The Ultimate Falklands Experience 2019

Our 4th season in the Falklands would prove to be truly remarkable and this time we were exploring further apart than we have done previously in this unique ecosystem. There is nowhere else in the world more accessible, that offers such an intimate experience with so much diversity of wildlife. Seabirds nesting on every corner of the islands, marine mammals frequenting the coastline and penguins marching across pristine sandy beaches. A visual feast that leaves me lost for words each time I visit this amazing place. Everything about the Falklands makes the experience so unique, the friendly Falklands hospitality, local knowledge and the fact that most of the time you have an entire island to yourself wherever you visit. It will leave you wanting more.

Saunders Island

The Rookery is one of my favourite places in the Falkland’s and is situated close to the cliffs and sweeping shoreline, a stone’s throw from nesting Black Browed Albatross and a short walk to one of the most beautiful Rock Hopper Penguin colonies in the Falklands. The colony is simply overwhelming. Scattered along the cliffs and between nesting Cormorants, Albatross and other seabirds is a large colony of Rock hopper penguins high up on the hill side. Every day here is special, as you experience the sights and sounds of all the wildlife it is truly a privilege.

My favourite activity is to walk down the gully to the Rockhopper shower where returning Rockhopper penguins, that have been foraging for food to feed their chicks, stop and take a moment to have a fresh water shower before they make their way up the steep gully back to their colonies. It’s quite a performance as they wash and preen their feathers, and there is often a line of penguins waiting their turn. If one penguin is taking too long, the others in line make a bit of a racket and prompt the others with a gentle peck of the beak to move on and give someone else a go. It is truly a fascinating sight and some interesting social behavior that dictates the shower etiquette. I sit here for hours watching these antics.

With one of the larger Black Browed Albatross nesting colonies in the Falklands, the Rookery with its beautiful backdrop sets the scene for large colonies stretching along the northern slopes of Mt Richards on Saunders Island. Black Browed Albatross nest along the cliffs protecting their eggs around October and their chicks once hatched 72 days later. We were lucky enough to be visiting at a time when some of the Albatross were on eggs and others had newborn chicks that had recently hatched. Seeing all the stages of this life cycle is fascinating and watching how quickly the chicks grow is astonishing.

Carcass island

Carcass island is surrounded by sandy beaches, rocky coastline and picturesque slopes stretching along the north west of the island. Around the lodge is just a myriad of small birds and larger predators. Herons, Oyster catchers, ducks, can be found foraging at low tide and in the surrounding trees and hedges are Striated and Crested Cara Cara, siskins, meadow larks, short eared owls and cobs wren to name just a few. For the avid bird photographer this is a place you won’t be able to resist and you don’t even have to leave the grounds of the lodge.

At the southern end of the island you come across large numbers of Magellenic and Gentoo penguin colonies near the grass plains and long tussock grass close to Leopard beach where they return after foraging at sea.

At the Northern end of the island elephant seals line the beach and make their way up the creeks and small streams where you will find these large marine mammals resting. The young weaners will often be playing in the shallows as the large adults cosy up together on the beach or in the narrow muddy streams further on shore. They are quite nonchalant and will barely acknowledge your presence.

Rob, Nikki, Mike and all the team at Carcass are amazing and I look forward to visiting and getting that true Falklands hospitality experience every time I am here. Great food, accommodating locals and a great spot for wildlife. It is simply a beautiful island and this time around our steppingstone to one of the most amazing places I have visited here in the Falklands, Steeple Jason Island.

Steeple Jason

I am not sure I can even justify with words and photos the sheer magnitude of such a special place, I feel privileged to have been able to visit this jewel of the Falklands. Surrounded by such diversity of wildlife and in a place where you are witness to some of the most extraordinary congregations of wildlife and their fascinating behaviour. I feel so privileged to have been able to visit this remote destination and experience the overwhelming natural wonder that can only be found in this part of the world. So many things happened and so many photos taken, that I can barely keep up with each day, but an experience I will never forget and a driving force behind me to someday return.

The island has the largest Black Browed albatross colonies in the world with estimated numbers exceeding 100 thousand pairs. When you see the colony from a distance it looks like white dots have taken over the landscape until you get closer and the sights and sounds of hundreds of thousands of Albatrosses take control of all your senses. A ritual display of courting pairs can be seen throughout the colony intertwined within the thousands of nesting Black Browed Albatross. Many with eggs and some that were just hatching, as we lay witness to this cycle of nature. Predators moving around the colony looking for a vulnerable exposed egg or a defenceless new board chick. The activity is a constant flurry and each participant is playing a roll of protector or perpetrator. One of natures great events unfolding on this one island.

Fur seals have recovered in abundance and thousands of these pinnipeds line the rocky coastline, living in harmony amongst the black browed albatross. Hunted to almost extinction levels for their fur from the 1800’s, their numbers seem to have increases substantially across the southern and sub Antarctic areas. But unlike Fur seals in places like South Georgia, these seals seemed very shy and skittish when it came to people. Not something I have seen to often but interesting behaviour and comparison from other encounters around the world.

A highlight of our day was a visit to the Gentoo Colonies each afternoon, where we would watch a raft of penguins up to 100 at a time returning to the colony in dramatic flair as they leaped simultaneously from the water’s edge up a steep rock face to land in the rock pool above. One of the most amazing feats I have seen by these aerobatic charismatic penguins. The sheer speed with which they propel themselves and the height they achieve is like nothing I have ever seen before. They literally have no idea where they will land or what they might collide with, including rocks and other penguins, but they literally take this leap of faith each day. Probably a good strategy to avoid any lurking Seals looking for a easy meal.

There is also a large population of Sealions on the island and you often smell them before you see them, especially if you are wading through the tall tussock grass to get from one place to the next. They are impressive creatures and intimidating to say the lease, but someone shy and cautious at the same time, they will often retreat rather than advance or hold their ground. As long as you don’t startle one, I think you won’t have any issues with these imposing creatures.

On the open plains and barren ground, Giant Petrels nest in large numbers. Keeping our distance to avoid disturbing this species, as they are known to leave a nest and not return to it if disrupted. But to see these sheer numbers scattered across the dusty plateau was a sight.

This amazing place is so overwhelming that you want more time to discover something new. Whether it is the wildlife or the dramatic landscape, Steeple Jason Island is the epitome of nature in all its glory.

Sea Lion Island

Sea Lion Island is one of my favourite places to visit. It has so much to offer, but the chance of encounters with baby elephant seals and patrolling Orca is what makes this a truly special place to visit. One of the largest breeding sites for elephant seals, Sea Lion island is designated a National Nature Reserve. In the breeding months, thousands of elephant seals line the beaches and battles can be fierce to secure a harem of females.

For me, I just can’t resist getting in the water there, and no matter how many times I tell people in the Falklands I am going to get in the water, I still receive strange looks. But sometimes it pays off and a baby elephant seal might even come to check you out and stay and play for a while.

This is a truly magnificent places with so many highlights, you just get pulled in all directions when making a decision about which way to go and what to see. At one end of the island is a large cormorant colony, nesting birds and cormorants high up on cliff edges using it as a platform to take off and land. Rockhopper penguins scale a steep cliff face after being pounded by the harsh ocean below on their return to the colony. They often have to run the gauntlet of sealions patrolling the area below in search of some easy prey. Life is hard for a Rockhopper penguin. Ponds throughout the island hold a plethora of bird species, including Grebes, Teals, steamer ducks as well as the coastline with Cara Cara, oyster catchers, herons and giant petrels. Further inside the island you can find owls, snipes, meadow larks. The list goes on.

A grotto along the coastline is home to a number of large Sealions that bask on the rocky coast or hidden within the tall tussock grass. The males are impressive to say the least and once you see them, hear their roar you see how they resemble a lion in the African savannas.

If you are truly lucky and can spend time on Sea Lion Island you might glimpse a sighting of the famous Orca that have a specialised hunting strategy that sees them enter a narrow channel to take the baby elephant seals form a shallow rock pool. Nowhere else in the world do Orca display this behaviour. But you need patience and persistence if you want to see this phenomenon.

Thanks to Micky and the amazing staff at Sealion, I always feel so welcome and they are very accommodating and knowledgeable about all the wildlife in this beautiful place. This is my 4th Visit to Sealion Island in the last 3 years and each time gets better than the first. I look forward to an even longer stay the next time I visit.

Volunteer Point

One of the jewels of the Falkland Islands is Volunteer point, which has the largest accessible King Penguin colony in this part of the world. This pristine landscape with white sandy beaches, spectacular coastline, rolling hills and winding water ways is a haven for so much wildlife and birds. It is a visual overload that numbs all the senses into submission as you take in the sights and sounds consuming you as you explore this beautiful place.

This time of year, is simply magical, King Penguins are on eggs, Gentoo chicks are hatching, Magellenic’s are courting and marine mammals patrol the beach and surf looking for unsuspecting penguins to cross their path. Nature in the raw is what you are presented with on a daily if not hourly basis.

Each year I visit this amazing place and bring a group of talented photographers, who inspire me with their beautiful perspective and view through their own lenses.

Derek and Trudi who live at Volunteer and have been the wardens looking after the property for many years, are just amazing, they look after me and the group each year and make us feel like no task is too difficult. The food is amazing, the location is amazing, and I couldn’t feel more welcome than when I visit this magnificent place. This is my 4th season visiting the Falkland Islands and I can’t imagine not coming here, it’s always on our list of special places to visit.

Weddell Island

This is one of the largest islands in the Falklands and has such diverse landscapes that every part of the island looks different. Gentoo Penguins that nests close to the settlement makes a daily walk to the colony a regular part of your routine when staying on the Island.

As always, the hospitality in the Falklands is always welcoming and Weddell is no exception. As we step out of the plane we are welcomed by Elaine and Robert who manage the settlement and who have spent many years over on Bleaker Island managing the settlement before coming to Weddell, so it was great to see some familiar faces.

At one end of the island pristine beaches line the coast and as we drove along the shore both Peales and Commerson dolphins emerge as they cruise along the shallow waters and in between the kelp in search of small fish and other prey.

Sealions hide in the tussock grass but you can hear the groaning and deep roar of these large sealions which are aptly named, as they resemble an African lion with their size, mane and ferocious roar giving you an indication that they are close by. Cormorants are up on high, perched in the sheer cliff faces along the rugged coastline and nest on these steep ledges which barely have room for a small chick, let alone a colony of Rock and Imperial cormorants. But they seem to make it work, these birds are so resilient.

One of the few remaining islands that still have the presence of Patagonian foxes, you may glimpse one of these elusive creatures if you keep an eye open around the settlement.

Fox Bay

Fox Bay Coast Ridge has some great walking tracks along the coastline, and the great thing about doing these types of hikes is that you get to see wildlife along the way. We spent 2 days hiking through the area, following the coastline. Heading down to Carcass Bay the steep cliffs with giant kelp forests below are stunning to say the lease. Thanks to Nuala who was my personal guide along these treks we managed to see some of the best that Coast Ridge has to offer. Day one we headed to a rockhopper colony, where most of the Penguins were sitting on eggs, protected vigorously from the ever lurking presence of Caracara’s, Turkey Vultures and Skuas, waiting for their moment to strike. You really are experiencing the raw nature. There is such an abundance of wildlife in the area, Penguins, seabirds, sealions and other marine mammals to name a few.

Our second day of hiking took us south along the ridge starting at one of the most impressive Rock Hopper penguin colonies in the area. The sheer cliffs shadowed the mountain range and set the scene for a dramatic backdrop which we would endeavor to follow back towards the ocean and river that divides Fox bay. Around every corner a surprise view and a totally different landscape, rocky ledges to lush green fields lined with endemic flowers which changed every few kilometers. Until we reach the peak at the top of East head with stunning views looking back along the coast, into the bay and across the land revealing rivers and lakes throughout. A moment of silence seemed to be the etiquette to enjoy such a breathtaking view.

As we headed down towards the ocean the sound of seabirds became more prominent. Nesting cormorants, ducks and geese in the nearby ponds, oyster catchers with chicks along the rock shore and giant petrels swooping from high above. A Crested Caracara stood like a sentinel on top of a cliff calling to its mate and possibly protecting a chick in a crevasse on one of the ledges below.

New Island

3rd times a charm, well at least when it comes to getting to this remote wonder of nature. It can be a bit tricky to get to New Island, but that’s why it makes it so rewarding once you get here. The plane can only land when the wind is in a certain direction and you need to buffer this into your schedule. It took me 3 attempts by plane to get here, as the wind needs to be North west and you can only have 2 people in the plane, which limits your chances and opportunity. But believe me it is well worth the effort.

New Island lies in the south west Falklands and is part of the New Island Conservation Trust, which is devoted to wildlife conservation and scientific research. The island is truly spectacular with dramatic coastline and sheer cliff faces that dominate the landscape.  You will do a great deal of walking while you are on the Island, as the wildlife is widespread across all corners of the island and usually involves  some extensive hiking to get to albatross and rockhopper colonies, or combing the beaches for Sealions or Gentoo penguins leaping out of the surf along the pristine sandy beaches.

It is a hive of activity wherever you venture, and you never know what you might find. As I watched Gentoo penguins returning from a day of foraging, there were Peales dolphins in the surf and around the numerous kelp forests hunting for fish.

I even went for a snorkel on one of the days around the kelp forest and old wreck that lies in the bay close to the Settlement, to my surprise I had a beautiful encounter with three Peales dolphins swimming around me. These beautiful sleek cetaceans, curious yet fast moving, as they zipped past me from all directions. I could get the smile off my face all day. A great way to spend Christmas eve in the Falklands.

Giselle & Alex manage the settlement and are so accommodating and knowledgeable and look after the vast needs of the island. Several researchers from the New Island Conservation Trust were hard at work monitoring Prions, Albatross Rock hoppers and working on various other projects. It was great to meet this group and find out more about the valuable work that is being done on New Island.

You are so remote out here, and despite the logistics of getting on and off the island, it is an impressive island. The landscape is so diverse, dramatic and different then many of the other islands across the Falklands. This alone makes it such a unique place, but you barely touch the surface as you explore the cliff tops, sea caves, beaches, tussock and the multitude of terrains you cross as you traverse this varied landscape.

Tick of your Bird species

Bird life is abundant across the Falkland Islands with so many species inhabiting the shoreline, cliffs and grasslands, some of the more common sightings are Striated Caracara, Oyster Catchers, Meadow larks, Night herons, skuas, plovers, dolphin gulls and steamer ducks to list a few. But the list goes on and on. And every new day reveals a new species to tick off the list. This environment is thriving and the many species that inhabit the islands are becoming commonplace across the islands. Very rarely do you find a place so untouched and such a haven for wildlife.

Below is a list of the many birds we see on our Falklands photography workshops:

  • Striated Caracara
  • Oyster Catcher
  • Dolphin Gull
  • Falkland Skua
  • Falkland Pipit
  • Steamer Duck
  • Chiloe wigen
  • Imperial cormorant
  • Meadow Lark
  • Upland Goose
  • Short-eared owl
  • Sheathbill
  • Two banded Plover
  • Turkey vulture
  • Crested Caracara
  • Peregrine falcon
  • Variable hawk
  • Tussacbird
  • Finch
  • Black Chinned Siskin
  • Black Browed Albatross
  • Cobb’s Wren

Day Trips out of Stanley

Kidney Island Sooty sheer waters

If you only have one day in Stanley, this is a must-see activity! Greeted by Andrew Pollard our nature guide and local photographer, we set off by boat across to this very special place called Kidney Island. Andy’s knowledge, expertise and respect for the wildlife made this even more memorable. We landed on the west side of the island and started into the tussock grass following the bellows of resting sealions and observing various birds of prey and seabirds along the way. Before heading over to the sea cliffs to visit the Rockhopper colonies perched up on the edge of the rocky cliff tops. But then the main event happened! More than 100 thousand Sooty sheer waters start returning to the island as the sun sets, they appear in huge numbers scattered across the dusk sky. It was one of the most spectacular natural events I have witnessed, and nothing could prepare me for the sheer magnitude of what I was seeing. This is truly a hidden gem of visiting the Falklands, the good thing is, it is only a short 30-minute boat ride from town. You must see this and if you are lucky you may get a spectacular Falkland Island sunset as well.

Murrell Farm

This property is simply breathtaking! Rocky ridge lines emerge through the middle of the farm and the coastline reveals a rugged, yet beautiful landscape fit for a penguin. Speaking of which, the Rockhoppers! Oh, how we love these characters with so much personality. three main colonies stretch along the coastline high up on ledges hanging over the open ocean. Kelp forrest and carved rock formations make this a unique backdrop for the colonies of Penguins who return each day from the open ocean to feed and nurture their young chicks. A bit further in from the beach is a small colony of Gentoo Penguins, many with chicks at this time of the year. The landscape is vast and varied which makes a perfect habitat for the unique wildlife of the Falkland Islands. Adrian our personal guide and owner of the Farm brings a unique flare to the tour experience and is a fountain of knowledge on all aspects of life in the Falklands. Nothing beats local knowledge to help find those amazing places and intricate details you might not always notice. A surprise was the Northern Rockhopper mixed in with all the Southern Rockhopper penguins, this guy was simply cool, long haired dreadlock looking penguin. What a special encounter to see a Northern Rockhopper so far from home. I can’t wait to get back here.

Season’s end

The Falklands is a hidden gem and a part of the world that offers wildlife experiences that are second to none. This is a place where even a seasoned professional photographer will be lost for words, a place where the visual senses are heightened by the diversity of life and the opportunities that present themselves each day. The best thing about photographing in the Falklands, is that you are not on a schedule and you can spend time in a place getting to know it and learning about its wildlife and the environment in which these animals thrive. I have been visiting this part of the world for more than 4 years now and bringing small intimate groups to visit these amazing islands. Visiting the familiar places and exploring the new islands is what makes these trips so fulfilling. I feel privileged to be able to spend time here and share the experience with others. I have barely touched the surface on what is possible here. In the future we hope to do more in water activities with dolphins, seals, penguins as well as explore the outer edges of the island group that hold a treasure trove of untouched landscapes and experiences that so few people have had the opportunity to see.

Its hard to say which part of the Falklands I love the most, as they are all so unique and the locals are so endearing with larger than life personalities. But I do find myself going back to the same places as I know the experience will be amazing each time, but there is nothing like discovering a new place or visiting an island I haven’t been before. Surprise and delight each and every time.