Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Sunday Stroll to Gypsy Cove


 One cool, but dry, Sunday, we took a stroll around Stanley Harbour to Gypsy Cove, where we hoped there would be some penguins.  We strolled down the hill from home, cutting through through the Memorial Wood, where a tree has been planted to commemorate each of the 255 members of British Forces killed in the Falklands War.  There are very few trees in the Falklands, so these make an impact.

We also passed some long-tailed Meadowlarks, or Military Starling (or Robin, so-called because of their red breasts).
FIPASS dock facility
We followed the shore path, to the edge of town and then passed the potato fields of Stanley Growers.  I noticed some daffodils were growing - presumably for St David's Day.  I'm not sure how they convince the daffs it's Spring, but maybe someone with better gardening knowledge can explain?

The looming hulk of FIPASS (Floating Interim Port And Storage Systems) appeared in the harbour.  These massive floating warehouses and offices were towed here after the '82 war, and are now used as docks, and offices.  Nearby, is the excellent Seamen's Mission, which does great lunches at very reasonable prices.

Eventually, we passed the industrial estate on the outskirts of town, crossed a bridge (built by Royal Engineers) over a creek and out to the 'unspoilt' bays and coves surrounding Stanley Airport.
The Plym and the Lady Elizabeth
 Stanley Harbour, and indeed all the coast of the Falklands, is littered with shipwrecks, indicating the treacherous coastline and unpredictable weather.  Many are wooden sailing ships from the 1800s, but these two above are iron ships, making journeys around Cape Horn, just prior to the opening of the Panama Canal in 1914, which completely changed the trade routes.
Magellanic penguins in Yorke Bay
I say 'unspoilt', as, unfortunately, this is one of the parts of the coastline that is suspected of having plastic mines washed up on.  Fine for penguins, but a no-go area for people.  There is a team of mine-clearers working near Stanley, but it may be years before their work is done.
Last few penguin chicks
The penguins were there, but only a few chicks remained onshore.  The others have already ventured out into the bay to feed for themselves.
WW2 gun overlooking Port William
 The Falklands have had significant battles in the the First and Second World Wars, and there are memorials to these around Stanley.  During World War 2, this gun guarded the entrance of Stanley Harbour, where a fleet of  warships anchored in September 1939.  But they moved out to hunt down the German battleship "Admiral Graf Spee", which was seeking repairs in Montevideo, Uruguay, 1,000 miles north.
Stanley, through the Narrows,  and mountains from Gypsy Cove
The "Admiral Graf Spee" was eventually scuttled after a tense standoff:  the first loss to the German Navy of the war.  There's a great film about it.  For more details of the battle, go here -
Windpower harnessed for fun
 On our return journey, we saw a queue of cars at the Garden Centre.  Little did we know a batch of bananas had arrived!  More on fruit and veg later.
Moon and Venus above Stanley
The weather has been still and the skies clear for the last few days.  The night sky is particularly "busy" at the moment, with several planets in view.

"Remember, no matter how far away you are, we are looking at the same moon".  That's from a very clever and thoughtful friend.  It helps connect us to old friends.



Monday, 27 February 2012

"When the Boat Comes In..." and the Voyage of the Beagle

Taiwanese jigger
Two of the mainstays of the Falklands economy are fishing and tourism.  The surrounding seas are rich in food like krill and squid, and everything that eats them.  Hence why huge numbers of seals, penguins, whales and seabirds can be supported in the southern oceans.

 During the fishing season, huge fleets of Asian factory ships (jiggers) fish in the waters for squid, after obtaining licences from the authorities in Stanley.  Sometimes there are 15 ships in the harbour at one time, all wanting to be re-supplied with food, while customs and fisheries checks are done on the vessels and equipment.  The Falklands' seas are some of the best-managed in the world, and efforts are made to reduce the terrible toll fishing hooks make on albatrosses.  Millions are killed every years as the lines full of squid are brought to the surface.  The birds see the squid and dive for them.  The Falklands fishery authorities insist that barbless hook are used, so that birds can free themselves easily, but there a many unlicensed fishing fleets out on the ocean.

The Tong Young.  Perhaps a relation?
 The jiggers' equipment includes long arms that are lowered when fishing, and from where miles of fishing lines are dropped into the sea.  When fishing at night huge lights are turned on to attract the squid to nearer the surface.  Quite a sight.

Sammy sleeping
 Although most of the fishing boats are Korean or Taiwanese, many of the crews are from all over the region - Vietnam, Bangladesh, Cambodia.  These young men often spend a couple of years away from home, and it can be a hard life.  One friendly Bangladeshi crewman asked which country they were in.  He's assumed that, due to the weather, and the Union Jacks that could be seen on vehicles ashore, and the language spoken, that they were in English waters....Another was a Liverpool fan and wondered how far Liverpool was?  8,000 miles that way, I pointed north.....
Ocean-going tug and the inter-island ferry, Concordia Bay, from the Beagle.
One of the boats I was working on was The Beagle.  The original Beagle brought Charles Darwin to the Falklands  on the 1st of March 1833.  As well as some unique wildlife (some sadly now extinct, like the Warrah - a fox-like mammal found nowhere else), he found fossils, which were nothing like those he'd picked up in South America.  This is because the Falkland Islands used to be off the eastern South African coast, possibly near Durban, before the super-continent, Gondwana, broke up about 400 million years ago.

So, if there are  disputes about who was here first, the South Africans may stake a claim!
"Sammy".  No, really....  Shares our jetty.
Fast launch with medium-size cruise ship, Adonia
 On the tourism front, cruise ships of all sizes, from 12-berth to those like Star Princess with 2,500 passenger (plus crew) on board, call at Stanley on their way to Antarctica or wherever.  We took a Canadian ashore around lunchtime on Saturday, well after the rush of visitors had arrived ashore.  I commented that he may be too late for island trips, as most had left for the day.  He explained that he'd already been ashore, but had gone back to the ship for his camera and address book.  He discovered he'd left them behind and his wife was wanting to send postcards to the grand-children.  However, they were sailing all the way to San Francisco, so he had another 25 days to make up for his mistake!
Star Princess disgorging passengers into tenders 
 STOP PRESS......  Both these ships, Star Princess, and Adonia were refused permission to dock in Ushuaia, in Argentinian Tierra del Fuego, today (27th February).   This seems to be as a result of the new law banning Falklands Islands shipping from South American ports.  However, these ships were not British- (or Falkland Islands) flagged, and the ban was meant to be on ships involved on exploitation of the resources of the South Atlantic - eg oil and fishing vessels.
Star Princess
 The ships have continued to Punta Arenas in Chile.  It means a huge loss of income for a poor, remote region of Argentina.  Plus it could mean the ship run low on fuel if they had planned to re-fuel in Ushuaia.
Star Princess (2,500 passengers) and Adonia (700)
 But, overall, it is an unnecessary escalation of the "war" of attrition that the politicians in Buenos Aires have been waging on the Falklands for the last couple of months.  It's obvious that an economic blockade is the aim.
Looking west in Stanley Harbour
 Meanwhile, back to our typical working day on the launches.... as the day drew to a close and the last passengers were returned to their cabins, the harbour and town were suddenly very peaceful again.  As we refuelled the boat, an inquisitive heron perched above us and watched for about 10 minutes.
Black-capped night heron, taking close interest in boats.
Anyway, I am of an age that I can recall a wonderful BBC TV drama series of the 1970's, "When the Boat Comes In", starring James Bolam.  Although Stanley doesn't resemble 1920s Newcastle, there is something transforming when a 'boat comes in' here.  The pavements are packed.  Hundreds of people learn for the first time we drive on the left!
The shops and pubs are busy, rather than having more assistants than customers.

And this tune keeps coming into my head -

"Dance ti' thy daddy, sing ti' thy mammy,
Dance ti' thy daddy, ti' thy mammy sing;
Thou shall hev a fishy on a little dishy,
Thou shall hev a haddock when the boat comes in....."

Another interesting week in the Falklands,


Thursday, 23 February 2012

Birds of a Feather....

Gentoo penguins, Sea Lion Island
Although penguins seem to have a universal appeal, there are also lots of other birds in the Falklands, some of which can be found nowhere else.  Most are amazingly tame, despite some of them being severely persecuted in the last 2 centuries. (I should add that there is something very profound when you see creatures wander up to you without a care.  I suppose penguins recognise seals and skuas as threats, as they've been around for millions of years, but we resemble giant penguins, walking upright.  Maybe we have some krill?).

Striated Caracara

Striated Caracara killing gull chick, Sea Lion Island
 The Striated Caracara is thought to have less than 500 breeding pairs, and is only found on some islands - those where cats and rats  have not been introduced.  They spend most of their time on the ground, patrolling colonies of penguins and other breeding birds.  (There is one in the Cotswolds Wildlife park near Burford, if you want to see one in the UK.)

It attacks its prey by running quickly along the ground and jumping on its victim.  This strategy is obviously flawed when it comes to cats....
Gentoos  observing observers.
Flightless Steamer Duck.  Endemic
The Flightless Steamer Duck can be seen along most shores in the Falklands.  Its wings are not developed enough to enable flight, but when it attacks rivals, it swims under the surface and then pops up, and "steams" at them, flailing its stubby wings like a paddle-steamer.
Kelp goslings

Upland Geese, male is white
The Upland Goose gave its name to a famous hotel in Port Stanley, which is now a row of private cottages.  The geese were numbered in their hundreds of thousands when settlers first arrived in the mid-1800s.  But as it was thought that the geese competed with sheep for pasture, they were hunted and killed in their thousands.
Upland Geese in front of the old Upland Goose Hotel

Black-face Ibis, probably blown here in a storm from Argentina

Turkey Vulture in Stanley garden 
As there are no crows or magpies in the Falklands, the role of scavenger falls to the large Turkey Vulture, which can be seen frequently soaring in the breeze, looking for scraps.  But they also have little fear of man, despite a bounty being paid for their beaks in former days, so can often be found in Stanley's gardens!
Turkey Vultures at roadside, near Stanley
Speckled Teal
Magellanic penguins, Gypsy Cove, nr Stanley
There are 5 species of penguin (out of 17 worldwide) to be found on the Falklands:  in order of size - King, Gentoo, Macaroni, Magellanic and Rockhopper.

Magellanic penguin at his burrow
Magellanic penguins live in burrows, but outside of the breeding season, spend most of their lives at sea.
Gentoos in the gale, Bertha's Beach
A Macaroni interloper in a Rockhopper colony

Pale-faced Sheathbill
The Sheathbill (or sometimes Antarctic Dove) is a summer visitor to the Falklands.  It breeds in Antarctica, and is unique in that region, in that is a land bird, and does not have webbed feet.  It feeds on scraps of food and often intervenes between adult and chick penguins when the parent is regurgitating food!
Gentoos are very fast swimmers, porpoising out of the waves up to 25mph.  They eat mainly lobster krill, which is found around the coast, so they stay in colonies onshore all year round.  In fact, the Falkland Islands has the largest number of Gentoos anywhere - a recent census estimated over 120,000 pairs!
Upland goslings
Falklands snipe
Magellanic penguins, calling
Royal cormorant
Rockhopper penguin
Rockhoppers are the smallest penguin, and were once used for their oil.  They often breed on cliff-top sites amongst large colonies of Royal Cormorants.
Magellanic Oystercatcher
There are also lots of birds that may be familiar to northern hemisphere birders, but what is very unusual is how the birds will fly or walk up close to the observer.
Meadowlark.  Endemic
There are also Falklands Thrushes, and house sparrows (imported from Uruguay in 1919!) hopping around the gardens.
Black-crowned night heron
Dolphin gull
Cobb's wren or Falklands grass wren?
If you want more information about birds and animals on or around the Falklands, the worthy Falklands Conservation organisation's site is well worth a look.  Find out how far penguins travel, or adopt a penguin!