Pebble Island Life
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.