With only one weekend available before the 8,000 mile school run, we escaped to one of the Outer Islands for a short weekend – an extended day certainly felt much longer than the average weekend given the luxury of getting right away from it all. Pebble Island is famous for the SAS raid on the airfield during the 1982 Conflict but it offers a great deal more.
Arriving late morning on Saturday we were greeted by Ken at the airstrip and Sharon in the Lodge and after the obligatory (and delicious) tea and biscuits, Ken drove us up to the HMS Coventry memorial before leaving us to our own devices. The cunning part of this plan was that the memorial is sited half-way up First Mountain and therefore our walk would be largely downhill thereafter. With the morning’s forecast of increasing winds and likelihood of showers high in our minds, we were not too disappointed to find ourselves in a strong wind and the chance of squalls in this exposed location but we did remain long enough for me to get the brasso out and give the memorial’s plaque a good shine. (No, I don’t go on walking trips with a comprehensive domestic cleaning kit in my rucsac; all the memorials have an old ammo tin, or 2, nearby full of such things to spruce up the respective memorial.)
Typically, therefore, just as soon as we started down the hillside, the squalls disappeared and we had a glorious (if windy afternoon). It was sobering to walk through the wreckage field of an Argentine Dagger (Mirage) but having our sandwiches above Magellanic penguin burrows, waiting for them to stick their heads out, was an altogether different experience; as was walking into a roosting colony of South American Terns – the noise and movement was spectacular! The prize for persistency, however, has to go to the Magellanic Oystercatchers – definitely the watchmen of the foreshore with their very loud alarm calls and tireless efforts to distract you (we did also learn that these are the only birds that will kill skuas – given the carnage we know that these can wreak on Penguin eggs and chicks, our respect for these busy little birds has increased massively!). A really pleasant walk way from everybody (there was a total of 13 people on the island!) past hundreds of Magellanic Penguin burrows and along part of the pristine sand beach (at 4 miles, the longest in the Falklands) got us back to the Settlement and the lodge – a very comfortable residence run by Jackie Jennings and Allan White (who was absent at their new home on Lively Island).
After a luxuriously lazy night and bumper breakfast we joined the other 6 guests on a drive out to the East end of the Island to see the sizeable Rockhopper colonies – shared with Imperial Cormorants at the top of some pretty large and spectacular cliffs. These birds are real characters; they are not bothered by our presence, indeed, the penguins are curious little birds and will close up on you if you sit still. Despite the continuing predations of the skuas and petrels, most still seem to have at least one egg and many still have 2. Mixed in amongst them were also a handful of macaroni penguins (slightly bigger and with orange, not yellow, eyebrows) – so that is now all 5 Falkland species seen (don’t tell Phoebe!!). The morning had started grey and overcast but by now it had all burned off and we were blessed with a really warm, sunny day with only a steady breeze – perfect conditions to sit out and watch the wildlife. A short drive away we visited a number of Gentoo colonies – well inland and with the birds nesting in the diddle-dee (think small shrub). These birds are more advanced in their reproductive cycle with most nursing 2 chicks (again, the Darwinian approach to evolution, given the constant threat from skuas) – small grey bundles spending most of their time tucked away under one or other of their parents. Gentoos may not be the most ‘characterful’ of the penguins but it was especially relaxing to sit and watch (and listen) to the contented colony (except when a b****y skua flew over: all the adults stretched their beaks upwards and swore).
Lunch was had sat on the cliffs on the north of the island after spending ages lying on slabs of rock half-way down them watching 2 large harems of sea lions sunbathing (approx 30 animals in toto) at the bottom – these are big animals, even from 40 feet above they are impressive! After negotiating what seemed to be acres more of Magellanic burrows, a stop to look for Pebble Island ‘pebbles’ (agate: sadly for Gill, whilst I was able to find some, it will take quite a while to turn it into jewellery!) on one of the beaches punctuated the drive back. After a race down the 4 mile beach (also the reserve airstrip) both of us jumped out to walk the final mile back in order to sneak up on a young male (or female) sea lion lying fast asleep on the bank of one of the inland lakes – although not far from the sea one wonders if he was geographically embarrassed! Prudence ensured that we did not get too close, but it certainly did not seem disturbed at all! Time then for a quick cup of tea before flying back to the real hub-bub of Mount Pleasant!