Thursday 30 March 2023

Falklands, Pebble Island - day 3

The plan for our third and final full day on Pebble Island was to be fully guided by Riki. Our holiday was a land based wildlife trip, however, there is no escaping the fact that one of the first things that comes to mind, especially as a Brit, when you think of The Falklands, is the 1982 war. Before we headed out Riki asked if we were interested in seeing war related stuff as well as wildlife. We were and it wasn't long before we made our first stop at the remains of a blown up Argentinian airplane just off of the grass runway that we had arrived via just a couple of days earlier, and just 5 minutes later we were at the site of a fighter plane that had been shot down.    

Wing section of fighter plane

Wing mounted cannon - it still had a round in the barrel!

Riki then took us to the most amazing beautiful beach. If it wasn't for the wind chill and the penguins you would be forgiven if you thought it was the Caribbean! 

          That dark smudge on the right hand side with a rock at the bottom is a penguin colony, as below                     
Gentoo Penguin colony

I'm pretty sure this is the most scenic place I have ever stopped to eat my packed lunch

 Especially when you are watching Commerson's Dolphins playing un the surf right in front of us 

We stayed here around 2 hours but in all honesty I could have stayed here all day

We continued our journey to a Rockhopper colony, and penguin cave. Interestingly, Riki said they had been visiting this cave for decades until one day a tourist pointed out that it looked like a penguin!

After more stops and yet more gorgeous beaches, it was time to head back via a small pond Riki knew of, which he said may have duck on. On route I saw my first Striated Caracara and of the trip. 

Striated Caracara

Grass Wren

Riki came up trumps again. At the small pond I added Chiloe Widgeon and Silver Teal, this was the only place I saw these species on the whole trip. 

Chiloe Wigeon

Silver Teal

A great day out and a fantastic way to spend our last full day on Pebble Island. The trip list stood at 40 by the end of our Pebble stay, adding: 31.Two Banded Plover; 32. Megallanic Penguin; 33. Rockhopper Penguin; 34. Variable Hawk; 35. Peregrine Falcon; 36. Straited Caracara; 37. Silver Teal 38. Chiloe Wigeon; 39. Flying Steamer Duck and 40. Grass Wren

Monday 27 March 2023

Falklands, Pebble Island - Day 2

On day 2 of our stay on Pebble Island, the plan was for Riki to provide a drop off pick up service, we decide where on the island we want to go and get dropped for a few hours.  This must be a bit of a pain for Riki as the island is not small and travel can be slow due to the off road terrain, so he'd have to spend a lot of time just driving about after us. After breakfast Riki said he had a suggestion for us, why don't we take vehicle for the day and do our own thing. We loved that idea, another adventure for us.  Within 30 minutes we'd loaded up the vehicle, including the lovely packed lunch prepared for us and headed out.  

We started off back at the white sand beach, using the car as a hide, getting up close to Two Banded Plovers and White Rumped Sandpipers.   

Two Banded Plover

Black browed Albatross and Giant Southern Petrels cruised up and down the shore line, but it was the vast emptiness, just us and our vehicle to enjoy it. 
Black Browed Albatross

Julia at the wheel

After an hour or so we headed up the beach and up over the dunes. Our plan was to visit a Magellanic and Rockhopper colonies at the far end of the island. You can't get anywhere fast on the Falklands, especially the off islands, as it is all off road driving, just following the tyre tracks from people's previous journeys. 

Rufous Breasted Dotterel - relatively common in little flocks on the heathland

After around 30 minutes driving and at times guessing the direction we should be heading in, we came across our first Magellanic Penguins. 

We continued our journey to the furthest past of this end of the island from the lodge, where the Rockhopper colony is. Once found we decided to stop here for lunch and enjoy the birds and the views. 
After eating in the vehicle we got out and sat on the ground. The birds were very comfortable with us, particularly the Rock Shags who came up pecking my boots. 

 Rock Shag and Dolphin Gull

Falkland Skuas were constantly trying to steal food from the other birds

Rockhopper Penguin

"You looking at me?"

After an hour or so we headed to the point where off shore there was a huge feeding frenzy of hundreds of Black Browed Albatross, an amazing site. 

It was time to retrace our steps, with a few stops planned on the way back. After a while we stumbled across what looked like a freshly dead sheep, with Turkey Vulture, Giant Petrel and new bird for the trip, Variable/Red Tailed Hawk. 

We ended the day with the sun setting back at the lodge watching yet more albatrosses cruising up and down the coast, just a few metres away, before a few well earned beers from the honesty bar.  


Kent delivers - Pendulines and Alpine Swift

Saturday 25th March had a great session out with Andy and Shaun in Kent. The plan was to start at Elmley to try and see long staying Penduline Tits, a species I have not seen for around 10 years. 

The windy conditions weren't in our favour but we persevered. After an hour or so we could hear regular calls from the large reed bed in front of us, however, seeing them was another matter. Over the next hour the calls appeared to be coming from closer to us, and then eventually, after about 2 hours 3 Pendulines gave themselves up, providing good flight views on and off and they flitted about the tops of the reeds, not too far away. Great views of numerous Marsh Harriers were also had.

While waiting for the Pendulines to show news came through of an Alpine Swift showing sell at Dagenham Chase, literally 5 minutes drive from my house. Virtually every local birder we knew had connected with it so Shaun and I were a tad jealous. We considered our options but due to large amounts of road closures in Kent we decided to head back to Essex to twitch the swift. As we neared the Dartford Crossing, Shaun saw that an Alpine Swift was being reported at Darenth Lakes, which was literally 1 mile from where we were. We diverted and within 5 minutes we were in place and quickly picked it up hawking over the lakes. 

 Darenth Lake Alpine Swift - photo by Andy Lawson

Shaun and I carried on to Dagenham Chase, but the bird appeared to have left ahead of a storm front. That evening however the bird was reported again, so I headed to my loft and unbelievably, I picked it out in the distance. A bird I never thought I'd ever get on my house list!

Tuesday 21 March 2023

Falklands, Pebble Island - Day 1

We were up early for a 7am flight from Stanley to Pebble Island. The flight, in a six seater prop plane takes around 40 minutes. 

Flying over Stanley on the way to Pebble Island

The grass air strip is just minutes away from the lodge/settlement, and our host Riki was there to meet us. We had a very comfortable ensuite room and stayed on a full board basis, with the food really good. Pebble Island is big and even with a 4x4 it cannot be done in a day. We had one day pre-planned as fully guided, another with a drop off/pick up service and the remainder of day 1, Riki said he'd take us out locally so we can get our bearings. 

Julia opted to unpack and relax but I was immediately out. There were birds all around the lodge and just 100m from the front of the lodge was the shore line. I was back by lunch time having already racked up a decent number of birds for the trip list.

1. Long Tailed Meadowlark (called Robin or Military Starling by the locals), 2. Giant Southern Petrel, 3. Black Crowned Night Heron, 4. Black Browed Albatross, 5. Rock Cormorant, 6. Imperial Cormorant, 7. Ruddy Headed Goose, 8. Falkland Skua, 9. Upland Goose, 10. Kelp Goose, 11. Dolphin Gull, 12. Patagonian Crested Duck, 13. Falkland Flightless Steamer Duck (endemic), 14. Turkey Vulture, 15. Crested Caracara, 16. Pied Oystercatcher, 17. Dark Faced Ground Tryant, 18. House Sparrow, 19. Dark Chinned Siskin, 20. Black Throated Finch. 

Long Tailed Meadow Lark

Falkland Skua with distant Black Browed Albatross

Crested Caracara

After lunch we headed out with Riki in a 4x4 to a long white sand beach about 1 mile away. There are no roads or paths, so a jeep type vehicle is required, ideally with 4x4 just in case. As we climbed over the dunes to get on to the beach the site that greeted us was amazing. It was stunning. We were the only people on the beach, which appeared to be a few miles long. We spend the next hour or so on the beach watching Black Browed Albatross and Giant Petrels fly low overhead whilst Commerson's Dolphins darted between the waves close in to shore. We drove the far end of the beach so Riki could show us where to exit it, if we needed to. 

One of many hundreds of Black Browed Albatross seen on the Falklands

Black Oystercatcher

Riki then suggested he drop us at Big Pond, that he said was good for grebes and duck, and less than a mile walk back to the lodge. So we spent the next hour or so there before heading back to the lodge to freshen up before dinner.                                  

White Tufted Grebes (above/below)

White Rumped Sandpipers

Falkland Pipit - on our way back to the lodge

By the end of day 1 on Pebble Island, the trip list stood at 30 bird species, plus Commerson's Dolphins: 21, White Tufted Grebe, 22. Silvery Grebe, 23. Kelp Gull, 24. Black Necked Swan, 25. Yellow Billed Teal, 26. Silver Teal, 27. Rufus Chested Dotterel, 29. Black Oystercatcher, 30. Falkland Pipit.   

Back at the lodge after a freshen up and a lovely three course evening meal, we retired to the lounge for a few drinks from the honesty bar.