Friday, 11 January 2013

Gypsy Cove Birds + News of England's Drought!

[Having lived in the Falklands for a year now, I am becoming more aware of the attractions, and issues, surrounding the islands.  After the recent political noise, I will try to avoid the rhetoric and stick to Nature in this entry of the blog.  But I will just say I am astonished at a recent headline in The Sun newspaper which calls it "Fortress Falklands".  Don't these clever newspaper people think for a minute on the impact of their nonsense?  Is that helpful in any way?  This week, I met many tourists, most of them Argentinian, and all of them happy to visit the Falklands, and no-one suggested it be "handed back" to Argentina.  Some were embarrassed by their President's rantings.  Many came to see the Argentine cemetery, and many for the penguins....]

At 51 degrees South, we are currently enjoying long sunlit days and evenings, made seemingly longer by my impulsive decision to give up alcohol in January.  I just hope Falklands Beerworks can survive this dip in its revenues....
Black-crowned night heron
So, I have been spending a lot of time away from temptation and enjoying some of the countryside around Stanley.  I sometimes work at Gypsy Cove about 3 miles to the east of Stanley, pointing out penguins to day visitors from cruise ships.
Name that bird....
 But once the tourists leave, the birds relax, and come out to enjoy the evening sunshine...If you have the luxury of time, and sit still, the birds see you aren't a threat to their young, and ignore you, rather than hide in their burrows or nests.
Parent heron with teenager refusing to leave the nest
On the cliffs around the Cove are dozens of nests, now filled with either eggs or giant hungry offspring.  And in recent days, fledglings have been leaving the nest and either following their parents around hoping to be fed, or sitting expectantly beside the nest, waiting for a meal to arrive....  Kids, eh?

Magellanic snipe
Obviously, penguins are the main attraction, but they are only here for 6 months, to breed.  However, there are several species of native birds which stay all year round.
Penguins with difficulty making eye contact
Gypsy Cove looking east to Yorke Bay dunes and thunderstorm.
On the near-vertical cliffs surrounding the cove, herons, rock shags and turkey vultures nest cheek by jowl, which can make it a bit stressful for young herons, and shags, as well as flightless penguins.
Turkey Vulture.  Not cuddly, but keeps the place clean.
By the way, I'm a vulture fan, and feel the world would be a far dirtier place without them cleaning up the environment.   And although not everyone likes them, especially farmers, I found this novel idea for using their acute sense of smell - finding corpses!
Beak touching
But the big attraction on this stretch of coastline are the Magellanic Penguins, which come ashore to raise a new generation between September and April.   The rest of the year, they forage independently off the South American coast.  Then, each austral spring, they arrive back at their old burrow, and meet up with their life partner and produce a couple of chicks.
The usual view of Magellanic penguins
The burrows are cleaned out, and new straw is laid down.  The eggs are incubated and then around January, the chicks emerge, and stay close to a parent while the other goes off for food.
Growing chick
The chicks gain weight rapidly (if their siblings allow), and this is necessary as they cannot swim for their own food until their full plumage emerges around February.  Also around February, the adults moult. So you  can see a lot of miserable penguins then, shuffling around the beach and dreaming of chasing squid!

Penguins in undergrowth.  Burrow in front.
Hungry chick
2 hungry chicks
Big brother trying to get little brother's food.  I know the feeling..
"Feed me!"
So, you have a young family, but one chick is bigger and stronger than the other.  Do you feed both the same, or do you favour the bigger chick, as it has a better chance of survival?  Or do you favour the smaller chick, so that it can catch up with its sibling?
Siblings.  Which one would you feed?
Variable Hawk, hanging on in the gale....
Some chicks (left, without chest stripe) getting close to the sea.

Falklands Thrush
There's been several thrushes around Gypsy Cove this week, some of them fledglings following their parents and hoping to be fed.
Thrush collecting berries

"It's behind you!"

Thrush chick waiting for berries

Not old enough to worry about humans.....
Penguin looking for his burrow
Gentoo penguin, rear, wondering where his mates are...
The penguins at Gypsy Cove are all Magellanic, although the other day, I saw some Gentoos arriving on the beach.  There are a couple of hundred of these in the next bay, so maybe these guys were just on a visit.
Gentoo bachelors come ashore to surprise of a Magellanic penguin.
Camera-shy chicks
This particular nest (above) is one I know well, having pointed it out to many visitors who had walked past it without realising it was there.  And despite working beside it for 8 hours at a time, I had never been lucky enough to have seen the chicks until a couple of evenings ago.  I sat about 10 yards from it for about 30 minutes waiting to see if they would emerge. (I could hear their noisy squeaking).
Penguin path
So, I'm feeling very lucky to be able to see these vignettes.  I've heard of, but can't receive, the new David Attenborough BBC series on African animals.  Having watched wildlife here, I can really appreciate how long it takes to capture those wonderful scenes that his programmes excel at.
Evening sun

And finally, I paid a visit to the Dentist today, and whilst browsing through the old newspapers in the waiting room, I came across a magazine from last February, with the eye-catching headline - "ENGLAND'S DROUGHT - THE LOOMING CRISIS!!"   How have my friends in  England coped with the drought, I wonder?  Do you need some water?
It was Margaret Thatcher Day on the 10th January in the Falklands.  Will the UK also celebrate this in years to come?

More soon



  1. Hi Peter, these are some of your most stunning photos yet - I love seeing the chicks.
    Regarding the drought - it is silly o'clock in the morning here in London and once again it is raining (although we were promised snow)!
    Just read the early Sun morning papers - and yes - more 'war mongering' front page hype!

    1. Thank you. I do find the birds a bit of a challenge, especially the ones that can fly. That hawk was gone in a second. The penguins are around a lot more, but they are still coy about getting close. I do have to use the zoom.
      Sorry to hear about more war-mongering. Not exactly helpful to an economy so dependent on tourism.

  2. Thank you for those wonderful pictures Peter - I would definitely
    'bulk up' the smaller chick! Yes the David Attenborough programme is wonderful although I do have to look away during any
    sad parts! By the way I was watching a news item from Whitby the
    other day and it showed the whalebone arch so now I've seen it!
    Keep the wonderful nature pictures coming please. Sue

  3. Thank you for your comments, Sue. No "sad parts", just parents with hungry mouths to feed....
    Whitby - yes, looks like the south side of the town is sliding into the sea. Maybe you won't be able to climb the 199 steps to the Abbey, soon?