Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Nine Penguins in two weeks

4 December 2011
A Day in Chile
Humboldt Penguin
Chile. Claudio Vidal, from Fantastico Sur, met us in the Hotel at 04:15 for breakfast before setting out toward the coast. A brief roadside stop produced singing Common Diuca Finch, the obligatory Rufous-collared Sparrows and a smart Chilean Flicker. Back in the van we drove to a smart Pacific Coast resort of Cachagua, north of Valparaiso. The van dropped us at one end of the road and drove to the car park by the beach. We walked slowly along the road stopping frequently. A pair of Rufous-tailed Plantcutter showed on the telephone cables, and a Fire-eyed Diucon flicked around the gardens. Pishing in a vegetated garden produced an amazing reaction with 4 Thorn-tailed Rayadito, 2 Plain-mantled Tit Spinetail, 2 Tufted Tit Tyrant, 4 White-crested Elaenia, Common Diuca Finch, Rufous-collared Sparrow, Shiny Cowbird, Gray-headed Sierra Finch, Austral Blackbird and a Giant Hummingbird flew overhead looking like a thin winged Bee Eater. An Austral Pygmy Owl began calling and was easily called in for better views, though it suffered considerable aggression from Austral Thrushes and other passerines. The Giant Hummingbird sat in a small dead branch allowing more prolonged views as we walked the last section to the sea and a pair of Chilean Mockingbird sat atop the fence.

Fire-eyed Diucon
Common Diuca Finch
Plain-mantled Tit Tyrant
Rufous-tailed Plantcutter
Austral Pygmy Owl
Our objective was a small island just off the shore and we walked the short distance along the beach. At least 60 Hudsonian Whimbrel were feeding in the beach, Kelp Gulls were roosting with a single Franklins Gull. On the island 50 Humboldt Penguin were nesting (our ninth species of Penguin in two weeks), with Kelp Gulls, Turkey Vulture, and Peruvian Pelican and a single Peruvian Booby. A Marine Otter was feeding around the rocks and three Chilean Seaside Cinclodes gave good views as a few Blue and White Swallow fed over the beach.

Chilean Seaside Cinclodes
Humboldt Penguin
Peruvian Pelican
Chilean Seaside Cinclodes
Marine Otter
Hudsonian Whimbrel
Chilean Mockingbird

We next headed south along the coast to a small wetland area beside a Sulphuric Acid plant (always the most attractive of locations). The pool was largely an excavation but some reed and rush vegetation attracted a nice variety of birds. Duck included Lake Duck, Cinnamon Teal, Chiloe Wigeon and Yellow-billed Pintail. A small colony of egrets held Great, Snowy and Cattle. A couple of Coscoroba Swan, pair of White-tufted Grebe and three different species of Coot completed the water birds (White-winged, Red-gartered and Red-fronted). Black-necked Stilt, American Oystercatcher and Southern Lapwing represented the waders. Around the margins we found four Many-coloured Rush Tyrant, 2 Spectacled Tyrant, Yellow-winged Blackbird and 2 Grassland Yellow Finch.  As we left a flock of 100 Franklins Gulls arrived, circled over the water and away.

White-tufted Grebe
Our next stop was a small nearshore island in Canton. Unfortunately our visit coincided with the Chilean Marathon and we got caught up in the action delaying our arrival considerably. We were fortunate to make the island at all as it was half a km from the finish line and we needed to negotiate several police roadblocks (some more amenable than others). We eventually made it by convincing the police we were international photographers covering the marathon – all holding our lenses out of the rear windows in order to look convincing! At the next check point Hector, our driver, only slowed momentarily in order to confidently say ‘Photographia’ as the surprised Police Office waved us by.  We made our way slowly past the stream of tired runners until finally reaching our destination. On the rock we found at least 25 Inca Terns, with their magnificent white facial plumes forming a long waxed moustache and contrasting with their grey plumage. Two Turnstones were disturbed from the rocks as we got closer to the action. A single Humboldt Penguin, two Peruvian Boobies, a dozen Peruvian Pelican and a number of Kelp Gulls were nesting here. Two Red-legged Cormorant and nine Guanay Cormorant provided variety to the more common Neotropic Cormorants on the rocks. We watched and photographed the terns for some time before moving along the seafront. At an unscheduled stop here for toilets we used the time to scan the ocean – eleven Gray Gull were hanging around offshore, looking like all grey Slender-billed Gulls, 2 Black Skimmer flew by and 3 Peruvian Boobies fed in the Bay. A distant flock of Franklins Gulls attracted a couple of passing Shearwater, but they remained too distant for positive id.

Peruvian Pelican
Peruvian Pelican
Peruvian Booby
Peruvian Booby
Franklins Gull
Black Skimmer and Franklins Gulls take flight
Black Skimmer
Inca Tern
Inca Tern

Guanay Cormorant

Red-legged Cormorant

We had hoped to visit a woodland and a dry hillside, but had used up more time than expected watching the Penguins, the Terns and being delayed by the Marathon runners.  We just had time for a short stop at a riverside reed bed. A Black-crowned Night Heron was accidentally flushed, 50 Black Skimmers and 25 Franklins Gulls were resting on the mud and four smart Many-coloured Rush Tyrants showed well in the narrow reed bed, making a fitting finale before we raced back to the Hotel and then the airport.

Port Stanley

3 December 2011

Debarkation day. We arrived into Stanley at 06:30. I was up at 04:30 hoping to see Great Shearwater which breed just to the south. However walking onto deck revealed dense fog which lasted for the next 15 minutes and meant no birds were visible. I returned to bed for half an hour. When I awoke the fog had cleared and a quick watch on deck as we neared Stanley produced a flock of 50 Sooty Shearwater and several Black-browed Albatross. A couple of Southern Fulmar, and increasing numbers of Imperial Shag plus a single Cape Petrel that circled the ship. Two Peale’s Dolphin blew just below the stern and moved away quickly. 

Dawn over the Falklands
As we entered the sound into Stanley a Southern Sea Lion swam past to join a small group in the harbour. 3 Blackish Oystercatcher, 2 Kelp Gull and 4 Dolphin Gull flew over and Rock Shag’s and Turkey Vultures shared a pontoon.

A walk along Stanley shore produced 3 Crested Duck and 2 Falkland Steamer Duck, and the last Southern Giant Petrel of the trip flew along the shore. Two Long-tailed Meadowlark sang at the Cemetery entrance and House Sparrows chirped everywhere. 

Falkland Steamer Duck

The Plancius
We were taken by coach across the island to the military airport, but the bumpy roads and speed prevented any real birding. A single Variable Hawk was circling with Turkey Vulture as we arrived at the airport.

What a trip, what amazing, wonderful experiences. We had been so lucky throughout, with weather, with wildlife sightings, with the incredible landings. Surely a trip of a lifetime! 

Saunders Island

2 December 2011

Arriving at the beach we quickly walked around the many Gentoo Penguin rookeries located on small mounds across the wide sandy plain. Many had small chicks, which were all panting in the hot, warm sunshine. 

It was very hot on the beach and the Gentoo's struggled to keep cool
Chicks were laid out with parents trying to cast shade
There was much panting to cool down

A small colony of King Penguin were found on the side of one rookery and views of several ages were seen including one of last-year’s fluffy chicks – which looked very hot in the sunshine, dressed in its  thick brown fur coat. 


Not much need for a fur coat here! A one year old chick
A two year old chick 
Nearly ready!
Finished - pristine adult

Holding hands on the beach
One amazing feature of Carcass Island is the shallow silver sand beach that allows the Penguins to glide through the waves right up to the edge. As they twist and turn they surf under the shallow waves and the sunlight makes them visible! 

Gentoo Penguin

Final arrival with a splash

Dolphin Gull 

Falkland Island Steamer Duck
Looking down to the beach located two more King’s stood among the many Gentoo and Magellanic Penguins. These allowed a close approach and some nice images, while their commoner cousins surfing through the waves created some great images. The odd Southern Skua flew over, Dolphin Gulls fed along the tideline and Kelp Gull were seen overhead. A walk up the steep grass-covered sandy cliffs brought me to a large Rockhopper Penguin rookery shared with Imperial Shags. The Rockhoppers provided ridiculously close views showing no concern for our admiration. 


A few hundred metres further on found two colonies of Black-browed Albatross nesting peacefully in rocky cliffs. These were very peaceful colonies with all birds sitting quietly on eggs and no noisy courtship. I sat alone within a few feet of these magnificent and beautiful birds just watching them watching me.  At one point one albatross flew in and landed just inches from my feet – breathtaking, and a little scary!

Black-browed Albatross

The end of an amazing, once in a lifetime trip. A team photo (not at our best after two tough weeks in a four berth). Thanks for making it such a memorable trip!

Right to left: Martin (two dinners) Casemore, David Walker, Gill Hollamby, and me 
Falklands sunset!