The importance of New Island as a breeding ground, along with a number of other islands in this part of the archipelago can be attributed to the Falkland Current. A main stream of this current flows to the west side of New Island, creating one of the richest marine resources and feeding grounds for wildlife to be found around the Falkland Islands.
Although New Island's coastal marine habitats are in a pristine state, terrestrial habitats on the island have suffered from past depredations caused by a multitude of man's interference: stock grazing (ca. 1860 - 1973), burning of native vegetation, the whaling industry (based on New Island between 1908 and 1916), sealing and penguin oiling (late 1800's), egging (taking of wild penguin and albatross eggs) and the introduction of non-native species such as cats and pigs, which were allowed to run wild.
Sheep and cattle were completely removed from the Southern half of New Island in 1978, but farming continued on the Northern half of the property for approximately 26 years, albeit significantly reduced between 1986 and 2004. The Northern property was eventually purchased by the New Island Conservation Trust in 2006 by which time no sheep remained on the Northern property. National Nature Reserve status means that the island is now entirely free of livestock.
|Second Landing Site @ New Island|
Our second landing spot in the afternoon involved a hike of just under a mile to another amazing colony of Black-browed Albatross, Imperial Shags and Rockhopper Penguins. Although it was a beautiful, sunny day, there was once again a strong, cold wind (perfect for the Albatrosses), so I once again ditched the tripod, sat on a rock and handheld or balanced my lenses on my knee for stability. Here, I experienced the thrill of Black-browed Albatrosses gliding by so close that I could see right into their eyes!
|Bird Colony @ New Island|
Albatross are known to be amongst some of the longest-lived birds and the Black-browed can continue to breed up to an age of 35 years. Adults become mature at seven years old and, having found a mate, will pair for life. Seeing these birds up close and personal really touched me, especially watching a courting pair and their gentle interaction with one another. But I think it is their beautiful, expressive eyes that captivated me the most. If there was one species on this entire trip I would love to return to and photograph, it would be these birds.
|Courting Black-browed Albatrosses|
But these magnificent birds are in critical danger with Albatrosses now listed as the most threatened bird family in the world. Albatrosses are being killed at an alarming rate by longline fisheries for species such as toothfish (chilean sea bass), tuna and swordfish. As the baited hooks enter the water, the albatrosses see a free meal, swoop down, seize the bait and are hooked. They are dragged under and drowned. The scale of deaths are enormous with 100,000 albatrosses drowned by fishing operations worldwide. Since albatrosses are slow breeders, taking several years to start nesting and only produce one chick or less every year, these losses cannot be sustained. Several organizations are working hard to eliminate the high mortality rate including The Foundation for Antarctic Research.
Another species commonly nesting with Black-browed albatross is the Imperial Shag (Cormorant). These birds build nests, which are often similar to those of the Black-browed albatross. Unlike albatross, which return and use the same nest year after year, cormorants often move nesting sites, leaving large numbers of old nests in place.
|Imperial Shag with Nesting Material|
Last, but not least were the endearing Southern Rockhopper Penguins with many busy tending their young. These birds breed in large colonies that may comprise over a hundred thousand nests. Breeding pairs are monogamous, and usually return to the same nest every year. Egg-laying commences around November, with the female usually producing a clutch of two eggs of unequal size. Although in general only the chick from the larger egg survives to maturity, populations on the Falkland Islands frequently succeed in raising both.
|Southern Rockhopper Penguin & Chick|
It amazed me to see these three species of birds nesting in such close proximity to each other, but makes me think that there must be something beneficial in this?
Next - Steeple Jason