the archipelago). The only colony I saw was at West Point - it was shared with Rockhoppers. The albatross lays in a tall, cylindrical nest. (The Rockhopper doesn't bother and just uses a scrape.)

 

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There are three gull species, the Brown-hooded, the Dolphin and, largest of the three, the Dominican (locally, kelp). I will show a single photo of each of the first two and several of the Dominican because I found them very handsome:

 

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The Pale-faced sheathbill is commonly found around cormorant and sea lion colonies where it appears to devote its time to gobbling up faeces. It is roughly pigeon-sized and is unusual among seabirds in lacking webbed feet.

 

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The two Falkland cormorants (or shags) - the Rock and the King (or Imperial) have very different breeding strategies. The former nest on cliff ledges while the latter form colonies where they build quite elaborate nests on flattish ground, either adjacent to cliffs or some way inland from them. The colonies may or may not be shared with Rockhoppers.. The nests seem constantly to be either embellished or repaired - a certain amount of nest material theft takes place. Both species had semi-adjacent colonies on Bleaker within yards of my favourite Rockhopper colony - hence my enthusiasm for this island. The King colony was vast and surrounded by skuas.

 

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This ends my avian list, but for penguins. I'll deal with them in my next post and then end the report wiuth elephant seals and sea lions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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douglaswise

@michael-ibk:

 

Thank you for your kind comments about my photos. Your attribution of the good results to advice received on the photography forum undoubtedly had a part to play. However, the wildlife is so approachable that one usually didn't need long focal lengths.

 

It seems that you, like others who have commented, are concerned over the trip costs, mainly, I think, because you don't see the Falklands as a standalone destination and imagine South Georgia to be better. There are probably more birds on the latter (approx 100 million), but only 29 breeding species - not much more thn half of the species breeding on the Falklands. High costs start when you decide to take a cruise. You could easily do a week in the Falklands and a week in Southern Patagonia for less than the cost of a safari in Africa.

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michael-ibk

Thanks, that is giving me food for thought. You're right I had only ever thought of this as a cruise trip.

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TonyQ

@@douglaswise

I am really enjoying this - a really good selection of birds, and some very good photos. It is interesting that the most of the birds are so unafraid of people.

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Atravelynn

You have portrayed this birders' paradise very well with your beautiful photos. Your cost for a bespoke 10 day trip (the way I counted), flights included, was not bad! It seems you were there at a good time for some of the chicks. That caracara reigning havoc on the communication system is pretty funny. Someone just had a photo of a caracara and car keys as I recall. These birds are getting serious.

 

Thanks for the Falkland advice. Your birding and bird photography was very successful. And no seasickness.

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douglaswise

@TonyQ:

 

I'm glad you're enjoying the report. It was your report, among a few others, that led us to go on a most enjoyable and instructive trip to Barranco Alto last year.

 

@Atravelynn:

 

Thanks for your polite comments. On a point of fact, my trip was longer than 10 days so the cost was a a bit better than not bad. I spent 13 nights on the Falklands and actually paid for 14 (the discrepancy was due to the fact that one of the planned Stanley nights was spent in Santiago instead because of airport closure).

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douglaswise

I will conclude my avifauna section with penguins.

 

Four of the 5 species that I saw operate on a more or less simultaneous annual breeding cycle so that, at any one time, I was observing one of a pair incubating eggs or brooding unfledged chicks while the other was either socialising with others ashore or off fishing. Adult penguins don't feed each other, but they take turns in feeding chicks and in nest duties. The fifth species - the King penguin - has a more complex breeding cycle which exceeds 12 months in length, is asynchronous and allows one to observe more of the birds' activities. I will show these separately at the end.

 

I tended to think of the Gentoo as one's bog standard penguin. The colonies I saw were all composed of the single species and not mixed up with others. They were found well inshore, often up to one km and sometimes more, so there is a regular to and fro of bands of birds outbound or inbound from the ocean. The Rockhopper is the smallest species. It nests in small or large colonies on the tops of cliffs or slightly set back from them. Their arrival from the sea and subsequent ascent of the cliffs provides compelling viewing. They sometimes nest with King cormorants or Black-browed albatross or sometimes in pure colonies. Sprinkled among them, one sometimes encounters an occasional single or pair of Macaroni penguin. The latter are slightly larger, but, occasionally Macaroni x Rockhopper hybrids are produced. Nobody was able to tell me whether such hybrids were, themselves, fertile. The Magellanic makes burrows in which it nests and from which the chicks remain until fledging. The burrows are sometimes congregated together with others and sometimes well separated. Many are well away from the shore. They are probably the most shy of the penguin species (a relative term for the Falklands) and their burrows are often infested with fleas (which are happy to bite tourists if the opportunity arises).

 

Penguins (possibly excepting Kings) will, apparently, only put to sea in groups - presumably because of predation risks - and they travel fast near the surface when close inshore, porpoising through the water. All species except for Rockhoppers (Macaronis) use shallow beaches from which to leave and enter the water.

 

Gentoo:

 

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Posture adopted when trying to dissipate heat

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Inbound, porpoising (above and below)

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A new game? King of the castle, using gabion

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Inbound Gentoos with a few Magellanic and the odd outbound King

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Crossing the beach

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Nearly home

 

Rockhopper (and Macaroni):

 

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Rockhopper head detail

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Macaroni in Rockhopper/Cormorant colony

 

 

 

 

 

 

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douglaswise

Sorry, something went wrong with the above so I decided to post where I'd got to and complete the penguin section below. You will miss the flippant comments, but the pix are there.

 

Rockhopper (continued):

 

Below are photos from the Bleaker colony

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Magellanic penguins:

 

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Too many penguin pix. Have temporarily run out of time so will have to deal with Kings in a following post.

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douglaswise

King penguins:

 

As their breeding cycle exceeds a year, females tend to breed for 2 consecutive years (a bit later in the season in the second of these) and then to miss a year. Young penguins usually return to breed at about 4 years. post-48867-0-02243600-1483891663_thumb.jpg

On arrival from the sea, these first timers and those having missed a year congregate separately from the main colony and moult before moving across to it.

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Then, they select mates, a process that apparently requires heavy slapping of others with flippers and even pecking

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Next they move closer into the colony to lay eggs. These are brooded on the tops of feet rather than on the ground (as is the case for other Falkland species).

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At the colony's periphery, there are chicks of the previous year in varied stages of moult. These still require to be fed.

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The moult can go wrong. This chick would have starved had we not freed its beak. I hope the parents hadn't lost interest by this stage.

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The last 4 photos are portraits of these magnificent-looking birds and conclude my posts on avifauna.

 

 

 

 

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michael-ibk

Fantastic Penguin photos! You are really making the Falklands look more and more appealing.

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xelas

Penguins are just so photogenic creatures! I wonder, would Zvezda care to exchange Caribbeans with Falklands?!

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Great trip report and brilliant photos, especially the penguins.

 

Are the Falklands similar to Patagonia? We loved Patagonia, it really sparked up our interest in wildlife.

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