Birding in The Falkland Islands
Birding in The Falkland Islands
The Falkland Islands, known as the Malvinas to the whole of Latin America, lie 450 kilometers off the Argentine coast and are one of the most interesting and unusual South American birding destinations.
During the Austral summer (October to March) the islands are inhabited by hundreds of thousands of seabirds that mass in great flocks. This spectacle of penguins, albatrosses, cormorants and terns is reason enough to visit the Falklands. There are colonies of Elephant Seals and South American Sea Lions and Peale's and Commersons Dolphins which patrol the harbours.
Visits are made to large King, Gentoo, Magellanic and Southern Rockhopper penguin colonies as well as Black-browed Albatross colonies. The scenery is often reminiscent of the Scottish islands, but there is a mix of the familiar and unfamiliar. In many ways the islands are essentially British in character but the South Atlantic exerts its own influences and the sight of huge Elephant Seals hauled out on sandy beaches, or Southern Giant Petrels and Dolphin Gulls gliding along the Stanley shoreline and bathing endemic Falkland Steamer Ducks, indicate that the birds and wildlife have more affinities with Antarctica!
Formerly difficult to visit except by expensive cruise ships, the weekly LANTAM Chile flight makes this an easy and economical addition to our Chilean tours. Still remote, the construction of Mount Pleasant airfield and the 2 hour flight from Punta Arenas, combined with the provision of comfortable tourist accommodation on a number of islands, has made the Falklands both accessible and attractive as a destination for birders and naturalists.
Magnificent sandy beaches, the equal of any in the tropics, are invariably deserted except for loitering Elephant Seals or Sea lions. Trees are scarce, but ubiquitous thickets of gorse add a vivid splash of colour to each settlement and offer a safe nesting place for Austral Thrushes. Target land birds include Striated Caracara, Blackish Cinclodes, Black-throated Finch and Cobb's Wren.
17th Nov 2017 SOLD OUT
16th Nov 2018
Day 1: Saturday
The weekly LANTAM Chile flight from Santiago or Punta Arenas in Chile arrives and departs at Mount Pleasant International Airport every Saturday. We will be met at the airport from the flight and then taken to your hotel.
For our first night we stay in Stanley, the islands capital, at the Malvina House Hotel. The hotel offers facilities expected of a modern hotel, including an excellent restaurant .There is a Sauna and Jacuzzi facility to aid relaxation and an Internet station for those who need to keep in contact. NB..Dinner tonight is not included in the trip price since many guests prefer to go out to one of the local pubs/restaurants to geta more "local" ambience. The same applies for the Thursday and Friday evenings in Stanley.
We'll see our first Upland Geese, Rufous-chested Dotterel, Long-tailed Meadowlarks and maybe the local race of Correndera Pipit. Having dropped off our bags we'll take an afternoon boat trip to the nearby Kidney Island. This is a two hours offshore boat trip "chumming" for seabirds. Black-browed Albatrosses should be the first to appear in droves with lots of Southern Giant Petrels and some White-chinned Petrels. Great Albatrosses are always a possibility along with the smaller Mollymawks. Southern Fulmars are possible and possibly some deep ocean seabirds such as Cape Petrel and Wilson's Storm Petrel.
We may find big rafts of Sooty Shearwaters and Great Shearwater is a possibility. Kidney Island is roughly kidney-shaped, as its name suggests, and lies about 0·5 km off the coast of East Falkland, at the southern entrance to Berkeley Sound. At least 34 species have been recorded breeding on Kidney Island since 1960.
The most numerous is the Sooty Shearwater, which was apparently confined to the western headland and steep north-western slopes in the 1930's, but now burrows around the coast and well inland.
Kidney Island has one of only three known Falkland breeding colonies of White-chinned Petrels. It is also the only definite breeding site for Great Shearwater outside of the Tristan da Cunha and Gough Island group in the South Atlantic. Grey-backed Storm-petrels breed, but are very difficult to count or see. We spend the night at the Malvina House hotel.
Days 2 and 3: Sunday and Monday
Today, after breakfast, we take an internal flight to Saunders Island – population 5! We shall base ourselves at "the settlement" that is reminiscent of a bird observatory in the 1950's. Saunders Island is around an hour's flying time from Stanley, three miles off the north-west coast of West Falkland.
The ruins of Port Egmont, the first British settlement in 1765, are a 30 minute walk away. We will be warmly welcomed by the owners David and Suzan Pole-Evans . The accommodation at Saunders Island is on a self-catering basis so we travel there with home cooked meal packs from Stanley. These consist of cereal, toast, juice etc for breakfast; the makings of a packed lunch (such as bread and sandwich fillings, savoury pastries etc); and a 3 course evening meal with simple reheating instructions. There is also a small store in the settlement where you can buy beer, wine, soft drinks and additional food if you wish. This trip does need a small helping of the pioneer spirit !!
Saunders is one of the Falklands supreme wildlife sites, with Gentoo, Southern Rockhopper, Magellanic ,Macaroni and Chinstrap penguins. Since 1980 a small breeding colony of King Penguins has become established. Four species of raptors, King and Rock Cormorants, Black-necked swans and many other shorebirds are easily accessible from the settlement or at the many and varied wildlife 'hotspots' around the island.
However, the attraction to the wildlife enthusiast is undoubtedly the Black-browed albatross colony which stretches along the north coast from The Neck ( so named because it is a narrow sandy isthmus between two high parts of the island) which is about an hour's 4 wheel drive away and we'll spend the balance of one day here observing the amazing seabird and Penguin colonies.
The northern beach is covered in stunning white sand pounded by majestic surf. The wildlife colonies continue along the north coast to Rookery Mountain. The "shower" formed by fresh water running down over the cliff and used by the Rockhopper penguins to preen their feathers makes for great photographs. On rare occasions Fin and Sei Whales have been seen off the island. In all cases amazing photo opportunities abound and Saunders Island is the perfect place to escape from the pressures of urban life.
There are varied habitats, including wetland and permanent lakes with areas of dune formations and extensive steep cliff slopes particularly towards the northern and western coasts.
There are more albatross and penguin colonies to the north and east of Rookery Mountain and we shall visit this site as well. We spend the Sunday and Monday nights on the island with basic but comfortable accomodation. NB..During the time on Saunders you will have the services of a local driver who is knowledgeable about the local birds and wildlife but is not a professional guide.
Days 4 and 5: Tuesday & Wednesday:
After breakfast we take a short flight to Carcass Island and we'll spend two nights here. Carcass Islander Rob McGill and his wife Lorraine are the present day hosts on Carcass, offering visitor's superb hospitality and food a plenty!
Home grown vegetables, organic meat and dairy produce are prepared in true "camp" style. There are home baked cakes and biscuits for "afternoon tea" and thick fresh cream and scones.
Accommodation is comfortable and homely - all rooms are ensuite with showers.
Carcass is easily explored by foot at leisure. In over 100 years of habitation, Carcass Island, named after HMS Carcass, has had three environmentally conscious owners who have avoided the introduction of rats and cats.
This care and freedom from predation has made a difference that is immediately evident and needs to be experienced rather than described. Magellanic Penguins nest around the settlement and a Gentoo Penguin colony is a short walk away.
There is also a large colony of Striated Caracara, a small Elephant Seal colony, King Cormorants and Black-crowned Night Herons to be found on the Island.
Other birds we'll look for include Ruddy-headed Goose, Blackish Cinclodes, South American Snipe, White-bridled Finch and the endemic Cobb's Wren. Kelp Geese and Flying Steamer
Duck should be in evidence too. We'll take a day excursion to West Point Island. We take to the seas on the MV Condor (capacity 10) which takes you across to West Point with a journey time of approximately 1 hour.
We'll be on the lookout for dolphins and sea birds on the way and we should be able to see Slender-billed and Antarctic Prions and Common Diving Petrels. Marshy areas should hold Yellow-billed Pintail, Chiloe Wigeon, Silver and Speckled Teals.
Once at West Point we can explore the settlement and surrounding areas, such as Devils Nose Cliffs where wildlife includes Rockhopper Penguins, Black-browed Albatross and much more.
NB..During the time on Carcass Island you will have the services of a local driver who is knowledgeable about the local birds and wildlife but is not a professional guide.
Day 6: Thursday
After spending most of the morning after breakfast on Carcass Island we take the short flight back to Stanley where we transfer to the Malvina House Hotel for 2 nights and then enjoy a tour of the "city" and a visit to the newly sited museum.
Stanley, situated in the North East of East Falkland has a population of somewhat over 2,000 which is 85% of the overall population of the islands and is the most remote and smallest capital in the world.
Despite its relatively small size Stanley offers good and interesting amenities and is a small, tidy and colourful town with a museum and cathedral along with war memorials and basic and tourist retailers along with a selection of pubs and restaurants. The hospitality of the town's people is well known and visitors are made very welcome.
A walk along the Stanley waterfront from our comfortable hotel will produce Rock Cormorants as they fly to their nests on an old shipwreck in the harbor, Crested and Falkland Steamer Ducks dabble in the shallows and Southern Giant Petrels squabble with Kelp and Dolphin Gulls over tidbits discarded from fishing boats.We should also see South American Tern.
Overnight in the Malvinas House hotel.
Day 7: Friday
A day excursion from Stanley to Volunteer Point is sure to rank among the tour highlights as we visit the King Penguin colony at the point.
Falkland Steamer Ducks, Blackish and Magellanic Oystercatchers and Brown-hooded Gull will be around. Comical young King Penguins wearing their coats of thick down will be just the first of many indelible memories to take home from these extraordinary South Atlantic islands.
Named after the ship Volunteer, Volunteer Point is part of the Johnson's Harbor Farm which covers around 36,000 acres. Volunteer beach is a 2 mile long white sandy beach, bordered by high grassy banks that provide ideal habitats for three species of penguins: Gentoo, Magellanic and King. The Volunteer point King penguin colony is the largest in the Islands, with around 1,300 adults, rearing 400 chicks each year.
Over 1,000 pairs of Gentoo penguins are resident all year round at Volunteer Point, and many other bird species have been recorded in the area including several breeding pairs of Antarctic Skua who target penguins for eggs or young.
Day 8: Saturday
We leave the morning free for some souvenir shopping and a stroll around the harbour and then transfer to Mount Pleasant International Airport for our return LANTAM Chile flight to Punta Arenas and Santiago and connections home.