Falkland Islands a British overseas territory
We left Octantis by Zodiac and landed on the dock at Port Stanley. Port Stanley is the capital city of The Falkland Islands, an archipelago in the South Atlantic Ocean. As a British overseas territory, the Falklands have internal self-governace, but the United Kingdom takes responsibility for their defence and foreign affairs. This explained why Octantis took our passports as we checked in to the ship. At first we thought it unusual, but we were going to land in part of the United Kingdom.
The Drive to Volunteer Point
We then boarded the off-road vehicles in groups of four. The first third of the drive was on a finished road.
We had an excellent driver who gave us a good commentary during the drive. When we passed a curio, Louise asked what it was and he stopped so that she could take a photograph and he explained that when people leave the Falklands they come to this spot and, if they want to come back they leave one shoe and if they do not want to come back they leave two shoes.
The second third was a dirt road. Not rough and definitely not true off-road, that was still to come. At the end of the dirt road there was a gate which just opened on the day we were there, 1st November, as the beginning of the visitor season.
From this point the going was much slower and rather bumpy. Our driver very nearly got bogged, but made a good recovery.
After the long and sometimes bumpy drive, the first strange or unexpected thing you see are sheep with their “this year” lambs grazing and completely oblivious to the penguins and their cacophony.
The beach at Volunteer Point makes an excellent background for taking pictures of the King Penguins and the Gentoo Penguins. The sand is very light colored and can give the impression that the penguins are on snow. The very strong wind blows the sand at a low level giving the impression that there might be a ground mist.
King Penguins (Aptenodytes patagonicus)
King penguins (Aptenodytes patagonicus) are the second largest species of penguins. They walk very upright and at a steady pace. However, they do appear to have a problem deciding where they, as a group, want to go. Apart from individuals, they tend to be in smallish groups or in a very long line – following the self appointed leader.
They are just so adorable and great fun to watch
The Threat- their only predator at The Falklands
A few times a long column of King penguins were marching to the sea, to find and eat their lunch. Then the dark head of a sea lion would pop up, they would hesitate, stop, then turnaround and head back up the beach to the sand dunes.
Occasionally a brave penguin returned by itself after being out feeding. The penguin would launch out of the water on its stomach pushing itself up the beach away from the water, then stand up and walk inland.
After a slightly inelegant entrance, albeit avoiding the predator, after standing the walk is very nonchalant.
At this time of year the King Penguins are moulting. This process means that as their feathers are shedding their protection layer from the cold is being removed, thereby they cannot survive the temperatures of the water. This lasts for two to three weeks, but it means that the penguins cannot go to sea for food and that they are fasting for the entire period. It also means their chicks are fasting and do not really know why.
By this time the chicks are almost as tall as the adults and their fluffy fur coats make them look bigger than the adults. In a month or two the young will shed their “baby coat”, which has kept them warm during the harsh winter, and get their adult plumage. At this point they can go into the sea for the first time and start to feed themselves.
Gentoo Penguin (Pygoscelis papua)
The Gentoo penguin is smaller than the King Penguin and is black and white with no other colored feathers. It has a bigger tail which swings from side to side as it walks.
The King Penguin Colony
Gentoo Nesting Area
The Gentoo Penguins build a nest for the incubation of their eggs, usually two eggs a season. The nest is usually built as a circle of small pebbles. However, at Volunteer Point the beach is sand and there are no pebbles so the Gentoo use mud.
Rufus-chested Dotterel (Zonibyx modestus)
Remembering that we are in the Southern Hemisphere, at the start of Summer, this is probably a breeding pair that have just arrived. They are not yet in full breeding plumage as the rufus on the front will develop down to the black band. The Falkland Islands are the southernmost and easternmost limits of their migration range.
It is always great to see Shorebirds, wherever we are and it was somewhat unexpected here.
Gear: Nikon Z 8, Nikkor Z 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VR S, Z TC-1.4x, iPhone SE