January 14, 2013 - South Harbour, New Island, Falkland Islands
51° 43.60' S
061° 17.00 W
Good visibility, mostly sunny
Wind: NW 4; Sea: rippled; Air Temp. 15C (59F)
The Falkland Islands, despite the sovereignty dispute between Argentina and the United Kingdom, are British and comprise of two main islands, East and West Falkland, and 200 smaller islands and islets. Population is about 3000 and the land is used for sheep farming and production of high quality wool. Because my blog is a happy place I will not go into the details of the 1982 Falklands War and/or politics. If you wish to learn more of the history, please go here.
New Island - number 1 stop on West Falkland on left of map.
Our morning arrival by Zodiacs was an easy wet landing onto the beach at South Harbour. Warm sunshine encouraged a pleasant stroll up a dirt path to the bird cliffs above to view awesome colonies of nesting Black-browed Albatross, Rockhopper penguins, and King Shags, all of whom appear to live in harmony.
Rockhopper penguin colonies on the hillsides.
New Island lies at the extreme west of West Falkland Island and is the most remote of all the inhabited islands. In the 18th century, when a refuge for North American whaling ships, sheep farming for wool was introduced when part of the island was available for lease. In 1987 the majority of sheep were removed, leaving a small number as a meat supply for locals, and the island divided into two independently run properties, both now operated as nature reserves.
Before even noticing the thousands of Rockhopper penguins..........I was overwhelmed by the sight of several thousand Black-browed Albatross, most in pairs with a fluffy grey chick securely tucked into a tussock grass nest. Truly an awesome sight - and yes, I'll be using this phrase often while sharing this expedition with you!
Needless to say, the photo ops were more than exciting - especially as we were able to get very close to the birds without seeming to disturb them. As always, when interacting with nature in these types of settings, there are rules to be followed and the wildlife always comes first. No crossing any barriers, no touching, no feeding, no walking on 'penguin highways' which give them access to the sea to bring food to their young etc. I have so many pics it's hard to pick out the best and most meaningful to give you a true picture of this place.
The bright-eyed chicks, adorable balls of the perfect
grey downy feathers, seemed to smile as they
crouched under their parent.
Above, the mom is actually sitting on top of her
chick on the tall, pedestal-like nest made from
peaty soil, grass and mud.
Every now and then a third party appeared and tried
to join a nesting family - but with feet like that
the bird stood its ground on the tussock, endured
a few pecks, and soon scared the interloper away.
A happy pair. Elaborate courtship displays,
which would have occurred in September/October
at the start of the breeding season, involve
many postures and vocalizations.
The Black-browed Albatross has a wingspan of up to 8 feet. (The Royal Albatross and their close relatives the Wandering Albatross, have the longest wingspans of any bird species, reaching up to 11.5 feet).
Above, you can see how these magnificent birds fold those immense wings on their backs. Juvenile birds spend their first few years at sea and do not return to the breeding colony until they are five years old. They then remain merely observers and actual breeding doesn't begin until they are about eight years old. Many pairs often stay together for several consecutive breeding seasons and re-use the same nest where just one egg is laid.
The freedom of flight........once fledged at
4 months of age, these magnificent birds will
fly the Southern Ocean for 40 years or longer.
Next time: Beyond the Albatross colony......thousands of Rockhopper penguins awaited us.
A journey is like a person,
No two are alike.
All plans, safeguards, policing
and coercion are fruitless.
We find after years of struggle
that we do not take a trip,
a trip takes us.
- John Steinbeck -