Well, it’s happening again, I am off on another adventure. This time, however, it’s not to Africa or Asia. The destination of choice is the Falkland Islands, a disputed archipelago east of Argentina in South America.
After an excellent trip last year with Andy Biggs and Charles Glatzer in Africa, I decided to make 2014 another good shooting year. I had the Kenya trip all sorted and I looked through Charles’s offerings and the one that stood out as totally different was the Falklands one.
I’d heard stories of the post-war garrisons out on the Island and their interactions with the myriad of wildlife there. It sounded like a spot that I might enjoy. Certainly, in the old days back in New Zealand my friends and I would venture to bleak and cold places around Wellington (in New Zealand) to take photos and to enjoy the magnificent coastlines.
From the descriptions of the wildlife in the Falklands, it’s obvious an 800mm lens is not really going to be necessary. I’ve decided on this setup (it cannot change, as I am in an International Lounge having a cup of tea, on my way to Santiago Chile!!)
2 x Canon 1Dx bodies. 1 x Sony A7R as a walk around camera, with a 35/2.8 Zeiss lens 1 x 200-400/4 IS lens. (Really looking forward to seeing this perform out there) 1 x 70-200/2.8 IS Mk2 lens 1 x 24-70/2.8 Mk2 lens 1 x 1.4x teleconverter 1 x 2.0 teleconverter
Apart from the Sony, this gear is all loaded in a Pelican 27” ProGear Elite case, with custom inserts for the cameras and lenses. It’s an excellent way to carry gear securely, safely and with confidence that if it makes it to the final destination, it’ll be in the pieces it set out in. I have brought the Kiboko bag with me which has the clothes in it, and it will double as my backpack when we are hiking out to the various vantage points. Best of both worlds!!
Well, we’re well into the trip now, having been off the grid totally for four days. Where to begin….
Stanley – Volunteer Point
We had a day in Stanley, so a natural place to visit is to volunteer point. It’s about two hours’ driving, with the first being on a “road” and the second a cross country odyssey. Apparently, the cruise ship track is worse, but I am not saying anything! Certainly, there was a heavy wind blowing when we got out there. This wind was but a harbinger of what we were going to get over the next few days.
Volunteer point is a King Penguin breeding colony with Magellanic and Gentoo penguins as well. King’s nest here all year round and are aloof and foreboding. This, along with the colouring makes them excellent photographic subjects. Charles tells us to focus on the King Penguins as the other colonies are common across the Islands. We, of course, leap around trying to photograph everything. Human nature takes over. We’re out there for over six hours so we get to see and photograph a lot. Lunch is had in the lee of our Landrover and Landcruiser. We neck the lunch and head out into the fray. Its “game on” in all directions. One of our fellow travellers has had luggage issues and is finding the first day frustrating. But we were sure it’d work itself out.
Our crew is led by Charles Glatzer who knows this area really well. This is his tenth year of Falkland’s trips. Lynn and Dianne are Arizonans, Jeff is from Washington DC, Mark is an Aussie working out of Bahrain, Brad is a Floridian and Tom is a Sydney-ite. Six Canonian and a Nikonian, unusual these days as it’s usually more 50/50. One never knows. At this stage of the trip we’re still trying to remember each other’s names and to get a vibe for the rest of the journey. As usual, there are a few of us (more than 50%) that are in the technology business. There is a book here somewhere that needs writing.
We have an excellent time out at the point and head back on the overland odyssey again to return to our digs in Stanley. It’s still light at 9:30 pm so bedtimes are later. Not good when we are up early to get out and about. I am sure we will start to pay for this cumulatively as the trip progresses.
Saunders Island – The Neck
We bug out to Saunders after a nice breakfast. We’re going in two eight-seater bug smashers. We’re eight people, but we have some large lads here. The average height is over 6’2” so we’re going to need bigger planes and cars. At least travelling is going to be cosy.
We arrive at Saunders and the topology and flora seem consistent with the rest of what we’ve seen. Tussock and grass with no tree and blowing a gale. Our Hosts David and Susan meet us and drive us to our initial Saunders destination…… The Neck
Now if we thought the ride to Volunteer Point was a tad rough, then we were in for a treat. The “road” to the Neck is a classic Falkland Islands superhighway. One is sure glad that’s over with when we get there. Susan has been chatting to us all the way over, so we get to know a lot more about this Island, the Falkland Islands and the lifestyle here in general.
We arrive at the neck and we’re greeted by some Chinese tourists that are leaving to make room for us. The accommodation for the next three nights is a long shed-like building with an annexe for us to get in and out of our boots. At either end of the shed are rooms with four bunk beds. The middle section serves as the living and eating quarters. Despite the limited room, there’s plenty of space even for the gigantic mob we are. Chaz is feeling short…..
We quickly settle and the rooms are filled with gear. Apparently, there is a rumour that I snore. This is untrue, but I acquiesce to their accusations and apologise insincerely.
Chaz gives us a briefing on the spots that we can see. The neck is essentially two beaches and a sand bar that join two Islands for one Saunders Island. In the gaps between the beaches, there are Gentoo colonies, a Small King Penguin Colony and the Magellanic are all over the place creating burrows in the hillsides. On the side of the accommodation, along the fence line is a Rockhopper Penguin colony and several nesting sites for Albatross. This is a large space and there is a lot to photograph. The rockhoppers are the focus, but as usual, there are lots going on with chicks being hatched and predatory birds getting stuck into the eggs and chicks all over the place. I may have forgotten to mention that it’s really windy.
At “The Neck” we bring everything with us. Food, bedding etc. We have to cook our own meals which in reality was excellent warming up exercise. The ladies at the settlement have done a sterling job. With the crew we have, the only doubt might be the longevity of the available sustenance. This proved unfounded and on the morning we left we had a big cook up and it was great. The shooting proves excellent and varied. Albatross and Rock hopping penguins are a feature. The chicks at Gentoo colonies are also fun to observe. There are so many places here just to sit and take in the surroundings. We’re truly cut off here and even the satellite phone I have is about as much use as Donald Trump in a hair-pulling competition. There’s a large set of whale bones that have been rescued from the beach and set up. They are quite amazing.
We spend three fruitful (and windy) days here wandering up and down the beaches and up to the colonies on the cliffs above. I have not done that much exercise in a long time. I sleep really well, others don’t. I have not figured that one out yet.
Saunders Island – the Rookery
We have an extra night on Saunders. This will be taken up at the rookery which is another dream drive of about 45 minutes across a hill and over to a set of cliffs for albatross and rockhoppers. This is a cool spot. It might be a surprise to all to find out that it was windy here also. A couple of us went all the way over to the rockhopper colony and had a squiz at the waterfall there that they like to shower in. Really fun. It is a precarious trip down the side of the cliff, so it’s not for the faint-hearted.
We had lunch hunkered down and the rain came in and we called in the cavalry to come and get us. Of course, when they arrived, the sun was out, but the wind prevailed. We headed back to the sanctuary of the settlement. The accommodation there is excellent and we almost all get a room. I don’t know why I get a room to myself, but that mystery will be solved another time. Susan, Biffa and co cook up a storm and we’re all fed to bursting.
The next morning we have time to spare until the plane arrives to transport us to “Bleaker Island” so we are transported out to a “Rock Shag” colony. After the original jokes settle, we get to the photography. They’re a little hard to get to, but we get some shots. The wind still blows.
This atoll is a thirteen-mile long piece of the archipelago. It has varied fauna. David on Saunders described it as flat as a pancake and it’ll probably be windy there. Hmmm, we’re all wondering what that version of windy might encompass. Still, it is what it is and we’re here to photograph and photograph we will!!!
We head to the Rock Hopper colony that has Rock Shags and Skewers for company. I walk back after a few hours (close to dinner time) and go via the Blue shag colony. Wow, there are a lot of them.
The room mystery deepens as I am given my own room again. I am starting to get paranoid.
The cook delivers a fantastic lamb offering for dinner. Orders are taken for breakfast. We fast collapse into bed…. Another long day tomorrow.
Today we head down to the “Beach” where there are Magellanic and Gentoo’s. The Gentoo’s are doing their own odyssey from atop the “hill” (haha) down to the beach across the grass. It is all quite peculiar. The penguins all come down, head into the surf, go off to feed and then return and head up the hill. It’s windy here also which surprised us all. At some point, the crew decides it’s cold and windy and we bail back to the digs for some warming up and a few hot beverages……
Well, that’s me up to date…. More soon
The next morning we head back to the beach for a shooting extravaganza. It’s overcast and cold, but that’s no deterrent. We persevere in an exceedingly inclement environment. We eat lunch and continue looking for the moment. We bailout, it’s freezing. We have another session at the Rockhoppers later in the day. The weather is doing us all in. It’s cold and windy with occasional rain.
It’s a day later and it looks bleak. But we’re all troopers and head out. Woe and behold, there is blue sky threatening. It clears and clears, giving us an excellent day. It’s “Sea Lion Island” tomorrow. Let’s see what it brings.
The blue sky continues and we get great pictures on the Rock Hopper / Rock Shag colony. We’re leaving the Imperial shags for the afternoon when the light and wind will be perfect for shooting there. Brad and I take the long walk to the beach from there via “big pond” which has some grebes, swans and a ton of geese. A few gulls and other miscellaneous avian life abound. We get some pictures, but the swans are shy, and there are only three grebes. I’d need a 1200/5.6 to get these ones.
It’s late afternoon/evening and we’ve eaten dinner. It’s time to head up to the imperial shags colony at the top of the hill. It’s a ten-minute walk and there are lots of other things to see on the way. Chaz tends us in the Landrover if we’re not walking. The front seat gets the gates as usual!
The imperial shags are heading in for the day to their respective mates. It’s chaos as the returning shags meet up with their better halves and the skewers, dolphin gulls etc. bother them the whole time. Now and then we see the predation of an egg. This means that couples have to wait another year. All in all, it’s an amazing hour or so as the sun goes down around 9 pm. It’s up again at 4 am…… the sun barely gets a rest around here.
Sea Lion Island