Sunday, 11 March 2012

There's bleak, and there's Bleaker....

A month ago, we visited an outlying island of the Falklands (as a birthday present).
This month - it was an Anniversary, and I didn't think the gift of a rare banana would suffice, so booked a couple of nights on another island - Bleaker.  (Name may have been "Breaker" after the waves that break over its reefs.) .  We tend to go to bleak places for holidays - Iceland, Rannoch Moor, etc, so thought "Bleaker" would be a good spot.....

Rocky & Roxanne packed and ready for the trip
 In the taxi to the airport,  FIGAS (Falklands Islands Government Air Services) called to ask if we wanted to arrived  early, as they were ahead of schedule!  It wouldn't happen at Heathrow!

Arrived 25 minutes before scheduled take-off, paid for flight, got weighed (same weight as last flight, so the new home-baking hasn't had an adverse effect, yet!), and soon we were flying over Stanley Harbour and south to Bleaker Island.
The floating dock facility at Stanley. Tug, trawler and cruise ship..

Coming in to "land", Bleaker Island
Lots of water to avoid

Bleaker airport arrival / departure lounge

Bleaker Island -

It's a low-lying, treeless island about 20 miles long and very narrow.  It's home to about 1,000 sheep,  40 cattle, 4 people, several thousand cormorants, a couple of hundred (probably more) penguins, plovers, geese, skuas and 10 black-necked swans.  The sheep, cattle and geese keep the grass and shrubs down, where they graze, but around the coast the tussac grass grows in profusion, providing shelter for the Magellanic penguins.

View south from kitchen
 After landing on what seemed like a 100-yard grassy promontory, we were met by managers, Elaine and Rob, who gave us a Land Rover tour of the highlights to give us our bearings.  Then we arrived at the Settlement by the water's edge and unpacked.
A good drying day...
 We had the lovely lodge to ourselves.  A newly-built 4-bedroomed house, with roomy kitchen and comfortable lounge and conservatory (underfloor heating) for watching the sun go down.  Although we booked "full board", it was FB with self-service, which suited us fine.  This entailed a couple of boxes of cereal and muesli for breakfast, plus a dozen freshly-laid eggs from the hens about 50 yards away!  (The island wasn't a Nature Reserve, so could have non-native species).

The Settlement.  Houses for owners, managers and 16 guests.
 While I rustled up scrambled eggs on toast, Elaine popped in to ask what we wanted for packed lunches, and these were prepared while we enjoyed the freshest scrambled eggs, since we stayed with friends who keep hens near Ravenscar in North Yorkshire.  Delicious.  In the evening, Elaine delivered a 3-course dinner (usually a starter and dessert in the fridge, and a pot on the stove), and left us to it, along with the honesty bar. Bliss!  So, it had the privacy and convenience of self-catering, without any effort in preparing food, apart from cracking some eggs!
Sundowner time.

And to cap it all, I had been told about Bleaker Island by one of the Nordic Walkers in Richmond Park.  She had met the owners whilst on holiday in South America, and suggested it would be a great place to visit.  You were right, Carolyn.  Thanks!

Upland geese, and main course
 We saw one other visitor during the day, and he left that afternoon.  The next day, we were the only visitors on the island.  We eventually got so used to this solitude, that once, on our last day, when we returned to commune with "our" Rockhoppers, we were startled to see other people admiring them.  A Robinson Crusoe moment - "There's people on our island!"
A carpet of penguin feathers, with airport in distance

Jimmy  (or Jemima?) the Gentoo
 As you might know if you've been reading previous posts, Rockhopper penguins usually share high cliffs with cormorants, and Gentoo penguins prefer open, inland colonies to bring up their young.  They sometimes share the same areas as Magellanic (Jackass) penguins, who live in burrows!

Stand out from the crowd
 The Gentoos were near the airstrip, about 2 miles from the settlement.   The adults walk down to the beaches every day from their inland rookery and go off to fish.  The young birds either congregate in the colony and watch the skuas watching them, or wander down to the beach and wait for the parents to  return, some even trying a dip in the waves while they wait.

Brave penguins
Rockhoppers generally ignore observers completely, and Magellanic penguins will hide in their burrows if you get too close.  But Gentoos will approach you if you sit quietly for a while.  And as we didn't have anything pressing to do that afternoon....

Almost empty beach

The water's lovely

Gentoo Hill

 Meanwhile, apart from the accommodation and the food - the wildlife was great, too!  On one ridge, we saw a line of hundreds of black and white birds.  "Gentoos!" I said, confidently.  But as we got closer, I noticed the sheer cliffs all around and wondered how any penguin could get to such an inaccessible spot?
I thought these were penguins, but actually cormorants - c. 10,000
 And so, yet again, I was wrong and they were actually thousands of cormorants, coming onto land to roost for the night.  More and more birds were returning from the sea, and cramming into the available space.
Royal cormorants
Thousands of them.
The next morning, we watched hundreds of them take off for a day's fishing.  At first in groups of 6 or 7; then flights of a dozen, every 10 seconds or so;  then squadrons of about 30.. wave after wave.

A constant stream of cormorants overhead....

We reckoned about 200-300 birds were taking off in the same direction (into the wind) every minute.  And at that rate, it would be over an hour before the flock had dispersed.  It was amazing to join the penguins on the cliff-top and watch these endless echelons fly over one's head, so close you could hear the wings beating.
Magellanic penguins wondering what it would be like to fly!
Communal burrows
Magellanic penguin out for a stroll.
A short hop from the cormorants were the cliffs with.... more cormorants, and Rockhopper penguins.  Considering the effort to get up the cliffs, these little guys don't run around much.  They mainly stand conserving energy or moulting.
Rockhoppers, without bibs.
Spot the non-penguin
Nearly finished moulting

Ol' Red-eye himself
Elsewhere on the island there were hundreds of plovers, and two families of Black-necked swans.
Black-necked swan family out at sea...

"Fish!  Now!"

Neighbourly Penguins and sheep 
Tussac grass
 So, I would certainly recommend Bleaker Island for a very comfortable introduction to Falklands Islands wildlife.

If you wanted somewhere more exclusive, there are about 700 islands in the Falklands, and here's someone who has bought their own Falklands Island -

Food for thought.

Just back from a lovely 10 mile Sunday walk on pristine beaches, near the Mount Pleasant Airport complex.  More details later.



  1. Wonderful photos once again. The bleakness would not suit me - I need M & S nearby! Can see, however, that it is a magical experience. Is there medical aid nearby (for when attacked by penguins or such?) xx

  2. Funnily enough, on our return flight was a doctor doing his rounds - 30 minutes on each island, if needed. Makes a change from when doctors in Stanley were consulted via open radio. So that, at 9.30 each morning, everyone would tune in to hear how Mrs W's ailments were progressing, or how Mr P would describe his symptoms.... No privacy at all, but some people miss the loss of community spirit!

    But, to answer your question, Stanley and good facilities were only 30 minutes away by air.

  3. Keep it coming Peter. Enjoying every trip with you. Your silence made me guess you were away.

  4. Thanks! Getting busy here now in run-up to 2/4/12, 30th anniversary of invasion. The Victory had more BBC journos tonight than locals! World Service doing broadcast from here on Thursday and Radio 5 from Buenos Aires.