Wandering Cort #6 - Falkland Islands: West Point & Saunders Island

West Point has a large mixed colony of Rock Hopper Penguins and Black Browed Albatross.  They nest side by side on mounds that they build 6 to 12 inches above the surrounding ground.  I watched an Albatross building its nest next to a Rock Hopper.  The Albatross kept reaching over to steal nest building material from the Penguin nest.  The Penguin would squawk and complain while pecking at the Albatross.  The Albatross would stop for a moment, then steal more when the Penguin was not looking.

These nest mounds were scattered among the Tussock Grass, which is 4 to 6 feet tall.  I had to be careful to not step on a Penguin, while I maneuvered for a photograph.

West Point was our first shore excursion, so I brought all of my camera gear.  I could barely walk up the hill to the breeding colony described above.  The owner of the island was providing a shuttle, but I toughed it out.  I did take the shuttle back down the hill.  It stopped at the owner's home, where they were serving tea and pastries.  A pleasant break after the hiking, standing, photographing and walking.  The landscaped yard added two species to my list: Turkey Vulture & Striated Caracara.  Of course the TV was a subspecies called the Falkland Turkey Vulture. 

They were very tame.  I think I got some good photos.  It is hard to tell because the screen on my Netbook is very small.  It is also under powered and takes forever to display an enlarged view of an image, so I can check for focus.

The landing at Saunders Island was a beach with breaking waves.  The Zodiac driver had to time his approach to ride in a wave and get passed the breaking point before a wave washed over us.  Then right near shore he spun the Zodiac around, so the staff wading up to their waists could help us out of the Zodiacs and on to shore.  The take-off was even more exciting.  Several Zodiacs were drenched in the surf by breaking waves.  I had a great run.  Alex hit the wave perfectly throwing us into the air but keeping us dry.  It was fun and I wanted to go back and do it again.

Commerson's Dolphins escorted our Zodiac onto the beach.  From the beach I watched them playing in the waves.  They rode the waves like body surfers, except they stayed underwater.  I watched Penguins doing the same thing, except they occasionally lifted their heads and looked toward shore as if they were searching for a place to land.  Eventually they turned toward shore, rode in a wave and stood when they reached shallow water.  Then they waddled up onto dry land.

If all I cared about was checking penguins off my life list, then Saunders is the place to go.  I saw thousands of Gentoo Penguins, two small groups of King Penguins, a good collection of Rockhoppers, and one Magellanic Penguin.  The latter nest in burrows, so we had to be careful where we walked to avoid crushing chicks underground.