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 c19ÂșC). 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.