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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.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Christmas in the Sun/Rain !

An escape from school and a tense wait to see if we had to travel to Teeside airport to avoid the fog, resulted in the flight leaving only two hours late from Brize.  Phoebe celebrated her birthday at 30,000 feet and we landed at 4pm in time for birthday supper and cake made by David.
We had a week just the three of us and set off to enjoy some time together – first to Carcass, and then to Weddell island.
Carcass was beautiful and welcoming as ever. Rob lent us a Rover and Roland filled us full of food. Fresh milk, and cream skimmed off the top of the bucket – fabulous. We walked to Leopard Beach to see the penguin chicks – many still very tiny – just a few days old. Johnny Rooks were waiting their chances and unwatched eggs and chicks were easy prey. On the second day we headed over Stanley hill towards the FIGAS (Falkland Island Government Air Service) airstrip and spent the day watching elephant seals roaring and play fighting. They were in full moult and looked fairly tramp-like, itchy and scruffy, but were unbothered by our stumblings and watched, vaguely interested as we crept through the tussac.  We picnicked on the warm lichen-painted rocks at the north end of the island, watched by magellanics and tussac birds, and with seals curiously bobbing in the sea.
Before heading off to Weddell we had a few days at home, and the Kilmartins came for lunch so that they could visit the typhoons. Toby, 6, sat in the cockpit and pressed a few buttons, so the nation is safe for the future; his grandfather was a pilot – maybe Toby will follow in his footsteps..
We had never visited Weddell and were not sure what to expect. A huge island – 98 km square, and third only in size to the two main East and West islands, Weddell now houses two inhabitants, Jane and Martin, ex military, and living here 6 month of the year for the last 6 years.
The cottages are gradually being refurbished; we stayed in Sea View – perfect for a family, with two bedrooms and a dining kitchen and living room. Chickens squawking on one side of the house, meadowlarks tapping at the windows on the other. Mountain View can sleep at least 8, and Hamilton Cottage looks to be being renovated at the moment. We had thought Weddell did not have much wildlife, but we were wrong. A Gentoo colony busy with chicks, is 5 minutes from the settlement, and seals (fur seals, sea lions ?) are around in the sea, with a large colony of Sea Lions at the end of the point a 45 minute drive away. Unique to the island are the Patagonian foxes introduced by a previous owner. Small and cat-like, they are sandy coloured and appear to live mainly on insects, predating to some degree on Magellanic chicks when they can slip into undefended burrows. With the conservation focus and the drive to eradicate invasive species, the foxes have been studied and at one point, targeted for eradication, but the consensus now is that they do little harm, and they are certainly an interesting addition to the environment.
Only 750 sheep live on Weddell at the moment, but in the past maqqqny thousands have overgrazed the island and much of the tussock has gone, leaving it a little bare in places. The flora is abundant despite this, and we found Ladies Slipper and white and yellow orchids in bloom, as well as Vanilla daisy (yes it smells just like ice cream according to Phoebe) and field mouse ear and berry lobelia. The very botanists we are becoming… We did the whole lying on the ground in the wet thing to take close up photos..
Home again to prepare for Christmas. Oh my goodness lots of cooking and decorating. Off to Bertha’s Beach to find a Kelp tree (no trees here, so dried kelp will do – 6’ high branches, dried like wood and painted white) – very modernist.
On Sunday 23rd the livers in arrived at the house for carol singing, mulled wine and mince pies, and on Christmas Eve the Military wives’ choir did the same but different, just as the family arrived on the airbridge (I think they thought it was an especially warm welcome), followed by a Christmas drinks party which the family, jaded though they must have been, galloped their way through gamely.
Christmas day brought the usual deliveries of mince pies and sprouts to the troops, and after chapel we finally all reconvened for mass present opening before lunch. It is midsummer here, but during lunch it snowed. And not just a bit – a LOT. The Summer has been bizarre this year – it must be following the UK. We are still hoping for some blue sky..
The Stanley Races (100th Anniversary) were cancelled because of the rain, but we drove into Stanley anyway to see the sights, and  as a cruise ship finally managed to make it into the harbour as the wind dropped in the afternoon, a couple of gift shops opened for an hour or to, and the girl’s day was complete. A visit to Surf Bay with spectacular storm waves, and Gypsy Cove to see the magellanics (Zoe and Hannah’s first penguin !) and Night Herons before home to leftovers and bubble and squeak.
The 27th saw a first Heli trip for the Ford family. Off to Volunteer Point amidst sun wind and rain – we were sunburned and wet through all in the same half hour. Here are perhaps the largest group of penguins on the islands; Gentoos, Kings and Magellanics, and we had time and peace to watch their antics and photograph the slightly embarrassed looking King chicks currently moulting and looking rather weird.

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