Day 3 |
Jan 15, 2012

New Island and Saunders Beach, Falkland Islands

By Robin Aiello, Marine Biologist lecturer

Co-ordinates: 51º43’45”S, 61º17’02”W
Weather: Sunny, clear skies with occasional puffy clouds
Air Temperature: 11ºC

Today was an early morning – we were up and ready to scout New Island by sunrise at 6am. And what a gorgeous morning – clear blue skies, a few puffy white clouds, and flat calm seas! The Silver Explorer had arrived last night and anchored in the protected bay near today’s landing site, so we all had a fabulous night’s sleep, and everyone was up and awake rearing to start our adventure.

New Island is a gorgeous spot. We landed on a small white sand beach. To make it even more picturesque, there was an old wooden boat shipwrecked on the beach. As the guests arrived via Zodiac, they were greeted by a family of steamer ducks – mom, dad, and 8 fluffy little chicks. They were not at all afraid of us, and continued to wander up and down the beach in front of us – almost like they were strutting and showing off.

The walk to our main destination was only a few hundred meters up and over a gently sloping hill to the other side of the island. As we approached it was obvious that something special was ahead – the sky was full of soaring brown-browed albatrosses!! We arrived – and were absolutely overwhelmed. In front of us was an enormous amphitheatre of rock cliffs falling away to the ocean a few hundred meters below. And everywhere, on every ledge and in every crevice, there were nesting birds! Birds, birds, birds!! Blue eyed shags, rockhopper penguins and brown-browed albatross – all nesting with the cutest fluffy chicks you could imagine! The cacophony of sounds was incredible! Honks, squawks, squabbles, chirps!

It was absolutely mesmerizing to just find a comfortable rock in the sunshine and sit and watch the pair bonding behaviour between adults as well as the noisy parent/chick interactions that were taking place in front of us. Sometimes a large albatross would come walking past, padding along making an amazingly loud sound with its large feet as they flapped against the hard sand ground.

During lunch the ship repositioned to Saunders Island for our second landing of the day. When we arrived, the winds had picked up so much that we could not land at our preferred landing site, so we had to relocate around to the other side to land on another long white sand beach. Although there were long rolling swells, the landing was fine, and soon we were all ashore heading up to the gentoo, Magellanic and king penguin rookeries.

As we traversed the long beach, we had to regularly stop to let penguins that were returning from feeding at sea, pass in front of us as they headed up the beach from the ocean. It really was an incredible experience – to be on a sandy white beach covered with penguins!

We spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around on the island. The gentoo penguins’ rookeries were very active. There was so much going on. Well-developed chicks were chasing their parents around and around begging for food – often running right into each other and toppling over on top of each other. Then, periodically, there would be a huge racket as groups of dolphin gulls and skuas ganged up on the penguins – flying overhead and dive-bombing young chicks. Even the striated caracaras joined in the fray.

In one area, there were about 15 king penguins all huddled together, backs to the wind. Some of them were carrying eggs on their feet, but we did not see any young chicks. But there was a lot of pair bonding going on with skypointing. The honking calls filled the air.

Above us on the hillside there were Magellanic penguins hanging out near the entrances to their burrows. On closer inspection we saw that several of the chicks were also venturing out, always staying close to the burrows, but providing us with some good views.

Most of the guests joined Will (our ornithologist) and Hans-Peter (our botanist) for a long hike around the headlands to the brown-browed albatross colony. From that vantage point they could watch these magnificent birds taking off into the strong winds, while below in the waves they could see penguins riding the surf – much like we do when we body surf.

On the way back to the landing site, the sun was low on the horizon and the light was spectacular – shining off the white bellies of the penguins and making them glow a golden colour. The winds were whipping up the sand and at times it seemed like the penguins were floating on clouds.

What an amazing landing! Everyone really enjoyed just taking time out and finding a place to sit to absorb the stunning scenery. Last Zodiac was 8pm, and as we rejoined the ship the sun was just setting below the mountains. It was a beautiful finish to a great first-day in the Falklands.