THE FALKLANDS AND ASCENSION
Gay and I both agree that it was a great holiday, very relaxed, combined with some of the best wildlife experiences (the King Penguins and the Orca's)
On previous Bird Holidays tours we have visited the Falkland Islands as part of an extensive sub-Antarctic wildlife cruise. After a few years without a trip, we thought it was time to return, not as part of a cruise, but as an outstanding destination in its own right.
During the Southern Hemisphere summer the islands are home to thousands of breeding seabirds. The rugged South Atlantic scenery complements the memorable experience of the wildlife spectacle.
Breeding seabirds include four species of penguin, the iconic King Penguin being one of the highlights of this trip. Three quarters of the world’s Black-browed Albatrosses nest, whilst hordes of Elephant Seals and Sea Lions occupy the beaches on several islands. Pods of Killer Whales loiter offshore as they wait for the young seal pups to venture into the sea.
Carcass Island will again feature, but this time we will stay on the island itself. Here our first penguins will be the burrow-nesting Magellanic Penguins. The island is particularly important for birds and holds a good population of the endemic Cobb’s Wren. The Striated Caracara is present in high numbers. Red-backed Hawks and Falkland Skuas patrol the penguin colonies, whilst Southern Giant Petrels maraud offshore. Staying on the island will give us the freedom to explore at our leisure and experience a pristine environment in almost complete isolation. Our second home from home will be on the famous Sea Lion Island, the most southerly inhabited island, located off the East Falkland mainland. Here the most numerous penguin is the Gentoo and some 4000 pairs breed. In contrast we can watch the pint-sized Rockhopper Penguins hurl themselves ashore from the rolling surf.
Flying in from Brize Norton, we land at Mount Pleasant on East Falkland. On the return journey we will take the opportunity to stopover on Ascension to enjoy the sub-tropical climate, amazing scenery and exotic seabirds.
Having arrived on an overnight flight we will spend the first night at Darwin. Situated by the East Falkland isthmus, it is close to Goose Green and San Carlos, place names which will resonate with visitors from the UK. Familiar birds in this area include Upland Goose, Correndera Pipit and the strikingly red Long-tailed Meadowlark.
CARCASS ISLAND AND WEST POINT ISLAND
Islands off the north-west coast of West Falkland comprise some of the most rugged and beautiful parts of the archipelago. None are more beautiful than Carcass Island, our base for the next three nights. Carcass Island is rat free, allowing native vegetation and wildlife to thrive. The endemic Cobb’s Wren frequents the rocky shoreline. Huge stands of native Tussac Grass have been able to re-colonise much of the island. This provides nesting sites for Magellanic Penguins as well as smaller birds such as Grass Wrens and Blackish Cinclodes. Breeding waterfowl include the Ruddy-headed Goose. Freshwater pools attract Silvery and White-tufted Grebes, Crested Duck, Chiloe Wigeon, Yellow-billed Pintail and Silver Teal.
Around the settlement, ornamental cabbage palms and cypress trees provide an almost tropical feel to the place. This habitat attracts small birds such as the ubiquitous Black-chinned Siskin.
Given favourable weather conditions we will take a day trip out to West Point Island. Here we have the opportunity to visit a mixed Black-browed Albatross and Southern Rockhopper Penguin colony. These wonderful birds are quite fearless and allow close approach for observation and photography. The striking male Kelp Goose, which breeds on rocky outcrops, is virtually pure white whilst the female’s blackish plumage matches the colour of the rocks.
On the boat journey to and from West Point, and in the bays around the island, we can expect to come across pods of Peale’s and Commerson’s Dolphins.
SEA LION ISLAND
On day six we will head south to Sea Lion Island, our base for the next two nights. Only five miles long, it is a small island, yet boasts a range of habitats including heathland, stands of Tussac Grass, fresh water pools, beaches and rocky cliffs. A large colony of braying Gentoo Penguins breeds very close to our accommodation. During the Austral spring the beaches are littered with Southern Elephant Seals of all ages. The Blackish Cinclodes, or Tussacbird, seeks out tasty pickings amongst the loafing seals.
Although penguin numbers have declined over the last fifty years, there are still some 300,000 pairs of Southern Rockhopper Penguins nesting around the islands. We shall enjoy watching these rowdy birds surf ashore before hopping up the cliffs to their breeding colonies. Nesting Falkland Blue-eyed Shags seek security amongst the noisy penguins.
Other species to look out for include Southern and Northern Giant Petrels, Black-browed Albatross, White-chinned Petrel, Sooty Shearwater, Falklands Skua, Snowy Sheathbill, Dolphin Gull, Magellanic Snipe, Rufous-chested Dotterel, and Two-banded Plover. White-rumped Sandpipers, long distance migrants from Arctic Canada, winter on the beaches here.
Travel between the outer islands will be on the colourful air taxis, the FIGAS Islander aircraft. This allows for magnificent views of the island scenery en route.
Next we visit the islands’ capital, for a two night stay at the newly refurbished, and highly recommended, Malvina House Hotel. This small town, with a population of only 2000, still retains its Victorian charm. Beneath the brightly painted rooftops, the Falklands’ subspecies of Austral Thrush nests in the quaint gardens. The waterfront is a good place to look out for the flightless Falkland Steamer Duck, an island endemic. Rock Shags nest on an old shipwreck here.
A day excursion from Stanley takes us to the King Penguin colony at Volunteer Point. Here, at the northern edge of their range, over a thousand pairs of King Penguins breed. A great conservation success story, they returned to breed in the Falklands in 1971 and have increased ever since. This species has a two year breeding cycle so there will be mix of activity and age classes around the colony. There should be many of last season’s well grown downy young as well as adult birds settling down to nest.
After a second night in Stanley we will prepare for a morning departure to Ascension Island, and a three day stopover on the way back to the UK.
The rocky volcanic outcrop of Ascension Island sits all alone in the mid-Atlantic. It is a major breeding site for seabirds. Thousands of birds nest on Boatswainbird Island, including the endemic Ascension Frigatebird. Small numbers of frigatebirds are now also nesting on the mainland, made possible by the eradication of the island’s feral cats. Sooty Tern is on the increase, now that its main predator has gone. A large colony is situated on the lava plain next to the airport.
Boatswainbird island lies off the east coast and can be reached by boat from the main island. The term ‘boatswainbird’ refers to the tropicbirds which nest on the island and two species occur, Red-billed and White-tailed Tropicbird. Other species nesting on this small rock include Madeiran Storm-petrel. The attractive Fairy Terns nest alongside two species of booby, the Red-footed and Brown. Both Brown and Black Noddies nest on the ledges of this seabird island.
After the cool weather of the Falklands, we will enjoy the sub-tropical warmth of this island. Green Turtles will have started to lay their eggs on the island’s beaches. If the opportunity arises we will go out one evening to observe them at close quarters. Offshore, Rough-toothed and Bottle-nosed Dolphins occur in small numbers.
CLIMATE AND PACE
On the Falklands the weather can be variable, with daily temperatures ranging from 6˚C to 12˚C. It is often sunny, with showers moving through quickly. Windy days are common. On Ascension it will be a lot warmer and rather humid, the average high being 28˚C. Breakfast will be taken at about 7.30am most mornings. Basic fitness will be required, with some walking on uneven ground. There will be some uphill walking, at a gentle pace.
ACCOMMODATION AND FOOD
Full-board accommodation is provided, with one night at Darwin House, three nights in a traditional guest farmhouse on Carcass Island, two nights at Sea Lion Lodge, Sea Lion Island, two nights at the Malvina House Hotel, Stanley and three nights at the Odissian Hotel on Ascension. All hotels/guesthouses are of a good standard and all rooms have en suite bathrooms. Many of the meals will be made using locally farmed organic produce.
PRICE INCLUDES …..
All birdwatching excursions with expert leader and local guides, full-board accommodation (starting with dinner on 14th, ending with dinner on 25th), soft drinks at meal times, bottled water throughout, all ground transportation and boat trips, site entrance fees, Ascension Island entry permit, internal flights and international flights.
WHAT IS NOT INCLUDED
Travel insurance. Personal items, alcoholic drinks, laundry.
Flights are with a major civilian airline, chartered by the RAF and operated out of RAF Brize Norton, to the Falklands (via Ascension). Outbound flight departs late evening, return flight arrives back early morning. These are limited to just ten civilians per flight, so it is essential that you book as soon as possible.
A pair of King Penguins in the colony at Volunteer Point.
We will visit a Black-browed Albatross colony on West Point Island.
A huddle of Magellanic Penguins on mainland Falkland.
Johnny Rook or Striated Caracara scavenge around the seabird colonies.
A sleeping Falkland's Flightless Steamer Duck
Gypsy Cove, Port Stanley
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