So the rest of our December timeline was spent on a whole new island and went a little something like this.
On the evening of December 28th we duly switched on the local radio station at 6.15 to hear the flight details, the boys were very impressed to here their names read out “Master M Mountford, Master J Mountford and Master S Mountford” with Sam particularly listening intently and then shouting “that’s us!” So we discovered we were on the first flight of the day due to check in at 8am and that we were sharing our aircraft with the Attorney General and his family, nothing is secret here and certainly not travel plans! We would be dropping them at Sea Lion Island first and then returning to Bleaker Island just us five. Bleaker Island has a short runway and the 10 seater Islanders cannot land there with more than 6 onboard. We were well set up with a new camera lens and binoculars that had been Christmas presents and completely came into their own on this trip!
So the following morning (29th) we were duly at Stanley Airport at 8am. ‘Check in’ consisted of actually paying for our flights, each being weighed in order to work out seating to balance the aircraft and handing our bags over. It was a gloriously sunny morning so we were looking forward to excellent views during our short flight but we (foolishly?!) left the camera in the bag, it did mean we could just enjoy the first flight and the views without trying to get photos. Chris sat up next to the pilot and had great views on all sides, Sam and I were behind and Max and Jack behind us. It was about a 40 minute ride further south to Sea Lion Island and then 10 minutes back to Bleaker Island, We took off and flew straight over our house, we past plenty of smaller islands and the views were delightful in the sunshine. The flight was very enjoyable and the gentoo colony at the end of the Sea Lion grass/hardcore runway was very amusing as we landed. The other passengers were ‘disembarked’ and we were set up and ready to roll again, as we took off we saw the sea lions lolling on the beach below us and it was a very swift hop back over to Bleaker. We landed happily on the grass strip and were met by our hosts who had the next passengers ready to embark. On each island (where FIGAS goes) there are members of the population who are fire trained and have to attend the runway when a flight arrives for emergency purposes, they also relay the wind speed and direction to the pilots before they prepare to land. Us and our bags were into the Rover and watched the Islander safely get away before we were driven off to the properties arriving well before 10am. The short drive allowed us to easily get our bearings. So we politely left our bags and gave in our packed lunch order and a few minutes later, with packed lunches in bags we set off to explore. We chose to walk to the other side of the island to Sandy Bay first as their had been sightings of a leopard seal there the day before. It wasn’t a strenuous walk, just over a mile and so we were soon on the sparkling white sand, sadly there was no leopard seal in sight so we strolled along the beach enjoying the sunshine and watching the magellanic penguins running up and down the beach and entering the sea as we went. At the far end of the beach there was also the beginnings of a gentoo colony as they nest up over the ridge at this part of the island and so enter and exit the sea here. We decided this was a good sheltered spot with a view for a picnic and so we settled down. These are some of the photos we took whilst on Sandy Beach (check the oystercatcher picture particularly):
We then walked back along the beach and around the coast. There were magellanic pnguin burrows everywhere, we have come to the conclusion they are rather like pigeons! As we rounded a small headland a terrible stink met us as well as a racket like nothing else we had yet experienced and a patch of brown earth with a black moving mass was in sight. This was the island’s colony of 8000 nesting pairs of imperial cormorants. They were quite an impressive sight and were very busy nesting, ripping up HUGE amounts and pieces of diddle dee and moving around the valley and out to sea. The colony has moved down the valley this nesting season and is leaving in it’s wake a barren patch of land but there is (as yet) no known reason. Here are some pictures from the colony:
Chris enjoyed watching the colony through the binoculars and seeing the skuas (a particularly aggressive bird that there are warnings not to disturb) settling into the colony and then stealing and eating eggs, not just one skua but many. The skua is a rather unremarkable brown bird when seen at rest but in flight does have interesting under wing markings and I managed to take this shot of one:
We called it a day then and returned to the house. The property here was beautiful, very well laid out, plenty of communal space and great private bedrooms. So we settled down to read, sew, watch tv programmes and so on, everything was catered for us and so we had nothing else to think of, it was a very relaxing evening.
The next day we were provided with a hearty breakfast from a great selection and then with our pack lunches duly packed again we headed on out for a second session of exploring. We walked down to Big Pond first to see if any of the water fowl were present breeding there. Usually you can expect two different species of grebe, two species of teal and sometimes black necked swans. Sadly the pond is very dry this year and so there was nothing other than the ever present upland geese.
As an aside, Stanley sits below the one ridge of high land than runs across East Falkland and so, due to the uplift over this highland, Stanley gets far more rain than surrounding areas. This year has been incredibly dry and West Falkland and most of the smaller islands are desperate for rain, Stanley had been very dry until just before Christmas but we have now had a lot of rain since then and many tracks and so on are becoming very waterlogged.
The boys wanted to play photographer with their small camera here and so we have some evidence of how dry the pond was:
Meanwhile Chris took some shots of the diddle dee and the berries that are on it at the moment:
After a short stop and a snack at Big Pond we decided it was time to head to the main event for us on Bleaker Island, the rockhopper penguins! We spent quite some time sitting with the rockhoppers, watching their young (who were still very young and fluffy blob like!), watching them bound up and down the cliff to and from the sea and so on, the boys enjoyed this but also enjoyed playing hide and seek in the long tussac grass.
Max again played photographer and managed these good shots of rockhoppers, he needs a bit more practice to ensure his shots are in focus as there would have been other good ones but they were very blurred, it is great that he is taking an interest!
Whilst with the rockhoppers Chris finally got us a good shot of a turkey vulture and of a striated caracara or Johnny Rook
We spent the rest of the day between pebble beaches throwing stones and the rock hoppers and very much enjoyed it all. Then we were given this stunning sunset
Our final day was 31st December and we were to be the last flown off Bleaker, two flights were taking others off before us. We were to get on a flight that was coming straight from MPA as an onward connection from the LAN Chile flight that was due in that afternoon. This meant we were dependent on that arriving so having initially been told 1400 our flight was pushed back till much nearer 4pm. So we had nearly another full day. Sadly the weather wasn’t so good, grey and overcast initially but as the day wore on drizzly and then rain. We began by walking to the sea lions, there was quite a group of them with a few males present who were all feeling the need to try and prove they were boss. One male was swimming with a few females but when it came to re-approaching the beach the others were very noisy about the fact they didn’t think he should exit the ocean again.
We returned to Sandy Bay in the hope of a seal but to no avail and then we spent a lot of time with the rockhoppers again, passing the imperial cormorants was a certainty to get to and from the house.
Sam was very pleased that the rockies came this close to him
Our flight took us again via Sea Lion Island which was, on this occasion exhilarating as there was very low cloud by this point and rather than take the Islander over it the stayed very low over the sea. I had my phone camera with us this time and during our, slightly longer and very grey, flight into Stanley I managed some shots from the plane.
Bleaker was an amazing escape, an incredible place where you could really feel there was no one else around and where the accommodation was extremely comfortable and spacious. We will be back! We returned to Stanley to welcome in the new year very content in our new home and happy with our big decision made in 2016.