Fit for Kings
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.