6th April: Falkland Islands (leaving Steeple Jason Island)

Late in the afternoon we headed off for the coast of Patagonia, slowly leaving Steeple Jason behind us as the afternoon turned into sunset. There were many albatrosses and giant petrels in the air and some cara caras turned up to farewell us on the ship.

Steeple Jason Island

(Click on image above for much larger version. In the new window, click the button at the bottom right for full screen then use mouse wheel or buttons to zoom in and out).

Cara caras on the ship's mast

A lone black-browed albatross against the late afternoon sun

A cara cara and the Russian flag

Steeple Jason Island

A city of black-browed atbatrosses and possibly gentoo penguins

A giant petrel (above) and a black-browed albatross (skimming the sea) as the afternoon turns into sunset

A black-browed albatross against Steeple Jason Island as sunset comes on.

A giant petrel in front of Steeple Jason Island at sunset

Two giant petrels in the sky as the Falklands recede and the sunset starts to fade away

6th April: Falkland Islands (Steeple Jason Island)

In the early afternoon we landed on Steeple Jason island, a somewhat precarious scramble from the zodiac to the rocks in a small cove.  There were traces of farming activity from long ago but the island has been uninhabited for some time.

Many went off to try to find the albatrosses in their colonies but few managed to find their way through the very high tussock grass.  Perhaps fortunately, I had noticed the great sea highway of gentoo penguins near where we landed and settled in to photograph them.  At the end, I just had time to snatch a few landscapes before we were summoned to an early departure.

I settled down in a nice comfortable position and opposite me was a large rock on which penguins were coming in out of the water and being washed on and off by the waves.

Most of these penguins have yellow beaks except the bottom one who has an orange one (there were also a few others).  The gentoo penguins at Vernadsky Station had orange beaks so perhaps this is a stray from Antarctica.

I was particularly looking to get gentoos porpoising so I was very pleased to catch the shot above.  This is not easy to do because they suddenly bounce up out of the water and then disappear again and it’s difficult to predict where it might happen.

As I was observing the penguins from my elevated vantage point I observed very fast white shapes zooming around in the water.  At first I thought, wow, those fish can move really fast.  Then I realised it was the penguins.  These little fellows are speed demons, underwater racing cars, twisting and turning below the waves.

On the left above, an immature rock cormorant, on the right a gentoo penguin

Not drowning, waving.

Steeple Jason Island with gentoo penguins in foreground

6th April: Falkland Islands (Grand Jason and Steeple Jason Islands)

Today was our day to investigate the Jason Islands, a small group of islands at the north-west tip of the Falklands that is seldom visited, partly due to difficulty of landing.

We woke up to a fine day with some cloud but that didn’t mean it was calm.  35 knot winds prevented us from landing at our first intended landing place of Grand Jason Island so we proceeded to Steeple Jason Island, the most westerly island in the group.  In the afternoon the weather became more calm and we were able to land there.

Steeple Jason has the largest colony of black-browed albatrosses in the world, with 187,000 pairs and unusually, the numbers are increasing.

Grand Jason Island, a few minutes after dawn, a cormorant in the sky

Steeple Jason Island

Steeple Jason Island

There are many rookeries of albatrosses and penguins on bare rock near the coasts of the island. This is a closer view of one, lower mid island in the previous image, mainly penguins in this case with a few albatrosses. Click on the image for more detail.

The rough coastline

Island peaks in cloud

One corner of Steeple Jason Island

A vertical slice of the island near where we landed in the zodiacs

The horizontal panorama above does not fit any larger on this page.  There are very many birds in the air over the point, including a giant petrel trailing its wing in the water, and huge numbers of birds beyond the rocks on shore.

The vertical panorama at the right could fit larger on the page but would take up too much space.

To see either of them “properly”, click on them and a window will open with much more detail that you can zoom in and out of and scroll around in.

In that new window, first click the lower right icon for a full window, then use the mouse wheel or other icons to zoom in and out.  It’s also better to back off a little from the full resolution that you can get in these screens.

5th April: Falkland Islands (West Point Island) – Abducted by Aliens

>>>>>>

Eeerraaark, eeeerraaarkk!

>>>>>>

Penny the Ground-Painted was always telling anyone who would listen about being abducted by aliens and she had the silver bracelets on her ankles to prove it.  Erica the Red-Eyed was not impressed.

Erica lives at 3,000 steps up in Noisy Delirium Circle.  It’s a long walk up from the harbor frontage.

  • Trudge, trudge, hop, hop, wait for a crowd to gather then big hop, trudge, trudge …
  • Ethelbert the Elegantly Absurd:  “This is my patch.  What are you doing on my patch? You can’t have it.”; Erica: “I’m just passing through.  I live at 3,000 steps up in Noisy Delirium Circle, about 40 steps from the end of Sky Mountain Street.  Let me through.”
  • another couple of steps …
  • Dionysius the Disheveled:  “This is my patch.  What are you doing on my patch? I won’t let you take it.”; Erica: “I’m just passing through.  I live at 3,000 steps up in Noisy Delirium Circle, about 40 steps from the end of Sky Mountain Street.  Let me through.”
  • another couple of steps …
  • Ignatius the Punk:  “This is my patch.  What are you doing on my patch? It’s not yours.”; Erica: “I’m just passing through.  I live at 3,000 steps up in Noisy Delirium Circle, about 40 steps from the end of Sky Mountain Street.  Let me through.”
  • And so it goes …

Eventually, Erica reaches her elite apartment high in the sky.  It was actually built by Eustace the soarer and Wendy the wave-kisser when Noisy Delerium Circle was still called Black-Browed Hilltop.  According to rumour, Wendy was last seen going for a dive behind a fishing boat and Eustace now hangs out in a different part of the City, often disrupting other couples by trying to hassle for a new partner.

Erica’s young son, Diogenes the Slightly Deranged, is now bigger than her.  “What’s for dinner?”  “Fish.” Lots of noisy celebration of the return.  “What’s for dinner?”  “Fish.” Heads down and screeching sounds. “What’s for dinner?”  “Fish.”  This goes on for a while.

Our legends tell of the giant black were-penguins that devastated our communities hundreds of generations ago.  Today we were visited by friendly aliens from the planet Ostr.  Earlier we visited their space craft as it lay on the sea and what a lot of space it seemed to contain.  We also bounced up and down out of the water beside their landing craft to get a good look at them as they came in.  These Ostr aliens are giant multicoloured hump-backed penguins and while they keep a respectable distance, they also allowed us to come right up and look at them.

Pity about Penny the ground-painted.  Last time we saw her she was heading off to a pair of sea lions to tell them how she had been abducted by aliens.

>>>>>>

Eeerraaark, eeeerraaarkk!

>>>>>>

… And so it was in the afternoon that we disembarked at West Point Island.  Michael, the Island’s caretaker, greeted us and generously provided a Land Rover bus service to the black-browed albatross and rockhopper penguin colony and also a service back, later in the afternoon.  This was much appreciated by those of us who were disinclined to venture far.  There was a much higher proportion of albatrosses to penguins than in the previous day at New Island and it was very easy to get quite close.

A few people took a long scenic trek and another group elected to climb an impressive hill in the other direction.  Though it was very windy at the cliff where the albatrosses were, it was very calm at the top of the large hill where a spectacular panoramic view presented itself.  There were also hundreds of albatrosses sitting out on the water.

Layered rocks on the cliff edge

Panorama looking back from the cliff top

Rock striations

The wild coast far below

Hundreds of black-browed albatrosses bobbing on the waves

A view in late afternoon light while walking back

Back at the “farm”, Jeanette put on a lavish afternoon tea and there was also the distraction of a dead ship on the beach as well as anchors and other marine debris.  There was also another afternoon tea on the beach attended by six turkey vultures and eighteen cara cara.

Anchors on the beach

Cara caras and turkey vultures (red heads) at the farm's carcase disposal point

Wreck on the beach

Cara cara, guardian of the wreck

Then a calm and easy return to the ship but the day was not finished yet.  Dinner was a barbeque on deck with loud dance music, mainly rock & roll and 60s pop.  Everyone donned strange headgear and there were exuberant displays of dancing by passengers, Aurora staff and the Russian crew.  Michael and Jeanette attended from the Island and may have wondered what strange universe they had arrived in.

… And I forgot to mention – a fin whale was visible from the ship feeding and with attendant seabirds for about 20 minutes though only the earliest of us back got to see this.

5th April: Falkland Islands (Carcass Island)

This morning we arrived at Carcass Island.  On arriving on the Island we were greeted by the residents Rob & Wendy McGill and treated to an amazing morning tea with vast array of delectables including ginger biscuits, neenish tarts and lamingtons.

We also received an enthusiastic welcome from the inquisitive cara caras (a small Falklands raptor also known as Johnny Rook there) who quickly volunteered to be guardians of our equipment.

Cara caras

Cara cara

Cara Cara

Cara caras settling who gets to try on the boots

Most of our expeditions have involved trekking off to commune with mass aggregations of wildlife.  This morning was more a case of sitting down quietly somewhere and waiting for the wildlife to come to you.  Apart from the cara caras, for me this included cormorants, ducks, a night heron, upland geese and gentoo penguins.  The cormorants were in great numbers around the wharf and the ducks could be amazingly well camouflaged amongst the debris on the beach.  Returning to the ship provided a bumpy ride and then an exciting moment or two as the zodiac rose or fell three or four feet from the landing platform on each wave.

Falklands steamer duck

Night heron

Kelp Gull

Rock Cormorants (bonding)

Four ducks camouflaged amongst flotsam and jetsam

3rd April: Falkland Islands (Barren Island)

In the afternoon the weather turned fine and we had a delightful visit to Barren Island. There was a group of elephant seals beside the sea, putting on a great show for us – biffo by the beach. In the breeding season, when the beachmasters compete for territory this can be bloody and serious. In this case, though, it was probably mainly the young ones practicing for the time they may need to do it for real. They also made prolonged burping sounds at very high volume as though they were practicing for potential roles as lead singers in death metal bands.

Teethmarks left behind ...

Maybe not so serious after all ...

The beachmaster's mate

The beachmaster slips into the water to try to ease the moulting torment including scraping against the rocks in the sea

There were also a large number of sea lions up on the grass about 50 metres from the shore. They were in pairs and the males are about twice as large as the females and have large “manes”. They seemed to have lots of scars on their faces, often quite fresh, from their tiffs. They can also move surprisingly fast, faster than we could run. They were giving good displays when I first turned up but I went to the elephant seals first and when I went to photograph the sea lions they were mainly lying down in the grass and quiescent. Ah well, you can’t be everywhere. No point going up to them and poking them with a stick. Still, I still got a couple of interesting images:

Sea lions on their veldt (except we're in the Falklands; ther'd be a different word there)

Sea lions with battle scars

There were still many things to see apart from the elephant seals and sea lions….

Upland geese in flight

Kelp is at hand, though too far south for a Mexican wave

Upland geese

Upland geese

Upland geese

3rd April: Falkland Islands (George Island)

In the morning we visited George Island, to the South of the main East Island in the Falklands group.  There was a farmhouse on the island but no-one was home.  The weather was bleak and windy, making it seem a rather uninviting place to live.  There was the prospect of sea lions on the other side of the island but they weren’t at home either.  What we did find though was some Magellanic penguins was also a variety of other birds along the coastline including tussock birds, upland geese and ducks.

Tussock bird. It's not lettuce; it's seaweed on the shore.

Magellanic penguin in burrow

Magellanic penguin in burrow

Falklands steamer ducks. They can be flying or flightless; these are the flightless variety.

Kelp goose

Blackish oystercatcher

Lifting a zodiac into the ship. The zodiac passengers had previously disembarked up the stairway.