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Hello all, and welcome to our Falkland Islands blog. Follow our progress through the wind, snow and penguins, and find out what it is like to live down here.

Thursday, 29 December 2011

Escape to Bleaker ! (19 - 21 December)

We have all wanted to visit Bleaker island - close to the mainland, with its own sheep (lamb for the bbq) and cattle (milk on a good day!). Finally,our chance to escape for a couple of days to stay at Cobb's cottage, and some peace and quiet. We flew into the settlemen ton Monday 19th in glorious sunshine. Elaine and Robert live here all year round, quite alone apart from visitors (and Mike and Phyl Rendell, who own the island, whenever they are able to escape their duties in Stanley).

Cobb's cottage is very neat and rural - red roofed, all alone and surrounded by green fields, pet lambs and goslings, with a view of the jetty, the sea, and the spectacular southern giant petrels soaring overhead.

After lunch we set off for the sea lion colony, 20 minutes from the cottage - a gentle walk along the coast and then across the island. Accompanied by double banded plovers (shore birds with feet that move so fast it is hard to see them - and the tiniest babies, running alongside (think less than half the size of a wren), magellanic oystercatchers (elegant, black and white dippers, with long red daggers for beaks - capable of killing the big horrible predatory skua by stabbing..), petrels (wingspan up to nearly 2m, fabulous creatures), and the horrid horrid skua - big, brown, ruthless, and always ready to eat someone else's baby.  The sea lions were fascinating - around 30 or so, flopping noisily on the flat rocks in the sun. One huge male,with a spectacular 'mane' and a selection of females and young. The male works hard to keep his harem - growing, barking, grumbling. An adolescent male stayed in the waves just off shore,bobbing and watching - and when he saw his chance, landed and lay at the end of the colony. The established male suddenly noticed, launched across the rocks - and in a split second, the younger male was gone - he didn't hang around to question; it was clearly not yet his time.
We spent a long time sitting and watching the social behaviour - it is addictive - incredible to realise that this other world,with its social complexities and environmental difficulties, goes on completely without our interference, and in general without our knowledge.

Back to the cottage; we had asked Elaine for a bbq pack ( beef steak,lamb steak,home made beefburgers, and sausages for each of us - no veggies here), and we set off for the bbq barn to cook our supper. Excellent bbq, and fabulous sunset views. Phoebe fed the pet lambs. We wandered down to the jetty and watched the cormorants diving. Wonderful day.

Day 2 and we decided to set off with a picnic for the north of Sandy Bay, where the gentoo colony live. Falkland Islanders are not reknowned for their imagination, and Bleaker proudly boasts Sandy Bay, Sandy Bay island, Pebbly Bay, First island, Second island and Third island. Mmm
Sandy Bay is stunning; white, massive, and empty, apart from lines of magellanic and gentoo penguins trudging to the sea (and hanging about; they set off to fish and then all seem to congregate on the foreshore for a bit of a chat - it's a bit like going to the pub I think). There are also a number of cattle, which seem a little surreal set next to the penguins, but they seem to rub along. We walked up to the colony, intending to have our lunch in the company of penguin chicks, and inadvertantly entered a skua nesting site. We were dive bombed mercilessly; these are big birds, and we had to duck and run, with Bill waving sticks above our heads to fend them off.
We picnicked a couple of metres away from the colony; ate our sandwiches and then wriggled forwards on our stomachs to watch the feeding and the impressive fending off of the skuas. Most gentoos seem to produce two eggs - so two fast growing and unruly babies to control. Gorgeous pale grey balls of fluff, initially the size of your fist, but within two weeks around a foot tall, and comical to watch. The parents stretch their necks to the sky and screech, defending their young. These animals fight hard and selflessly, but many eggs are stolen and babies killed.
On the way back, we found the rockhopper colony at the top of the cliffs, behind great mounds of tussock grass. These tiny penguins, about 30cm high, chatter constantly and are always busy, running, hopping, scolding. They are enchanting; a little society of their own, with their tiny babies just hatching. They bend over like little old people and scurry around, climbing up high cliffs, hop hop with their fish to feed their family.
Around the corner is the largest colony of King Cormorants we have yet seen. Thousands of birds, all sitting on nests of eggs or chicks. Beautiful elegant birds, with swan necks, irridescent blue eyes, and orange pom poms on their beaks. As they come in to land, they hover, brake with feet down and splayed,and drop their necks into an architectural arch. Inevitably, the colony is surrounded by skuas - but again, these birds are not only courageous for their own families, but for their community; we witnessed a group of birds squaring up to a skua in front of a single nest -a line of four male cormorants in a line a bit like footballers standing in front of the goal. They took it in turns to run at the skua - a bird two or three times their size.
Another bbq, another big sky, more feeding of lambs, and a quiet quiet night; no noise, apart from the waves, no light pollution. We have become accustomed to islands without roads, lights, cars, and generally without many people. We may need to be re-socialised...
Day 3 - proper Falklands weather - this morning it hailed. We went to the shop (!)which is Robert's store shed where he keeps two big freezers full of his meat. We chose our Sunday roasts for the next few weeks, filled up our cool box, and then wandered on the beach until the heli arrived. Back to normality..

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