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  • Hazel Prior

Jan 20th - 21st

Have you ever seen a penguin taking a shower? I have!

Saunders Island took us only 10 minutes from Pebble Island by the local fight, and we've been lucky yet again! 2 beds miraculously became free at 'The Rookery', a little self-catering hut between the beach and the colony, so we snapped them up. Ursula had been raving about this place so my expectations were high. But I hadn't realised our walk would take us past hundreds of black-browed albatrosses...

... how huge and beautiful these birds actually are, how magnificent it is to see them riding the wind with such grace and power... and how charmingly quirky are their babies. The fuzzy little albatrosses stretch tall in their bowl-like nests, eye you and make chopping sounds with their beaks as you pass.

Nor had I envisaged the dramatic setting of this particular highlight. The rockhopper colony spreads over a natural amphitheatre in the hillside and the penguins navigate a series of stepped rocks and plateaus to the shower - a cascade of water over a jutting ledge - between their home and the sea.

Some take a shower on their way up, some on their way down. Some reckon they're clean enough and so don't bother. Many wait patiently for their turn. Others squabble, queue-jump and boot any slow-coaches out of the way. This particular guy was vigorous in his ablutions, scrubbing, scratching and shaking in turns.

It was hard to pull ourselves away, but eventually we clambered back up the rocks, apologising to disgruntled albatrosses as we edged past.

The evening was overcast with a fine drizzle in the air, but there was still much to enjoy. Down by the beach crazy gentoo food-chases were taking place, then came a comedy of squawking and flipper-slapping by a pair of magellanic chicks who were desperate for their tea. We sighted an orca out at sea, and rafts of penguins floated on the waves.

Today has been one of the best, but the forecast is fine for tomorrow, and the place is apparently yet more amazing.

I can't wait!

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  • Hazel Prior

Jan 17th - 19th

The way to get around the Falklands is by air, and I loved my first ride in one of the red, 8-seater planes that take people from island to island. This was the view en route to Pebble Island.

Our home here is a comfortable, charming lodge in the settlement, complete with a small windmill and vegetable garden. Our first outing was to Elephant Bay, another huge, beautiful beach, washed by shining waters and strewn with intricate patterns of seaweed. Magellanic penguins wandered in from the dunes and families of steamer ducks bobbed about on the waves.

Penguins evidently bring together like-minded people. Not only did we meet other wildlife photographers at the lodge, but one of our fellow guests, the lovely Silke from Germany, has actually read my novel! (The German edition, as I had some trouble remembering, is entitled Miss Veronica und das Wunder der Pinguine). Wunderbar or what?!

Silke accompanied us on our 2 day-trips at Pebble Island, eastward and westward. Our driver was Luis, who comes from the Philippines and, although only here for the season, knows just about everything about penguins and the other local residents. Here are a few of the non-penguin characters we met: two startled night heron chicks, a soulful sea lion (one of many) and a curious cormorant (again, one of the many). Don't you just love his big, pink feet?

Luis took us past memorials and bits of broken plane - sad reminders of the Falklands war - to rocky outcrops, sandy beaches and vibrant bird colonies.

"You'll never guess what I've found!" declared Ursula when we were among the gentoos. With her eagle-eyes she had spotted a parent sitting on an egg, a rare find this late in the season, since most of the chicks are already big and boisterous. Soon after, we discovered a teeny-tiny chick, not more than a few days old, being fed by its parent. Mum and dad take it in turns to babysit, so we don't know which this was, but it was a real honour to witness such a joyful regurgitation (there's a phrase you don't see very often!). However, our delight turned to horror when a skua swooped down and snatched the chick up in its talons. All part of nature's cycle, we know, but it was still a shock to see.

That evening we were treated to a sumptuous sky of pink and vermillion, reflected in the rippling sea. Ursula and I strolled down to the jetty to watch. Intermittently the peaceful lapping and distant cries of gulls were interrupted by odd noises like gruff roars of laughter below us, under the jetty... But what was it?

Sea lions? Some sort of bird? A troll? We still have no idea.

Our trip to the west of the island fell on a foggy day, and everything took on a mystical air. Vultures perched on the crags, and Luis showed us nesting pairs of giant petrels. We looked down on a landscape of rocks bristling with lichen, limpid green pools suspended between them. Rockhopper penguins took turns to swim in the pools and occasionally plunged off the cliff edge into a roiling sea.

Take a look at this grubby rabble! They belong to what is apparently the largest rockhopper colony on the islands. I can't help asking myself if it's also the filthiest?

At the west end gentoo colony we witnessed more joyful regurgitations. Not to mention big chicks squawking for attention and photo-bombing!

Our last stop was Bernie's Beach, gorgeous in itself but even more so because it was milling with manic gentoos. When the youngsters are old enough, the parents have a sneaky method of making them stronger: they let them know they have food then run away. The chicks pursue them greedily over humps and bumps, across moorland, pebbles and sand, often slipping over and getting up again, twittering with excitement. It makes for much better entertainment than anything on TV.

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  • Hazel Prior

Monday 16th Jan

I'm not a great one for celebrating birthdays, but if I had to choose a way to do it, I'd plump for gadding about on a beach with penguins...

We were happy when our designated driver turned out to be Carrot, who we knew from Day One. We're now completely used to bone-rattling trips across East Falkland, and today was no exception. Volunteer Point is a key tourist destination for the island, evident by the presence of several roped off areas and white stones placed around the colony to indicate that you shouldn't go too close. However, thanks to the dates swap, we shared the vast site with only 4 other people, which was quite a coup. And what a marvellous, mind-blowing thing it was to see these hundreds of glorious king penguins gathered together!

The sound is an incredible cacophony too. The penguins often point skywards with their beaks and make trumpeting calls, so there are constant fanfares going on throughout the colony, interspersed with cheeping from the chicks.

Kings produce their young in an 18 month cycle (2 chicks over three years) so we could see penguins at every stage: eggs, tiny chicks nestling in the pouch between their parents feet, furry brown youngsters, scraggy juveniles with a comical mix of fluff and feathers, and of course, the exceptionally handsome adults.

The main colony is up on the grass, among the sheep, but the kings are spread through the surrounding countryside as well. They stand in small groups or strut along together, elegantly showing off their exquisite plumage. As if that wasn't enough wonderfulness, there are colonies of gentoos and Magellanics as well.

Having feasted our eyes for a while, we wandered down to the beach via the dunes, which were full of flowering sea cabbage and alive with tiny birds – dotterels and double-banded plovers. We picnicked among them. The beach is a 2 mile sweep of immaculate, shining sand, dotted with penguins. The kings were our main focus and were so funny, the way they kept striking statuesque poses together and promenading along the seafront with the backdrop of those beautiful, clear waves. A petrel soared and swooped overhead, and a high wind whipped up the fine fragments of sand around our feet with a magical, swirling effect. And this majestic group entertained us royally. They couldn't quite decide whether they wanted to swim or not and waddled up and down, up and down. I'm sure they knew they were being admired.

As the hours stretched on, the late sunshine deepened and sharpened the colours, lavishing upon us scenes of extreme beauty. I am so gladdened and grateful for this day, which will be forever imprinted on my memory.

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