Wednesday, 30 December 2009

West Falkland botanical trip

With the prospect of two weeks in West Falkland followed by an almost immediate transfer to a trip to Beauchene and Sea Lion Island with the Shallow Marine Survey Group there was quite a bit of juggling of kit to be done, with particular attention to camera gear as the FIGAS weight limit is only 20kg.

All the gear, food, plant 'stuff', camping stuff, fuel etc was loaded into the red FC Landrover and we gave it the once over. Early on the 29th Nov I set off for the Ferry terminal at New Haven, the reverse on, drive off ferry was pretty basic but functional, and there was tea and coffee available too.

Ferry to Port Howard on West Falkland

This ferry is rather multifunctional serving lots of the smaller islands so some of it's work is as a bit of a 'landing craft' affair. Unfortunately this makes it a bit of a rubbish ferry!! When the Shetland ro-ro ferries are running in a force 10 this thing wimps out in a stiff breeze! Seems a bit of a bad plan in such a windy place! Maybe there is a good case for a proper ferry and a landing craft?

Once at Port Howard I bought some bread having left it in the freezer in Stanley, and headed on my way down to Port Stephens at the other end of West Falkland.

A rather straight road!

The road network in the Falkland Islands is a fairly new thing, this is especially so in West Falkland. The tracks are pretty good in most places, although there are some rutted sections which you have to be careful of.

Port Stephens Settlement

Most settlements are much emptier than they used to be, farms have less sheep, bikes have replaced ponies, people have headed off to Stanley. Port Stephens is a beautiful place, the rock formations are incredible, lovely hills, and a beautiful sea.

False Plantain

One of the attractions of Port Stephens is the False Plantain. This is the only place it is found, so it was something I thought I'd go and find. Armed with the GPS coordinates I headed off. It was fairly breezy, and after a short while the heavens opened and added a nice dose of rain into the bargain! I carried on anyway, past a Gentoo colony, past the rockhoppers, and on towards the False Plantain. The erroded sandstone formed amazing features, and I was given a heck of a fright when 2 goats appeared behind me! They followed for quite a while and are apparently pets that have been put out to graze! Well, bang on coordinate there were plenty of False Plantains, small and large, and some coming into flower too, quite a neat little plant really.

Black-throated (Canary winged) Finch

Variable (Red-backed) Hawk

Went for a walk up to Hawk's Nest, and surprise there was a Hawks nest! The cliffs were only small and you could get fairly close without causing any bother which was great.

After my few days at Port Stephens I headed up to Roy Cove to pick up Rebecca who was flying in on one of the FIGAS Islander flights that serve the islands. The accomodation there was really lovely, and a beautiful view out over the sea too. We were also supplied with fresh milk and some lovely diced lamb and mince. There was a cheeky little Meadowlark that enjoyed battering his own reflection on the windows. He was quite happy to have you watching closely and was often there while we made sandwitches.

Long-tailed Meadowlark

Old house at Roy Cove

The big old farmhouse at Roy Cove with a good sized copse of trees behind. These were full of Siskins, Finches and Thrushes.

Curious sheep!

Evening light on gorse at Roy Cove

Pale Maiden flowers

Over at Roy Cove we did quite a bit of exploring looking to confirm old records of plants. We also visited a couple of areas that the landowners have fenced off to allow the land to recover from the hard grazing that it has had in the past. One interesting place we visited was Turkey Island, only accessible at low tide, and struck by lightening a few years previously and therefore burnt it is now starting to recover slowly and vegetation return. With a lack of grazing there are good stands of boxwood, and also plenty of nice ferns too. 

Falkland Fritillary Butterfly

The sheltered gorge and warming sun of Herbert Stream gave a chance for a Falklands Fretillary to stretch it's wings.

Herbert Stream Gorge

Roy Cove panorama from Cooke Hill

Giant Balsam Bog

A long but interesting day was had on Sharp Peake, looking for ferns. The top of the hill had a brilliant rocky ridge running along it and the view was pretty good too. Along the back of the hill on the coast were some massive Balsam Bog cushions.


Mountaineering weevil

From Roy Cove we went to the Charters Horse Paddock, this area has historically only ever been grazed lightly by horses, and therefore has a high diversity of plants. In general it seems that native plants are especially tasty to sheep.

After Charters we stopped by at Roy Cove for one night to make use of the hot water, and then headed off to Dunbar.

At Dunbar we met up with the owners for morning tea and discussed where we would investigate for plants. Their two children then led us out to Grave Cove to the Albatross colony. The route was good fun to drive, an interesting stream crossing, and a brilliant sandy beach too which we were chased across by an Upland Goose!

Black-browed Albatross at Dunbar

Dunbar had a great camp site, Hot Stone Cove, a short distance from the track and right next to a beautiful bay. The bay dries out when the tide is low, and the sand and stones warm up in the sun, when the tide comes back in the water in the bay warms up, hence the name! Early one morning I was woken up by a strange rattling, and looking out of the tent spotted two Johnny Rooks playing with the chain on the water canister! They are inquisitive birds and pinch anything not fixed down, cameras, sunglasses, lenscaps, hats...

Camping at Hot Stone Cove

It was a misty day when we went to investigate some stone runs for Snake plant. It didn't take too long to find some, and once you find some you find more. It was pretty tricky scrambling about in the stone runs, and surprising that some large rocks were quite unstable.

Snake Plant at Dunbar

It's easy to see how the Snake Plant got it's name, and again it's tasty to sheep, and only commonly found in large stone runs where sheep can't get to it!

From Dunbar it was an early start to catch the flight from Port Howard back to Stanley, leaving the Land Rover with Rebecca and the newly arrived Richard and Brian to carry on the work while I headed off on a new field trip with SMSG. The flight was good fun, the Islander airoplanes take off in no distance from anything that vaguely resembles a runway! From Port Howard we headed to Fox Bay, and then back to Stanley. Low cloud blanketed the North of the Islands but there were good views to the south.

Port Howard from the air

With a brief stop in Stanley I had just about enough time to do some laundry and re-pack for the next trip the following day!

Friday, 27 November 2009

Adventure Sound and Bleaker

Well, I've been back for a few days now, and have been busy looking through my photos, doing lots of washing, and inputting all the data into a lovely spreadsheet. The trip was brilliant, even though the weather wasn't good, sleet, snow, hail, rain, wind and more wind!

The first couple of days I stayed at sound house at the head of Adventure sound. It was a nice house, but very cold, until the peat rayburn was going well, oddly there central heating was powered with an electric pump so you had to have the generator going rather than relying on convection to drive the water. As we worked further down the sound we moved our base onto the Damien II, there were lots of us on board for the first night, but then 3 people headed home, so there was then more room on board. It was still quite cosy with 7 of us.

 The FC RIB and Damien II

Going up and down the sound we were regularly accompanied by Commersons Dolphins, they seem to love playing alongside the boat and in the bow wave, it's amazing that they keep up so easily and with a couple of tail flicks they shoot away at a rate of knots. In the white of their bodies you can see marks and scrapes which let you recognise different individuals.

Commersons Dolphins

 Commersons Dolphin

There were lots of birds around the shores,all the usual suspects but some other interesting birds too, Black necked swans (with cygnets), White tufted Grebes, Hudsonian Godwits, it's quite incredible to see these birds that will have been in Northern America not so long ago.

Hudsonian Godwits

Dark-faced Ground Tyrant

 Cobbs Wren

On our survey we also managed to go to some of the islands down towards Bleaker, Halt Island, North Point Island, Turn Island and Third Island. These were interesting to visit and investigate, and it was a good opportunity to check for rats. It was great to find Cobbs Wren on two islands, although one did have one patch of rat droppings (Turn Island), this is a concern as it may be an indication that rats or a rat has just arrived. It's a priority now to assess this island properly and implement some erradication so that the Cobbs and other birds can live without rat invasion! Halt Island had no Cobbs, but does have lots of other songbirds, and also no rats after a succesful erradication in 2006. Unfortunately Third Island has rats and therefore no Cobbs Wren and few other songbirds too. It is quite incredible what a difference there is between a rat infested and rat free island.

Inflatable and kit on deck 

  In the cabin of the Damien II

Ah! Falkland Steamer duck chicks 

Looking for Snail Fish which parisitise crabs which we then had for dinner

Tasty Crab 

The infernal quadrat!

One island had Striated Caracara, this was my first encounter with these cheeky little monkeys! Little feathered bags of mischeif! By the time we had got around the island they had dragged the welly sack half way down the beach. They also hover just above your head which is rather disconcerting when you see how sharp their talons are! It's quite amazing that they are so unafraid when they have suffered from persecution.

Cheeky Johnny Rook inspecting out Wellies! 

  Nice male Kelp Goose

Striated Caracara 

  Taking a good look

Ripples in the bedrock 

  Dion Poncet taking a photo

Dion the skipper

Black Browed Albatross

My first encounter/sightings of Black browed Albatross. On the last day of the trip there were 3 flying around. The divers had seen them a few days before whilst further down the sound diving, but I had missed those, so I was really pleased to see them.

Pintado Petrel

After a rather blowy night it was a nice morning although still blowing strong and this Pintado Petrel was paddling around the yacht. It almost got an unexpected bath as the toilet had broken and we were using a bucket, I spotted it just before emptying said bucket! Look before you chuck is a good idea!!

Southern Giant Petrel

So the next mission! On Sunday I'm heading over to West Falkland to do some botanical work with Rebecca - FC's botanist. This should last until about the 17th Dec when I fly back to Stanley to board the Golden Fleece and head off on another adventure! I will then be heading off to Sea Lion Island followed by Beauchene Island until the end of December! Getting the chance to visit Beauchene is rare, a small island and the furthest south in the Falkland Archipelago. It's also home to over 100,000 pairs of Black browed Albatross, 61,000 pairs of Rockhoppers, and various other Shearwaters, Prions, Tussacbirds, Cobb's Wren, Striated Caracaras etc.

So that's it for about a month! Happy Christmas to you all!

Friday, 13 November 2009

Summer? Winter? Summer? Winter? Who knows!

One minute it's looking bright, the next it's blowing a blizzard! Various things have been happening today, I managed to track down a gas cylinder regulator for a camping stove, and then I managed to find a gas cylinder too! A refill is about £20, the deposit for a cylinder is £45 so it's a good job we didn't need to get one. We also topped up the Land Rover with diesel, quite a pleasant experience when it's only 46p per litre! Mind you, as everyone needs to drive 4x4's they get through nearly twice as much fuel.

Today my radio interview was supposed to ge out, but, like the first there were some problems it seems, this time we sounded like chipmunks apparently!

I also had a meeting about the next fieldwork, carrying out some botanical work over in West Falkland. There are a few details to iron out, but some of the work will incude collecting samples for DNA analysis. I will be heading over on the ferry on the 29th, and have 3 days to do my own exploring before being joined by our botanist Rebecca. One of the plants I'm looking forward to seeing is the False Plantain, and it will be great to explore the 'other half' of the Falklands!

Went down to the post office this evening and headed on to the war memorial where you could see snow on the hills beyond.

Tomorrow I'm off to Adventure Sound and Bleaker Island. I'll be carrying out Coastal bird surveys for the Shallow Marine Survey Group. I had thought we were going to be camping for the whole trip, but luckily there is going to be accommodation at the start for a few nights, and then at the end too (in a cowshed) only leaving a few camping days in the middle! Well, that's it for now, an early start and I get back around the 22nd, so more news then.

Monday, 9 November 2009

Cape Pembroke and the radio

Popped into the office this morning, discovered what my next job is going to be. 9 days walking around Adventure Sound and Bleaker Island doing coastal bird surveying while the Shallow Marine Survey Group do diving and bathymetric stuff in the Sound. Also discovered I'm going to be camping, well, that would be lovely but it's still rather chilly, no, freezing, and there are a lot of hail and snow showers around! At least I'll get to go onto the research vessel for dinner etc.

Had an interview with Falklands Radio for their Conservation Conversation slot, which will go out on Thursday evening. Annoyingly this was arranged at just the time the Animal health/vets decided to release the two Gentoo Penguins that were now fit and healthy after their oiling about 6 weeks ago!

This afternoon Mike Morisson and Robin Woods came round on their way to see what was on the pools down at the airport and Cape Pembroke. There were a few birds around, the Lesser Yellowlegs was still present, the second individual to be there recently.

Lesser Yellowlegs

There was also a nice White-tufted Grebe on the same pool. Currently this species is listed as the same species as found in South America, but, apparently it's much bigger and there isn't even any size overlap. There is some genetic analysis going on at the moment, it'll be interesting to see the outcome.

White-tufted Grebe

Pair of Flying Steamer Duck, notice two toned bill colour.

Female Flying Steamer Duck showing off her longer wings and white belly

Silver Teal

One of 3 Baird's Sandpipers to fly infront of us and land near the road

There was a Variable Hawk sitting on top of a dune, presumably waiting for a suitable dinner to come along!

Nice afternoon overall, cheers Mike :-)

Bird List
White-tufted Grebe (tick)
Flying Steamer Duck
Yellow-billed Pintail
Speckled Teal
Silver Teal (tick)
Rufous-chested Dotterel
Two-banded Plover
Lesser Yellowlegs (tick)
Baird's Sandpiper (tick)
Variable Hawk