I have this before about places being one of the most Beautiful places on Earth, but the Falklands must surely be added to that list. It has its own type of beauty ,the apparently untouched wilderness that stretches for miles before your eyes, knowing that these lands are so WORD populated that you will most likely come across a penguin on your wanders than you will a settlement or a person. This blog is a little overdue, however sometimes you need a little reflection time before you can truly do the writing justice. It has been a busy winter in terms of getting straight back out after returning home. Having had a little time to write this it will hopefully make for a better read!
King Penguins at Volunteer Point
The Falkland Islands - the brief history, the wildlife and the reason!
Any fellow nature photographers will know that certain species or groups of species capture the heart and passion, no matter what we do it is that species we enjoy spending the time with the most. For myself there are two particular groups of species, Seabirds and the Grouse family (Tetraonidae). For those unfortunate enough to suffer my obsession of these birds they will be well aware of the impact my love of penguins have had on their daily lives…
"Who you looking at?"
Why the Falklands? After hours of research into trips venturing to the antarctic peninsula I realised what vast amount of wildlife there was in the Falklands, but also the availability of opportunities to photograph the wildlife. The falkland islands have been on countless documentaries that really show the uniqueness off well.
The Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas) are an archipelago (group of islands) in the South Atlantic Ocean on the Patagonian Shelf. The Falklands are often referred to as 52°S. The Islands comprise of over 770 individual Islands and Islets, with a population of around 3,000 mostly consisting of Falkland Islanders but also French, Scandinavian, Gibraltarian and Argentinian. As most of the population of the Falklands is based in the capital Stanley, it is easy to imagine the vast wild landscape that helps make these Islands the perfect breeding destination for many species.
The Islands have a long history that I won't go into as much detail with these blogs, but i found it incredibly emotional and moving experience to visit the Museum as well as have the chance to speak to the Falkland Islanders that we came to know well on our trip, such as the Drivers to volunteer point (particularly our own Carrot) and the lovely family that live on Carcass Island. There is a large British Military presence on the Islands with a main base at RAF Mount Pleasant following the 1982 war and as you look around the Islands often you can see reminders of those wars.
Gentoo Penguin Chick
It is worth mentioning that the falkland islands also have a large maritime history which includes activities such as Penguin and Seal Farming. A lot of the history of the Islands have shaped them to the way they are today, the penguins for example have made use of minefield areas that are unsafe to humans and use them as very successful well protected colonies.
Packing, Travelling and the important bits!
I made the decision quite a few years ago that I wanted to reach the falkland islands it was just a case of how I was going to get there. in the end I chose to go on a pre organised trip, mostly for their insurance and experience. I chose to go with Natures Images which I can wholeheartedly say that their experience was second to none, the tour was led by Mark Sisson and ran as smoothly as it could have. I would most definately reccomend this company to anyone who is considering a trip and doesn't want to risk the unknown themselves.
So Part two of this blog will focus on the equipment that I took with me on this trip, its usefulness and any reviews. I have found that personally the best approach I can take is start to put together a list of what I need to take with me but that main packing should take place only a few days beforehand. This time i began around two weeks earlier making sure i had the right bag for the job.
Gentoo Penguins in the Surf
To get from my home in lovely Scotland to the Falklands it involved… an 8 hour drive to Brize Norton (which I fully recommend as the least hassle way), luckily 4 hours of my drive was spent with others going on the trip, followed by almost a 16 hour flight with a 2 hour stop over at the ascension Islands. Im lucky I didn't suffer from jet lag however I also found it incredibly difficult to sleep on the flight.
The Adventure Begins - Day one and Two
For the next two days we had quite an adventure ahead of us, the destination was for Volunteer Point. One of the largest King Penguin Colonies on the Falkland Islands, and most likely the most Northerly King Penguin Colony in the World. Volunteer Point is reached by an early start before a 2 and a half hour drive most of which is off road over bog and vegetation. It is one of the first chances to get a real good look at the terrain and a chance to see some of the smaller birds.
It would be almost impossible to explain exactly what it looks and feels like when you get the first view of the penguins. They are appear after going round a small vegetation covered hill and they go for as far as the eye can see. Magellanic, gentoo and king penguin colonies spread out before you.
King Penguins on the March
Each different species of penguin has their own breeding cycle, with the king penguins all at various stages in their cycles and both the Magellanic and gentoo penguins just beginning. So for two days we were treated to all forms of behaviour from courtship, egg protection, predator control all the way to watching king penguins at different ages still being fed or learning to swim with their adults. It is quite surreal to be able to watch King penguins with eggs just a few days old, gentoo penguins who are just starting to hatch to lots of small groups of adult king penguins just stood in a large fluffy pile of feathers as they molt after finishing their cycle.
Who told me it was going to be cold?? I had packed for what seemed like a trip back to the -30s of yellowstone and discovered that the weather varies vastly from the West Falklands Island to the rest of the Falklands. For two days we endured strong winds wit sand storms and downpours. This certainly made it interesting when keeping kit dry and clean was concerned.
The complete opposite to this is worth mentioning now… at certain times on Carcass Island temperatures could reach 20°+
Gentoo Penguin Portrait
This brings us to the end of part one.. I hope you enjoyed the images and if you would like to read more part two will be along shortly.
I have you have enjoyed reading this and for now...