1 Mar 2024

17 Jan 23 - The Antarctica Trip - Leaving Port Stanley, Falklands

It was time to leave Port Stanley. Personally, I would have liked a full day around the area. But the distances meant if we left at lunchtime, we would be able to enjoy two landings on the first day in South Georgia, whereas, a full day in the Falklands, would mean losing a landing in South Georgia. It's always a compromise in planning landings in the Southern Oceans, before the ship has to plan for any adverse weather. Another factor is the landings need to be booked months in advance with the South Georgia authorities to ensure that there wouldn't be two expedition ships looking to land passengers at the same location on the same day. Only one hundred passengers are allowed to be ashore at any time, which was fine as that allowed all our passengers to land together. But some of the larger ships have twice that number of passengers and their landings have to be staggered and shortened. The logistics of having two ships at the same location would be far more complex to manage and most importantly there would be a bigger impact on the wildlife.
One of the outer bays in the channel leading to Port Stanley: I was scanning all the bays and beaches as we left Port Stanley, in the hope of a Commerson's Dolphin. One of the Peale’s Dolphins is just visible in front of the beach
As we sailed out of the bay leading to Port Stanley, I picked up a pod of distant Dolphins. They were near to the beach (in the previous photo) and they clearly did not wanting to come & check out us. Initially, all we could see were they had prominent dorsal fins. There are several potential Dolphin species in the Falklands: Risso's Dolphin, Bottlenose Dolphin, Dusky Dolphin, Hourglass Dolphin, Peale's Dolphin, Southern Rightwhale Dolphin and Commerson's Dolphin. The first two species are right on the edge of their extensive world range.
Peale's Dolphin: All it is possible to say on this view is it is either a Dusky Dolphin or a Peale's Dolphin
Very quickly most of these species can be eliminated. The colouration and shape rules out a Risso's Dolphin. The lack of a distinctive beak and the patterning rules out Bottlenose Dolphin. Hourglass Dolphin can be ruled out as they don't have the well-marked patterning on the sides of the body. Southern Rightwhale Dolphin is very distinctive black and white marked species and it doesn't have a dorsal fin. Finally, Commerson's Dolphin has a very broad-rounded dorsal fin & looks more like a Porpoise, than a classical Dolphin. This just leaves Dusky Dolphin or Peale's Dolphin as the only likely species.
Peale's Dolphin: The dorsal fin shape looks different as it starts to go under
Peale's Dolphin: Further into the dive
Peale's Dolphin: Another individual came up at the left hand side of my view through the camera. It seems to have a pale stripe behind the dorsal fin
Finally, one of the Peale's Dolphins jumped out of the water and it was possible to see the dark facial pattern which confirmed this was a Peale's Dolphin.
Peale's Dolphin: The dark facial pattern, pale sides to the body and lack of a pronounced beak rules out the other candidates
Dusky Dolphin: One of the Dusky Dolphins from the first evening in the Beagle Channel which shows the short beak, but the pale stripes that continue through the face (14 Jan 23)
We didn't see any other species of note until we reached the open sea. Here we were greeted some large feeding flocks of Sooty Shearwaters.
Sooty Shearwater: A large feeding flock of Sooty Shearwaters
Sooty Shearwater: Another party of Sooty Shearwaters on the sea just before we reached them
Sooty Shearwater: About one hundred thousand pairs of Sooty Shearwaters breed on the nearby Kidney Island. They also breed on the temperate & Subantarctic Islands from South Chile & the Falklands to South Australia & Tasmania, Macquarie & the New Zealand Subantarctic Islands
The numbers of Seabirds quickly dropped off as we left the coastal parts of the Falklands, but we stuck it out on deck anyway.
Southern Royal Albatross: Southern Royal Albatrosses can be separated from the similar looking Northern Royal Albatross by the narrow white leading edge to the wings
Southern Royal Albatross: A second individual. This is the nominate epomophora subspecies of Royal Albatross according to Clements. The other subspecies is Northern Royal Albatross which IOC split and is another future armchair Tick when I switch to IOC taxonomy
Southern Royal Albatross: A third individual. This is an immature & I think it's a 1st year individual. Adult Southern Royal Albatrosses have a white band on the inner secondary coverts which narrows as it reaches the bend in the wing: this area remains black in Northern Royal Albatrosses
Southern Royal Albatross: The third individual. Southern Royal Albatrosses breed on the Campbell & Auckland islands and Northern Royal Albatross breed on Chatham Islands & New Zealand's South Island. Both Royal Albatrosses range throughout the Southern Oceans
Snowy Wandering Albatross: This is a Snowy Wandering Albatross and it is the nominate exulans subspecies which breeds on South Georgia. Clements lumps all the Wandering Albatross subspecies, whereas, IOC splits Wandering Albatross as Snowy Wandering Albatross, Antipodes Wandering Albatross, Tristan Wandering Albatross & Amsterdam Wandering Albatross. This is a third cycle which I think corresponds to second (Southern) summer based up the more commonly used UK moult terminology
Soft-plumaged Petrel: We saw the first Soft-plumaged Petrel of the trip & one of my favourite Pterodroma Petrels
Soft-plumaged Petrel: This monotypic species breeds on the subtropical to subantarctic islands including Tristan da Cunha & Gough Islands, Marion, Crozet, Kerguelen & Amsterdam islands in the South Indian Ocean, to Maatsuyker Island, to the South of Tasmania and Macquarie & the Antipodes Islands to the South of New Zealand
We would have two more full days at sea before we reached South Georgia.

27 Feb 2024

17 Jan 23 - The Antarctica Trip - Some Gorgeous Geese

My cabin mate, Steve Preddy, & I teamed up to search for some Ruddy-headed Geese when we got off the Plancius in Port Stanley. We didn't have any specific sites, but asked as the tourist information & they quickly directed up to an old boy who had lived all of his life on the Falklands and had a beaten up old Land Rover. He had a few ideas for sites we could try & we were quickly heading off towards the airport area. It was good to bump into a couple of Two-banded Plovers and a South American Snipe.
Two-banded Plover: This monotypic species occurs in South Chile & Argentina, as well as, the Falklands. They winter as far North as South Brazil
Two-banded Plover
South American SnipeThis is the magellanica subspecies which occurs from central Chile & Argentina to Tierra del Fuego & the Falklands. When I convert my World List to using IOC taxonomy, I will get a bonus Tick as I saw the other subspecies of South American Snipe at the two lagoons I visited near Buenos Aires earlier in the trip. IOC calls this species Magellanic Snipe and the other species is called as Pantanal Snipe
The airport sites didn't work out, but we were undaunted and carried on looking on rough tracks to the South of Port Stanley.
One of the beaches on our search for some Ruddy-headed Geese
We carried on searching to the South of Port Stanley and eventually bumped into a party of seven Ruddy-headed Geese in a larger party of Upland Geese.
Ruddy-headed Goose: This monotypic species is resident on the Falklands. They also breed in the South of Patagonia & Tierra del Fuego and this population migrates North as far as Southern Buenos Aires
Ruddy-headed Goose: They are a bit smaller than Upland Geese, however, that might be tricky to figure out if only one species is present
Ruddy-headed Goose: Both sexes have similar markings and they have finer black barring on the body which continues further up the neck and a very conspicuous ruddy coloured vent
Ruddy-headed Goose
Ruddy-headed Goose
Ruddy-headed Goose
Ruddy-headed Goose: A more appropriate name might be Ruddy-vented Goose as this is the most obvious feature, especially at a distance
Upland Goose: Pair. Female Upland Geese do not have the ruddy coloured vent and have bolder black barring on the body. It's is also easier if they are accompanied by a similar-sized male
Upland Goose: Male. The males are very obvious
Having succeeded on the Wild Goose hunt, we were dropped back in Port Stanley. It didn't take long for either of us to agree to a coffee & some celebratory cake in one of the local cafes. Excellent cake eaten & coffee drunk, there was time for a quick look along the waterfront of Port Stanley.
The Cathedral: It looks about a big as large town church. However, the population of Port Stanley is only about two and a half thousand people
Having closely followed the Falklands campaign whilst at university, then it was good to see the respect and recognition for the guys involved in liberating the Falklands.
The War Memorial
The War Memorial
The War Memorial
Memorial to HMS Coventry: Having subsequently worked on the IT systems and spent many days onboard some of her sister ships, HMS Liverpool, HMS Cardiff, HMS Edinburgh, HMS Glasgow, HMS Nottingham & HMS Exeter, then this memorial to HMS Coventry felt special to me. The lessons learnt from the Exocet attacks on HMS Coventry were quickly responded to by the Royal Navy. Some of my colleagues had already implemented the design changes requested by the Royal Navy from those lessons learnt, before I had joined Ferranti
Winners of a Local Art Competition: There were a number of large posters of the winners of a local photo competition. This one complemented the remembrance of some of the sacrifices of the Falklands campaign
Maggie Thatcher: Thatcher is clearly a decisive figure to anybody who lived through the period of when she was Prime Minister. She was a disaster for the coal mining communities, union recognition etc. Many of today's problems with the railways, water and other public companies in the 1980s are a result of her government's failed privatisation plans to make money for her friends at the country's expense. However, the one thing she was right on was her backing for the Falklands campaign & it's good to see this statue in Port Stanley. It's the only place there should be a statue to Thatcher in my opinion
Brunel's famous SS Great Britain was left abandoned near Port Stanley in 1886, until it was rescued, returned to the UK in 1970, renovated and ultimately turned into the world class museum it is today.
SS Great Britain's Mizen Mast: I wasn't aware that part of the Mizen mast from the SS Great Britain had stayed in Port Stanley, but it seems appropriate that it did
SS Great Britain's Mizen Mast: She was the largest ship in the world when she was launched in 1843
Signs like this mean 'you are a long way from everywhere else'
On the far side of the bay are several white-painted stone monuments to the ships that have long served and protected the Falklands. There are similar painted signs on St Helena.
Protector: The current HMS Protector (A173) has been the temporary replacement for the Royal Navy ice patrol ship HMS Endurance since 2013. However, these stones were laid to pay tribute to the previous HMS Protector which supported the Falklands in the fifties and sixties
HMS Protector (A173): Off South Haven, Studland (20 Aug 15)
Endurance: These stones pay tribute to the Royal Navy ice patrol ship HMS Endurance (A171) which served the Falklands from 1991 to 2008
Dumbarton Castle: HMS Dumbarton Castle (P265) was a Royal Navy offshore patrol vessel tasked with protection of the offshore assets of the UK including the Falklands between 1982 and 2010
Clyde: HMS Clyde (P257) was another Royal Navy offshore patrol vessel tasked with protection of the offshore assets of the UK between 2006 and 2019 and she replaced the HMS Dumbarton Castle in the Falklands. She spent nearly all of her working life in the Southern Oceans
Barracouta: This HMS Barracouta patrolled the islands in the early nineteenth Century
We headed back to the quay to find that there had been a couple of Commerson's Dolphins around the quay area earlier in the morning. Unfortunately, they had passed through and a good look failed to relocate them. I decided to grab an early zodiac to the Plancius as it would give me a better elevated position to continue my search for some Commerson's Dolphins. This provided a better viewing position, but I was still unsuccessful. Two Night Herons distracted me while I was waiting for a zodiac to the Plancius.
Night Heron: This is the falklandicus subspecies which is endemic to the Falklands
Night Heron: A second individual
South American Sealion: The front two are South American Sealions. I'm uncertain whether the back two are also South American Sealions

23 Feb 2024

17 Jan 23 - The Antarctica Trip - Arriving Into Port Stanley, Falklands

I was up early as we were still sailing around the coast North of Port Stanley on our way into the capital of the Falklands. There was a constant movement of Sooty Shearwaters past the Plancius, but few were close. This wasn't unexpected, given about one hundred thousand pairs breed on the nearby Kidney Island.
Sooty Shearwater: This Shearwater which is familiar to many British Birders, breeds on the temperate & Subantarctic Islands from South Chile & the Falklands to South Australia & Tasmania, Macquarie & the New Zealand Subantarctic Islands
Early morning sailing along the coast towards Port Stanley
At one point, a couple of Blackish Oystercatchers flew out to check us out & kept circling around the ship. This was unexpected, given we were a few miles offshore. They provided some opportunities for some nice photographs.
Blackish Oystercatcher: This monotypic species occurs from North Peru to Tierra del Fuego & the Falklands. Some winter in Uruguay
Blackish Oystercatcher
Brown Skua: This is the nominate antarcticus subspecies which breeds on the Falklands & South East Argentina and winters off the South East of South America
Brown Skua
As we entered the outer bays leading to Port Stanley we encountered feeding parties of Imperial Shags. I was on the lookout for a pod of Commerson's Dolphins, which are an inshore Dolphin & the Falklands are a hotspot for this species: but sadly, we didn't see any.
There were a number of sandy beaches as we entered the channel to Port Stanley
Imperial Shag: This is the albiventer subspecies which is endemic to the Falklands. The nominate subspecies occurs on the islands & coasts of South Chile & Argentina
The Cape Pembroke Lighthouse
As we turned into the final approach to Port Stanley, we could see the Lady Elizabeth at the end of the bay. As I kid, I visited the SS Great Britain in Bristol and revisited it about twenty years ago. It is a superb ship to visit. It had been left abandoned near Port Stanley until it was rescued, returned to the UK, renovated and now forms a magnificent museum to both the ship and Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Sadly, the Lady Elizabeth, which was launched thirty six years after the SS Great Britain, wasn't as famous. She was launched in 1879. In 1912, she was transporting lumber from Vancouver to Mozambique, when she encountered severe weather and was damaged just off Cape Horn. She limped into Port Stanley for repairs, but hit a rock as she approached Port Stanley and started to sink. Ultimately, she was declared unseaworthy and left as a coal hulk. In 1936, she broke her moorings and was washed to her current position. It has been suggested to try making her into a museum in the Falklands, but those ideas haven't come to anything.
The Lady Elizabeth: It's sad seeing a historic ship slowly falling to bits
Modern Fishing Boats: The Falklands licence fishing boats to fish in Falkland waters and this provides good money for the Falkland government
As we approached our anchoring point in the channel near Port Stanley, there were several groups of Steamerducks. Checking the photos confirmed that all of them have the really short wings which confirmed they were the endemic Falkland Steamerducks.
Falkland Steamerduck: Male
Falkland Steamerduck: Female
Port Stanley
Port Stanley
I think this is Sapper Hill: If so, it was the last hill that needed clearing by the Marines and Welsh Guards before Port Stanley could be captured in the Falklands campaign
The sign confirms we are now officially in the Falkland Islands
We were finally anchored, the passports had been checked and we were able to board the zodiacs to have a few hours around Port Stanley. More of that in the next Blog Post.