Wednesday, 8 February 2012

The Prince and the Penguins......

The road out of Stanley.....
Sapper Hill.  Road closed due to high winds!
Berthas Beach (named after one of the hundreds of wrecks around these shores) is a long, pristine crescent of white sand about 40 miles south-west of Stanley, and about 5 miles from Mount Pleasant Airport.
Mt Tumbledown from Sapper Hill
The road out of Stanley climbs around Sapper Hill, then follows the line of hills that became household names 30 years ago – Tumbledown, Harriet, Challenger. The road surface is mainly gravel, with the occasional tarmac. The speed limit is 40 mph, and it is observed, as there is a deep ditch either side of the road, and the wind can whistle down here making high-sided 4x4s difficult to control.

I'd rented a Mitsubishi Shogun, partly for some heavy shopping (milk, and beer supplies for the 6 Nations), but also to explore some of the quiet roads on the Falklands. (Diesel is 75p per litre, by the way!). On Sunday, we drove past the garrison at Mount Pleasant, and then drove, or wobbled, for about 5 miles along a rough track to a parking area near the beach.

Track to Berthas Beach

We were greeted by the MOD Environmental Protection Officer, as this was an area under the stewardship of the military conservation group. He was organising the walk to celebrate World Wetlands Day, and had enlisted the help of a couple of specialists from Falklands Conservation.  (excellent site -  see how far penguins swim for food!)

Sea Cabbage - yum!

With the experts giving us a running commentary of flora and fauna of the Falklands, we set off for a 2-mile ramble along the white sand beach to the Gentoo Penguin colony. Along the way some dolphins were spotted and some crazy Army guys stripped off and tried to swim out to them. 

Hardy squaddie looking for dolphins
As Wellington may have said, "I don't know what effect these men have on the enemy, but, by God, they frighten me!"......
Dolphin fin, honest

Continuing the walk, we were surprised at the number of shoreline birds, especially 2-banded plovers and Oystercatchers.....
Magellanic Oystercatchers

Squaddies drying off after dip.  Windchill is about 5C.

Gentoo penguins
Eventually, we arrived at the penguins dotted about the beach. Most were young birds, about 4 months old, who were waiting for their parents to return with food. At some point, the parents decide that the chicks are big enough and have the right plumage to make their own way in the sea, and stop feeding them. It was almost that time when the first young ventured into the ocean!
Waiting for parents to arrive with food

"When's dinner?"

"You can see my nest from up here!"

"Which way to the beach?"
We watched groups confidently strolling down from the dunes, and if we sat quietly, they would walk right up to, and past, us.
Stay still and the humans will not run away!

Where are they?

Rehearsing for "Nuns on Ice"!
We also observed the rookery, about 400 yards inland. The Gentoo are resident here all year round, which means that predatory skuas are always on the lookout for any unprotected chick. 
Rookery with skuas circling....

Sit still and the chicks approach you

In the distance was the Mount Pleasant Complex with garrison, airfield, shops, cinema, bowling alley....
For those of you familiar with “March of the Penguins”, you'll know that Emporor penguins walk 70 miles inland to lay their eggs. Although harsh, it means the chicks are away from predators.
Gentoo penguins have a year-round supply of food and a fairly benign climate (compared to Antarctica), but they do have to contend with predators like Skuas, and Sea Lions, as well as introduced cats and rats on some islands.

"I want my best feathers.."

Coming closer
No zoom used!
Back on the beach, the wind was picking up.....
Into the wind.....

Never work with animals or children....

On the return journey we were treated by more dolphin sightings, close in to the shore, which highlighted my deficiencies as a photographer. Or maybe it was the camera that was slow? Anyway, I think I'll stick to co-operative penguins.....I had lots of waves and dark shadows in the water, but one of our group had a lovely photo of a dolphin leaping out of the water. Oh well..

Royal watchers dream come true.....The Prince is on the right.
As if all that wasn't enough, we had just finished our al fresco picnic at the car park (using the cars as shelter against the wind), when a shiny Land Rover parked beside us, and a certain Flt Lt Wales got out and headed off to see the penguins! Cue one Mum to grab her kids out of the car and pursue the group through the sand dunes. She eventually caught up with them and had an encounter that you don't normally get in Nature Reserves! Never mind the penguins or dolphins... A Prince!!

Weather update - Warmest and driest January on record.  But wind affects the temperature.  Sunshine and hail squalls are not uncommon.  Last week, a large cruise ship was unable to anchor because of teh wind, even in sheltered waters,and sailed on with her 1200 passengers.

More weather and webcams here -

To come.....Last night, we walked through 8 foot high tussock grass - the natural vegetation which is now only found on islands which have no sheep - being careful not to upset the massive sealions dozing there.  We also spotted 4 different kinds of penguins. Can anyone name them?

But the trip was to mainly experience a unique natural spectacle.  More next week.



  1. Do the Emperors know there is a lesser spotted Prince in town?….. great reading, keep it coming!

    1. Thanks!. No emperors here, but the pesky politicians across the water have spotted him....