Thursday, 6 December 2012

Kidney Island revisited. Cruises cancelled :-(

[Greetings from the Falkland Islands.  Am currently here for  2 years.  Exploring the islands in spare time.  Enjoying the wildlife and community activities.  Not enjoying politics from neighbours....]

We recently entertained two visitors from the UK - our first, and hopefully not our last.  As a treat, I arranged an evening visit to Kidney Island, in the next bay from Stanley, and asked several friend to come along.   The photo below was captured by Larry's son, in the UK, from the Jetty Centre webcam, as we waited for the launch to take us on the 45-minute trip.

You can see what the weather is like at any time in Stanley by checking the webcam on the Cable & Wireless site, and you'll also see the crowds (I kid you not) when cruise ships are in the harbour.   This is where the tour guides meet up with passengers wishing to explore the Falklands - its wildlife and history.  There should be a ship, Seabourn Sojourn, arriving on Saturday 8th December, but more of that later............
"Wave, we're in the Falklands!"
So, after the excitement of the charity Fire Engine Pull, we set off from the jetty at 5pm.  Kidney Island is a National Nature Reserve and permission is needed to land there.  Having persuaded the Environmental Planning Department that I wouldn't set fire to it (its soil is mostly peat), or upset the wildlife, I was issued with a permit, and copies of the Countryside Code which visitors needed to follow.  There are no mice or rats on the island, and this encourages the Sooty Shearwater and rare, endemic, Cobb's wren to breed there.
Kidney Island - about 1 mile by half a mile.
The small island is approached by boat which anchors in the shallow, pale-blue bay (indicating a kelp-free area) in the photo, above.  We then were transferred by zodiac boat to the stony beach.  Once everyone was ashore, we headed up the hill through the tussac grass to the semi-circular bay across the island, where sea-lions bask.  After that, we headed left (in the photo, but north in reality), to the Rockhopper penguins on the cliffs, and then back to the slopes above the landing bay, to await the return of the Sooty Shearwaters...  Sounds easy, doesn't it?  What could possibly go wrong?
The boat waiting for us in the bay
Well, on a previous visit, (see my blog entry for the 10th February 2012) we had to take evasive action as a large sea-lion steam-rollered down the same path as we were walking up.  Luckily, the only wildlife we saw in the grass this time was the delightful Cobb's wren.  But, strangely, no-one else volunteered to lead the way through the dense and head-high grass!
Tussac grass is taller than you think.  Where are the others?
After about an hour of walking through the maze, we found a small rookery of Rockhopper penguins, and Imperial Shags, on top of sheer cliffs.  They often nest together for mutual protection from predators, of which there were many, in the shape of Turkey Vultures,  gathered around.
First glimpse of a Rocky..
We spent about an hour just quietly observing the birds at close quarters.  Almost all had eggs, and the male and female birds shared the sitting duties.

Imperial shags
Stuart and Jackie in ringside seats....

Sitting on the eggs...
Rockhopper eggs are no longer collected for food, but some Falklanders do still collect the more numerous Gentoo penguin eggs (under licence).  However, it's not thought that this threatens the penguin population, as the birds normally produce a second egg, when they realise the first has been taken.  Many are lost to predators such as skuas.
Partner ready to take over egg-sitting duties....
I have yet to sample scrambled penguin eggs, or meringues made from penguins.  It sounds a bit cruel, but is probably less so than eating battery hens' eggs.  David Attenborough has recently admitted that stealing birds' eggs when he was a boy started his life-long interest and enthusiasm for Natural History.  How poorer would all our lives have been if he had chosen to become a computer programmer or an accountant?
Trying to see the penguins, but avoid the cliff edge.
All too soon, we headed west, back to the beach.  The merry band still faithfully following me like the children of Hamelin.  Not being able to see more than six feet in any direction restrained the more adventurous who might have wanted to explore the island.
The group beginning to wonder if they are stranded...
Not that there was a lot to see.  There is an old hut which was used by locals when cutting the tussac grass for fodder, for their livestock around Stanley.   Apart from that, it's wall-to-wall tussac grass.  Oh, and some bogs, one of which almost swallowed my wife, wearing her brand new walking shoes!  We can laugh about it now, but the sludge stopped at her thighs.  The shoes are recovering.....I did say to follow me....
Inquisitive Fur seals investigate us. 
We had an hour before it got dark, and so had a picnic on the beach where we attracted an audience!  I don't know who was more interested in whom!  About 12 seals became braver and braver, eventually clambering ashore only a few feet from us.
Unfortunately, no-one had brought any fish or a beach ball to keep them entertained......

"Bet you can't do this!"
As the sun began to set, I began to get a bit worried that I had oversold the Sooty Shearwater phenomenon. Despite seeing hundreds of their nests at the base of tussac clumps and copious amounts of guano, not a bird was in the sky.  Then suddenly, we saw one, then another, and within 10 minutes, thousands had arrived!
Sunset, and not a single Shearwater to be seen!
We watched entranced as the aerial multitude gradually came lower and lower, until, in the gloaming, we could only vaguely see them and found them more easily by sound.   The sound of their wings as they passed within inches, and the sound of the "THUMP" as they crash-landed on the soft peat at our feet.
Dusk, and the sky fills with thousands of Sooty Shearwaters.
Eventually, it was too dangerous to stay in their flight path, and we retired to the beach to await the Zodiac.  As more and more birds landed and waddled around to find their nests, the numbers in the sky reduced to almost countable levels.  50,000?  More than I could count, anyway.

Soon we were skimming through the sea in the warm and comfortable Sulivan Shipping launch, "Barinthus".  The excited chatter onboard suggested that the others had felt the experience had been an "Attenborough" moment.  I certainly did, despite it being my third visit.
Penguins, with Stanley across the harbour
 Being able to visit special places like Kidney Island is one of the benefits of living here.  However, day tourists from cruise ships can also enjoy brief, but unique, encounters with penguins and other wildlife.  Last Friday, I accompanied a group from the ship, "Seabourn Sojourn", around the coastline near Stanley.
Spotting penguins in their burrows, with ship behind.
 During a very warm (for here) day, we saw some of the unique species such as Flightless Steamer ducks, and also spotted dolphins near the Lady Elizabeth wreck.  However, a dark shadow now hangs over these tours, as 2 more ships this week cancelled planned visits.
Seabourn Sojourn.  Anchored in the outer harbour.
This follows on from 2 cancellations at the end of November.  The 2 new cancellations coincide with the days that I would have been acting in my new post of  Penguin Warden (!), so it looks as if my services, (like dozens of others) will not be required then.

On busy days, the population of Stanley can double or even treble with visitors.  Can you imagine London coping with 10 million visitors in one day, and none the next?   People here stop doing their day jobs as civil servants or lorry drivers, and gain valuable extra income as tour guides.  So, these cancellations, as a result of intimidation from Argentina, are unwelcome, to say the least.  Recently, a shipping agent's office in Buenos Aires was smashed up, and I'm sure other pressure is being exerted on cruise companies.

I hope that affected passengers complain to their cruise companies at missing out on these world-class and unique opportunities on the Falklands.  As we've seen this week with Starbucks, customer pressure can make big companies sit up and take notice.

On a happier note, today in the West Store, I noticed my purchase of Waitrose Aloe Vera toilet roll was a bit misshapen:  more triangular than round, although I didn't think my life would be ruined by it, not being the main loo roll changer of the house. The checkout chap suggested it had been crushed at some point on its 8,000 mile journey, and offered to see if he could give me a discount. He duly returned with "50% off!".

Every Little Helps!



  1. Love the pics - does a penquin warden have a badge/uniform or similar?

    1. Thanks. I've a rather boring, but warm, high-visibility jacket and a badge. No doubt photos will be taken nearer the time. First busy day is expected to be December 30th.