Day 4 |
Dec 25, 2011

Franz Bairlein, Ornithologist 

By West Point and New Island, Falkland Islands

Coordinates (West Point): 51°19'S, 60°35'W
Weather: sunny, moderate wind
Air temperature: 8.9°C
Air pressure: 1007 hPa
Wind: 36 km/h; 260 degree

Waking up early, the weather was already beautiful, with clear and sunny skies while the Silver Explorer sailed into the large harbour near the settlement of West Point Island on the eastern coast sheltered from the prevailing westerlies. West Point Island lies off the most north-westerly point of West Falkland, and it offers colonies of black-browed albatross and rockhopper penguins, and dramatic west-facing cliffs. After we scouted the shoresite where we got welcomed by a black-crowned night-heron, striated caracaras eating a goose carcass at the beach and two turkey vultures, we started disembarkation of guests at 07:30.

I was assigned to walk with the German speaking guests of Zodiac Group 1. We walked some 2 km across the island from the settlement to Devil’s Nose on the other side of the island, where we visited a mixed colony of black-browed albatrosses and rockhopper penguins. Along our walk we appreciated the beautiful landscape, massive swards of moss and watched kelp and upland geese, Falkland thrushes, a tussac-bird, and several dark-faced ground-tyrants.

Though the wind picked up at the rookery the scenery was spectacular. Hundreds of rockhopper penguins and black-browed albatrosses were caring for their chicks, and albatrosses displayed their fascinating flights. A few striated caracaras and a Falkland skua patrolled the rookery for prey, standing in-between tall tussac paddocks in bright sun and just a few metres from the albatrosses and the penguins. Watching their habits is a memory for life.

Back at the settlement we appreciated tea and the delicious cookies prepared for us by the Napier family, the owner of this island, as well as the warm summer day in the sheltered garden watched by turkey vultures in the trees, and striated caracaras on the roof top while white-bridled finches were singing.

At 11:30 we cleared the landing site and returned to the Silver Explorer, which set sail towards our afternoon destination, New Island.

At 14:15 the Silver Explorer anchored in Coffin Bay, for the first time ever (Coordinates: 51°44'S, 61°16'W; air temperature: 9.2°C, wind: 51 km/h, 348 degrees), and we scouted the shoresite, a beautiful sandy beach near the settlement and where a former whalers’ shelter is now a small museum exhibiting the history of the site as well as the wildlife.

After a short walk of approximately one kilometre across a gentle slope to the western side of the island, passing quite a few upland geese with many goslings and observing a singing male long-tailed meadowlark, we got fascinated by a huge mixed rookery of rockhopper penguins, black-browed albatrosses and imperial shags, most of them having chicks, at a dramatic cliff. Sitting quietly and watching the rockhoppers when jumping off a five metre cliff into the roaring sea, albatrosses walked by almost touching us on their way to a take-off site at the cliff edge to catch the wind and glide out to the sea. As on West Point, Falkland skuas and striated caracaras patrolled the rookery in search of prey. At sea close to shore a fur seal could be observed. Though we wanted to appreciate that scenery on a very warm day forever, we had to make our way back to the landing site with a brief stop at the museum where Peter Damisch, our historian, interpreted the whaling history of New Island and around the Falklands.

Back to the ship at 18:10 I had to rush to prepare a recap for Recap & Briefing at 18:45 in The Theatre while the Silver Explorer set sail towards Antarctica. After Recap & Briefing and dinner I wrote this log remembering a spectacular, very special and unforgettable Christmas Day 2011.