Saturday, March 03, 2007

Falkland Iskands and Ascension trip: last week

Sunday 25th Feb

Up at 4:30 for cup of tea and a bit of breakfast (cereal) and then waited for the Falkland Tours bus – which eventually arrived about 5:35. Delivered to Mount Pleasant Airport about 6:20, but didn’t seem to cause any problems. After all the usual waiting around, we took off about 9:08. Arrived Ascension Island 15:30 Falkland Time, which is 18:30 Ascension Island (and UK) time – so sunset by the time I got through immigration, picked up my luggage and made it to the Obsidian Hotel minibus. Delivered to Hayes House in Georgetown OK and, thankfully, there is tea and coffee making in the room – the wonders of a cup of tea!

Eventually went down to Long Beach about 10pm to see if there were any Green Turtles about. Fully dark, but clear and with about ⅔ moon, so quite bright enough to see by. The surf was pounding in (I learned later that this is bad – turtles tend to avoid nights when it is rough). Walked less than halfway along the beach when I found two turtles on their way up the beach, so I stopped to watch. They are BIG. The info says they are the biggest Green Turtles known. This is probably associated with the long journeys they make to and from Ascension from the Brazilian coast without feeding. Only big animals with plenty of fat reserves can manage this. Females are usually 250 kg and can be over 300 – having stood next to one, I can believe it! Fresh ot of the sea and climbing up the beach, they shine in the moonlight, but once they start to dig they get covered in sand. The one I stayed with had one brief dig then moved further up the beach and began to dig in earnest. She dug a remarkably deep hole – taking maybe 45 minutes. Then everything went still – which means egg laying – so I moved up close behind her. Lots of heavy breathing – sounds like quite an effort. Then the hole needs filling in. First she used her back flippers to push sand about, then started using her front flippers. The routine was: stop for a rest, a few heavy breaths, throw sand backwards with the front flippers about 6 times then trample in the results with the back flippers and rest again. Her front flippers are powerful, but a lot of the sand is thrown some distance (e.g. all over me) but to no great effect. She spent nearly an hour doing this and was reasonably effective in flattening the hole by the end of it. Finally headed seawards around 0:15 so I headed for my bed (it still only felt like 9:15 to me of course!). Passed about 4 more heaving up the beach on my way back. While I was there, I was passed twice by a guy with radio-tracking gear – presumably studying the turtles.

Monday 26th Feb

Found my way round to the main hotel for breakfast then went to the Conservation Centre at 9am to meet the folks there. Seem a very friendly bunch. Carl and Colin were heading up Green Mountain to put up some signs on one path and to go around another clearing vegetation, so I went with them.

Mynas common in Georgetown and a nice bright male Canary Finch in a bush in front of the hotel. As we went up the very steep and windy road to Green Mountain (in a land rover), Mynas were very common and saw a couple of Fairy Terns drifting about. Clouds quite low, so we were in the cloud by the time we got up to the Governor’s residence and the old farm.

First stop was a shed in Rock Cottage garden to fix the signs on poles and then off round Bishop’s Path putting wooden signs in to replace temporary cardboard ones. It is very lush and green up here and from about 600m up (to 859mat the summit) is essentially a tropical cloud-forest. Once, the vegetation was almost all ferns, which still survive in places, but is now almost entirely of introduced plants dominated by trees and tall bushes. The final bit of the road up runs through bananas and Carl gave me one – a genuine Ascension grown banana – rather small but tasted just like any other,

Myna is the main bird calling up here, flocks of Canary Finch flying about and Waxbills zipping about in the vegetation. Also quite a lot of rabbits – several live ones and many dead ones on the path. We also passed black plastic boxes at regular intervals which are rat baiting stations. Shell Ginger is the dominant vegetation along here – strap like leaves about 3m high with clusters of pale pinkish flowers (supposedly shell-like) which are yellow veined with red inside. The root can be used as a substitute for ginger apparently. Also Ginger-lily in places, which is similar but with a loose bottle-brush like spike of yellow flowers. Would have been spectacular views in places – where the path runs round a cliff – but just fog blowing in today. This is quite a short path which comes back to the pigsties of the old farm.

Then went round Elliot’s Path – much longer and quite muddy in places – runs fairly level at about 700m altitude. Carl and Colin had machetes and the idea was to clear encroaching vegetation – which needs doing several times a season. This again skirts the top of some cliffs and gives good views on a clear day. It also has a number of tunnels cut through bands of volcanic ash. It was built in 1840s by the Marines to provide a look-out according to the signs. Again, Shell ginger forms a hedge along much of it. Also passes through an area of Norfolk Island Pines, an Australian trees supposedly planted in 1860 to provide replacement masts for ships. It grows tall and straight (up to 70m) and the needles are very small – quite a grove of big trees and plenty of young specimens. The volcanic ash forms vertical rock faces in many places which are covered in ferns – mostly a type of Maidenhair Fern whose name and affinities is much disputed!

On the way down saw numerous rabbits and a Red-necked Francolin crossing the road infront of us. Fracolins are apparently frequently seen along the road.

Down again about 1pm. There was a tour of the island going out, but I decided not to go o this as it mainly went to places I had already been, historic buildings in Georgetown, etc. So I spent some time catching up on emails (they have a computer with internet connection available!), and looking at some of their books on flora and invertebrates. Also met Sam, the PhD student from Exeter University, who I saw on the beach last night. He has about 20 radio tagged turtles and is following when and where they come into nest, sampling the eggs they lay, and has some of the nests caged so that he can get blood samples from the hatchlings. So far, they have come in about every 11 days and show remarkable consistency to the same part of the beach and even dig each nest within about 10m of each other (seems like putting all your eggs in one basket to me). He says it will not be good tonight – the big swells coming in are making it too rough so not many if any turtles will come. But when it calms down again, there will be a bumper night. Also, the first nests he marked are now 60 days old, so hatchlings should start appearing any night now.

I went for a walk along Long Beach. Very spectacular surf – huge rollers coming in sending water right up the beach. This is not good for the turtles – nests are getting eroded out of the beach and there was a scatter of smashed up eggs. I suppose it is a trade-off as always – nest further up the beach and you are safer from the sea but hatchlings are more susceptible to predators or not finding their way into the water (which apparently happens quite often).

At the far end of the bay, the sand forms a more-or-less vertical wall at the limit of the waves, and the surf was crashing into this. Batches of eggs could be seen eroding out of this wall and getting washed down the beach. Still I suppose this is natural enough and has been going on for a long time – given the density of nests there must be immense numbers of eggs in this beach!

Almost immediately saw my first Frigate Bird – an adult female I think, and saw two more later on (young birds with white bellies). They are big, the forked tail is spectacular and they look improbably long and thin in all directions – neck, wings, tail.

Walked round to the far side of the bay where there are some big blow holes where the sea has penetrated larva tubes, making tunnels and arches. These were working very spectacularly and some of the water comes out remarkably far in with no obvious cave entrance. Then back along the beach to the turtle ponds – which have filled up with waves breaking over the walls.

Headed back about 5:30 and of course it is dark about 7pm.

Tuesday 27th Feb

Sunny and hot all day. Cloud not so low on Green Mountain, The edge of the cloud jus skirting the top from time to time. Very ho in Georgetown by mid-afternoon. The surf is dying down a bit.

Around for breakfast about 7:30 and then over to the Conservation Centre just after 8am to find that they had problems with one of the land rovers (turned out to be a stone in the gear box), so there was going to be some delay before we could go out. Eventually left for Green Mountain about 9:45. So I checked some emails and tried to get an internet connection via their intranet. Doesn’t work – some connection process to the Cable&Wireless system intervenes. It also means that, even on their machine, if the browser spawns another window then that won’t work – e.g. blogger opens another instance of the browser to preview your current entry – but it won’t connect! Very strange set up!

On the way up, stopped to look at a fairy tern whivh is nesting in a fork in one o the Eucalyptus trees beside the road. It is just sitting there where a small side branch comes off the main trunk – presumably on an egg lodged in the fork. Francolin was calling nearby and we saw one with three chicks briefly as it crossed the road.

Went up with Stedson, Carl and Colin. Stedson showed me around the stuff he is doing with endemic plants. He is raising the fern Pteris adsensionis, the tiny grass Sporobolus caespitosus and the endemic spurge Euphorbia origanoides for restocking campaigns. He also has a collection of indigenous plants and common introductions which he uses fro school parties. He explained that he does pretty much all this by himself and hasn’t had much time for it since Tara left because he has had to take over a lot of the running of the Conservation Department. However, Tara’s replacement is arriving next week and he hopes to be able to hand over to her in a few weeks and have more time for the endemics work.

We then went up to the Dew Pond path where he showed me the areas he is restocking with the fern Pteris adsensionis. He has cleared a number of areas up towards the summit under the shade of trees and planted out ferns he has reared. He explained that he has had to do all the clearing (which is a big job!) and had to keep it weeded – which is ongoing because in this warm and moist environment everything grows very fast. The ferns certainly looked healthy and seemed to be doing well. Before the habitat was so profoundly modified by introduced species the top of the mountain was reportedly carpeted in ferns and P. adsensionis was probably the major element. Before this project started, the population was down to about 40 known plants.

We went on up to Dew Pond. The track has a wall in places built of larva blocks and the crevices are favoured by land-crabs. We saw several small to medium sized, yellow ones. Difficult to get a good view though since they retreat into their holes when approached. This was built in the mid 19thC as an emergency water supply and is now surrounded by a thick forest of bamboo. It is a very wet, muddy and drippy place. You go up via a board-walk which Stedson again built and installed himself!

The bamboo has balls of moss growing all over the stems and hanging from the ends of the leaves and, in this moss, the tiny endemic fern Xiphopteris ascenionesis grows. Once he had pointed it out to me, it was easy to spot it all over the place. Apparently, it originally grew on clumps of moss on vertical ash faces (and still does in a few spots), but as thebamboo grew up it has moved up the stems quite happily. Also amongst the bamboo is a third endemic fern, Marattia purpurascens. This is quite big, very dark coloured and a bit like hard fern in shape (but much bigger) and seemed to be reasonably frequent in deep, wet shade amongst the bamboo.

The pond supports blue water lilies and is supposed to have goldfish (“to keep the water clean”) but they weren’t in evidence. African clawed toads (Xenopus) were apparently also introduced but haven’t been reliably reported for some time.

I had a wander round Bishop’s Path again whilst folks were having lunch. This time the cloud was higher so I could see the view. It skirts across the top of a cliff which is a favourite nesting site for Fairy Terns, so plenty of the wheeling about below me. They seem to very often fly in pairs, closely following each others manoeuvres – perhaps courtship? Also had a good (brief) view of a Red-necked Francolin perched on a post which flew off almost immediately.

A security policeman from the airfield, Steve, was due to meet us at 1:30 with a party of volunteers to do some clearance work on Scout Path. He turned up, but the volunteers didn’t, so it was just Steve, Stedson and me to attempt to do something. We collected some tools, drove down to the Residency – middle level of the mountain – and headed off along Scout Path. This heads NE along the dry side of the mountain about halfway up. The vegetation is markedly different here with many areas dominated by Guava, a shrub whose fruits are scattered all over the place. This apparently in a major food of land-crabs which are very abundant here – though mainly nocturnal. Apparently if you come here at sunset, they are all over the place. Never the less we saw quite a few and several of impressive size. Nearly all are yellow, but you do get occasional much darker ones of a purplish-red hue and we found one big deep-purple one. Mynas were also abundant – they scavenge anything so will also take the Guava fruits.

It wasn’t very clear what they were trying to do. Steve is trying to trace the original route of Scout Path which comes to a rather shaky end at the moment and jpins up with another path. We eventually cleared some Bermuda Cedar branches that wer blocking a short stretch that was obviously part of the original route – but were already quite conveniently bypassed by the current path.

Because of the land-rover shortage, we had to be back for a pickup at 3:15pm, so back down to the Conservation Centre.

I had a cup of tea and then headed down for a walk along the back of Long Beach. The surf has died down somewhat from yesterday, but it was clear that quite a few turtles did come up last night despite the heavy surf. The areas of the beach which had been wiped by the waves was well covered in tracks. A Frigate bird was patrolling the beach – apparently they pick up eggs, but are mainly after hatchlings which should be starting to appear any time now. The step in the sand at the far end of the beach has eroded well into the beach and quite a few clutches were busy falling out of the sand cliff. Plenty of turtles about just beyond where the waves were breaking. I could see backs and heads appearing. Should be a good night tonight now it is a bit calmer.

Went down to Long Beach about 9pm – and there were turtles everywhere – and more coming up all along the beach! I skirted along the edge of the breaking waves, detouring to avoid going close to any coming up, but soon found two on their way down and took some photos – but not very successful because it was too dark to use the viewfinder at all – just point and hope. Then found one which seemed to be in the final stages of digging her pit just over the crest of the beach. Settled down to watch – she was excavating the egg laying pit with her back flippers. At least three more came out of the sea and headed for me. One eventually stopped right on the edge of the pit I was watching and began to dig, throwing spoil into the pit I was watching, but she soon gave up and moved a few feet more up the beach before starting again. The second one veered off a bit, but started excavating next to where I had dumped my sandals. The third one came straight for me and ended up passing so close its flippers brushed over my legs. Meanwhile the one I was watching had quietened down and was presumably egg laying, so I moved up close behind her and took a couple of flash photos – but again very hit and miss. At one point I felt something go over my foot and it was a tiny turtle hatchling scurrying down the beach. At least I saw that one make it into the water. I decided to walk straight up the beach on to the road at the back to avoid disturbance, Turtles digging all over the place! I got to the rack and started back and there was one turtle almost on the rack, which turned of and started back onto the sand as I watched, but further on there was one that had actually crossed the road.

Wednesday 28th Feb

Up at 6:30 to be ready for pickup at 7am. We were driven round by Raymond to the south, behind Green Mountain. No sign of the Brize Norton plane which should be arriving about now!

Walked down to Coconut Bay – which is a steep descent of about 2km over larva flows – very rough going. The sun was just coming up and still behind clouds, so still quite cool (the idea of the early start!). Eventually got down to the single Coconut tree growing in a gully, which gives the area its name. Rocks here are very strange. Whitish, fine grained, rather soft ash which erodes to leave thin plates – like corrugates asbestos sheets – which easily break under you feet and form sort of shells and hollows around the rocks in weird shapes. Very popular with land crabs and lots about. Very little growing here – occasional Guava in the lowest point of the hollows were there is presumably some moisture in the soil.

Worked our way out along the west side of the bay to a coastal stack called “White Rocks”. This is a traditional (i.e. pre-feral cat eradication) for Brown Booby and Noddy nesting, but the interest is that they have also moved onto the main island side of the cliff on the adjacent point. Lots of Common Noddy about and a few Masked Boobies resting, but mainly Brown Booby and Black Noddy. The Black Noddy had nest sites all over the vertical cliff faces, cup shaped and made mostly of guano – bit like Kittiwake nests – but there were no signs of eggs or young.

As we turned back, a Frigate Bird came over. Apparently there is one pair on a low stack near the middle of the bay.

We worked our way round the bay, having to go back inland and up, There is another stack at the E side of the mouth of the bay which was used when cats were about, and again the adjacent cliff face has now been colonised. Quite a lot of Brown Booby and Black Noddy nests on the cliffs – the boobies had young, a few quite small downy chicks, but mostly well grown and near fledging, but again the Noddy nests appeared empty. On the stack itself there were at least 3 pairs of Yellow-billed Tropicbird nesting. Watched some flying about for some time. They are very exotic with the long central tail streamers. The black bars across the inner part of the wind are quite obvious and the yellow bill is also easily seen on the perched birds (its quite big and stout). Got to a position where I could see two of the sitting birds and got some photos. Again, Masked Booby and Common Noddy were about.

Then it was time to climb up again. By now (c 11am) the sun was fully out and it was HOT! I found it a pretty tough walk out, especially climbing up the loose, blocky piles of clinker. We were eventually picked up and taken back to Georgetown.

This was the last day for the two guys who have been working on the Green Mountain path clearance project, so there was going to be a celebration on Green Mountain with a curry (cooked by Raymond) and cold beers – and I was invited along. The cold beers were extremely welcome after the morning walk and the St Helena Beef Curry was extremely good.

The 747 was still there, on the airstrip when we went up, and we heard it leave about 3-ish – i.e. 5 or 6 hours late. This was apparently due to heavy rain in the Falklands. It may well mean the return flight won’t be until Friday morning (instead of late Thursday night) – hopefully, I should be able to find out more tonight.

Apparently, there were a few turtles still digging, and even one coming ashore, as late as 9am this morning on Pan Am Beach (further S near the American Base). Also 6 clutches hatched there last night – so clearly hatching is now thoroughly underway. Since tomorrow is my last chance, I must try and get down to the beach at dawn – it would be much easier to take some photos if there are still turtles about in daylight.

Back down about 3:30 and, after stopping for a cup of tea and check my emails and then went for a walk along the beach – this time, S from Georgetown towards Dead Man’s Beach and Catherine Point. Clearly, quite a lot of turtles were up on these beaches last night as well. This is much rockier than Long Beach and the rocks are swarming with Sally Lightfoot Crabs. Lots of broken up sea urchins along the tideline – presumably resulting from the heavy surf of the last couple of days.

The Letterbox walk was scheduled for tomorrow. This is a very long one and apparently much worse than Coconut Bay. Colin says it takes him 7 hours and he does it about once a fortnight. I decided this was a bit too much for me! So we decided to go to some of the stacks in the NW instead. This is only about 2 hours walk and they found a pair of Red-footed Booby there recently (only 2-3 pairs currently on the island). Should also be Red-billed Tropicbird nesting on the offshore stacks – so I will need the telescope.

Thursday 1st March

Went down to Long Beach at about 6:30am just as it was getting light. The beach was incredibly churned up and there were still several turtles in view as it got light (the sun comes up just after 7am). The last couple of turtles were still trundling down towards the sea at 7:30, by which time it was full daylight, so got some pictures. Quite a few turtles were evident in the sea, just beyond where the waves started breaking. Presumably they are exhausted by their trip up the beach and take a while to head out to sea. Met Sam – he said that it had been an incredibly busy night with at least 300 turtles coming up, including 4 of his radio-tagged ones. Also quite a few clutches hatching – certainly looked it by the state of the beach.

About 20-30 Frigate Birds patrolling the beach (presumably looking for hatchlings) but didn’t see any get anything. Also 2 Masked Booby circling round the bay and diving.

Went round to the Conservation Centre after breakfast and then headed off for the stacks around the NW cost to English Bay. This area is the seaward end of the most recent larva flow and a real moonscape. Extremely slow and difficult walking over loose blocks of cinder. We started by the “golf ball” radar installation around the coast north and west of Georgetown and were soon into one of the “ghost colonies” – areas where guano remains from the areas that were used by nesting seabirds before cats were introduced in the 19thC. It is a vast area and there must have been an awful lot of them!

Visited a series of small stacks, only two of which are big enough to support breeding colonies – mainly Common Noddy and Brown Booby. These suffer from being washed out by really big swells occasionally. There were also Yellow-billed Tropicbird nesting in small cavities in the larva at several places (on the main island) and a small Brown Noddy colony on one of the headlands. The “nest” is just a slight hollow in he rock where the egg is laid – no nesting material or guano like the Black Noddy uses. Several small chicks and one nearly fledged individual were hiding amongst the cinder blocks.

At one point, two dolphin went past some way out. Didn’t see much apart from an occasional dorsal fin. Probably Bottle-nosed Dolphin which is by far the commonest small cetacean around the island. But no sign of any turtles here. The water is very clear so, looking down from the low cliffs into the various small bays, you can see right down into the water when the breaking waves allow.

One of these stacks has one or two pairs of Red-footed Booby and we eventually found two juvenile birds amongst the many Brown Boobies. They are a lighter brown, do not have the white (or murky grey in the case of young birds) on the chest and have a bluish-coloured beak with a pink patch at the base and quite bright pinkish-red feet. We saw one flying around and it was quite noticeable then because of the white tail and whit V-shaped rump patch which contrasts strongly with the dark-brown back and wings. Brown Boobies have a completely dark back and tail.

We moved down onto a low platform with a knob of rock at the end. The waves were occasionally breaking onto the seaward side of the platform, so it was a bit of a dodgy spot and there in no way we would have got there a couple of days ago. From the end, we could look back at the stack with the sun behind us and I took photos through the telescope of Common Noddy, Brown and Red-footed Booby.

Several large, very nice clear rock pools here with plenty of small fish. There was quite a large group of one of the angel fish and several tiny cleaner fish which were bright blue at the front and had yellow tails.

Finally got round to the pickup at English Bay about 12am. The beach here was also thoroughly churned up and had obviously seen a lot of turtle-nesting activity last night.

Back in Georgetown I went round to the Hotel to pay up and find out what was happening. They thought the flight was likely to be on time, but we wouldn’t know for certain until after 2pm when the plane should have taken off from Stanley. If all went well, the pickup would be about 7pm.

So I went for a walk along Long Beach and into the ash-desert beyond. Although there are plenty of Mexican Thorn bushes at first, it quickly becomes totally unvegetated. The fringes of the larva are mostly covered in sheets of fairly find ash so it is not too bad to walk over, but soon becomes increasingly populated with piles of blocky cinder. There were big locust-type grasshoppers flying about and perching on the ash. Very flightly and I didn’t manage to get a close look or a photo, but both Migratory Locust and Desert Locust regularly occur. Back along Long Beach which was still being patrolled by a couple of Frigate Birds.

Got back about 5:30 and checked the flight information. The plane left MPA on time and is on its way. Check-in time 20:00 so time to pack. The hotel charged half-price for the continued use of the room for the rest of today. This seems quite fair and civilised! This gave me the chance to make full use of the day and then come back to a shower and then to pack up at leisure.

We were picked up around 7:30 by the minibus and taken to the air-head. Bit of a shock then – I am not on the list for the flight! Getting at all the paperwork meant undoing the suitcase, but I produced my receipts and flight confirmation showing I was indeed booked and confirmed for this flight. I was sent to the back of the queue for my misdeeds whilst there was much scratching of heads and sending for the supervisor and the lady-who-knows-how-to-work-the-computer, but I was eventually issued with a boarding card.

The plane came in on time about 9pm and we took off about 11pm.

Friday 2nd March

Arrived Brize Norton about 7:15am. The Ascension Island baggage was last off, so I eventually got out about 8:15 and joined the large group milling about in front of the terminal building waiting for the bus to Oxford and Heathrow – which turned up about half an hour later. Could really have done with two buses since it was absolutely packed and didn’t have enough room for all the luggage (some of which had to be pilled in the front couple of seats) – still I only had to go as far as Oxford Station. This bit was not well organised! Nobody seemed to know what was happening (was the bus due or had it already gone?) and was it the same bus to both Oxford and Heathrow? When the bus did turn up, the driver immediately disappeared leaving MUCH CONFUSION. Full marks to a guy in a yellow vest who did his best to sort us out!

Arrived back at home in Peterborough about 1pm.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Falkland Islands & Ascension trip: third week

Monday 19th Feb
Wet, cold, nasty all day.

Finished loading Cetacean effort data and started on Vascular Plants. Quite a lot of subspecies and introduced species missing from plant checklist. Took most of the afternoon to sort them out.

About 6 “jiggers” turned up in the afternoon. These are specialised squid fishing boats. Their sides are lines with alternating short and long booms with clusters of lights. They are apparently floating generators which chuck out more lighting power than a small city. The lights attract plankton and the plankton attract squid. They have a continuous belt of lures which goes over the bow and is hauled in at the stern. Lures consist of a ball of luminous plastic surrounded by barbless hooks. The squid attack the luminous ball and get caught on the hooks. When they are dragged up over the stern they discharge their ink – which is one of the reasons the boats look so filthy – the other is all the rust. The incoming lures go over a high roller then downhill and the squid then slip off the hooks (hence why they have no barbs) and go down a chute to be processed. These ones are apparently from Taiwan, but they also come from Cambodia, China, Malaysia, etc. Selling them fishing licences is a mainstay of the Falklands economy. Some years the squid don’t come as far as Falkland waters and thet is an economic disaster for the islands. But conditions on board are very bad. The hands aren’t fed – they are expecyed to feed themselves on what they ca catch (apart from squid). 10 jumped ship during the night – seeking asylum. 8 made it, 2 disappeared, presumed drowned.

Tuesday 20th Feb
Weather lousy again. Wet and cold. Lots of heavy rain during the night – everywhere very wet.

Lots of activity with port authority boats in the harbour - planes and a helicopter also involved.. Apparently they have divers out looking for the bodies of the two missing sailors. Some more jumped ship last night, but made it ashore.

Big cruise ship in today, so Stanley very busy. It is rather wet, so the tourists coming ashore all look rather miserable and bedraggled!

Spent all day and much of the evening finishing loading three vascular plant datasets. About 25,000 records in total.

Wednesday 21st Feb
Much nicer this morning. Sky fairly clear and plenty of sunshine, but still quite cold. Clouded up during the day, but stayed dry and cleared again later to give a very pleasant evening with spectacular sunset.

Gave a presentation in the morning to people from Agricultural and Environmental Planning Departments in the Agriculture Departments building (hut). Seemed to go quite well and there seems to be enthusiasm for Falklands Conservation taking on an LRC type role and managing biodiversity data on behalf of other sections. Seems there is quite a bit of littoral data and other datasets on introduced species. Helen from Environmental Planning (who I met on Carcass Island) seems keen to get this on a proper footing and the data more widely available to support EIAs and planning work. All looking quite positive. There seem to be fewer issues about data ownership here at the moment, and being a fairly small community who all know each other, less of a problem about communications and who is doing what than is perhaps typical of the environment in which a British LRC operates!

Decided to go to Gypsy Cove again this evening. Forecast for tomorrow looks poor – wet all day again – so this may be my last chance. Left work at 4:30, got back and changed. Rang for a cab, but they were too busy and used my only 20p for the phone! Decided to head off into the centre and try and find one – which worked out in the end, but slowed me down a bit. Eventually got out there, this time for £5, by about 5:45.

Seem to be more Magellanic Penguins than ever. The huddle on the shore was there, as last time, but there seemed to be many more on the beach and the edge of the water. Feral Geese and Upland Geese again and Black Chinned Siskin in the gorse. Rock Shag colony still has well grown but unfledged young. Turkey Vulture sat on the end and Dark-faced Ground-tyrant in the rocky areas.

Sat and looked at the sea for a while, but very little about. Steamer ducks, Rock Shags, a few Kelp Gulls, but mostly parties of Magellanic Penguins scattered over the sea. No sign of any shearwaters this time.

Walked round Yorke Bay round the back of the minefield fence. Very ice views of a Variable Hawk and a very well marked Long-tailed Meadow-lark, also several small flocks of Black-throated Finch. Quite a lot of Fox-and-Her-Cubs along the track. Very nice dramatic low sunshine through gaps in the cloud contrasting with quite heavy dark grey clouds in the east. Dunes look very good in the low lighting so lots of photos.

Eventually turned up towards Stanley Airfield across the moonscape of the old quarry area. Quite a lot of Rufous-chested Dotterel about over the bare, stony area. Went across the top and then down towards Whalebone Cove and the Lady Elizabeth. Several small lochan type pools here. Several Speckled Teal about. Walked along the shore round to Boxer Bridge. Upland and Ruddy Headed Geese numerous as before.

Just over the bridge, another Variable Hawk was sat on a telegraph pole making buzzard-like, mewing noises. This time I managed to find the path along the shore and followed it back to the east end of Stanley. Kelp Geese, Steamer Ducks, several parties of Crested Duck and a couple of Black Oystercatcher along the shore. Black Oystercatchers has a high, vaguely curlew-like call.

Got back about 9:15pm.

Thursday 22nd
Nice day for a change. Sunny, reasonable temperature and little wind. Largely blue skies.

In fairly early today and loaded the new Breeding Bird Survey data. Just under 1,000 records from an Access database. Teaching session with Brian. Had a session with Nic and Isaac on management, data structure, etc. Spent some time writing up instructions on how to manage the species dictionary for Nic and Isaac. Nearly everyone is going to Volunteer Point tomorrow – and they have invited me to go along, so this looks like my last day in the office. Worked out about right – I have just about run out of things to do anyway.

Lot of Dolphin Gulls about today – about 15 sat on the jetty at lunchtime with a couple of Kelp Gulls and a male Kelp Goose. Turkey Vulture on the way in. Not many Giant Petrel around today.

Went for a walk before tea along the front past the Jhelum. Lots of Kelp Goose pairs, just a few Upland Goose towards the W end of town. The family of 4 Magellanic Oystercatcher was in the same place by the Battle of the Falklands 1914 Memorial, another single one further on. About 6 Crested Duck at various places along the shore. Usual Rock Shag on the Jhelum and also Rock Shag flying up and down and fishing amongst the kelp. Steamer Ducks mostly seemed to be a way out amongst the kelp.

Friday 23rd Feb
Weather very nice first thing with a completely clear blue sky, but by mid-morning it had clouded up somewhat and the wind got up from SW. All in all a pretty nice day, bright and with patches of sunshine breaking through. Supposed to get cloudy and windy later.

Up at 7am for earlier breakfast and then round to Kay’s for pickup at 8am by Nic. Went round to office to meet up with the others. Two Falklands Conservation land rovers and another from the Environmental Dept., driven by Helen, going – 10 people.

The drive to Johnson’s Harbour was easy – though mostly on gravel roads. This makes it very dusty and the last few miles had frequent gates. Coming out of Stanley, past Mount Tumbledown and Mount Kent, mine fields line the road for several miles. Past these rocky hills, the landscape is pretty flat to gently undulating moorland with patches of diddle-dee heath, but more often white grass moor, with some “stone runs” – areas of bare stones, mostly in stripes. All in all rather dull and uninteresting, even on a nice day. Must be very bleak when the weather is poor.

By the time we got to Johnston’s Harbour, there were four other tourist land rovers – so we had a convoy of seven for the off-road part. This is about 10 miles and very rough and slow going, so it takes 1½ - 2 hours. The problem is that it is heavily used and so rather churned up. Hence an awful lot of manoeuvring round wet bits and people often got stuck and had to be winched or towed out. Certainly not a route to try on your own! A few Dotterel about as we got nearer the coast and Falkland Pipits were abundant.

We got to the Volunteers Shack about 11am. Nic and Isaac had two colonies of Gentoo to count here. I went to the first one with them then wandered over to the main King Penguin colony area.

Volunteer Point is a rocky peninsular connected to the mainland by a fairly narrow sandy neck – which is where the King Penguin colony (and two large Gentoo colonies) are located. The inlet behind it is quite large, but the entrance at Volunteer Sands on the far side is narrow so has very powerful tidal currents. Whilst the Volunteers colony area is low and sandy, the point itself is rocky and covered in moorland,

Lots of South American Terns flying over, many carrying fish. Apparently, their colony is inland a bit on a pebble beach towards the head of the inlet. Lots of Upland Geese and some Ruddy Headed about, also a flock of about 20 feral Greylag. The beach on the seaward side is wide and covered in Gentoo and Magellanic Penguins, both breeding on the adjacent sandy grassland slopes. Plenty of Skuas and Dolphin Gulls about as usually seems to be the case at colonies. Also many Two Banded Plover and quite a few Dark-faced Ground-Tyrant hoping about.

The second Gentoo colony is on the slope above the landside shore of the inlet on quite a steep slope above a pebble beach. The King Penguins are at the outer end of the neck where the ground starts to rise to the point. There is a port-a-cabin where the warden takes the money (they charge people £15 a head to visit the colony) with some display boards and the colony has a ring of white-painted stones round it that you are supposed to stay outside of. About six land rovers (not counting our three) parked by the cabin and lots of people taking photos.

King Penguins are very photogenic and also quite noisy and smelly. This colony (500 pairs) is quite spectacular. The are asynchronous breeders so there were a few eggs rolling about and penguins incubating (the egg is held on their feet underneath the brood pouch) as well as birds brooding young chicks and big, fat, brown well grown chicks. It takes 16-18 months from egg to fledging so they are here all the time. They are very vicious towards the chicks. If one moves, it gets pecked at by adults from all sides.

It was noticeable that there were quite a few Turkey Vultures hanging around in the air or perched on fences. Apparently they try to grab eggs.

The two Falkland Conservation land rovers went on over the top of the poit to Volunteer Sands on the far side to count another Gentoo colony. This is a very wide sand bar partially blocking the entrance to the inlet with dunes behind it. There is a large Gentoo colony and another small colony of Kings with about 50 birds and 15-20 chicks. This is located on a pebble ridge quite well back in the dunes. Lots of geese, skua, gulls and plovers.

Back to Volunteers and then northwards again to Cow Bay. This is the next bay northwards from Volunteers, reached by crossing the next moorland covered headland, and is a long, wide sandy beach with dunes behind it. There is a smallish Gentoo colony at the far end (included in the Volunteer Point IBA). Very nice spot with lots of Magellanic Penguins as well as the Gentoos and several large flocks of Two-banded Plover along the top of the beach. Ground tyrants were also very abundant. A young Dolphin Gull was following an adult along the tide line begging, but not having much luck.

Began to head back about 2:30, first to Volunteers and then the off-road part back to Johnson’s Harbour – slow going as before. Saw at least three variable hawks on the way back: one distantly in the air, one sitting beside the road was a very dark individual almost completely dark brown except for some red on its back, and the final one was in flight, but not far away, had the red back, grey wingtips and an almost completely white tail. “Variable” seems to be a good name from them.

We were hearing all day that the air-bridge flight is delayed again. It is at Ascension island, but expected high cross-winds at MPA by this evening are preventing it from leaving. By 4pm there was still no news of when it might leave Ascension. So it looks like the departure time tomorrow may get put back.

Saturday 24th Feb
It seems that the Brize-Norton flight in not due in until 16:10 this afternoon and won’t go out again until 9am on Sunday (check-in by 6am!). So I have an extra day in Stanley. Luckily, there is nobody due in the B&B tonight, so I can stay in the room.

Turned out to be a really nice day. Sunny, almost clear skies, light SW wind. Clouded over a bit after 4pm.

Spent some time early on, whilst waiting to hear what was happening with the flight, on the computer sorting out photos. About 10:30, decided that it was a nice day, so I needed to get out and the walk I wanted to do was Pembroke Head. So the plan was to walk out to Boxer Bridge, then all the way along the south shore, past the Airfield, and round to the lighthouse and then back along the north shore and eventually over to Whalebone Cove (without going as far as Gypsy Cove).

A very big cruise ship (“Rotterdam”) in, so Stanley very full of people, Saw Anna at the Jetty Centre organising people onto buses for “bird walks”. Some Black-chinned Siskin on a wire. Then got picked up by Brian, who gave me a lift out to the Fish Dock – where the fishing boats are on display. As he dropped me, Isaac came along on his bike – so a chance to say goodbye to several people.

Then walked along the coastal path to Boxer Bridge and then on along the southern shore. Nice Variable Hawk soaring about overhead – very pale individual with a white tail. Also some nice Black-throated finch (photo). Another Variable Hawk, this time a rather dark one with a very red back. Crossed the airport road – large flock of House Sparrows in the marram grass.

Went across to the beach at Surf Bay. Series of sandy coves with kelp thrown up along the tide line. Lots of birds on the kelp – Long-tailed Meadow-lark, Falkland Thrush, Black-headed Ground-tyrant hoping about on the rocks and Rufous-chested Dotterel. At least three Turkey Vultures flying and sitting along the shore – hanging in the wind.

Not a lot along the shore. A few Rock Shag flying about and a few perched on rocks. Occasional Magellanic Oystercatcher. In one small bay, a Yellow-billed Pintail was flying round in circles and perching on the sea briefly several times. Another group of Turkey Vultures perched on the kelp near the end, photographed one of them. Also Flightless Steamer Duck near the end.

Arrived at the lighthouse about 14:30. Sat and sea-watched for a while. Lot of Black-browed Albatross well offshore, flying everywhere, also some large groups on the sea. Giant Petrels, Imperial Shag, Skuas, and the odd (Magellanic) Penguin. Also a scattering of Sooty Shearwater, but well out and difficult to pick up. Also a group of Imperial Shag perched on an offshore rock with two attendant Skuas. Rock Shag also flying past and a pair of Steamer Duck a long way offshore.

Headed off round the north shore past Top and Bottom Tussac Islands. Rats have apparently been successfully eradicated from these by a Falklands Conservation led scheme. Tussac Birds have come back, but no sign of Cobb’s Wren – it is feared that they might be too far away from a source of colonisation.

The north shore is a lot rockier with big patches of bare, rocky ground. In these area, Dark-faced Ground Tyrant flitting about. Also some quite large groups of Dotterel, one had about 30 birds with quite a lot of young birds amongst them.

The mine-fields start at the sandy coves opposite the west most of the Tussac Islands. There was a group of Peale’s Dolphin in this first cove. Watched for a long time, maybe six animals involved. They were patrolling backwards and forwards across the cove, coming quite close inshore at times. Showed dark backs with a hooked fin which was paler along the trailing edge. At one point the whole group were rolling about in kelp and the white bellies showing and also making quite a few puffing and snorting noises (photos). Eventually disappeared out towards the island. Single Black Oystercatcher on one of the reefs and Steamer Duck also in the bay.

Worked my way along the back of the dunes (outside the mine-field fence of course!). Quite a few Long-tailed Meadow-lark, Tyrants and some groups of Black-throated Finch. Another Variable Hawk cam along – again a pale bird with a white tail. Further along where the dunes are widest, quite an area of dune pasture behind and up the slope and this was absolutely covered in geese – mostly Upland with a few Ruddy-headed.

Eventually turned inland over the road from Gypsy Cove (which was quite busy) and past the old quarry – which was full of old cars, kitchen goods (washing machines, etc) and old cars. Over the top and then down to Whalebone Cove. Put up a Magellanic Snipe from one of the small pools.

Crested Duck and Steamer Duck in the bay and some more Dotterel along the top of the shore.

Got to Boxer Bridge and was offered a lift back into town – which I was very glad to accept since this is the tedious part of the walk. Dropped in the middle of town – Black-chinned Siskin (3) again seen on a wire. Got back about 5:30pm. The GPS says 25km (with maybe 8km of that being by the two lifts), so over 10 miles of walking.

Got a phone call mid-evening. Pick up tomorrow will be 5-5:15am.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Falkland Island & Ascension Trip: Second Week

Saturday 10th Feb
Wind dropped quite a lot and quite thin and broken cloud giving patches of sunshine. Milder than previous days.

Had breakfast by 8:30 so walked up through Stanley and out to the west to the head of the bay. On getting to the shore near Post Office, 3 Giant Petrel on the sea – took series of photos. Also Steamer Duck, Kelp Geese, Crested Duck in same area. Took some photos of Rock Shag nests on the wreck of the Jhelum, also a Black-crowned Night-heron. Lots of Upland Geese. Kelp Gull and Magellanic Oystercatchers along shore.

West of town limits, horse grazed fields with lots of Upland Geese. 2-3 Turkey Vultures came over. One party of about 8 Ruddy Headed Geese. Stopped by a patch of gorse bushes. Black Faced Ground Tyrant on top, followed by a Falkland Pipit. Several thrushes in the area and also a group of 4 Long-tailed Meadow-lark. 2 Black-chinned Siskin flew out of the bushes. Quite a number of Meadow-lark in the area. On returning into Stanley, a big crowd of House Sparrows on a roof at the edge of town – c50.

Arrived back at 11:15. Due at Stanley Airport at 11:55, so booked taxi at 11:40. The flight eventually left about 12:30. 45 minutes flying time to Sea Lion Island. During the last leg over the sea, got steadily lower and the final stretch was only about 40ft according to the altimeter. I was sat just behind the pilot, so I could see all the instruments. At that height all the birds were clear. Many Black-browed Albatross, passed over one group of c30-50 all on the surface which took off as we flew over. Also many Giant Petrel and a couple of Brown Skua. Landed at Sea Lion Island at about 1:15 – a helicopter had also just landed, so we were all taken into the Lodge for coffee, biscuits and briefing.

In the afternoon, walked up o the east end of the island to the Petrel hide. Just east of the Lodge on the main flat area is a large Gentoo Penguin colony (c. 2,800 pairs according to the guide book). If you stand still for a while, they come right up to you. The grassy area around was alive with Tussac Bird, Black Throated Finch, Falkland Thrush and Upland Goose. Also saw a couple of Falkland Grass Wren – not terribly good views. On to the East ponds and this is the edge of a Magellanic Penguin colony. Several pairs of Brown Skua in this area on the ground or buzzing the penguins. A very busy place with lots of penguins coming and going, geese all over the place and skuas and Kelp Gulls patrolling round.

On the pond there was a single male Chiloe Wigeon as well as many bathing Jackasses. Also a group of Ruddy Headed Geese on the edge. Went across the narrow neck of beech which joins the east bit of the island. Gentoos all over the place. Loads of Flightless Steamer Duck on the beach also Magellanic Oystercatcher, many Two-barred Plover, a few White-rumped Sandpiper and many Tussac Birds.

Walked to the far end where there are signs warning you not to go further because of nesting Giant Petrel and directing you to a hide. Many birds on the drift line here, mostly Tussac Bird, but also Thrush, several Black-throated Finch, a Cobb’s Wren and a couple of Two-barred Plover. Went into the dunes to go to the hide and ran into about 4 Elephant Seals hauled up on top of a dune. The noise and the smell is quite distinctive! Carefully went round them on to the hide to view the colony of Southern Giant Petrel. Quite a few young birds amongst many adults sat on the beach. Took some photos.

Then I went inland through the dunes. Tussac Bird and Black-throated Finch were very numerous. Then through the Tussac to the far shore. Magellanic Penguins had burrows amongst the Tussac grass and many more on the beech. The place is alive with Tussac Bird and Cobb’s Wren. Sat on the beach for a while and both were pecking round my boots. Lots of photos. Several groups of Elephant Seal (mothers and big pups) along the boulder beach, also many Steamer Ducks, Kelp Gees and a Magellanic Snipe.

Reached the neck of land back to the main island, weather turning nasty with drizzle blowing in my face. Group of Dolphin Gulls overhead. Saw what turned out to be a Striated Caracara fly in and went to investigate. Lot of kelp washed up and Elephant Seals hauled out on top of it with swarms of Tussac Bird picking round them. The Elephant Seals treated them like swarms of flies and attempting to flick them off by thrashing about and bellowing. Also Kelp Gees and Two-banded Plover picking about. The Caracara was scrapping about in the kelp near a dead, young elephant seal (which smelt very high). Rain became more serious so I headed back. Another brief view of a Grass Wren near the Gentoo colony.

After a cup of coffee, it cleared up again, so I headed out for Tussac Pond. Lots of Upland Geese grazing the flat grassy area round the airstrip. Pond turned out to be a bit disappointing. It is on the edge of a large Jackass colony in the Tussac Grass and many were swimming and bathing. Only other thing here was 1 adult and 1 juvenile Black-crowned Night-heron and a single Crested Duck. So went on through the Tussac to the south shore. Disturbing the odd Jackass was OK, but nearly ran into a group of about 4 Elephant Seals, which might have been less funny!

Got to the boulder beach – again alive with Tussac Bird and Cobb’s Wren. Watching a group of (?Upland) geese fly past, saw a blow and a high dorsal fin – Killer Whale. This was pretty exciting because at the briefing they said that they had not been seen for 6-7 weeks and offered a bottle of sparkling wine for a sighting. Watched for about 10-15 minutes and saw what seemed to be a single (?male) individual cruising just beyond the kelp beds – saw the blow followed by the dorsal fin about 6 times. Meanwhile, 2 Striated Caracara had appeared in front of a group of about 5 Elephant Seals just a little way up the beach. Took some photos of the nearer one.

Headed back for food (due 7:30). A party of about 5 Dolphin Gulls bathing in the pond were about the only thing different.

On getting back to the lodge found that a party of 3 Orca had been seen by several people and one lady had some video – so I was a bit late to claim the prize!

Early night I think.

Sunday 11th Feb
Lovely day! Little wind, thin and broken cloud giving quite a bit of sunshine. Cleared completely after 4 giving glorious warm and sunny afternoon.

Didn’t wake up early, so woken by alarm at 7:25 for breakfast. Dark Faced Ground Tyrant fluttering about outside during breakfast. Out about 8:30 with a packed lunch.

Headed over towards the dunes towards Cow Point. 2 Snipe along the back of the dunes, took several photos, also loads of Magellanic Penguin with burrows around marram grass. Black throated finch common as it seems to be in all the dune areas I have been to. Small wet area at end of dunes had many Upland Geese and a family party of Ruddy Headed Geese.

Headed towards long pond along the edge of the Tussac grass. Several wet areas including some small pools. Several Speckled Teal also Chiloe Wigeon and Crested Duck with very young chicks. Second brood? Snipe and upland goose also abundant. Falkland Thrush very abundant in the heathy vegetation – after Diddle-Dee berries I think. Tussac Birds everywhere. If you stop they soon turn up and check you out. Black Throated finch seem mainly to be where there is long grass.

Long pond has an extensive “green” at the S end with lots of Upland and Ruddy Headed Geese grazing. 2 Silvery Grebe further along and, whilst I was photographing them, a pair of Speckled Teal and a pair of Silver Teal swam out. Photos of both of these. Grass Wren in the bed of emergent sedges fringing part of the edge. At the far end of the pond there were 7 more Silvery Grebe, more Speckled Teal, Crested Duck and a pair of Chiloe Wigeon as well as many geese.

Headed for Rockhopper Point. By the start of the cliffs a Striated Caracara came and sat on the fence about 2m away and let me walk up to take its picture with no just the camera zoom! Rock Shag on a ledge near base of cliff. Began to smell seabird colony. At Rockhopper Point there are several large colonies of Imperial Shag and a smaller colony of Rockhopper Penguins in between. Striated Caracara, Brown Skua and Dolphin Gull around the colonies and also about 30 Snowy Sheathbills. The Imperial Shags have mud nests in groups on flat areas just behind the cliff top, but mostly deserted now and the birds with well grown young were sitting on flat tops in large, noisy groups. The Rockhoppers are in a sort of gully, but I don’t see how they get down to the sea! The Sheathbills were mainly in one big flock which flew round a couple of times, but some poking about amongst other birds. Took lots of photos.

Headed off northwards, around the western end of the island towards Beaver Pond (apparently this was where Beaver Float-planes landed in the early days of the inter-island air service). Several more big groups of Imperial Shag on flat cliff tops. The area behind is a virtual desert of bare peat. Apparently there was once Tussac here – not known how or why it was lost, but several attempts to replant it have been unsuccessful.

Beaver pond is quite large and separated from the sea by a boulder/shingle ridge. Loads of Upland and Ruddy Headed Geese, lots of Magellanic Penguins and Kelp Gulls bathing. Few Speckled Teal and Crested Ducks, also several (?Flying) Steamer Ducks (Photos). A couple Rufous-chested Dotterel seen on the green around the S end of the pond and several more along the shore. Tussac Birds very abundant – bathing and investigating me, also a number of Dark-faced Ground Tyrants along the shore.

Headed off along the S shore which was still bare peat (with some Magellanic Penguin burrows). Tried to photograph a Turkey Vulture which was sat on the ground, but it flew off. Went onto the beach east of the ponds – covered in drift wood and also bits of whale – vertebrae, ribs, parts of skulls. Lots of Magellanic Penguins coming ashore. Cobb’s wren in several places amongst the drift line rubbish and Tussac Birds everywhere.

Headed across past the little pond east of Beaver and towards East Lofers across large area of Magellanic Penguin burrows. Several small pools with more geese, Speckled Teal and a pair of Chiloe Wigeon. Also very nice pair of Black-chinned Siskin on a fence.

Crossing the Tussac to the cove west of East Lofers, about 6 Turkey Vulture flying as well as Giant Petrel going past all the time. Flat shelf of rock at the bottom of the cliff just washed by the sea. Many Kelp Geese and Steamer Ducks. Also a big roost of Dolphin Gull. Notices to beware of the Sea lions and stick to the cliff top do I fought my way through the Tussac to get along the cliff edge. As well as Turkey Vultures (about 3 more took off from the ground along here), several Striated Caracara.

On the rocks below, as well as Kelp Geese and Steamer Ducks, a few pairs of Crested Duck, may Magellanic Oystercatchers and 2 Black Oystercatcher. They are odd looking birds, completely black with almost white legs and a very thick, hefty, dark red beak – but otherwise standard oystercatcher shape and behaviour.

On getting round the east end of the cliff and heading NE towards Tussac Pond, finally ran into the South-American Sea Lions. The main group had 3 big males and about 30 females with pups. Some very small pups, some well grown – I counted 27. About 5 more males in the area, but some way up and down the beach – so presumably kept at a distance by the dominant male(?s). The males are huge with very thick necks with a mane of brown bristles and a very lion-like roar.

Headed back to the Lodge for a cup of tea (arriving about 4pm). Out again at 4:30 – now cleared completely and sunny/warm so I left my coat behind and tied my jumper round me. Summer arrives in the Falklands.

The conservatory o the Lodge had been left open (presumably because it was getting so warm) and a Tussac Bird had come in and got rapped – trying to get out through the glass – so I caught it and let it out.

Immediately on going out of the door there was a Short-eared Owl flying over the long grass, turned round and disappeared over the dunes towards Cow Point.

Passing the Gentoo colony, there was a single King Penguin in the middle of the nearest group. It seemed to be following a particular Gentoo which was getting quite upset about it.

Went down to the neck (past lots of Upland and Ruddy Headed geese and some Brown Skua which posed at point blank range to have their picture taken). Gentoos streaming in across the beach and porpoising through the waves.

Spent some time photographing Two Banded Plover on the beach then crossed the neck by a pond with Kelp Gulls bathing to the area where kelp has been cast up along the shore and the Elephant Seals are wallowing in it. Sat for a while photographing Plovers and Oystercatchers (and Elephant Seals) when another King Penguin turned up (could be the same one I suppose, but quite a way from the other spot). I went a bit closer and started photographing it with the 5X converter, but it walked right up to me – within about 4ft – so took loads of photos with just the zoom on the camera. When I eventually left it seemed to be following me, calling piteously. Maybe its lost and lonely.

Loads of Magellanic Oystercatchers, Two-banded Plover and Dotterel along the top of the shore behind the cast up kelp, also a party of about 12 White-rumped Sandpiper. Took some picture of Dotterel and had to change battery for the second time – and the third one failed almost immediately! So no more pictures.

It was not about 6:45 so I headed back along the beach, interrupting the procession of Gentoos coming from the S beach, and skirted both the Gentoo and Magellanic Penguin colonies to get back to the Lodge in time for tea.

Incredibly successful day. I took 298 photos! The flight tomorrow is supposed to leave Stanley at 10:40 and comes here via Darwin, so expected about 12:30 (to be confirmed in the morning) - so I have a few hours here tomorrow.

Monday 12th Feb
Much windier again, but bright in the morning although some heavier cloud lurking out to the north where the wind was coming from. Bach to coat and jumper weather.

Breakfast about 7:45 then packed up and hung around until 8:30 when I was supposed to get confirmation of when the flight to Pebble Island would be. They said it would probably be about 12, but they wouldn’t know for sure until 11ish. So I went out saying I would be back about 11.

Went over to the back of the dunes by Cow Point then east round the coast to the neck. Spent some time trying to photograph Giant Petrels in flight since thy were going quite slowly against the wind. A family party of Striated Caracara came to investigate me (2 adults and a juvenile) at very close range! Lots of Magellanic Penguin coming ashore along this stretch and also streams heading out to sea. They porpoise through the breaking waves – looks pretty dangerous given the surf and the rocks.

Got to the neck and crowds of Gentoo on the beach washing and going in and out of the sea. Wind really getting up now and the sand starting to blow. Went across the beach and nothing much of smaller birds, so went across to the south shore (lea side) near the Elephant Seals haul4dout on the cast up kelp. Loads of waders, Oystercatcher, Two-barred Plover, Dotterel, White-rumped. Also Striated Caracara again round the seals. Took some photos of White-rumped.

Large flock of South American Terns landed on a rock just offshore – several hundred. Whilst studying them, trying to work out why they weren’t Arctic Terns, noticed at least 3 Brown-hooded Gulls amongst them. They could easily be black-heads apart from the slight pinkish flush to their breasts. The terns even sound like Arctics – but Arctics down here should be in winter plumage.

Going along the beach, back towards the lodge, streams of Gentoo Penguins and some Magellanics marching in and out of the sea. I had to interrupt the flow to pass. Gentoos just seem to flop down and go to sleep every so often and aren’t inclined to shift.

Up to the end of the beach and round the edge of the Tussac. Several Black-throated finches bathing in a puddle with some Tussac Birds.

Got back to the Lodge to find that they still hadn’t heard about my flight. Paid my bill and was about to go for another short wander when the earlier plane came in and they asked did I want to get on that back to Stanley – so on I hopped. Now very windy so quite a bumpy short hop to Bleaker Island to pick up 3 more people and then on to Stanley for an interesting landing with a strong cross wind. Only had 25 min to wait and then on to Darwin – but there was only me on board for this leg, so the pilot decided we would go straight to Pebble Island. Flew across the north of East Falkland at about 1400ft according to the altimeter, apparently in the lea of a high ridge which goes up to about 1800-2000ft – so we were pretty close to the ground at times. Then along the N coast of West Falkland, again pretty low. Could see one massive Gentoo colony and a number of Imperial Shag colonies on flat cliffs. Lots of Black-browed Albatross over the sea.

Arrived about 1:15. Pebble Island was not only windy, but very murky with a sort of sea fog. Land rover pickup back to the Lodge for tea and cakes. They have a trip fixed for us tomorrow to the west of the island, but nothing today until food at 6:30 (about 10 people staying). So I headed off for the pools behind Elephant Beach. Big Pool is supposed to be the best.

Fields behind the Lodge (sporting a large wind turbine going like the clappers and very noisy) very busy with Falkland Thrush, Long Tailed Meadow-lark, Upland Geese and Ruddy headed Geese. After that, lots of fields of sheep and rather quiet. Two Turkey Vultures and a Variable Hawk distantly over moorland/white grass.

Small pond first which I had been told was not much good. Quite a lot of Crested Duck and Speckled Teal and a group of about 6 Steamer Ducks asleep at the back (just behind the dunes). Got to Big Pond and could see two Black-necked Swans in the distance through the murk. Headed down for the point and an old jetty, where I had been directed, where a crowd of Kelp Gulls were bathing. Sure enough, there were about a dozen White Tufted Grebe sheltering along the lea shore. They swam out about 2-3 metres as I approached, but I lay down with the camera and they soon came back – coming within 2-3 feet of me. They were joined by a single Silvery Grebe and then about 6 Speckled Teal flew in. Lots of photos – though they won’t be brilliant because the light is poor and flat!

Went round the dune side of the pond. More duck here – large numbers of Speckled Teal, some Crested Duck, about a dozen Chiloe Wigeon and three Yellow Billed Pintail. They actually look fairly different from the Speckled Teal when you see them. Also three more Black-necked Swans – so 5 in total – all distant.

Walked on to Long Pond and the one beyond that. Not much – Upland and Ruddy Geese, more Crested Duck and Speckled Teal on the far pond.

Along the back of the dunes, a couple of Falkland Pipit along the fence and a few Black-throated Finch along the back of the dunes, but very quiet.

Cut across onto the beach and headed back. Beach completely empty. Eventually ran into a party of about 15 Steamer Duck and a flock of around 25 Magellanic Oystercatcher and a few Meadow-larks feeding along the edge of the dunes, but very little. Giant Petrels and Kelp Gulls flying past from time to time.

Got back about 6:15. Wind dropping a bit, but still very murky. Lets hope the weather improves for tomorrow.

Tuesday 13th Feb
Weather really variable today. Started off with virtually no wind and thick fog. Just a little bit of west wind by breakfast time, but really murky and damp. About 9:30 it began to clear and the wind got up, but quite warm (up to c19ºC). Steadily cleared and was warm and sunny by about 11am. Then the wind shifted further south and rain came in and it rained steadily and quite heavily until mid-afternoon. Then it cleared completely and by sunset there was hardly a cloud in the sky, but strong wind from the south and quite cool.

Today was a land rover trip to the west end of the Island (about 10 miles away). 9 people went in 3 vehicles. Set out about 9:15 across the airfield and west along the north shore, N of First Mountain. Mostly Diddle-dee moorland.

Pebble Island is owned by an English family (same family since 1820s) and leased for sheep farming. Diddle-dee is very poor grazing, so they get about 1 seep / 7 acres. Roughly 20,000 sheep on the island and a permanent population of 4 plus some seasonal workers and visitors makes around two dozen people. They still shoot Upland Goose (although there is no longer a Government bounty) – they reckon 7 geese = 1 sheep.

Pointed out large fern and small fern (both Blechnum sp.) which form the main ground cover apart from the Diddle-dee (=Red-Crowberry). Normally, at this time of year, Diddle-Dee covered in red berries, but it has been a very poor year and not much about. Separate male and female plants, so only half have berries anyway! Major food for the upland geese and many other birds.

Few Dotterel and Falkland Pipit and frequent Upland and Ruddy Headed Geese. Lots of Meadow-lark about – including one very fine male still is resplendent orange. Couple of speckled teal on a small roadside puddle. Lots of steamer duck and Kelp Geese along the shore. Rock and Imperial Shag flying past and Giant Petrel almost constantly.

First stop – Green Rincho (Spanish place name for headland). Breeding colony of Giant Petrel on the opposite slope with large chicks. The adults left when we arrived, even though we were at a considerable distance. Swarms of Gentoo penguin streaming down the beach to the sea. Magellanic Penguin all round. Also steamer ducks, Kelp Geese, oystercatcher, Dolphin and Kelp Gulls. Looking out to sea, Black-browed Albatross and shag in great numbers.

Next stop, Rockhopper colony. Now raining. Most of the Rockhoppers have moved off the breeding area and are in moult. Breeding area which smelt extremely strong, was obviously very attractive to Turkey Vulture – about 12 around. Also lots of Skuas around the colony. Scanned for other crested Penguins (this is were the Erect Crested turns up and also Macaroni) but no luck. Moulting Rockhoppers look scruffy and miserable – not helped by being huddled up against the rain. The ones coming in from the sea look quite sleek and colourful though!

Lunchtime stop in a cabin originally built for observers in WWII, now used as a shepherds hut and self-catering retreat. Still raining heavily.

After lunch, to Marble Dunes. Another large Gentoo colony, again with Magellanics in the same area. Turkey Vulture, Skua and a couple of Striated Caracara in attendance. By 3:30, rain starting to ease off, but getting windy. Sea watched northwards for a while. Huge raft of (Imperial?) shag with Kelp Gulls, Giant Petrel and Black-browed Albatross off shore had presumably found a shoal of fish or krill. Two Black Oystercatcher on the beach with Gentoos, Steamer duck and Kelp Geese.

On the way back, stopped to look at Middle Mountain Gentoo colony. This is apparently one of the largest in the Falklands and the Green Rincho beach we visited earlier is the sea access point for it. The breeding area is about 2 miles inland on the Diddle-dee moor and has even known to be half way up Middle Mountain on occasions. They use a new area each year and completely kill off the Diddle-dee. Thee following year an introduced Senecio covers the patch and then grass grows – forming a green lawn. These are dotted all over the hillside from past colony locations. They are popular with both the geese and the farmer because they provide much better grazing. It takes a long time for the Diddle-dee to recolonise. Why the Gentoos trek inland so far is not known. It is usually assumed to reduce predation, but the two main predators are Skuas and Sea lion. The Skuas nest around the edges of the colony and so move with the penguins and the sea lion get them in the sea as they leave and arrive from the beach, so its hard to see why the long trek makes any difference.

Young variable hawk sat on the side of Fists Mountain on the way back. Returned about 5pm. 46km according to the GPS with about 4hrs driving and 3.5hrs stopped.

Walked back to Big Pond before tea to have a look for the screw for the LCD shade which I lost yesterday. Pretty forlorn hope and not successful.

It had cleared completely after tea, so went for a wander round the bay to enjoy the sunset. First day with no new birds! Hopefully will continue clear tomorrow.

Wednesday 14th Feb
Completely clear to start with, sunny and not a lot of wind. Cloud slowly built during the day and wind got up a bit, but remained mild and bright all day.

Trip to east end today, so I went as far as Bett’s Pond and got dropped off. Walked round the shore and back along the beach and ponds. 15.7km according to the GPS.

Way out along the beach by land rover. Kelp Gulls all along the shore, but no sign of Brown Hooded. Loads of Magellanic Oystercatcher, but only a couple of Black Oystercatcher I rock bits. Also White-rumped Sandpiper, Two-barred Plover, Dotterel and Crested Duck. Quite a lot of steamer duck.

Bett’s Pond is shallow, partly dried out and full of Water Milfoil and a lot more wildfowl than elsewhere. 11 Black Necked Swan, White-tufted Grebe, 24 Yellow-billed Pintail, 21 Silver Teal, Speckled Teal and Crested Duck. One pair of Silver Teal had five young ducklings. White-tufted grebe on the nest. Apparently very late, but it did the same thing last year and successfully reared chicks.

Walked up the side of Quawk Ponds towards the shore. Lot of duck here, mainly Speckled Teal and Crested Duck, but also a pair of Chiloe Wigeon and 4 Yellow-billed Pintail. Disturbed a pair of steamer duck off the shore and the flew off – so presumably Flying Steamer Duck. At the shore end of the pond, Magellanic Penguins bathing and a couple of family parties of Ruddy Headed Goose.

Along the beach masses of whale/dolphin remains: vertebrae, ribs, skulls, couple of fully articulated skeletons, two with some skin still on so presumably quite recent. Magellanic and Black Oystercatcher, Kelp Goose, Steamer Duck, Rock Cormorant, Giant Petrel and several Turkey Vultures. Got close to one for some photos.

Back across moorland towards the ponds – quite a lot of Snipe flying up out of not very wet areas. Few Dotterel around.

Bett’s pond much the same, rather more Speckled Teal had arrived. Little pond between Bett’s and the shore had large number c50 Speckled Teal and a few Crested Duck.

Walked back along the beach for a way: Black Oystercatcher on a rocky bit, then back across the dunes to Long Pond. 1 Black-necked Swan.

Big Pond: large group of c30 Chiloe Wigeon, Lots of calling, displaying, scuffles and short flights going on. 2 White-tufted Grebe near the coast side, but the main group was in the same place as before near the old jetty with several Silvery Grebe. 3 Black-necked Swan. Quite a few Speckled Teal and some Crested Duck in the SW corner. Big group of Kelp Gulls bathing. 3 Turkey Vultures over field behind.

Back about 4:30 for a cup of tea.

Went out again about 5pm and westwards round the shore next to the settlement. Almost as soon as I got down towards the sea, a big group of Oystercatcher and some Crested Ducks flew up with a lot of calling as a Peregrine shot along the shore towards me.

Spent some time trying to photograph Meadowlarks feeding on the cast up kelp along the top of the shore – but not very successfully. At the far end of the pebble beach, where the rocks start, was a young Night-heron. Managed to get very close (within 2m) and took loads of photos. On round the shore where 3 Dark-faced Ground-tyrant hoping about on the rocks. Tried for photos, but not successful. Several Rock Shag fishing and a Black Oystercatcher.

Back for food at 6:30. It seems that my flight to Carcass Island tomorrow is not likely to be before 4:30pm. Not good - means I have another more or less whole day on Pebble and am only going to get two days on Carcass – one being the boat trip to Westpoint. I would have preferred an earlier flight and the time on Carcass. Having been both east and west on Pebble and spent quite a lot of time round the ponds, I feel that I have seen as much as I am going to. Unfortunately, it is too big and too spread out to be able to walk to much of it. Oh well, can’t do anything about it!

Thursday 15th Feb
Fairly murky day, quite windy – from W earlier on, went round to S later on. Couple of bursts of rain around middle of the day.

Walked eastwards along the south shore. Pebble beach by settlement – adult Night Heron and several Crested Duck. Both Magellanic and Black Oystercatcher (2) as well as Kelp, Upland Goose and Steamer duck.

End of the bay is obviously used as a dump – several dead land rovers, old washing machines etc. Gorse hedge runs along near here and several Black-chinned Siskin along it. About 6 Turkey Vultures, including some young birds along the fence. Two stayed whilst I got quite close, but they eventually flew up and circled round over opposite hillside. A (adult female?) Variable Hawk got up and started diving at them.

Went along the top of the ridge towards Shag Rocks. Lots of Meadow-lark about, also several thrushes, Dark-faced Ground-tyrant and quite a large flock of Black-throated Finch. On one of the craggy its, a (young?) Variable Hawk was sitting. Got very close and took photos including some head shots through the ‘scope.

Looking down towards the coast, could see an Imperial Shag colony. Went on along the top nearly as far as Philips Cove before stopping for lunch about 1pm when it started to rain. Then headed back at lower level, skirting the top of the cliffs.

Lots of Kelp Geese and Steamer duck and regular Night Herons, must have seen about a dozen along this stretch of coast. Rock Shags on several of the bigger offshore rocks and several Black Oystercatchers. Upland Geese also numerous on the grassy slopes with some Ruddy-headed mixed in.

Got to the Imperial Shag colony and spent some time taking photos. Couple of pairs of Brown Skua around the colony. Now about 2pm – radioed in for news of flight time. Due about 4pm, so I needed to be back 3:30 – so 1.5hrs to walk back – so I headed off at full pace.

Sea lion swimming along in the kelp propelled itself well out of the water several times apparently to have a look at me.

Back towards the settlement, female and two juv Variable Hawks in the air – I think this was the adult I saw earlier. Her young in the area was probably why she objected to the Turkey Vultures earlier. Got back just on 3:30 for the plane a 4pm.

Arrived Carcass about 4:30 with two others. We were met by the land rover which was showing some Argentinean visitors the beach at the N end – so got a tour.

Extremely busy around this end of the island. Pool with about 50 Steamer Ducks, bathing Magellanic Penguins, Created Duck, Speckled Teal and Chiloe Wigeon. Back of the beach is a Jackass colony, so penguins all over the place. Also two large colonies of Kelp Gull – so well grown chicks also all around the colony area. Lots of Skuas and several Striated Caracara in attendance.

Elephant Seals all along the top of the beach lying up on cast up kelp and several more in the water. Black Oystercatchers on the rocks. Quite a large group of small sandpipers (presumably White-rumped) flying round.

Quite a long way (c. 3 miles) across the middle of the island to the settlement. Arrived about 5:30 for tea and cakes. The house is surrounded by trees and Striated Caracara everywhere – about 6 perched in the trees round about the house. Also Tussac Birds everywhere including one in the conservatory which was caught and released.

Went for a short walk along the bay in front of the settlement. Very busy with Magellanic Penguins all round, Kelp and Upland Geese, loads of Steamer Duck, also some crested Duck and 4 Speckled Teal. Tussac Birds and several Cobb’s Wrens along the strandline. Large group of Magellanic Oystercatcher and several Blacks also on the rocks. 2 Striated Caracara and several Skuas.

Watched the penguins coming in and out. Could see them swimming underwater just off the rocks. A group of 4 in a tight huddle were producing load Jackass Calls.

Back for 7:15 for food. Most of the others had just got back from the daytrip to Westpoint Island. Sounded very good – they had Commerson’s Dolphin riding the bow wave and visited the Albatrosses. Unfortunately, there is no trip tomorrow because the boat needs some repairs to the engine and they are taking the Falkland Conservation team to Steeple Jason on Saturday. I my be able to go on the Steeple Jason trip – which would be longer, but probably better chance to see seabirds like Prions and Diving Petrel. But it depends on the weather and the boat being ready.

Friday 16h Feb
Weather good most of the day. Some wind from the W, broken cloud with quite a lot of sunshine. Clouded over rather more about 5pm and the wind got up a bit. Bit of rain late on (9:45) after dark.

Had breakfast early (7:30) because a cruise ship was coming in and the passengers would be coming ashore for tea and cakes, so we had to be out of the way so they could get ready for the invasion.

Amazing numbers of Striated Caracara round the house. I counted 22 perched on the buildings and fences round a cow shed. Also a single Crested Caracara. This bird was apparently hand-reared on another island and has taken up residence around the settlement and is quite tame. I got photos without needing any extra lenses. At one point there were 3 young Turkey Vultures, 5 Striated and the one Crested Caracara all in the same pine tree.

I asked to go up to the west end and Rob said he was going up to meet the plane about 9:20. But there were 5 people for the plane and two others wanted to go to the W end. So Rob put me with the two other walkers in another Land rover and said follow him! First time I have driven a Land rover off-road since Close House days. One rather hairy patch going over a rocky ridge where the “track” – over bare rock – drops suddenly and twists but otherwise straight-forward and we got there OK. We parked by a small bay and Rob said to just leave the Land rover there (keys in the ignition) – drive it back if we felt like it, otherwise someone would pick it up!

Went round two small bays. Few Elephant Seals on the beach of each. Strandlines alive with Tussac Bird, Cobb’s Wren, Meadow-Lark, Thrushes and Caracara. About 50 oystercatcher sleeping on hillside. Magellanic Penguins all over the slopes. Night-heron and Rock Shags o the rocks near the bay mouths.

Much of the shore round the W end of the island has either Tussac or dunes covered in Marram, fronted by a boulder beach. This forms two wide bays on the north side and another on the south with a point sticking out NW. These beaches are used by large numbers of Elephant Seals (about 80 there today) and they have been breeding for the last few years (so some small pups about). Some of the biggest animals lie up in the Tussac or dunes, but the really big “Beach-master” males have now left after the end of the breeding season to recover and feed up. Never the less, some pretty huge specimens remain and some of the younger males engage in practice fights – so some roaring a snorting going on.

Also found one young male sea lion amongst them on the N side. He headed seawards as soon as I came in sight. The Elephants pay very little attention – they just grunt and wallow in the cast up kelp (and smell!). Even so, did my best not to get between them and the sea or fall over them amongst the Tussac – they are a lot bigger than me!

Tussac Bird, Cobb’s Wren, Black-throated Finch, Striated Caracara all very abundant and Dark-faced Ground-tyrant, Meadow-lark and Thrush also about feeding on kelp. Large numbers of steamer duck, crested duck, kelp, upland and ruddy-headed geese. Also a flock of c20 feral (Greylag) geese near the pond, looking somewhat out of place amongst a large huddle of young Magellanic Penguins.

Two colonies of Kelp Gulls, mostly with well grown young, but still a few younger chicks about. Very noisy. Lot of Skuas about, but they seemed to stay around the edges and I didn’t see any attempting to get into the colony as they do with Imperial Shag or Penguins. Presumably Kelp Gulls are more than a match for them en masse.

Stopped for lunch on the NW point and did a bit of sea watching. Black-browed Albatross in great numbers everywhere out to sea, but thy seldom come close, staying outside the kelp beds. Giant Petrel also passing constantly, but they seem to stay close in. Also large numbers of Imperial Shag coming past usually in groups of from 5-10 up to maybe 50. I could see fishing parties sat on the sea in patches. Quite a few Skuas passing, but no sign of shearwaters or anything else. Picked up a group of Peale’s Dolphin (bigger that the Commerson’s I saw in Stanley and with a noticeably sickle shaped dorsal fin – Commerson’s are rounded). I think there were three.

At the N end of the bays, where the coast starts to get higher and rocky, there were quite a few Rock and Imperial Shag perched. Took some photos – with Striated Caracara turning up to watch and a Tussac Bird actually landed on my shoulder (briefly).

Headed back across the island to the original two bays. Peale’s Dolphins were seen there yesterday close in, so I wondered if the ones I had seen were heading that way. The N end of the island is dray and grassy. Snipe abundant here, also Black-throated \finch. Saw two Black-chinned Siskin sat on a fence.

No sign of dolphins, although the Elephant Seals were still there. Decided to take the land rover back.

Back about 4:30 so I stopped off for tea and cakes. Out again about 5pm for a quick walk to the other end of the island. A bit windier and clouding over now and no longer sunny. Got down to the other end of the bay where there is a nice white sandy beach in about half an hour. Good view of a Grass Wren amongst the Tussac on the way down to the beach from the track.

About 20 Gentoo Penguins and many Magellanics on the beach. The Magellanic have holes all over the place – amongst the Tussac and up the slopes behind. The Gentoo colony is a long way up the slope – I guess at least ½ mile inland.

Headed S towards Leopard Beach, but didn’t have enough time to go al the way. Could see the other Gentoo colony on the far slope – again well back from the coast and the penguins along the beach with a big huddle of Magellanic Chicks as well. There is a small pond here with a big round green area next to it, presumably the bed of another, seasonal pond. Anyway absolutely stuffed with Kelp, Upland and Ruddy-headed Geese. Crested Duck and Speckled Teal on the pond.

Got back just before 7pm in time for food at 7:15. Felt like I did a lot of walking today!

Saturday 17th Feb
The trip to Steeple Jason is on today. Three people from Falkland Conservation are arriving on the FIGAS flight about 9:40 and the plan is for the Condor to leave about 10:30. The tides are dead-wrong today! We will be leaving just after high tide, so fighting the tide all the way out (c 30 miles), arriving just in time for the tide to change and to fight it all the way back. So it is expected to be a long day, not getting back until dark.

Weather looks OK with fairly broken cloud, giving sunshine and showers, with a 15 knot breeze from the SW. Expected to stay like this, but get colder and the wind to pick up a bit later.

After breakfast, I had about an hour and a half, so went for a wander round the bay and the jetty (tide right in). Lot of Kelp Geese, including many families, also families of Steamer Duck and Crested Duck. Also a number of Black Oystercatcher along the shore. Went round through the gorse to the jetty area and in to the Tussac beyond. Thick stands of gorse are popular with the Magellanic Penguins and also Falkland Thrush, Black-faced Ground-Tyrant and Black-chinned Siskin. Lots of the latter flitting about.

The jetty obviously is the centre of the local Night-heron social life and about a dozen adults and several juveniles sitting around. Apparently they usually next here, but this year there was a Striated Caracara nest and the herons all moved elsewhere. The Tussac beyond the jetty, lifting with Tussac Bird and Cobb’s Wren as usual, but also a big group of Magellanic Oystercatcher flying around and being very noisy.

Nic and Isaac, who I had met at the Falkland Conservation Office came in on the plane together with an American researcher called Terry who is working on the importance of olfactory senses in burrowing petrels. He wants to find a Prion colony on which to do some work. Nic and Isaac are going to count Gentoo and Southern Giant Petrel chicks. They are staying until Wednesday. Apparently there is a house, complete with showers and a kitchen, and a land rover to get about out there. So they just have to take personal gear and food (and beer).

Got going about 10:45 and it took over 5 hours to get out there – arrived around 4pm. The first part, along Carcass Island was fairly smooth going and there were Commerson’s Dolphins around the boat quite a bit of the time, although you could only see the white patch underwater and, very occasionally, a dorsal fin breaking the surface. We then picked up quite a heavy swell on the way out to Elephant Jackson. Passed through several big feeding parties of Black-browed Albatross. Albatross were all around all the time and Giant Petrel coming past frequently. Amongst the feeding parties, there were Magellanic Penguins at the surface and penguins could occasionally be seen porpoising out of the way of the boat.

Just short of Elephant Jasson there is a reef (could be seen because of the waves breaking) and here there were many Prions about. First saw only a few, distantly, but we went through a party of several hundred and had close views. They look more like gulls than shearwaters in shape and the way they fly. They look pale greyish with the dark W mark across the wings quite obvious, giving them a little-gull like appearance. Nic said they were Thin-billed Prions, Fairy would look paler with a whiter face and the dark mark on the tail more obvious – I bow to his superior experience! Also saw a couple of Common Diving Petrel – little, auk-like things with very fast wing beet. Difficult to get good views of anything because the boat was gyrating quite wildly, meaning you had to cling on, making binoculars difficult to use, and glasses and binoculars were covered in spray. We continued to see passing Prions in smaller numbers for some time.

On past Elephant Jasson there is a series of low rocks – the Elephant Keys – which support a large colony of South-American Fur Seal – these could be seen distantly scattered all over the rocks.

Grand Jasson has huge colonies of Black-browed Albatross which make large pale patches over the slopes of the island with a regular pattern to them. Albatrosses everywhere on the sea and in the air. Eventually got to Steeple Jasson and landed the three and their gear from a Zodiac. Time for a cup of tea and a sandwich before starting back.

The channel between Steeple and Grand Jasson was quite smooth (Commerson’s Dolphins appeared again), but the tide race coming out of the channel was very rough, so I tucked myself round the back and hung on watching the Albatrosses in the wave-troughs making it look so easy and effortless. Took us over an hour to do 1½ miles against the strong tidal race.

On the way back, we went much closer to Elephant Keys and Elephant Jasson, so good views of the Fur Seals. Hundreds scattered over the exposed rocks and many more swimming in the surf. There were big rollers coming in, breaking far up the rocks, but the fur seals were right in amongst it. There is a small Albatross colony on the cliff of Elephant Jasson which we sailed by quite close. Could see the chicks (fawn coloured furry balls, bigger than the adults at this stage) sitting on the precarious nests arranged over the cliff.

It was slow going because of the tide, so around 11pm before we got back to the bay on Carcass. By now it was raining and really dark, so Mike and Rob had a lot of trouble finding the jetty. It took about ½ hour feeling their way about the bay trying to spot it with a torch before we finally managed to get in. Thought we were going to have to spend the night on the boat moored out in the middle of the bay!

Anyway, back by about 11:30 for a very welcome cup of tea before bed.

Sunday 18 Feb
Breakfast at 8am. Weather much the same as yesterday with broken cloud giving bursts of sunshine between the showers. Wind about 15-20 knots and SW. Rather colder than previous day or two.

My flight was due to check in at Stanley at 11pm, so expected in about 12:30-45, so I needed to be back at the house by 11:45.

Got out about 8:45 and headed for Leopard Bay at the east end of the Island. Tide high, so I stuck to the track above the Tussac fence rather than cutting across to beach at E and of main bay. Went down to the dunes around Leopard Bay and then along the beach southwards. Seemed to be a lot of geese flying about – maybe the high tide means they have to be higher up. Three Striated Caracara along the track. Turkey Vulture over flat area between settlement bay and Leopard Bay.

Several Magellanic Oystercatchers on the beach. Usual parties of Tussac Bird along the tide line. About a dozen Magellanic Penguins on the beach dashed off into the sea, several more further along headed inland. Behind the dunes, several large huddles of Magellanic Penguins on the grass, so I stuck to the beach to avoid disturbing them. At the S end of the beach, it becomes rocky and rises quite high. 2 Black Oystercatcher on the rocks. Dark-faced Ground-Tyrant, Tussac Bird and Falkland Thrush on the tide line. Family of Steamer Ducks just off the beach.

Went up the slope and up the edges of the Tussac. There is an old fence here and the Tussac finishes at the fence line. Presumably, since this whole area is now fenced, this fence-line which used to protect the Tussac at this end only is now redundant. Family party of Striated Caracara on the slope. Magellanic Penguin burrows all over the place and lots of penguins about in the edge of the Tussac. Went on up the slope to where it starts to get rocky. Three Crested Caracara (probably 2 adults and a juv) perched on the rocks, 2 flew off over the flat area.

Headed down towards the W side to the beach of the main bay (still covered by the tide) and then across the dunes and headed back. Disturbed areas (presumably by the penguins) are covered in Senecio and little pansies (photo).

Came up the other side towards the Gentoo colony. About 30 Gentoos at the upper edge of the Tussac, more spread thinly over the hillside over the breeding area. Presumably most are either at sea of down towards the beach amongst the Tussac.

Back about 11:40 in time for tea and a cake before said goodbye and got the land rover for the other end and the airstrip. 2 Crested Caracara in the trees by the house as we got in the land rover and a Falkland Pipit on the air strip.

Plane came in on time at 12:45. Landed briefly at Saunders Island then back along the N coast of W and E Falkland, landed Stanley about 2pm. They had a taxi already called up to take be back into town!

Went out briefly around 4 to walk into town and buy some postcards. Brown Skua sitting amongst the Rock Shags on the remains of the jetty behind the Gift Shop and 3 Dolphin Gulls on the main jetty. House Sparrows all around again – didn’t see them all week. Also a Turkey Vulture over the jetty area. Oh well – holiday island hoping over – back to work tomorrow.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Ascension Islands and Falkland Islands - the first week

Sunday 4 Feb 2007

Left home with Dorothy & Simon about 2:15. Went to see Geoff & Tessa in Appleford for tea. Arrived Brize Norton around 8pm. Flight left more or less on time at 11pm. Aircraft was a 747 chartered from XL (an Icelandic Company). Around ⅔ full, so something like 300 people. There is 25th Anniversary of Falklands War celebrations in progress and many veterans and journalists on the flight.

Monday 5 Feb

Arrived Ascension Island approx. on time at 7:30am. Everybody got off and into the transit compound. Indian Myna – two on ground and fences around trees and bushes planted next to car park. We were told it would be around 1½ hours. Then, around 9am, it was announced that there would be about a 12 hour delay because of weather in the Falklands. We were taken to Travellers Hill transit camp and allocated rooms. They fed us in the Mess, provided water, etc – all very well organised.

Ascension looks very dry and barren. Large piles of dry ash all around, some bigger ash cones – mostly completely bare. Dominated by Green Mountain which is tree covered towards the top and was capped in cloud for most of the time. Away from the ash cones, the flatter areas are mostly larvae flows with rather variable amounts of vegetation. Some areas look like piles of very coarse dark ash and are almost bare, but most is a rocky jumble of black basalt with dense vegetation between bands f black rock – mostly Mexican Thorn/Mesquite shrubs and Prickly Pear with Agave flower spikes being the tallest plants. Horrible stuff to try and walk through because of the dense prickly vegetation and the very uneven and sharp larva underfoot.

Weather was hazy sunshine. Apparently 25ºC when we landed and 30ºC by middle of the day, but with a continuous strong breeze. The sun went down very quickly around 7 – 7:30 and it got dark quite fast – just like it is supposed to in the tropics.

Walking around Travellers Hill camp: Myna is very common and very noisy. Large birds, bigger than a blackbird, with conspicuous yellow bill and big white wing patches when they fly. Song sometimes sounds startling-like, but usually fluty and blackbirdish. Usually singing from a high perch like a rooftop or an Agave spike. Common Waxbill – saw two on the ground under pines around some cabins, later on there was a flock of around 12 in the same area. They are small and fly in quite a tight flock with typical finchy twittering. Yellow Canary: first saw a female feeding on seedpods of a Leguminous tree. Looks bigger than a sparrow with a very noticeable pale eye stripe and deeply forked tail. Latter saw male on the ground. Male unmistakeable, bright yellow. Fairy Tern: about 4 flew past whilst we were sitting on the patio of the Mess after lunch. Very white with noticeably prominent, black, eye. From a distance, they looked like white pigeons flying past rather than terns.

In the afternoon a bus took us to Georgetown for a couple of hours. Walked along the beach and around the harbour and anchorage. Very tropical with steep, white sandy beaches and very blue sea. Black larva rock sticking out of the sand. Quite big rollers crashing in. Green Turtle tracks and pits very numerous and obvious everywhere along the beach, even here beside the town. Some of the tracks and disturbed sand from digging looked very fresh, so presumably from turtles that came ashore last night. Ascension Sally Lightfoot Crabs also very obvious. They seem to feed on the rocks just at the edge of where the waves are breaking and scuttle off across the sand when disturbed. Quite large and very attractive with dark purplish carapace with golden spots. Masked Booby: one flew past quite close in. Looked like a big gannet with obviously black face. Brown Booby: one flying along the breaker line around the anchorage. Came past very close. All dark, a bit smaller than the masked, with a white face and belly. Mynas common round the town and also canaries seen several times.

We were picked up from Travellers Hill at 7:45 and taken back to the airport. Eventually left at 11pm for another overnight flight.

Tuesday 6 Feb

Arrived Mount Pleasant Airport about 6:30 UK/Ascension Island time, which is 3:30 Falkland time. Sorting out baggage and getting through immigration took a long time, so about 6am before we left for Stanley on Falkland Island Tours bus. Got to B&B about 6:45. Had a cup of tea and a shower and headed into the Falkland Conservation office about 8:30. Had a bit of a walk round at lunchtime (12:30), but left early (3pm) after general introductory presentation and slept for about 3 hours. Had a longer walk along the shore from about 7:30 – 9pm. B&B is very warm. Lady of the house is very pleasant and motherly and it looks like I will be well fed. I can leave my suitcase whilst I am away next week. Only glitch is that she didn’t have me booked for Friday night and Stanley is very full with the 25th anniversary stuff. Anyway, she can find me a camp bed for the night, so I won’t be on the street.

Very windy, going around from NW in the morning to W by evening. In the middle of the day it was windy enough to take effort to stand against. Sunny in the morning, but increasingly cloudy and bursts of heavy rain during the afternoon. Brightened again during the evening, but drizzle coming in as it started to get dark by 9pm. Quite cool. Forecast for the weekend is wet and cool! Just hope the wind dies down before then, otherwise there might be problems with flights to the islands.

Southern Giant Petrel: passing constantly. Couple sat on the sea close inshore at lunchtime. Look like very big fulmar. Dark brown, very straight wings held flat. Look big and awkward. The large, pale bill is very prominent and the face usually paler.

Rock Shag: several on the water and flying past. On the water they look just like shag/cormorant, but in flight the white breast is obvious. One sat on a jetty quite close in had obvious red eye.

Upland Goose: about 4 pairs from bus when we stopped to drop people at Hillside Camp above Stanley. In the evening there was a pair grazing on grass next to shore at east end of Stanley. Male looks quite white, but the grey back is obvious even at a reasonable distance. Females are quite attractive.

Kelp Goose: abundant all along the shore. The all-white males stick out for miles. The dark females are less obvious – but always seem to come in pairs. Females show a lot of black and white in flight.

Crested Duck: party of about 6 resting on shore amongst Kelp Geese. Medium sized, non-descript brown duck.

Falkland Steamer Duck: pair by Dive Centre on the way in. Several floated by past the office window during the day. Look like a bigger scoter-shaped diving duck. Big colourful beak is very obvious.

Turkey Vulture: 3-4 around Hillside Camp on the way in. 1 over east end of Stanley as we drove in.

Dolphin Gull: several around harbour at lunchtime. They look very dark and grey in flight. Haven’t got a good look at one perched yet.

Kelp Gull: numerous all along the shore and flying past. Just an ordinary looking, large, black-backed gull.

South American Tern: several flying about over the harbour and centre of town at lunchtime and early evening. They look big – sandwich tern size, but more like common/arctic shape with long forked tail. Noisy, call very typical tern-like.

?Falkland Pipit? – pipit like bird along the shore as I set out in evening, but didn’t get a good look. I guess that the small passerine birds are keeping their heads down with the strong winds and rain.

House Sparrow: numerous around buildings in Stanley. Calling everywhere.

Wednesday 7th Feb

Weather quite variable. Started off sunny but cold and remaining quite windy, but not as much as previous day. Clouded up and there were heavy bursts of hail during afternoon and early evening with patches of sunshine in between. Then cleared again around sunset with the wind dropping. But remained cold all day.

Woke up rather early – presumably because 5:30 still feels like 8:30. Went out around 6am for a walk westwards along shoreline past war memorial, Governor’s House and the wreck of the Jhelum to the western edge of the town and then back along the streets higher up.

Wet into work about 8:30 and spent the morning with Anna and Isaac going through basics of data entry, ut found mapping wouldn’t work – crashed Windows XP with an error caused by an endless loop in one of the graphics driver DLLs.. After lunch, spent most of the afternoon trying to get new graphics drivers for their portables. Successful eventually.

Got back about 5pm and took ‘scope and camera down to the shore intending to photograph shag nests on the wreck. But several hail showers and poor light. Got some pictures of Kelp Goose and Logger, but then gave up when it was clear a succession of hail showers were coming in.

Southern Giant Petrel: passing all day.

Rock Shag: about 8 nests on the wreck of the Jhelum and a nest on the remains of a jetty in front of Capstan Gift Shop near the Jetty Centre. These have well grown young.

Black-crowned Night Heron: 1 perched on wreck of Jhelum.

Upland Goose: several pairs first thing in the morning on grass just behind the shore. Pair on the water with about 5 large young near western edge of town.

Kelp Goose: pairs all along sea front. Photographed one pair near Govenor’s house.

Falkland Steamer Duck: several pairs along sea front. Photographed a pair with Kelp Geese above.

Crested Duck: several on sea along front in small parties of 1 to 3.

Turkey Vulture: 1 flew over the B&B whilst I was having breakfast, about 8am

Dolphin Gull: two on jetty outside office mid afternoon. Very good views.

Kelp Gull: all along front in the morning. Less obvious later in the day, but odd birds going past all day.

South American Tern: small parties passing and calling all day. 2 adults and a juvenile perched on jetty in front of office mid afternoon.

Dark-faced Ground Tyrant: 1 on a garden fence close to B&B when I first went out in the morning. Looks rather chat-like in shape and stance, but dark head quite noticeable.

Falkland Pipit: 1 running about on jetty outside the office mid afternoon. Looks like a very ordinary, streaky pipit!

Falkland Thrush: 3 in a small field on way down to shore from B&B, several more seen in gardens. Looks like a female blackbird – same size and shape.

Long-tailed Meadowlark: pair feeding on roadside strip of grass along suburban street. Bigger than I expected and the red breast of the male not very prominent most of the time when it has its head down pecking about in the grass.

Black-chinned Siskin: pair on a house lawn flew up into a pine tree beside the house. Male quite smart yellow bird with obvious black head, but the female pretty non-descript small finch.

House Sparrow: abundant throughout Stanley.

Thursday 8th Feb

Rained heavily in the night and heavy showers continued on and off all day, with a very heavy hail shower mid-afternoon. Wind still strong and cold with powerful gusts during squalls. Some sunny spells between showers and quite a bit of sunshine during evening with wind dropping a bit around sunset.

On the way into the offices, Turkey Vultures were very prominent with about 3 heading off over the water away from Stanley. Usual birds passing the office window during the day: Rock Shag, Upland Goose, South American Terns, Kelp & Dolphin Gulls, Logger but also several Turkey Vultures during the afternoon.

Left at 4:30 to get picked up by a taxi at 5:15 to go to Gypsy Cove. There about 5:35 (£4). Several Turkey Vultures on the way. Very windy and cold, but sunny on and off and no serious rain – couple of brief showers. Magellanic (Jackass) Penguins immediately obvious with a large crowd on the beach, many in the sea and another group on the slope leading up from the bay with many large chicks packed into a crèche. Scattered birds all over the place with some at the entrance to burrows right beside the path. The name “Jackass” is appropriate – they through back their heads and bray like a donkey – very loud and prolonged and can be heard a long way. Also very aggressive and I saw several birds attacked pretty vigorously – presumably because they strayed too close to a somebody else’s burrow. Flock of about 20 White-rumped Sandpiper also on the beach with a single Two-banded Plover and several Kelp Gulls. Round the corner from the main beach, where it gets more rocky, several pairs of Upland Geese amongst the penguins. Lot of twittering from a small group of Black-chinned Siskin around several large gorse bushes. Difficult to get a look at them, but I think they may have been feeding well grown young. The headland has Tussac grass growing up the slope and Tussac Birds were about. Very black, starling size and with rather direct, fast flight. One young bird almost perched on me. Twp steep rock outcrops had 20-30 pairs of Rock Shag with well grown young. Also Steamer Duck on sea at the base amongst Kelp beds.

Went round to Ordnance Point and the WWII guns. Sat and looked at the sea for a while. Lot of Kelp Gulls about, Giant Petrel passing frequently, but also lots of Sooty Shearwater. Watched them for some tie, but couldn’t see anything else with them. On the way back round, had a good view of Dark-faced Ground Tyrant on the rocks and there were two more flitting about on the beach amongst the sandpipers. Also 3 European Hare sprinted off over the heath.

Started walking back along the back of the dunes following the minefield fence. Several small birds – mostly Siskin, but I had a good look at what I though was a female bunting and eventually had a good view of pair of Black-throated Finches (which are really true buntings). The male is a really splendid bird. Also several Long-tailed Meadowlark. Group of 4-6 medium sized dark birds flew away several times, but didn’t get a good look. May have been Tussac Birds, but they sounded like thrushes, so they were probably Falkland Thrush.

Crossing over a rocky bit towards Whale Bone Cove, I saw a bird of prey land on a tall rock. I was able to walk right up to it and it just sat and looked at me. After a consultation of the book, decided it was a Variable Hawk. It eventually flew off in typical buzzard-like flight.

Then walked along the edge of Whale Bone Cove past the wreck of the Lady Elizabeth – a cast iron sailing ship. Crested Duck, Flightless Steamer Duck and Kelp Goose along the shore and lots of Upland Geese pairs and family parties scattered about over the heath behind. Light beginning to go now, but one group of geese looked different and I eventually got the scope on them and the book out and decided they were Ruddy-headed Goose. Several more flew in and joined them making about a dozen. They are smaller than the Upland Goose and, although rather like a female Upland, the chestnut on the head is very distinctly divided from the grey of the back and they have less white. Another couple of Hare in the same area.

Once I reached boxer bridge and crossed back to the Stanley side, it was just a long and rather unattractive slog back into town passing through the dock, container park, refuelling dock and other scenic spots. A siskin and another pair of Black-throated finch on wire fences were about all. Dark by the time I got back at 9:15. The GPS said that I had walked 9.5km. Well worth doing, despite the dodgy weather, but I could have done without bthe last 4km after crossing boxer bridge!