I regularly traverse the four corners of the globe ostensibly on the search for urban birds which often leads me to the least likely of urban spots. When I got an invitation from the Falkland Islands Tourism Board to come for a visit I just could not resist. Every now and again you just have to leave the ‘urban’ behind!
I arrived at Mount Pleasant, the islands’ main airport, and then was driven for 45 minutes from there to my base in the capital Port Stanley. I would say that describing Port Stanley as a capital is a stretch of the imagination as the population is hardly a metropolis at around 2,000. It scarcely qualifies to be termed as a village in most other places on the planet!
I was startled as to how different the terrain on the Falkland Islands were to what I had imagined in my mind’s eye. Far from being a small, wind and rain swept rock, it was an expansive landscape that reminded me of the Orkney Islands or Shetland. It was green with flat plains, rugged hills and the sky was blue. Indeed, it was actually warm! Far from being populated by stern military personnel and native Little Englanders, the folk that I encountered throughout my stay were without exception warm, friendly and worldly.
I was astonished by the sheer size of the islands and the distances between them. I stayed for the first couple of days on East Falkland – where Port Stanley is situated. Interestingly, the 778 combined islands that make up the archipelago nearly equal the landmass size of Wales. So, it’s a big place. Anyway, the main reason for my visit was to observe the wildlife, and boy, I was not disappointed!
Most of the bird species I saw were to be found everywhere like the Falklands Steamer Duck and Crested Duck that where variously bobbing or lazing around the coastlines. Gliding over the seas were marauding Southern Giant Petrels with their big wingspans whilst on land loitered what most visitors to the Falkland Islands come to see – the penguins.
I have been lucky enough to have seen penguins before in Antarctica – and what a memorable experience that was. The great thing about seeing them on the Falkland Islands is that you can sit right next to a breeding colony all day and in decidedly more agreeable weather conditions. On the White Continent, you are limited to an hour on land which was a godsend sometimes given how cold it could get. On the Falkland Islands I could have sat with the miscellaneous colonies of Magellanic, Gentoo, King and Rockhopper Penguins all day.
Their antics kept me endlessly amused. Perhaps the best penguin moment was the day that I spent watching Rockhopper Penguins on Saunders Island. Whilst scanning through the throng I discovered a lone Macaroni Penguin which has a distinctive blond Trump-like comb over!
With five Penguin species available to see I could totally understand why people make the long-haul trip to the islands. If you are ever going to make big trip somewhere, the Falkland Islands should be near the top of your list.
My thanks to the Falkland Islands Tourist Board for facilitating this trip.