Day 5 - Las Malvinas/Falkland Islands - Day 1: Carcass Island

January 22, 2015  •  2 Comments

Dawn broke on the third day of being aboard the ship and I woke to what would become a familiar sight - a hint of blue followed by quickly covering cloud cover. However, that morning also brought my first sight of the West Las Malvinas/Falkland Islands. Our first port of call was to be Carcass Island, a small island of the West Point Island group. Even though the cloud came in, it quickly disappeared again when the sun managed to get up and burn off that cover. 

Dawn over the Western Islands of East Falklands/Las Malvinas

The scenery at dawn was quite breathtaking. There were birds slowly beginning to emerge and I was one of a handful of people on the deck. Damian and some of his crew were up photographing the dawn. I generally set myself up on Deck 4-Aft as it was close to the bar where there was a coffee machine and biscuits made by the pastry chef on the ship. I could be found there every morning as dawn broke, coffee at the ready and evidence of biscuit consumption sprinkled down the front of my neck warmer, actively scanning the sea for signs of life. This would become my routine for the trip. 

Western Islands of East Falklands/Las Malvinas

As I left Damian and his group to their sunrise images, I went in search of birds. The first few species I clocked were Southern Fulmar, Black-browed Albatross, Southern and Northern Royal Albatross, Northern and Southern Giant Petrel, Cape Petrel, Sooty Shearwater, White-chinned Petrel and Wilson's Storm-Petrel. Rock and Imperial Shags were also flying by in small numbers, gliding past the bow of the ship in squadron formation. The incredible thing, however, was the number of Common Diving Petrels zipping away from the bow of the boat as we steamed along the coastline of the archipelago. There were hundreds of these auk-like seabirds. In fact, there were probably the smallest seabird we saw on this trip, on par with the Storm-Petrels. However, given the poor light and the speed these birds fly off the water, it was quite a challenge to get any photograph at all. I only saw them if I was standing at the bow of the ship, facing into the teeth of the cold wind, as they took off away from or dove under water from the oncoming ship. It would be the only day of the trip where we would see such numbers. 

Common Diving Petrel

When we crept around one particular headland, we were met with a noise and a sight that I will never forget. There were hundreds, if not a few thousand, Black-browed Albatross wheeling and soaring around the face of the cliffs. A wonderous sight. I could only imagine what it would be like seeing this off the cliffs of the Old Head of Kinsale in Cork, or the Blasket Islands off the coast of Kerry. Fantastic. Hopefully, this sight will never diminish. 

Black-browed Albatross wheel around the cliffs

Southern Fulmar - one of the most beautiful seabirds on the trip, in my opinion. Just so elegant. 

As we moved further along, I spotted a group of something porpoising out of the water at incredible speed, hovering over the surface for a split second. I first thought "fur seals" or maybe a small dolphin species. I raised my binoculars and couldn't believe what I was seeing - PENGUINS!! I was gobsmacked. I did not think they would appear out of the water like this, porpoising the way they did. I have seen a lot of footage from BBC's Attenborough programs where this behaviour was filmed. But it just does not prepare one for the spectacle in the flesh. It was mesmerising. The penguins were difficult to follow and judge where they would exit the water due to the speed they travelled at through the water. I was watching separate groups of Gentoo Penguin and Rockhopper Penguin. Two new species for me. They literally were flying out of the water. I just couldn't stop smiling. It was quite overwhelming. And we hadn't even landed anywhere yet!

Gentoo Penguins

 Rockhopper Penguin

After the excitement of the penguins, I was torn between eating breakfast down in the dining room or staying out on deck for the journey through the islets of the West Point Island group towards Carcass Island. I was buzzing and didn't want to miss anything. Knowing that we had a long morning ahead, I legged it down for a quick omelette (freshly made by the chef...fantastic breakfast) and coffee, and pegged it back up on deck. As we sailed towards Carcass Island, I noted Kelp Geese along the shorelines, Black-crowned Night Herons and Rock Shags also. The odd Elephant Seal and South American Fur Seals were dotted along the edges of the islands. Then, I picked up a flock of a dozen Brown-hooded Gulls! I was thrilled. Too far for decent photographs so I spent my time just observing them. A well-earned tick. Then the call went up for the landing instructions on Carcass Island. Frantic dashing to the cabin to don the waterproofs. Then headed for the Zodiac's and a landing on Carcass Island beckoned. This island is the home of the Cobb's Wren, one of the world's rarest birds. It is the only place in the world where this species is found. Also present should be Falkland Steamer Duck, Magellanic Snipe, Striated Caracara, Tussac Bird, Magellanic Penguin, Long-tailed Meadowlark and Ruddy-headed Goose. Ticks ahoy!

MC__1075 MarlaMC__1075 Marla What a Zodiac landing is all about. 

When we landed on the beach, the expedition team were there. Jim immediately pointed out Tussac Bird (aka Blackish Cinclodes) darting around our feet, Speckled Teal, Falkland Steamer Duck, Magellanic Oystercatcher, Turkey Vulture being mobbed by Magellanic Oystercatchers, a Variable Hawk flying over the ditches, Gentoo penguins coming out of the sea and onto the beach...I was just spinning around 360 trying to take it in. I hadn't even taken my lifejacket off, let alone get my camera out of the bag!! I, literally, had to sit down to take it in. We were here. This was bonkers. Throw into the mix the National Geographic photographer Paul Nicklen standing next to me, and a very surreal scenario began to unfold in front of my eyes. This definitely was not Kansas!!

Falkland Steamer Duck (male)

The Tussac Bird (C. a. antarcticus, a race of Blackish Cinclodes) is endemic to the Falklands/Las Malvinas and are very tame!

Magellanic Oystercatcher

When I started to breath again, got my camera out of the bag and finally plucked up the courage to speak to Paul Nicklen (one of the nicest and inspiring persons one could every meet), and his partner Cristina Mittermeier (another ridiculously talented photographer), we quickly found a Cobb's Wren feeding amongst the seaweed. Further down the beach, there was a Turkey Vulture feeding on a Gentoo Penguin carcass. Another Variable Hawk flew over and we could see geese up along the hills of the island. It was superb.

Cobb's Wren

Turkey Vulture feeding on a Gentoo Penguin carcass

The landing was to last a few hours, where we had walk along a marked trail towards the settlement at the other end of the beach. This was a 4 mile hike along the gentle slopes. This was my very first "group outing" with a camera. I found it a bit strange and frustrating but I had accepted that that was the way it was going to be. I was determined to make the best of the situation and enjoy myself without regret. Walking along with Paul and Cristina made the experience something I'll always treasure. Along the way over to the dwellings, we passed Upland Geese with their chicks, the beautiful Ruddy-headed Geese, vocal Magellanic Oystercatchers along the slopes and Magellanic Penguins nesting among the large tussac grass mounds. More Cobb's Wrens were seen close to the shoreline and Kelp Geese were feeding along the water's edge. We also had some Falkland Steamer Ducks with chicks along the shoreline. At nearly ever fence post with long grass growing around its base, we found a nesting Magellanic Snipe. Another new species for me. It's quite a striking bird, with pale cryptic plumage. 

Upland Goose (female) and her goslings

Ruddy-headed Goose

Falkland Steamer duck and chicks

Magellanic Oystercatcher calling, or rather squeaking, amongst the tussac grass

Magellanic Snipe

When we reached the dwellings, we were greeted with tea, coffee, water and some of the finest cakes and biscuits I have ever tasted (with the exception of my mother's baking!!). We had one hour to chill out around the dwelling, eat cake and sit about. Around the settlement were Striated Caracaras that would eat out of one's hand, Black-throated Finches, Austral Thrushes, Blackish Cinclodes (Tussac Bird), Magellanic Oystercatcher, and the Long-tailed Meadowlark. The Meadowlark is a stunning bird and also goes by the moniker Military Starling. Quite a stunning bird. 

Striated Caracara

Long-tailed Meadowlark (Military Starling; male)

I hung back from boarding the Zodiacs when the call went up, which were taking the passengers back to the Sea Spirit. I just didn't want to leave. This was heaven. I wanted to squeeze as much time as possible out of these landings. The beauty of the place? It was quiet. There was no noise from traffic. There was no noise from mobile phones beeping, dinging and chiming. There were so few people. It was all about the wildlife. It was the way it should be. But still, our influence as humans was evident with the presence of introduced plants such as gorse, Monterey Cypress trees and New Zealand Cabbage palms. The gorse is in danger of spreading across the island, destroying the native tussac grass, which the native birds depend on for breeding sites. There seems to be nowhere that we haven't influenced.

The last couple of species photographed before climbing into the Zodiacs and boarding the ship were the tame Blackish Cinclodes (Tussac Bird) and Black-throated (White-bridled) Finches. What a first landing!

Tussac Bird (Blackish Cinclodes)

Black-throated (White-bridled) Finch

The port of call in the afternoon, and after lunch on Deck 5 (more food...a common theme), was Saunder's Island. More on that later!


Mark Carmody - Photography
Hi Alan, thanks for your comment. I mistakenly wrote Black-faced instead of Black-throated for the Finch (a habit of mine...). That is corrected now. The Tussac Bird found on the Falklands is a race of the Blackish Cinclodes that is only found on the islands (the specific race C. a. antarcticus). A second race (C. a. maculirostris) is found in Tierra del Fuego, southernmost Chile and Argentina. Kind regards, Mark
Alan Henry(non-registered)
Tussuc Bird is not an endemic to the Falkland Islands. Your finch is a White Bridled Finch not a Black Faced Finch.
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