Thursday, 4 February 2010

Hectic last few weeks

The last few weeks of my stay here have been really busy, penguin counting, shorebird surveys, data entry, maintaining the landrovers, meeting lots of new people, going out sailing etc.

A trip to Volunteer Point to count penguin chicks was required, along with an overnight camp on the coastal green. Famous for the King Penguin colony we were counting Gentoo and Magellanic penguins, but there was plenty of time to enjoy the evening with the Kings too. It's a rather surreal feeling when you are kept awake at night by penguin calls, especially the Magellanics that sound like donkeys braying.

Counting Magellanic penguins in their burrows

A handsome King Penguin in the evening light

Further Penguin chick counts included a trip to the Rockhoppers at Berkley Sound. Back in November there had been a Northern Rockhopper, and amazingly it was still there, and looking fat too. Normally they are up in Tristan de Cuna, and this is only the 4th record of one visiting the Falkland Islands. The following day it was back out to Berkley sound to do some stomach content sampling of the Rockhoppers. The first challenge is to catch them, not easy on a rocky cliff, and they are pretty quick, so you need to use a bit of surprise! The general idea is to put a tube into their stomach, fill with water, then turn them upsidedown over a bucket and tickle their throat with a finger, out pours a lovely concoction of fish larvae, krill and small squid.

Northern Rockhopper

Stomach contents analysis

One of the visiting yachts I had the chance of catching up with is the Ocean Watch. A group of sailors, scientists, a writer and a photographer have been sailing Around the Americas on an expedition of discovery to raise awareness of the threats to our oceans and the need to take action. Some of the work they have been doing is quite amazing, they have a weather station atop the mast, and a camera array taking 44,000 photos a day to look at wave patterns! They were a really nice bunch, and much fun was had visiting their yacht and the pub. During this time I also met up with a lovely couple from Seattle with a beautiful yacht, and they were kind enough to take me out sailing. For my first sailing trip it was great fun, putting in reefs, raising and lowering sails, tacking etc. I even got to drive too! We didn't go very far, and sailed back into Stanley as part of a flotilla to welcome Commander Dilip Dhonde of the Indian Navy, he is the first man from India to sail around the world single handed, so good luck to him on his final legs to Cape Town and back to India.

The Ocean Watch

 Further survey work has included more shorebird surveys, this time on the northern coast of Lafonia. Staying in a small house called The Wreck the coastline was very pretty, white calcerous seaweed beaches, blue sea, but not a huge number of birds! The house was lovely, an open peat fire, a peat stove, a little 'put put' diesel generator and beautiful uninterrupted scenery. Along the coast we were amazed to find the remains of a large number of stranded Pilot Whales. One set of about 40 had stranded in the 80's, and a dozen more in 2003, the remains of which were still covered in bits of dried skin.

 The lower jaw of a Pilot Whale that stranded back in 2003

The final two trips of my stay were both Penguin counting excursions. First was to head back to Lafonia, staying at Walker Creek and Fanny Cove house, counting the Gentoo Penguins, and helping a botanist from Kew to look for some plants. The Gentoo penguins were pretty big by now, and a lot of them had already moulted out of their fluffy down, so counting was quite tricky. Add to this their curiosity and tendency to move from one sub-colony to another and counting was getting rather difficult! On one of the ponds we passed were some Silvery Grebes, and White tufted Grebes, they were close to the edge so I was able to get some nice photos.

 White-tufted Grebe

Fanny Cove house is almost original to how it was built a hundred years ago or so. The only addition has been a 'light engine'. What is meant by this is a generator wired up to all the lights in the house, yes all of them, no lightswitch, just the crank on the generator! It was really comfortable, and there was an open peat fire and peat stove too. Whilst down at Bull Point we were on the look out for Dusen's Moonwort, and sure enough we found some! Driving the Land Rover very slowly along the track we had our heads leant out the windows scouring the ground for it, a comfortable way to survey I think!

Fanny Cove house

Dusen's Moonwort

We were blessed with the weather and spectacular beaches, so I even went for a paddle. It may look tropical, but the sea certainly isn't. It's not too bad once you've lost the feeling in your feet!

Bull Point, yes this really is the Falklands!

One of my last duties here: a visit the Falklans Island Radio Service, hopefully third time lucky my radio interview will work, and is due to be broadcast next Thursday in the Conservation Conversations slot hosted by Liz, so keep a listen out on 

Well, that's about it for my Falkland Adventure. I'm heading off on the flight first thing tomorrow morning, and stopping off in Ascension for 4 days on the way back home. It's been so amazing down here, spectacular wildlife, rugged scenery, and I've made some rally great friends too. It's a real wrench to leave, and I'm already planning when I'll be able to come back again.