Friday, 23 November 2012

Pebble Island - Penguins, Petrels, and more penguins....

[Continuing the tales of our sojourn in the South Atlantic.  Working and living in Stanley, Falkland Islands.  Seeing as much scenery and wildlife as we can fit in.  This weekend - early November - we have a 3 day break on Pebble Island....]

On another post, I've described the moving memorials to killed servicemen (of both sides of the Falklands War) on Pebble Island. We spent a day with the lodge owner, Allan White, touring the west of the island for about 9 hours.  It's about 20 miles by 2 miles.  There are 5 residents, and we were the only visitors......
Crested Caracara, outside our bedroom window!
As well as war memorials, we came across seemingly-deserted beaches, only to find dolphins surfing in the waves, giant petrels on their nests, penguins in their rookeries, and a host of other wildlife dotted around the island.  We also looked for pebbles, as the island is known for the semi-precious stones (although these should not be taken away nowadays!).
Magellanic Oystercatchers
On the second day, after a delicious breakfast from Jacqui (soon to be offering hospitality to the Duke of Kent, who stayed the following week), we set off to walk to the eastern end of the island, about 8 miles away.

We started by walking along the 4 miles of sandy beach, passing Oystercatchers trying to distract us from their nests, and watching the petrels gliding on the updrafts from the dunes - never flapping their wings, despite the 30-knot headwind.
4-mile beach, with incoming storm, which missed us.
The settlement, with the Lodge on the right.
Gorse is the only shelter in the Falklands
Oystercatcher nest
Petrel patrolling the beach
Continuing eastwards, we walked over short grass and  low scrub, filled with Magellanic penguin burrows, and with cows and sheep grazing peacefully above them.   Young birds, like Oystercatchers, ducklings and goslings were well in evidence, as were dozens of newly-born lambs.
Relaxed Magellanic penguin
Some penguins get nervous when the neighbours appear.
After 3 hours walking, we stopped for a spot of lunch on the cliffs.  Looking back to the settlement, we could still make out the bright red and yellow buildings, about 5 miles away.  Later, we found that the beach was a semi-circle and not as straight as we'd thought.....
Oystercatchers displaying!
Refreshed, we carried on a couple of more miles to the rockhopper rookeries, where Allan would meet us with the Land Rover.  We were glad we had decided to avail ourselves of his offer to pick us up....
Sophie's beach -  Petrels, Penguins and Peale's dolphins here.
Dolphin gulls
Brave gentoo penguin
Southern Giant Petrel, with lunch.
The penguins do sometimes approach us.

Rockhopper inspecting our boots.
Rogue Macaroni penguin hiding among the Rockhoppers (centre).

"Over there are some penguins.  Use the telescope!"

Whoa, guys.  Tourists about!
Penguins crossing

Lookout Penguin.
Turkey Vulture
The Turkey Vultures seem to be either loved or loathed.  Many locals blame them for attacks on lambs, and Falklands Conservation is doing a lot of work to research this.  I have to say, on our visit, we saw lots of lambs, even one newly-emerged from the womb covered in blood, and no vultures seemed interested.  There were many carcasses of upland geese which had died during the winter so maybe the vultures were replete.....
Rockhopper amongst Imperial Shags.  Quite stiff quiff competition! 

This way to the rookery
Rare leucistic Rockhopper
Of the thousands of penguins we've seen, this is the only one without the normal black and white plumage.  It does look strange, but it seems perfectly healthy, returning to the same rookery for about 5 years.
An explanation of the condition can be found here - 
Annie amongst the Rockhoppers
The Rockhoppers usually share a breeding ground with shags or cormorants, as they provide "cover" from predators like skua, and safety in numbers.  The cormorants nests - mounds of dried mud - are often used by the penguins if abandoned by the original owners.
Some birds squeeze onto the nest....
...while some go beak to claw.....

Rockhopper eggs are no longer taken by people.

A rare hybrid penguin, on an egg - a very rare sight.

So, having had our fill (for the time being) of penguins and petrels, we headed back to Stanley in the small Britten-Norman Islander plane.  The wind was gusting to 40 knots, and take-offs and landings were extremely short and exciting!  But the pilots here are used to the conditions, and make about 10 take-offs per day on grass strips.

In about 40 minutes we were at Stanley Airport, and 15 minutes later, home.  That storm had drenched the town, but we had had glorious sunshine all weekend.  Now to sort the photos.....

Coming soon.......   Our first UK visitors arrive!   Kidney Island delivers its special treats again!


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