Busy week with visitors, but yesterday I played truant; the heli had spaces,and I went on the post run, first to Mount Alice on West Falkland (the power station guys live up there miles from anywhere for months at a time,and we were delivering supplies and post, then on to Fox Bay (a large settlement on the West) and then on to Saunders Island .We were flying for over an hour, and at one point the typhoon roared past, waggled its wings and then flew underneath us! We landed on moorland near the main penguin colonies, and had 4 hours to ourselves. Mr and Mrs Pole-Evans run Saunders island - apart from them, the place is deserted - but it is quite a substantial island - probably 10 miles or so from their house to where we landed, with no road.
It was an idyllic day - windy as normal, but blue skies and warmth. The hole in the ozone is right above us here, so we do have to be very careful. We hosted the fusiliers for lunch last week, and they were all burnt like walnuts after a 5 hour yomp across the island.
It is about 40 minutes walk from the landing site down to the beach. As you reach and summit the hill, the 'neck' - a sandy beach joining two hills - stretches out in front of you, covered with hundreds of black dots - gentoos. As you get closer, you can see them running in and out of the water, flopping on their bellies, and jumping the waves. On the side of the rocks, our first Rockhopper penguins (if you are reading this Phoebe - don't worry, I'll take you there). Tiny - 30cm or so, living happily mixed up with imperial cormorants who were busy plucking moorland to build their nests, the Rockhoppers are fascinating. Curious little creatures, jumping from rock to rock, up, up from the sea, higher up the cliffs, splashing in waterfalls and stopping to have a good look at us , with no fear at all. Sitting still for even 5 minutes brings a line of penguins trudging past your seat. Little red eyes and wild yellow eyebrows..and many have already laid an egg - the size of a chicken egg - and keep jumping off to check it's still there.
Further along the path,and the rockhoppers give way to.., albatross. This is what I came to the Falklands to see. Amazing birds. Calm, elegant, they are sitting on little mud sand castle nests which they have carefully built. From time to time they move and you can see a huge white egg. They are very much married; their partner arrives regularly, and they begin a preening routine which is gentle and meticulous. Their feathers are so clean; these are black browed albatross, pure white bodies, grey wings, and a kohl black line swept across the tops of their eyes.Their feet are a ghostly grey. Again,no fear, so one landed by my head and plodded up to me to take a look. Huge beak - a little intimidating,but no sign of aggression..and when they fly, their elegant slim wings stretch out so far. The wing span is huge - 2-3 m I think.
Down to the beach, and around 20 King penguins, looking terribly smart with their yellow throats. An old whale skeleton,and then hundreds of gentoo penguins. I sat on the beach and watched happy penguins waddling in and out of the waves as I ate my sandwich. A pretty good picnic spot.
I will be back!