Falklands 2006

...with Mark Finn

October 28th - November 4th

Our first visit to this remote archipelago in the South Atlantic Ocean was an undoubted success with 62 species being recorded. This included several vagrants to the islands notably Erect Crested Penguin, Great Grebe, Pectoral Sandpiper, Wilson’s Phalarope and Fire-eyed Duicon. In addition to this the sheer numbers of penguins and other seabirds made the tour a true birding bonanza.

I would like to thank Sally for the ground work and reservations in Port Stanley plus Allan and Jacqui on Pebble Island and Sharon on East Falkland for all the hard work to make the trip a great success.

October 28th: Puerto Natales - Punta Arenas – Stanley.

Weather: Overcast with light winds, 14 C.

Checked out of Puerto Natales passing Black-necked Swans and King Cormorants on the seafront. The journey down to Punta Arenas airport went quickly. Along the way impressive numbers of Darwin's Rhea, Chilean Flamingo and Southern Caracaras. Roadside pools held the commoner duck species and Kelp Gulls. Checked in at the airport. Our flight to the Falkland Islands arrived in Mount Pleasant ahead of schedule and we were picked up by our hosts from Darwin. The journey to Darwin took us through a mix of moorland, bogs and pools. On arrival at Darwin we checked in and started to bird-watch around the grounds. Common birds here included Upland and Ruddy-headed Geese, Austral Thrush and Long-tailed Meadowlark. Afternoon tea was taken followed by a walk towards Goose Green. On a derelict pier Rock Cormorants and along the shoreline high numbers of endemic Falkland Steamerducks (often giving their bizarre calls). On our walk we encountered the local race of Dark-faced Ground Tyrant sitting on gorse bushes and two Chilean Swallows the latter being an occasional visitor to the islands. On the shore Blackish and Magellanic Oystercatchers, Two-banded Plover and Kelp Geese. In the bay Northern and Southern Giant Petrels, South American Terns and a single Chilean Skua. Returned to Darwin House with sightings of Black-chinned Siskins in the vegetable plot.

October 29th: Darwin House - Pebble Island (Lodge area).

Weather: Sunny with strong west winds, 16 C

We left Darwin and made the short drive to Goose Green where the Islander landed to take us to Pebble Island in West Falkland. The flight went over Falkland Sound and landed next to the settlement on Pebble Island. Allan and Jacqui were on hand to pick us up and transfer us to Pebble Lodge the only accommodation. Bonus bird in the garden was a vagrant Fork-tailed Flycatcher plus Black-chinned Siskin and Austral Thrush. Coffee and cakes mid-morning and then a walk towards the sea and Big Pond. Southern Giant and Northern Giant Petrels around the harbour area and fishing South American Terns. Our walk across sheep fields produced Upland and Ruddy-headed Geese, Two-banded Plover and Magellanic Oystercatchers. On the beach itself, Falkland Steamerducks and Kelp Gulls. We turned inland where Speckled Teal and Chiloe Wigeon allowed a close approach. Lunch taken in the lee of the strong winds. Shortly afterwards we found two White-rumped Sandpipers and a bonus in the form of Pectoral Sandpiper. Returned towards the settlement walking among small stands of vegetation. This was productive for Rufous-chested and Two-banded Plovers, Magellan Snipe, Correndera Pipit and the beautiful Black-throated Finch. Our final birding stop close to the settlement added Gentoo Penguin, American (Snowy) Sheathbill, White-tufted Grebe and a Peregrine Falcon. Back to base for drinks and an enjoyable evening meal.

October 30th: Pebble Island (West).

Weather: Overcast with rain later, strong north west winds, 7 C/10 C.

Today we set off on our journey to visit the western section of Pebble Island. The tracks are in poor condition and require a 4x4 to negotiate seasonal pools and deeply-rutted tracks. Our first stop produced the commoner birds and close views of a singing Short-billed Marsh Wren (surely a split from mainland races in plumage, habitat requirements and vocalisations). The first penguin colony was reached with a resting King Penguin near the beach. On the beach itself hundreds of Gentoo and Magellanic Penguins riding the surf or walking inland to their colonies and burrows. Offshore an impressive passage of Black-browed Albatrosses and lesser numbers of White-chinned Petrels and Southern Fulmars. On the cliff top a female Red-backed Hawk. Nearby a nesting colony of c60 pairs of Southern Giant Petrels looking rather strange sitting on nests. As we travelled across the interior Rufous-chested and Two-banded Plovers, Magellan Snipe, Dark-faced Ground Tyrant, Black-throated Finch and Long-tailed Meadowlarks in abundance. A group of Falkland Steamerducks stopped our progress along the beach before heading to another area of the west coast. On arrival we were met by a 'wall' of Rockhopper Penguins an endearing and tame penguin allowing a close approach. In the rookery we located a few Macaroni Penguins and a single Erect Crested Penguin from the sub-Antarctic islands of New Zealand. The latter species returning each year since 1997. Outside the colony marauding Antarctic Skuas a real threat to the penguins and their eggs and young. Returned to Pebble Lodge as the weather closed in. Near the lodge we scanned the sea towards Keppel Island without success. Tomorrow we head south to Sea Lion Island via Port Stanley.

October 31st: Pebble Island - Port Stanley - Sea Lion Island.

Weather: Sunny with light breezes, 16 C

A change of flight schedule meant a direct flight to Sea Lion Island instead of via Port Stanley. We said our goodbyes to Allan and Jacqui at the lodge and boarded the plane for a swift thirty-five minute flight. On arrival we encountered Striated Caracaras and Darkish Cinclodes around the lodge with the latter entering the lounge looking for food. Walked down towards the neck with Short-billed Marsh Wren singing from stands of tussock grass. Nearby sizeable Gentoo Penguin rookeries and singing Magellan Snipe. Back to base for lunch with a Cobb's Wren running like a mouse between stands of grass. After lunch we revisited the same area having close views of Upland, Kelp and Ruddy-headed Geese, Two-banded Plover, White-rumped Sandpiper and Magellanic Oystercatcher. Shallow pools lured Crested Duck, Chiloe Wigeon and a surprise find in five Wilson's Phalaropes. On another island, South American Terns and Antarctic Skuas. We went onto the hide overlooking a colony of Southern Giant Petrels. Returned to the lodge by another route with brief views of Fire-eyed Duicon a rare migrant to the islands. Offshore Black-browed Albatrosses and White-chinned Petrels and Sooty Shearwaters. The finale was watching a male Elephant Seal defend his territory and harem from rival males this captivated us for almost an hour. In among the seals Magellan Gull, American Sheathbill and ever-present Darkish Cinclodes.

November 1st : Sea Lion Island.

Weather: Sunny with cool south winds, 15 C

This morning we set off for Rockhopper Point walking through tussock grass and along peaty tracks. Usual birds around the hotel grounds, airstrip and towards ‘The Neck’. Down from the airstrip close views of Magellan Snipe and Two-banded Plovers. Another stop near the cliff face was memorable for a confiding Striated Caracara which posed for pictures. An area of tussock grass produced Cobb's Wren, Austral Thrush, Black-throated Finch and Black-chinned Siskins. Offshore a steady flow of Black-browed Albatrosses and a few Southern Fulmars. We eventually arrived at a vantage point next to the memorial for HMS Sheffield. Colonies of Rockhopper Penguins and King Cormorants on the cliff tops. As we were having our packed lunch Darkish Cinclodes and Magellan Gulls came close to us for tit-bits. Returned to base and went out again at 1600 hours. In a field next to the airstrip lots of activity as an elephant seal pup had perished. This attracted Southern Giant Petrels, Kelp and Magellan Gulls, Striated and Southern Caracaras for an easy meal. Walked down towards the sea passing the Gentoo Penguin rookeries with similar birds to yesterday. Along the beach we watched groups of Elephant Seals and their fascinating behavior patterns. On the sea Sooty Shearwaters and White-chinned Petrels joined the ever-present Black-browed Albatrosses. Tomorrow we fly to Port Stanley one of the smallest capital cities in the world.

November 2nd: Sea Lion Island - Port Stanley - Cape Pembroke.

Weather: Sleet showers followed by weak sunshine, 2 C/14 C.

In the hotel conservatory Cobb's Wren and Darkish Cinclodes. Departed from Sea Lion Island at 1030 to Port Stanley. On arrival transferred to a hotel close to the post office. At 1430 we were picked up to visit Cape Pembroke a peninsula of land jutting into the South Atlantic Ocean. En route to the defunct lighthouse we found Speckled and Silver Teals, Rufous-chested Plover, White-rumped Sandpiper and our first Long-tailed Meadowlarks for a few days. At the lighthouse a short seawatch produced Black-browed Albatross, White-chinned Petrel, Sooty Sheartwaters (thousands) and Southern Fulmars. Back to Port Stanley for the first of a two night stay.

November 3rd: Port Stanley - Volunteer Point.

Weather: Sunny with cool breezes, 12 C.

Picked up at 0830 by Sharon for the journey to Volunteer Point one of the most easterly areas of the islands. Usual birds along the way until Vernon spotted a Great Grebe at the head of an enclosed bay. This was an excellent find of this handsome bird from mainland South America. We eventually arrived at Volunteer Point where we ambled around the King, Gentoo and Magellanic Penguin colonies. This simply captivated all of us for almost four hours. At 1500 we departed back to Port Stanley observing a female Red-backed Hawk nesting on a pile of old wire and posts. Our final total of 62 for the islands was exceptional including several rare vagrants.

For details of the full species list or to request further information about the next time we will be offering this trip. Contact us at enquiries@birdwatchingbreaks.com.

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