Saturday, 13 December 2014

Bleaker Island revisited - Birds and Beaches.

[Continuing the irregular updates on life in the South Atlantic.  8,000 miles from the UK, 400 miles from Argentina, the Falkland Islands are our home from home.  While we work during the week, we try to explore the other 778 islands at the weekend.......]

A few weeks ago, we revisited Bleaker Island after our first trip there, about 30 months.
ago.  It's a long, narrow island, about 15 miles by 1 mile, with a small settlement of about 4 houses in the middle.
Bleaker air terminal
As usual, the normal way to arrive is by small Britten-Norman Islander planes run by the Falkland Islands Government Air Service (FIGAS).

An extra passenger on our plane....
We were met by the owner, Mike, who lives on the island, and one of the couple who manage the farm and visitor properties.  Our bags went with the manager directly to the settlement about 2 miles from the airstrip, while we had the circuitous familiarisation tour from Mike.
Cassard House sun lounge
We had stayed in the main house, Cassard, soon after it had opened 3 years ago, and it was still as full of light and comfort as we remembered.  And, once again, we had managed to pick a time when we had the 4-bedroomed place to ourselves.
Cassard House living room
After settling in, we slapped on the sun cream and headed out to see what we could see.....
Settlement house
The main difference from the previous visit was in the season - Spring instead of late Summer/Autumn.  Birds, especially penguins, were sitting on eggs.  This made them much less mobile and hence photogenic.
Rockhopper incubating egg
 They are also very wary of losing their eggs to predators, of which there are many.  The common (to these parts. They are rare everywhere else.) Striated Caracara is mainly seen hanging around colonies, waiting for a moment of opportunity to steal a meal.
Watchful penguins being watched by a Straited Caracara
These Caracaras tend to attack their prey by running, and have been very successful on islands where cats have not been introduced, such as Bleaker.
Striated Caracara

"This way, chaps!"
Other predators include Skuas, and the ubiquitous Turkey Vulture.  So these penguins have a hard life.  Added to that, their colonies tend to be at the top of sheer cliffs, which they have to negotiate hundreds of times during the breeding season.
Turkey vulture
Once they have clambered down the slope to the sea, they then run the guantlet of seals and sea lions, who also use the island for breeding
Southern sea lion
We could sit and watch these cute penguins for hours, and frequently did!

They are inquisitive
Bleaker also has colonies of Gentoo and Magellanic penguins.  The latter live in burrows near a sandy beach, whereas the Gentoo are usually found inland.  However, around feeding time, they return from their fishing trips and congregate on the beach before heading en masse to find their chicks.
Walking among the Gentoo penguins
Watching the crowds reminded me of my time working in central London, when office workers would gather, at the end of the day,  at the major train stations, perhaps meeting friends for a pint, before heading home to the family!

By the way, this beach has been deemed to be the 9th best beach in the world by a travel writer, Lee Abbamonte, and who are we to argue?  I'm guessing it was also the quietest and coldest on his list, see below!
Kelp Geese, male white
Birds abound on Bleaker.......
Patagonian crested ducks
Ruddy-headed goose and goslings
Two-banded plover
Crested Caracara, a long way away...
And the birds we saw, were generally very tame, the exception being the Crested Caracara, a striking South American raptor.
Rock cormorant colony
We noticed other differences in the time of year.  The Skuas were here, but had no chicks yet, so were not as aggressive as we remembered.
Skua - pirating gentoo eggs.
 They were feasting on penguin eggs.  In a few months, they would be feeding their young on the abundant penguin chicks!
Gentoo on egg
However, the resident striated Caracaras were an aerial threat.
Agressive Striated Caracara
The next day, we borrowed a car to drive to some of the remoter parts.  Unlike any other car I had hired in the past, there was no forms to fill in;  no credit card to be checked;  no examination of the bodywork for dents and scratches; no queue at the depot; no worry about re-filling with fuel.....

"Would you like to take the car tomorrow?  We'll add £xx to your bill."    Simples!
Magellanic penguin snuggling up to Flightless Steamer Duck!
Most of the island is rough pasture for sheep and beef cattle, but stock numbers are low, to avoid over-grazing and erosion, which has blighted some islands.
So, off we went to explore, and see what we could see.  At the southern end of the island, where we could look across a narrow strait to the mainland, we found a rather friendly Flightless Steamer Duck and a Magellanic Penguin, keeping out of the wind.  Could there be a new species on the way?
Black-necked Swan
We could drive almost anywhere on the farm tracks, stopping for a walk or picnic or to watch a pond for exotic birdlife..  Very relaxing.
A very shy bird is the black-necked swan.  We saw about 8 of them, but almost immediately they would paddle across to the far side of a large pond.
Magellanic Snipe, from the car!
Less shy was a magellanic snipe.  This photo, above, was taken from a few feet away, while we were sitting in the car!

We saw so many more birds that we took photos of.  But we were only there to soak up the atmosphere and relax, which we did, thanks to Elaine, our hostess, having dinner ready for us when we arrived from our wanderings.

Bleaker - a beautiful island.  A really civilised retreat!.

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