Voyage Journal 7106 Day 3

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Day 3 - March 5, 2011 - Saunders Island, Falkland Islands

By Luke Kenny, Fisheries Biologist

Co-ordinates: 51˚10’ S, 59˚50’ W
Weather: Fog
Air Temperature: 12.4 °C, 54.3 °F (20:45 hrs)
Sea Temperature: -
Pressure: 1006 hPa
Wind: 25 kmh from NW


A bright, barley yellow sunrise greeted my eyes when I looked out my window early this morning as the Prince Albert II closed in on the settlement of West Point Island, off the coast of West Falkland Island. With hardly a wisp of breeze and a rising tide, the scout boat encountered no hiccups whatsoever as we landed at the settlement’s jetty. In no time at all guests were arriving ashore and being guided across the island to Devil’s Nose, a readily accessible mixed colony of black-browed albatross and rockhopper penguins. Initially I assisted Robin, our Expedition Leader, at the jetty, but I then brought up the rear of the last group of guests that came ashore.

The sun was up and the layers of warm clothing were being stripped off as we made our way over the rolling moor and grassland of the island. Grass wrens chirped amongst the longer blades and Upland geese were spotted grazing the slopes near the track. Devil’s Nose occupies a dip between two high cliffs, and what with the near windless day that it was, no albatross soared overhead alerting the guests to their arrival until they had waded through the tussock grass and met the residents almost eye to eye.

On a rocky slope, fluffy grey black-browed albatross sat on chimney pot mud nests. Adjacent to some of these nests sat adult birds, pure white bodies and folded black wings and striking jet black eyebrows. All through the nesting area, rockhopper penguins waited out their moulting period, occasionally rising to irritation when the albatross lumbered around. The rockhoppers have already raised their chicks and now return to complete their annual moult. The adult albatross were, for the most part, stranded until the wind picked up, for these birds operate on an energy efficient principle, gliding over the seas, hardly flapping a wing.

The tussock grass, some clumps a matter of 5 or 6 feet tall, provide excellent natural bird-watching hides. The penguins and albatross sit unperturbed on the other side of such clumps, affording those present some wonderful close ups and photographic opportunities. Later, as the wind stirred to a gentle breeze, some adults that had been biding their time just off the coast returned to their chicks and began to feed them. The chick persistently nibbles and pecks at the lower mandible of the adult until it stimulates the adult to regurgitate a fishy meal.

I could hardly drag myself away from the colony, so delightful are these birds to watch. However, both the ship and the homemade cookies and cakes of West Point settlement were calling, and so I joined Kristine and Will our photographer and ornithologist on the walk back to the landing site. As we neared the settlement, the sharp eyes of Will spotted some whale blows out in the sound between West Point Island and its next door neighbour, Carcass Island. After the said cookie and cake stop, the Prince Albert II weighed anchor and nosed out into the sound to investigate the blows. Sure enough the whales were soon spotted. It turned out to be four Sei whales, one of the faster of the whale species, capable of reaching speeds of 50km/hour. Luckily for us, these specimens were in no such hurry and even crossed our bow some 100m distant. Seemingly there was some major aggregation of some favourite food item, for not only were the whales dining but a huge aggregation of black-browed albatross was present too, sitting on the water about a kilometer away.

After some fine views we proceeded on our way to Saunders Island where we landed at 14:30. The day was continuing to be one of those picture postcard ones – the clear blue skies, strong sun and turquoise waters lapping onto white sandy beaches. The landing site on Saunders is known as The Neck, a narrow sandy join between two hills. The Neck is home to a very large colony of gentoo and Magellanic penguins and a small number of kings. Geese in number roam the lower grassy slopes of the hills and on the nearby northern cliffs large numbers of rockhopper, shag and black-browed albatross make their home.

I joined Will in guiding the first group of guests across the sandy Neck, taking a circuitous route as to avoid disturbing large numbers of moulting gentoos. Once across The Neck, we gave them a somewhat free range under casual surveillance. At 15:30 a guided walk was lead up to the rockhopper, shag and albatross colonies. I stayed on the beach below initially, with some dozen or more guests, watching the rockhoppers on the lower cliff rocks. Later, as I turned to join the walkers on the hilltop above a swift-moving fog charged in from the sea to the north and engulfed the entire region. The hills were swallowed up in a matter of seconds, and the soaring albatross and turkey vultures now faded eerily in the thick fog.

I made a quick stop at the albatross colony before rejoining the steady trickle of guests, crew and the last of the Expedition Team making our way back to the landing site. The Prince Albert II soon began steaming towards Stanley, the capital of the islands, while all on board tidied themselves up and made their way to The Theatre for a Recap & Briefing session as the night closed in around us.

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