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, 17 March 2013

Kidney Island

A boat trip tour from Stanley; friends have hired a boat for the night, we have a picnic on board, and we are heading out of Stanley harbour, and round the corner to Barclay Sound. Kidney island has sea lions, fur seals, Magellanic and Rockhopper penguins, and, most important of all, sooty shearwaters.  
Sooty shearwaters live out at sea all day, and return to the land at night, diving into their burrows at the foot of the tussock once dark has fallen. This is to reduce predation , but it is a spectacle to be witnessed; in the middle of the season, the twilight sky goes black with shearwaters as they fly in from the sea, circle the island in their thousands, and dive for their night-time safe houses. We certainly saw thousands, although not as many as normal; a storm had thrown out their system, and the season is nearly ended – migration has begun.
We ate our picnic watching the rockhoppers, struggled through tussock grass way above our heads to cross the island, and finally sat on the beach and watched the sun go down in orange and grey  majesty, as a huge sea lion bobbed just off the beach, waiting for us to leave.
We waded out to the Rigid raider, puttered through the kelp back to the boat, and then all fell asleep in the dark on board in a heap as we were driven back towards the Pembroke lighthouse across a dark and swollen sea.

South Georgia

We have been hoping to squeeze in a trip to South Georgia but it has been simply too busy. This was our one chance, and we grabbed it with both hands. HMS Clyde was heading south on patrol, and we would join them for the 3-4 day journey, taking the opportunity to look around the island for the couple of days we would be there. We are not sailors and did not truthfully know what to expect; it may not have helped that most of the crew had recently changed over, and so neither did they. We had heard tales of huge seas in the South Atlantic, and true to form, our sailing was delayed by 12 hours because of damage risk. Mmm.
The first 24 hours were quite eventful; we both failed to hang on to lunch, and decided that dry toast and bananas, accompanied by ginger biscuits, were as much as we could manage. Even then, with the view generally skewed at round 25’ we saw some fabulous sights; the Wandering Albatross joined us around half a day’s sail from Stanley, and stayed with us all the way south. Wingspans of 10 feet plus – they are like terriers with wings. Without perspective in the wake of the ship, it is hard to grasp how huge they are until a storm petrel arrives like a tiny hummingbird in comparison.
After two days, we hit the Polar convergance; this is the drop zone from a weather cycle, and the temperature plummeted significantly. Grey swollen seas rolled and pitched the ship, and after another 24 hours it was fabulous to finally spot land. And HUGE land – rising up from the sea to truly spectacular heights, snow topped, craggy, woven in and out of clouds.
Now the ice watch began; four hour watches for icebergs, bergy bits and growlers. The hull of Clyde is 6mm and will not stand impact, so we slowed and focussed.
Eventually, King Edward Point approached, Gritvynken whaling station just around the bay, hulking rusting tanks and engines serving as a reminder of the whaling industry which nearly killed off the whale population, and only stopped in the 1960s.   Seals and dolphins bobbed and dived, penguins porpoised. Storm petrels, white chinned petrels, wandering albatross, black browed albatross, light mantled sooty albatross, with amazing and almost shocking white ringed eyes.

White Rock House

Bill and I escaped to the shepherds shanty at White Rock; an outside house used by sheep gatherers and shepherds from Port Howard farm on West Falkland. A white and red wriggly tin house in the middle of nowhere;  a diesel generator which Bill wound up (Critter’s advice was ‘wind like hell’), a pump to fill the tanks from the spring, and a peat stove for cooking and heating. Fabulous. A weekend away – basic basic, bunk beds, sleeping bags, bare floor and plenty of mice. But the views.. and the wildlife…rockhoppers and cormorants everywhere, spectacular cliffs and a fabulous pebble beach. Treasure !

West Point Island

A fabulous day out with the Jones Avenue mob; clear blue skies and strong winds and a heli trip with film set views across West Falkland. The island is a stride off the West peninsular;  uninhabited for the Winter but managed by Mike and Jeanette Clarke in the Sumer months. They run their distinctive yellow boat back and forth to Carcass island, and from there to Steeple Jason; a 4 hour one way trip which is notorious for impressive waves. We have stuck to helis.
The inlet which heads into the settlement is an idyllic  harbour edged with white beaches and hebe, sheep and penguins bothering each other loudly. The house has the most protected gardens I have yet seen – and as a result the most incredible flowers; roses, honeysuckle in full bloom-and away from the wind and inbetween the hedges, the perfume lingered. This was clearly our picnic spot – but we had exploring to do first.
The winding path out of the settlement leads up the saddle dropped between the dramatic cliffs facing south. A half hour uphill climb rewards you with impressive cliff faces, crashing seas, Rockhopper penguins and Albatross. Sunny enough to encourage us to sit and watch, we watched the antics of the chicks, and sat underneath the albatross flightpath, always a risky and exciting pastime.
Back to the house and a magnificent picnic provided by David (well I did a bit) and supplemented by a huge spread of tea and cakes from Jeanette. I wish we had found this island earlier – it is very similar to New Island in character and wildlife – definitely in the top 10.

Pebble Island - January 2013

A weekend for just the two of us to head back to Pebble. We have been here before, we have hosted the Vets and attended their lectures on the Pebble island raid; so to be returning with the promise of a tour from Alan (who with Jackie owns the lodge) was something to look forward to.
We had two days, so asked to be dropped off East on Day 1; a 6 or 7 mile walk back in bright blustery weather – lots of wildfowl, whale bones, and some Sea Lions. The long sandy beach leading to the settlement is purported to be the longest in the Falklands, and it feels it at the end of a long hike when you are ready for a bath..
The next day we headed off in the Rover with Alan. Going West to see the Lear jet memorial, we stopped at the Cross for HMS Coventry and took photos of the cracks which are emerging again, so that a plan could be hatched to bring it back to standard. The views from this spot are spectacular – out across Coventry bay, now officially named, thanks to Alan, and a perfect reminder of the ship and her crew. The Bay was the one the captain had apparently chosen as the ‘run to’ option in case of damage. She never managed to get there, but it serves as a beautiful memorial.
Rockhoppers everywhere; noise, squawks, smell, curious chicks waddling up to the camera – and then on to the western-most point to lunch at the fabled pebble beach. Falkland pebbles can be found on a number of the northern most beaches of the islands, but nowhere is as well known as this beach. Alan, eyes fully trained, collected handfuls instantly, but we were soon catching up; there had been a number of storms, and the crashing waves had landed new treasure. There is clearly some volcanic activity north of the islands which superheats stones and produces glassy, collectable pebbles. These will be prize mementos, and better than any tourist purchase.     
Dinner with Alan’s Mum who was staying at the lodge again – and Stu from Jones avenue, taking his parents on a tour. I bet he was glad to see us arrive ..

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.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Remembrance weekend

Whoops - I've added the picture twice. hey ho. What a busy weekend - 50 Veterans, The Duke of Kent, and Mark Lancaster and Kevan Jones from Westminster. The windiest day yet at Blue Beach with stinging hail for a poignant service on Friday, a joyful service in the cathedral on Saturday with the Band of the Royal Marines, and Remembrance day which dawned with warm air and blue sky on Sunday. Fabulous for the vets to see what they were fighting for;many had never landed on the islands - fewer has seen Stanley or felt the gratitude if the islanders.