Hello and welcome

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.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Mummy's visit - Jan 15th - 31st

So the consultant gave Mummy the green card, and she was allowed to fly, despite the broken elbow and various other medical nightmares…
I dropped Phoebe at school, and Mummy and I set off for Brize Norton and a stressful few hours while we waited to see if she would be accepted as an indulgence passenger (lower priced seats available to the military provided there is space left on the flight..). I was escorting a number of visitors, so it was a busy evening – but by 11pm we were all ensconced on the plane, and the flight was smooth and straightforward.
We arrived at MPA with our visitors from the Military Families Federations, and by evening we were sitting in a supper party at our house. Mummy may have flown for around 20 hours, but did we allow her to go to bed early? No – we expected her to be jolly good company – and she was.
We had a pottering day, and then set off to explore Stanley with our visitors in tow. We did the normal tourist sites; cathedral, supermarket (ish), gift store, and then off to Gypsy cove; a stunning white beach, with turquoise water and massive tussock-topped sand dunes. This beach is 5 minutes from Stanley, but here is a chance to see magellanic penguins, with small fluffy babies lying in the sun outside their burrows. The night herons were still around their nests, although many had fledged, and on the beach (still a minefield)a lone king penguin stood; it had come up on the wrong beach but then started to moult, so had to stay for 2 weeks. The king penguins tend to hide a little when moulting – I think they are embarrassed.
After our day in Stanley, our next visit was to Volunteer Point. The last time I went to see the penguins, the king penguin chicks were huge and fluffy and brown, all huddled together at one end of the beach in a creche. Now there were penguins everywhere; magellanics, gentoos and kings. The babies had nearly all moulted and were preparing to swim. Even while the 13 month old king penguins babies were preparing to leave, new eggs had been laid and were visible under the feet of new mothers. We had a wonderful day; curious and confident penguins striding along the beach beside us, white sand, crashing waves, and colonies of gentoo penguins standing at the back of the beach, babies chasing their parents for food.
A wonderful day, and a good chat with Mickey the ranger, who had featured the previous week in the Sunday telegraph. Small world. We walked over to the helipad (well a corner of a field), and as the heli landed, it swung round and the down draft caught Mummy and flattened her. Oh heavens above. But she survived and we arrived home safely.
Another pottering day and then back to heliops to fly to Sea Lion island. Fabulous weather, and it was good to be back on such a beautiful island, to see Jenny again, and to stay at the Lodge, with its resident penguin colony just 100m from the door. We walked through the gentoo colony and all their chicks, and down to the beach. The Southern Giant Petrels were on nests, and soaring above our heads, watching and warning us by swooping and diving. We walked through the massive dunes and around huge tussock, and were able to see groups of petrels. Across to the opposite beach, and we saw elephant seals, young males, play-fighting, and groups of dolphin gulls with their young, pink legs and beaks against grey feathers. Later Bill and I set out across the island to find the Sea Lions and to visit the Rockhoppers . Jenny kindly drove Mummy to meet us, and we saw huge sea lions sitting with tiny new born cubs, bleating like lambs. Up to the Sheffield Memorial, and hundreds of curious, quirky rockhoppers, jumping, babies chasing parents, chicks moulting, yellow eyebrows waving in the wind.
An enjoyable evening with other guests, and early to bed – although I decided to set out for the elephant seal beach at around 9pm, and found myself wading through magellanic penguins who had all come out of their burrows to chat in the twilight. They were pretty indignant, and set about a huge braying (they are known as jackass penguins because they honk like donkeys, and they are LOUD!). I sat on the beach for far to long enjoying the calm and watching the seals, and had to stumble back in the dark.
The next day we wandered around and spent most of our time watching seals and shore birds; steamer ducks, kelp geese, two banded plovers, snowy sheathbills – and moorland birds; ground tyrants, cobbs wrens, grass wrens, and the ever – present caracara, upland goose, - and pond lovers; teals and pintails. We sat beside the huge gentoo colony and simply enjoyed their mad society; the eager anticipation of those waiting for the fishers to return, the joyful hoots when chick and parent are reunited, the angry pecking when the parent has had enough and wants to be left alone; the hysterical hide and seek and chasing which ensue.
One lone gentoo had a newly hatched chick; tiny against the rest of the colony. I hope it makes it through.
Back home, and a week of visits; off to Darwin for lunch and a look at their amazing vegetables and friendly sheep. Across to Goose Green to the fabled Galley cafĂ© (sausage rolls and empanadas to keep the shearers going !). A stop at the Darwin cemetary; graveyards here are typically a mile or so away from the settlement, isolated and surrounded by white picket fences; they stand out against the moorland, bleak and yet usually neat and pretty. Darwin was the original settlement – Goose Green came later when they discovered that the water supply did not always survive the summer. This year, it has not rained in any quantity since October, and Ken from Darwin has been forced to collect water from Goose Green. We have been taking jerry cans when we go over for a day’s spinning or felting.
We dragged Mummy to various functions, including a couple at Government house in Stanley – for the Brazilian ambassador, and one for the administration of South Georgia. We made sure she worked for her supper! The Governor, Nigel Haywood, lives in Stanley, in the house that many of you will have seen in the newspapers during the Falklands war; Rex Hunt leaving in his London taxi was an iconic picture. It is a lovely house, and we are all very jealous of the orangery where flowers and real grapes grow. If only the MOD realised we need such comforts!!
The next weekend was back on a heli and off to Carcass island for Mummy and I while Bill was embroiled in an exercise. Carcass is an island to the west of West Falkland – an hour and a half flight, and landing in the moorland beside the house, which sits in a sheltered bay, below a ridge, allowing a micro climate not found anywhere else around; in the garden, palm trees grow, cedar trees and flowers. Rob McGill and his wife Lorraine have lived here for 30 years; they are the only inhabitants, and run a small lodge which can cater for 13. Perfect hosts, they rise at 4.30, cook, clean, chauffeur around the island, fetch and return to the heli site and the FIGAS airstrip (think flattish grass field) a couple of miles away, manage sheep and cattle, milk the cows (real milk!!), make butter and cream, butcher where needed…..we felt tired watching them, and yet they have time to sit, chat, listen, and tell good stories. In recent years, they have taken on some staff to help them – goodness knows how they did it all before..
Tony and Kim Chater were in the lodge. They are both amazingly creative, clever people, who have lived on a nearby island for years, and are now back in Stanley, ahead of a move to the US. Tony has produced beautiful books of photographs of the islands, and his paintings of the wildlife adorn nearly every house. It was a pleasure to have the opportunity to chat. Tony was shortly off to the UK for a hip operation (all major medical procedures require travel to UK; many have to live in the UK for months or years for treatment). Kim’s artwork and amazing felting are fabulous; beautiful felted/silk scarves in jewelled colours. They were accompanying two italian tourists to Steeple Jason, and the next day they set off for a 4 hour boat trip , with Mike Clarke from West Point as skipper. Steeple Jason is the most westerly of the islands, uninhabited, and home to the world'’ largest colony of black browed albatross. The island is owned by an american conservation association, and Rob is their agent. Landing on the island is only with special permission; we wondered whether this was something we might be able to do in future..
Lorraine kindly drove Mummy and I around the bay in the Landrover (there are no roads – it is slow progress over moorland, up and down hills to navigate streams, avoid rocks..) and dropped us off at Leopard beach which is across the water from the house. A promontory with beaches running down both sides – white sparkling sand and perfect blue skies. We sat and watched the magellanics and shore birds, and walked through the gentoo colony busy with babies. We meandered back through the tussoc grass, spotted some elephant seals and more penguins, and then took the couple of gentle miles back around the bay; warm winds, white horses on the sea – hot enough to sit and watch the sea every now and then on our way.
A huge supper around the refectory table with all the other guests, and a chance to chat. Tony, Kim and their two children, the italian couple, and the shearer and his son, a friend of the family, who has been over to shear the last few sheep. The next morning, Rob took us down to the FIGAS site and we set off for the day with a picnic. We found the skeleton of a huge whale which had washed up a few years earlier; 56feet long, white bleached vertebrae against the sky. We walked through a huge colony of kelp gulls – all sitting with nests of chicks, along the edge of the beach. The noise as they raised the alarm, and spiralled up in to the sky above us, was fantastic. Once we left the gulls behind, we started to see elephant seals; piles and piles of young bull elephant seals, sleeping in the dunes, and practising fighting in the sea; two arched crescents growling and crashing about -great performances while we ate our lunch. We walked miles, and turned back finally to meet up again with Rob, and then back to the house and to the heli.
A few more days of visits – Darwin again, Stanley, Bertha’s beach – and then time for Mummy to go – back on the long flight, hopefully with lots of happy memories.

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