Day 6 - Port Stanley, Las Malvinas/Falkland Islands
Dawn broke as we approached the Eastern Falkland Islands and our destination for the day: Port Stanley. Stanely is the capital of these Islands, with a population of just over 2,000 people. The main attractions of the capital are the museum, the government buildings and the church. My interest lay in the birds, and in particular, the Rufous-chested Dotterel and Correndera/Falkland Pipit. Having only a certain amount of time in the area, I had to decide what to do. I could go for the Dotterel and Pipit in the bogs at the top of the town, or else get a taxi out to Gypsy Point (4 miles/6km away) for some Magellanic Penguins and the possibility of 2-Banded Plover. While I was think about what I was going to do, I watched Northern and Southern Giant Petrels, Northern and Southern Royal Albatross, Grey-headed Albatross, Black-browed Albatross, Wandering Albatross, Southern Fulmar, Cape Petrel and Wilson's Storm Petrel fly around the ship as we steamed through the channel towards the Stanley. Thin-billed Prions were also making an appearance in small numbers and Common Diving Petrels were scampering away from the bow of the oncoming ship.
Wilson's Storm-Petrel (ventral view; note the feet sticking out beyond the tail)
Black-browed Albatross (sub-adult)
After a health-hearty breakfast, an "omelette with everything" as one does, everyone donned their wet gear and headed for the Zodiacs. The plan had been to moor alongside the dock in Stanley and have a "dry" landing. However, as with all expedition landings, the weather had other plans for us. A very strong and inconsiderate wind blowing from a unfavourable direction prevented the Captain from bringing the ship alongside. So, it was a rough, bumpy and wet Zodiac trip across the channel to town. While we were waiting to tie alongside, a pair of Commerson's Dolphins swam around the Zodiacs. With my camera gear in my dry bag, I was not able to get any photographs. To be honest, I was just so thrilled to get such good views of the dolphins that getting a photograph didn't really bother me. It was my first time seeing this species and they are a stunning mammal.
Once we disembarked from the Zodiacs and took of the wet gear, Jim gave me directions of where to go for the Dotterel. My mind was set on spending the time looking for this species and hopefully some close, open views of Magellanic Snipe. There was a chance for 2-Banded Plover and Silvery Grebe along the town front later on, so I decided on the gamble of heading upwards. It took Jim three or four visits to the area he was sending me that he finally found the Dotterels. With so little time to properly stake out an area for photographs, making a decision and sticking to it was key. With that, I set off on my own and headed for the open moorland. Jim was working and guiding a group of passengers from the ship in a bird walk around the town and eventually up the moorland where I would be.
While walking up the hills, it was strange concoction of elements hitting the senses: hearing the calls of House Sparrows, seeing the flags of English Premier League football clubs in the windows of people's homes, watching the Falkland race of Austral Thrush looking for worms in the gardens, where some of the oldest and functioning Land Rover makes and models reside in driveways and looking at Turkey Vultures prowling the skies at roof height; a very surreal picture begins to unfold right in front of one's eyes.
Turkey Vulture at just over head height along the gardens of the Stanley properties. The crows of the region!
I had to stop to take it in, to remind myself of where I was. The island had an uncanny resemblance to the islands of West Cork that I know and have been going to for years. The soaring Turkey Vultures sort of brought it all back home that I was not on Cape Clear now.
So onwards I went, nodding to the Land Rover drivers who were giving the ol' West Cork "one finger off the steering wheel" wave of acknowledgement. Reaching the top of the hilly "street", I ventured over the wire fences and started walking slowly across the bogs and heather. There were remnants of the Falklands War from 1982 scattered about, with rusted gun turrets and a few old helmets apparent in an area that saw fighting. It was a tad surreal. While searching for the Dotterel, some Black-faced Siskins flew by but not much else. A couple of distant pipits flying east could only have been Correndera Pipit but better views would be required to tick that species. The beautiful melodious song of the Long-tailed Meadowlark was audible but I couldn't find them either! After nearly an hour, I finally tracked down a couple of Dotterel in a distant fenced off section of the bog. I was thrilled!! This was a real bonus to find them so quickly given Jim's previous searches. Without his knowledge, I may not have been able to find them. After climbing over a couple of fences, I managed to sneak up on the Dotterel by lying down on my ever expanding belly (thanks to the copious amounts of food on the ship and my ability to eat it all), and crawling along with the camera at the ready. Once I found a suitable position to lay down and ensuring my background was clean(ish), I spent an hour with the birds allowing them to fly around and walk towards me. Quite stunning and a great experience. It was the wind coming in off the sea and the general quietness of the area that appealed to me most.
Rufous-chested Dotterel (simply stunning)
While lying on the heather and bog, I was fortunate that a male Long-tailed Meadowlark came into investigate. The male bird, such a stunning creature, fed amongst the heather and chased off the Dotterel at one point, threw out a few snatches of song, before flying off again.
Long-tailed Meadowlark (Military Starling) - a resplendent male.
Once I had had my fill of the Dotterel, I moved off and went in search of Magellanic Snipe and Correndera/Falkland Pipits. Just as I was traversing another fence, I saw Jim and his group, just like the Pied Piper and his followers, coming down towards me. With a few well-known hand signals exchanged between us while looking through our binoculars, I intimated that the Dotterels were close. I waited for Jim and my fellow passengers and showed them where the birds were. Everyone was happy to have seen them. With Jim's guided walk now complete, it was great that the two of us could wander around and go birding ourselves, just the two of us, like we used to do when I was a kid. It was a really nice moment for me, and I was delighted to have had the chance to do it. As we walked around the area, we stumbled upon some Magellanic Snipe, more Rufous-chested Dotterel and a few Correndera Pipits as well.
Correndera or Falkland Pipit (best images I could manage - tricky to get close to)
Magellanic Snipe out in the open! Such stunning and cryptic birds. Bigger and paler than their European cousins. We saw quite a few in this area of bog/moorland. With some patience and slow movements, it was possible to get close to this beautiful bird.
However, the highlight of our walk around the area was stumbling upon a quite tame Meadowlark. We slowly crept up to the bird, taking turns to go point and using the one-two inline technique we have used for years now when sneaking up on a bird to take some photographs. This was the closest that Jim had ever got to a Meadowlark so I let him lead for most of the stealthy stalking. We were both delighted to have got so close to a male Meadowlark and also to secure some shots. We then slowly retraced our steps and decided to head back into town for some lunch. On our way back to the road, we passed some small flocks of both Upland and Ruddy-headed Geese in the fields.
Long-tailed Meadowlark (Military Starling)
Once we had a bite to eat in one of the (strange) local pubs and had a pint of the local ale (excellent stuff, too!), we headed back out to look for the Falkland race of Austral Thrush and check the front of town for more waders, gulls and terns. Jim also wanted to pop into the local Sainsbury's(!) to pick up some supplies. Most of the crew do this here in Stanley, as it is generally not possible to get things like Cadbury's chocolate and other familiar items in Ushuaia. Turkey Vultures were gliding overhead as we exited Sainsbury's and Dolphin Gulls were chilling on the grass along the coastal path running along the front of town. Kelp Gulls and South American Terns flew past busy looking for food, while Falkland Steamer Ducks, or Loggers as they are known as locally, were busy chowing down on bivalves and mussels over the sea wall. Rock Shags were also busily feeding in the shallows.
Falkland Island Steamer Duck or Logger (a male)
As I had yet to photograph the Falkland race of Austral Thrush, Jim and I headed out towards the cemetery which is a little way out of town. No sooner had we reached the end of the road that Sainsbury's was on when we spied a couple of Thrush having a wash in a small pond in the garden of the Falklands Conservation building, an end-of-terrace house along Stanley front. They were very jittery and quite flighty but I managed to get a couple of images before we decided to push on. Time was against us as we had to get back to the collection point for the ship.
Austral/Falkland Island Thrush
On our way to the cemetery, and passing a few Land Rover garages, we stumbled upon a Blackish Oystercatcher feeding along the water's edge!! I had only seen the species in flight in Ushuaia so we stopped to take a few photographs. This is a big Oystercatcher with a real mallet-looking bill. Once I had some record shots in the bag, we walked quickly along the coastal path, passing a flock of sleeping Upland Geese and Black-chinned Siskins feeding on the grass seed heads. As we continued along towards the cemetery, Jim spotted a Steamer Duck sitting up on the grass in amongst some Crested Duck - we were confused as to how it got there (no obvious slipway and a high wall present) and were thinking that it might be a Flying Steamer Duck. Dave, one of the expedition crew, had seen a couple of Flying Steamer Duck flying along the town front as we were approaching Stanley that morning. We crept closer and closer but the bird just didn't fly. We took some photographs for analysis later and were about to head onwards when we realised we had run out of time. We had to head back to the dock and get the Zodiacs back to the ship. It was time to leave Stanley.
possible Flying Steamer Duck
Stanley was a great little town, strange, surreal and a bit weird. I wish I could have spent some time walking around and gone to visit the garden full of gnomes and the garden full of whale bones made into sculptures. Next time. For now, it was goodbye to vegetation, trees, soil, the sound of passerines chirping and singing for at least two weeks.
We made our way out of Stanley harbour and the channel, and back into the open ocean, and then steamed south towards South Georgia! I stayed up on deck and spent the last remaining hours of light birding the day away. We were treated to fantastic views of Wandering Albatross and Black-browed Albatross, as well as White-chinned Petrel and Sooty Shearwater. However, the highlight was picking up 2 Grey-backed Storm-Petrels flying into the wind off the bow of the ship!! I had thought initially that they were Black-bellied Storm-Petrels, but the lack of white rump, overall grey back and wings pointed to Grey-backed. Thankfully, one of the other passengers, Roger, managed to grab a few record shots. We showed Jim later on, and he confirmed that they were Grey-backed Storm-Petrel, as species he has yet to see! A great bird for the trip list.
Northern Giant Petrel, Wandering Albatross and Black-browed Albatross in gloomy conditions.
Wandering Albatross being lit by the setting sun
With the prospect of two full days at sea ahead and the weather closing in, it was time for a few beers and to bed at a reasonable hour. An early start beckoned the following day as we began our journey south.
Keywords: Black-browed Albatross, Canon, Canon Professional Network, Carmody, Correndera, Correndera Pipit, Falkland Islands, Jim Wilson, Las Malvinas, Long-tailed Meadowlark, Mark Carmody, Pipit, Quark, Ruddy-headed Goose, Rufous-chested Dotterel, Upland Goose, Wandering Albatross
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