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01/07/2008

New Island and Carcass Island, Falklands

Early this morning Explorer II arrived to New Island, the westernmost inhabited island of the Falklands archipelago. One group went ashore for a hike and found young striated caracaras picking up feathers with their beaks or plant bits with their large talons. For the botanically inclined there was much to see and smell, from the fragrant ferns to the ‘diddle-dee’ to the yellow blooms of sea cabbage and pulvinate clumps of phlox. On the far side of the island was a breeding site for several dozen South American fur seals (Arctocephalus australis), all atop flattened rocks with the surging Atlantic close by. Some females nursed pups as bulls lounged nearby. Later we stood at a high point and looked along the coast where bluffs of 400 million year-old sandstone towered above the dark blue seas.

The hikers joined the casual amblers at a colony where black-browed albatross, rockhopper penguins and blue-eyed shags nested side by. We stood, sat, and gawked at the edge of the seething avian arena where birds went about their business oblivious to our presence. Rockhopper penguins, resembling mechanical wind-up toys, allo-preened one another, waggled their long yellow head tassels, and slunk and rock-hopped on their way to and from the sea. Chicks clustered closely in crèches. The shag (or cormorant) families were busy with their domestic duties. Gorgeous iridescent deep-blue adults with crested topknots and bright yellow caruncles on their bills preened one another, fed ravenous chicks, or slept in spite of the vocal din surrounding them. Attentive black-browed albatross parents brooded single chicks atop large pedestal, bowl-shaped nests. Pairs preened one another’s faces with their long hooked beaks and walked in a most amusing manner when about to take to the air; bodies low slung and huge webbed feet audibly slapping the sandstone. In the settlement we met Kim and Tony Chater and Ian Strange at stranded 19th century American sealer Captain Barnard’s old hut. They had some fine artwork and books to sell and gave us information about the two nature reserves present on the island

Back onboard Wetjens Dimmlich presented “What Lies Beneath: Fish and fisheries in the South Atlantic”. Wetch discussed the various species sought commercially around the islands and showed images of some of the more bizarre creatures in these waters. Among the latter were the sleeper shark, the anglerfish, in which the male fuses to the female’s body and withers to become a minor appendage, and the colossal squid, larger than the giant squid and with serrated rotating tentacle suckers. The talk was very interesting. The ship repositioned to Carcass Island where we went shore in the mid-afternoon. The calm of the morning had changed as 20-knot winds blew and fog obscured the upper reaches of the island. Nonetheless, many enjoyed the two-mile hike that paralleled the shoreline, filled as it was with bird sightings, including Gentoo and Magellanic penguins, Cobb’s wren, long-tailed meadowlark, Magellanic snipe, and a variety of waterfowl among many others. We were protected from the wind by being on the lee side of the island. Others ambled along the shoreline, the tide out, to admire tide pools and the many birds near water’s edge. The tussock birds (aka darkish cinclodes) ignored us as they probed cracks in the rocks and picked through seaweed for invertebrates. Ruddy-headed and upland geese, and steamer ducks all brooded or swam with their chicks. A blackish oystercatcher was vigilant near its beach nest as Magellanic oystercatchers fed nearby. Black-crowned night herons stalked fish in the quiet shallows. The seeming fearlessness of the birds reflects a behavioral artifact of native fauna from many islands: In the absence of terrestrial predators such animals need not be concerned about becoming lunch. Both Carcass and New Islands have no introduced rats and thus the smaller birds thrive there. On many islands in the Falklands the non-native rats have caused the local eradication of small birds. Rob and Lorraine McGill, the three-decade inhabitants of Carcass, graciously invited us into their home for a tea extravaganza. The many cakes, cookies and tea were savored and we enjoyed meeting more locals. Their home, set in amidst coppice of wind-sculpted Monterey pines and many attractive flowering shrubs, seemed an idyllic place to spend some fine time away from the rest of the world. Our time visiting two of the West Falkland islands had provided us with nothing short of one of the best wildlife encounter days many of us had ever experienced while introducing us to the lives of some of the very friendly resident ‘Kelpers’.

   

CAPTAINS TOAST

MORNING HIKE ACROSS NEW ISLAND

VIEW OFSETTLEMENT HARBOUR

LOCAL AUTHOR, ARTIST AND NATURALIST IAN STRANGE

AFTERNOON TEA ON CARCASS ISLAND


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