Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Honeymoon at Volunteer Beach

[For new readers....My wife and I moved to the Falkland Islands over 5 years ago, initially for two years.  But we have yet to be bored with the opportunities for work or the wildlife. Plus most of the people are very friendly and helpful.]

This week, we headed to Johnson's Harbour, a massive sheep farm which includes a private nature reserve,  about an hour out of Stanley, with two friends on board. At the end of the gravel road, we waited at the tiny settlement of about 4 houses for the Warden to arrive and transport us in his big 4x4 (SUV) to the House, about 12 miles away, over very boggy untamed ground.

The 12 miles took about 75 minutes to traverse. The main tourist track to the beach was closed due to being too wet, but as the Warden lived at the House, he could use a quiet track which was relatively pristine, as it received little traffic.
The track had been closed for 2 weeks, due to being wet!
One reason it may not have had much traffic during the season, was that it crossed a tidal lagoon. So knowing the local tides was an essential requirement  for arriving at the destination.
This is not due to rainfall - this is a tidal lagoon. The main track is worse!
 After admiring some skilled driving, we arrived at the House, and quickly got down to the 2-mile long beach to see the main attraction - penguins!  It is "PetersPenguinPost", after all!
Indecisive King Penguins
 King Penguins are relatively rare in the Falklands, but this was the biggest colony - about 1,000 pairs, plus hundreds of chicks.
"OK, form a line"
 There are Magellanic and Gentoo penguins, too, but these can be found close to Stanley, and all over the Falklands. The Kings were what we wanted to see.  And the huge numbers also attracted predators such as Sea Lions.....
"Follow me!"

Hallo, 'allo, 'allo!
 We watched a line of penguins waddle into the surf, only to emerge moments later at top speed as a dark shape was spotted in the waves!
The Gentoo wins the race!
Oh dear...

 As well as watching the wildlife, we had hoped our friends would enjoy their visit. It was a sentimental journey for them, as they had first come here on their honeymoon - 40 years ago!
White-rumped Sandpiper and a 2-banded plover
 The Bride's Grandparents had given them a flight in a Beaver float plane to take them to a shack at Volunteer Beach. With a bag full of compo rations from the Royal Marine barracks where the Groom was billeted, along with the other Marines in Naval Party 8901, they set off on their honeymoon.

The float plane landed on the nearby lagoon. As the shack was uninhabited, there was no-one to greet them. So no boat to get them ashore from the float plane in the middle of the tidal lagoon. So the Groom had to give the Bride a piggy-back lift to dry land! 
Feeding time at the creche
 Not only were there no people at the shack, there was no electricity. "I remember playing cards by candlelight", said the Bride. 

The peat stove was fired up and a Fray Bentos Steak and Kidney pie was heated.  Baked beans were warmed for breakfast. 
Swimming all day makes one tired
 Two days later, they returned to the lagoon to await the plane.  There was no phone in 1977, so after hours of waiting they gave up, and guessed, correctly, that the plane was grounded by the strong winds.  The same thing happened the next day!  Eventually, the plane arrived and rescued them.
More feeding

We are not allowed inside the white stones.
Anyway, the 2017 visitors had no need to bring rations - champagne was enough. The Warden and his wife provided superb hospitality in their home, with delicious meals and yummy fresh home baking.  Teaberry cheescake is a Falklands delicacy, which I was lucky enough to taste twice on the one day.  It is worth the calories!
Young one
However, we did work some of the calories off by long walks along the beach and cliffs.  Saw more Sea Lions and peregrine falcons.
"Leave it!"
Some people miss all the fun of arrival by the track....

Group beach stroll

House is beside the green trees, right. Volunteer Beach in the centre.
All too soon, the visit was over, and we enjoyed the swaying ride in the Warden's car over the bumpy countryside. Once again, we felt very, very privileged to have been able to visit one of the best wildlife spots on the planet. But unlike many tourist hotspots, there are no crowds and because Man has only lived here for about 200 years, the wildlife is as curious about us as we are about them.

More in a few weeks,
Sea Lions

Monday, 3 April 2017

Interviewing a Python

It's been a wee while, but I have been busy.......


If you go to that site, you'll find my interview with Michael Palin last week. A wonderful man: very humorous, and interesting, and I have been a life-long fan. As I'm often told - I'm a lucky, lucky man!
Blackish  Oystercatcher
He was in Stanley and the Falklands for a few days to research his new book on the Erebus, a ship that sailed around Antarctica, and to the North-west Passage in the early 19th century.
Friendly Falklands Thrush

The ship and its crews had amazing stories to tell. The first voyage found volcanoes on Antarctica, and Captain James Clark Ross named them after his ships, the Erebus  and  Terror.  They also were the first men to see the Ross Ice Shelf, and reach the South Magnetic Pole. The captain of the  Terror was a man called Crozier. Both men are remembered in the street names of Stanley - they were instrumental in founding the place!

The last penguin to leave for Brazil!
 But it was the second and final voyage, under Sir John Franklin, to find the North Magnetic Pole, which placed the Erebus firmly in the history books. The whole expedition was lost for decades - no sign of it anywhere - until some bones were found in remote north Canada....

And only a few years ago, the ships themselves were discovered. So, the hunt continues for clues to the mystery of what happened....
Cockleshell Heroes

Rather unbelievably, on the same day I was talking to Michael Palin, I also enjoyed listening to former Royal Marine Commando, Mick Dawson tell of his 7,000 mile row across the Pacific with Chris Martin. See "189days.com" for full details. Can you imagine ROWING from London to Buenos Aires?????

Last week, he was "merely" kayaking 120 miles around the Falklands with Steve Grenham, to raise awareness of his project (Cockleshell Endeavour) to help PTSD sufferers. The two paddlers (both novices) entered Stanley Harbour followed by a pod of dolphins to keep them company. Amazing.

Please help support these men, without whose sacrifices, the Falklands War and other conflicts would have ended differently.



Sorry for the break. I'm going for another one soon, but there is plenty to get your teeth into while I'm away,


PS - did you spot the April Fool in the Penguin News?