Falklands again

7 November – New Island, Falkland Islands

Our two days at see were smooth and relatively uneventful. We had a chance to sort through more photos, and put together our slideshows for the ship gallery – about 20 people participated, and it was wonderful to see how differently people see things. There are a lot of really good photographers on board, with really good equipment, and really high standards. Our slideshow was well received – most of you will get to see it at some point. I did one on the side (on a borrowed computer) of all the excellent food we have been shoveling down, which I have been faithfully recording with my point-and-shoot. That one, and another that focussed on the enormous and whimsical variety of hats being worn ashore, were considered the most original.

Because of the good weather, we made better time than expected back to the Falklands, and were able to go to a very remote island on the western (windward) side that is little visited. New Island is inhabited by half a dozen people, most of whom seem to be old friends of the Lindblad staff. The weather is again beautiful, a little cold and windy, but with bright sunshine and few clouds.

The island slopes gently back from a white sand beach covered with seaweed and Kelp Geese, over broad grassy meadows covered with Upland Geese, and rises into tussock-covered hills. As we trudged up the steepening slope, we found ourselves very suddenly on the edge of a rocky precipice that plunges almost vertically to the surf crashing 800 feet below. All around us and below is in all direction, the cliffs are covered with breeding colonies, and sky is filled with wheeling birds.

A huge colony starts right at our feet. Rockhopper Penguins are nesting and scrapping with one another; their nests are all mixed in with those of the Blue-eyed Shags. A little further along, there is a big concentration of Black-browed Albatross sitting on their mud pedestals. They are inches away from us; an albatross nearly walks over our feet. They are totally unconcerned with us, and for the most part with the other species – there is a little sparring between the small rockhoppers and the bigger birds as they defend their space, but mostly they are all concerned with gathering nesting material, courting, and caring for their eggs. It is too early for chicks.

One smaller colony of Rockhoppers and Shags is well placed for light, and small group of the more dedicated photographers gathers around it, watching and waiting for interesting activities and groupings. Rick and I wander back and around it, and end up sitting in the high tussock on the other side, right on the flight path of the returning shags. We spend some time watching the cloud of wheeling birds, finding the flapping shags among the gliding albatross, and trying to tell which ones are headed for us. When they come in to our little colony, they swoop right overhead with the wind whistling in their wings, and we try to capture them with the autofocus and autowinder (with some small success).

After a while we move around to another site, where it is mostly albatross, to watch them billing and cooing and tenderly turning their eggs. A little further up the cliff, at the sea edge, there is a very mixed site. The sun is getting lower and the light is getting better, and the NG photographers are gathering here now. The nests are in a little bowl by the edge, and we are sitting (and lying) around the lip. There are low places and cracks that are like gates, where the albatrosses and shags come through to jump off the cliff. They walk right past us, sometimes seeming to give us a curious glance, sometimes posing for us on rock for a while before taking off.

This is bird-and-camera heaven, and the light keeps getting better and better, but finally we decide to go before it gets too cold on the shadowed side of the island for the long walk back. Back at the beach while waiting for our Zodiac, we talk to a local couple, artists who are offering some of their work (in aid of the Falklands Conservation organization). They mention that they are grateful to us for bringing the good weather with us – just yesterday, the was a miserable, drenching rain here!

The locals come aboard for an evening at our “pub”, but eventually we have to sail away. Our last day at sea will end at Ushaia, at the very tip of Patagonia, and we will face the long flights back. Of course it will be good to be home, but we are already wondering when we can come back.