Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Seeing Kidney, with a film crew

[Continuing an occasional look at living in the Falkland Islands.....]   Last week I was asked to show a film crew around the uninhabited Kidney Island.  Well, "uninhabited" by people, but it has scores of sealions, hundreds of penguins, and thousands of Sooty Shearwaters!  (See blog entries for last December and February for more on Kidney Island).

"Are you free tomorrow to show a film crew round Kidney Island?"  Without checking whether the caller meant "free" as in "available" or "free" as in "at no cost", I said I was!   I just assumed my embryonic role as a Tour Guide had attracted positive attention and my services were demanded by visiting film-makers.  Or, it may have been that every other guide was already booked......
Sweet nothings being whispered in the ear....?
The visitors were making a film about the diversity of the flora and fauna in the UK's Overseas Territories, of which the Falklands was one of 14.

Led by Stewart McPherson, the team were keen to capture on film (or its digital equivalent) unique habitats and wildlife.  They had been sponsored to increase the knowledge of the mostly-remote Overseas Territories.  They had already recorded the blue iguana on the Cayman Islands, and filmed green turtles on Ascension Island.  Now they wanted to see the unique sights of the Falklands......
Sealion sentinel on the beach
I didn't realise it at the time, but Stewart had gained fame by discovering a carnivorous plant in the Phillipines, the Nepenthes Attenboroughii, and naming it after a well-known naturalist and broadcaster! (Amazing what Google can tell you!).

For more background on Stewart, try his company's website >

Simon, the cameramen, also has an interesting site, which should show where they are travelling to >
The difference in size between male and female is quite pronounced.
 So, early on Friday morning, we (along with some ornithologists) set off on a lovely launch to Kidney Island, in the next bay from Stanley.  I had been several times, most recently in November with some friends.  The difference this time was that the tall tussoc grass which covers the island, had grown from the usual head height, and was trickier than usual to negotiate, after weeks of rain.  Bogs abounded.
The hut gives an idea as to the height of the grass.
The story of Tussoc Grass, take 5....
 Added to the impenetrability of the tussoc grass, was the hidden danger of sleeping sealions in the foliage.  I did come across a couple of them in my tour of the island, and it is quite a fright to be face to face with a grumpy ton of blubber and fur.  Not to mention the sharp teeth at one end.
Ornithologists trying to see the birdlife.
From zero visibility to 10-mile views....
The endemic Cobb's wren, sheltering from the breeze
Upland Geese family
 At a sheltered cove, we found about 20 sealions relaxing in family groups.  They didn't seem to mind us watching them from about 70 yards away.
Sealion with pup
Males eyeing each other up
Further along the coast, we found the Rockhopper penguin colony, which also has a large number of rock shags within it.  The chicks are almost fully grown now, but need to develop the waterproof feathers before setting off to sea for the first time.
Nest with a view.
Mucky young penguin learning how to stand with its back to the wind.
Falklands Thrush foraging in the kelp
 Hopefully, the scientists and cameraman got the shots they wanted.  As the sun went down, we all gathered near the beach to wait for the spectacle of around 50,000 pairs of Sooty Shearwaters returning to their nests.
A double rainbow in the bay.
 The nests are burrows under the tussoc grass clumps, and during the day, seemed empty.  But as darkness fell, and the birds landed heavily on the clumps of grass, we could hear the calling between parents and chicks.
Rockhopper lookout.
 With the sky darkening, thousand of birds arrived overhead to whirl round above our heads countless times, before plunging into a grass clump.
50,000 pairs of Sooty Shearwaters returning at dusk.
With the footage safely captured, we headed back to the lights of Stanley.  Arriving at the jetty, the Globe Tavern seemed to be lively (possibly due to the presence of HMS Edinburgh in the harbour), and a million miles from the wildlife spectacles we had just witnessed.

I will try to keep in touch with the team to see the film when it is finalised.


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