Weather: Overcast, Light Drizzle
We arrived at the Falklands right on schedule at 7 am. The breakfast staff had us all fed and we were into the Zodiacs by 7:45, dressed in all the layers that Robin had recommended at yesterday’s briefing. In the course of our morning on West Point Island we would need every one of those layers.
The Zodiacs landed us at a stretch of beach on West Point Island where I could easily have stayed at all morning. The famous Falkland Flightless Steamer Duck, one of only two endemic species on the Falklands, was at the dock to greet us (Yes, it was a dry landing!). We even got a show of it “steaming” across the cove. It was our first flightless bird of the trip but won’t be our last one.
A glance along the beach produced more marine birds such as the Crested Duck (with young), a pair of Kelp Geese, Rock Cormorants and a Black-crowned Night Heron, nesting in a derelict boat overturned on shore. Blackish Oystercatchers were noisily greeting us and there were even some passerines. Before leaving the beach area we had seen Dark-faced Ground Tyrant, the endearingly tame Tussock bird (technically the Blackish Cinclodes), and an Austral Thrush, looking every bit like a washed out American Robin.
The walk itself featured a large array of Upland Geese and the incredibly tame Striated Caracara. The caracara is now extremely scarce in South America, but very common in the Falklands, especially around penguin colonies where it preys on young or unhealthy birds.
Several guests asked about the bright green mounds of vegetation. This species is a huge cushion plant called Balsam Bog (Bolaz gummifera) and many had their tiny white flowers in bloom. The mound shape of these plants is effective at both reducing heat loss and deflecting winds.
Arriving at the colony I couldn’t believe how well we were able to see the Rockhopper Penguins. This colony was mixed in with the Black-browed Albatross colony and provided amazing close-ups. We also came to a greater appreciation of the Tussock Grass that provides protection from both the elements and the various predators. It’s nice to see that land owners are now encouraging it to flourish in areas where the sheep can’t destroy it. We learned that there is also a rat eradication program that has resulted in the return of the Tussock bird.
By afternoon, the waves and wind were rising, but the rain had stopped. The Captain manoeuvred the ship close enough to Saunders Island that we had an easy (and dry!) Zodiac landing. Saunders was amazing. Not only were all four of the breeding penguins present, but they were close enough that I put the telephoto lens away. Also close enough for the small lens were the avian predators that prey on the penguin eggs and chicks. Big Brown Skuas, ridiculously tame Striated Caracaras, and egg-seeking Kelp and Dolphin Gulls. I knew that the guests were having fun when a huge number showed up for the second hill-climbing walk of the day. The reward was a mixed colony of Imperial Cormorants and Rockhopper Penguins, not to mention the view down the length of the beach.
The beach itself offered the fourth penguin species – the Magellanic, known locally as the Jackass because of its loud braying “song.” I couldn’t seem to stop taking photos, and when we returned to the Prince Albert II I discovered that I had taken nearly 400 pictures. I suspect that many guests exceeded my total.
Back on board we had only a half hour before the first Recap session, reviewing the day’s events and getting an introduction to the plans for tomorrow. It is hard to believe but the five-course dinner actually seemed like an anticlimax after the excitement of the day’s events.