The Falkland Islands is a compact group of more than 740 islands situated in the South Atlantic, some 400 miles (483 km) from the South American mainland and 850 miles (1,365 km) north of the Antarctic Circle. Unfortunately, many people associate these islands with the war in 1982 and not with the incredible scenery and wildlife we were to encounter during the three full days we were to spend here.
Geologically the Falklands were once a part of East Africa, and as such have some interesting and unusual landscape features such as stone runs, ‘rivers’ of angular quartzite boulders that ‘flow’ from the hilltops. The main soil type is peat and natural vegetation is grassland, with some species of heath and dwarf shrubs. There are no indigenous trees, although cultivated trees do grow.
|New Island Landing Site|
Our morning zodiac landing was in a beautiful sandy cove. Here, sat an old rusty ship sitting in turquoise water, amid green hills, white sand and tussock grass. Various birds lined the beach including Upland Geese, Magellanic Oystercatchers and Patagonian Crested Ducks.
From here, we hiked 1/2 a mile along a grassy, windblown trail to a bird colony perched on the edge of a dramatic cliff landscape. The colony consisted of Rockhopper Penguins and Imperial (Blue-eyed) Shags. A little further away through thick tussock grass was a colony of Black-browed Albatross.
|Trail leading to bird colony|
Seeing and hearing so many nesting birds for the first time was unreal! So rather than start shooting right away, I sat and waited for a scene to present itself to me. Looking for open areas and clean backgrounds was tough with so many birds and so much activity. There was also a very strong head wind, so I found it easier at times to secure my lens between my knees while sitting, rather than mount it on my tripod.
|Rockhopper Penguin & Imperial Shag Colony|
Imperial Shags performed courting rituals while others were busy building nests. I really loved these birds with their intense blue eyes and orange caruncles (knob-like warts that sit above the base of the bill). Courting involved preening each other, followed by touching bills and staring into each other's eyes. Really quite beautiful to watch.
|Courting Imperial Shags|
The imperial shag inhabits rocky coasts and islands surrounded by deep, sub-Antarctic waters, although it typically forages around shallower, inshore areas. During the breeding season this sociable bird forms large colonies, often with penguins or albatrosses, to nest on cliffs and rocky islands.
As the imperial shag largely inhabits remote, inhospitable areas and forages around inshore areas, away from deep-sea commercial fisheries, it rarely interacts with humans. Consequently, this species has never been intensively exploited and lacks any significant threats. Climate change could potentially threaten the imperial shag by reducing its prey abundance, while marine pollution and debris could kill some birds.
Next - New Island (Part II) Rockhopper Penguins and Black-browed Albatross!