The Falkland Islands provide one of the most unusual and enjoyable destinations in the Naturetrek programme. Lying some 450 kilometres from the coast of South America, amid the rich fishing grounds of the South Atlantic, the islands are inhabited by huge numbers of seabirds during the breeding season which extends from October to March. The spectacle of these great assemblies of penguins, albatrosses, cormorants and terns is reason enough to visit the Falklands but the islands are so much more than just a haven for seabirds. The scenery is often reminiscent of the Scottish islands, but there are many unique aspects to life in the Falklands and visitors are constantly charmed by this blend of familiar and unfamiliar. In many ways the islands are essentially British in character but the South Atlantic exerts its own influences and the sight of huge Elephant Seals hauled out on sandy beaches, or Giant Petrels gliding along the Stanley shoreline, remind us that Europe is thousands of kilometres away and that the wildlife has more affinities with Antarctica!
Formerly the remoteness of the islands made them extremely difficult to visit but the construction of Mount Pleasant airfield, combined with the provision of comfortable tourist accommodation on a number of islands, has made the Falklands accessible to an ever-increasing number of travellers wishing to enjoy the remarkable natural history and fascinating way of life in this very special archipelago.
As we drive to Port Stanley from Mount Pleasant after the long flight from England, flocks of Upland Geese grazing by the roadside and Long-tailed Meadowlarks foraging in the heather indicate emphatically that we have entered a very different world. A walk along the Stanley waterfront from our comfortable hotel will underline this as Rock Cormorants fly to their nests on an old shipwreck in the harbour, Steamer Ducks dabble in the shallows, and Giant Petrels squabble with Dolphin Gulls over titbits discarded from fishing boats.
Although the islands occupy an area roughly the size of Wales, the population is tiny, and even the capital, Stanley, is barely the size of a large English village. Isolated sheep farms and remote settlements are surrounded by great expanses of wild peat moorland, through which numerous streams carve their way to the sea, providing refuge for impressively large trout. Magnificent sandy beaches, the equal of any in the tropics, are invariably deserted except for loitering Elephant Seals or Sea Lions, and in some places are utilised as landing strips by the light aircraft which serve as a lifeline between these widely scattered islands. Trees are scarce, but ubiquitous thickets of gorse add a vivid splash of colour to each settlement and offer a safe nesting place for Falkland Thrushes.
A day excursion from Stanley to Volunteer Point is sure to rank among the tour highlights as we visit the King Penguin colony at the point. The immensely appealing young birds that parade in front of us wearing their comical ‘fur’s coats of thick down will be just the first of many indelible memories to take home from these extraordinary South Atlantic islands.
Port Howard, Sea Lion and Pebble Islands constitute the main centres for our tour and we will be spending several days at each locality, travelling between islands on the FIGAS Islander aircraft which gives superb views of the scenery en route, and will cheerfully divert from its flight path if the pilot spots a pod of Killer Whales or anything else of interest to his passengers!
Two nights at Port Howard give us a taste of life on a busy Falklands sheep farm but the surrounding countryside is also rich in birdlife and we will see many of the typical West Falkland species during our stay, including various waterbirds and a small colony of Gentoo Penguins at Fox Bay.
Flying next to Pebble Island, we find a different terrain, with marshes and pools to the east of the island and moorland and hills to the west. There are several significant seabird colonies on Pebble and it has been possible in some years to see six penguin species on the island. Impressive scenery, a fine sense of solitude, a profusion of wild flowers and amazing sandy beaches make Pebble an unforgettable place. We stay next on beautiful Carcass Island for three nights and, if conditions permit, we will take a boat excursion to nearby West Point where an impressive Black-browed Albatross colony will be our principal objective, although there will be plenty of other wildlife to admire, including dolphins on the crossing.
Our final destination is Sea Lion Island where we stay in the comfortable tourist lodge where Elephant Seal pups dozing in the garden, and inquisitive Striated Caracaras attempting to unpack our luggage, give a taste of what is in store on this superb island. Five penguin species can be found here, but the most numerous are the solemn Gentoos clustered together in their colonies, and the highly entertaining little Rockhoppers which hurl themselves ashore from the pounding waves with the alacrity of circus acrobats. For the period of our stay the island is our private domain, a birding paradise inhabited by King Cormorants, Ruddy-headed and Kelp Geese, Falkland Skuas, Magellanic and Blackish Oystercatchers, Two-banded Plovers, Tussock Birds and many other exciting species. Elephant Seals litter the beaches and, if we are lucky, we could witness Killer Whales cruising offshore.
A final two days in Stanley give us an opportunity to look around this small town which, for a short while, was the focus of the world’s media as the events of the Falklands conflict took place. Also scheduled is a boat excursion to Kidney Island, hopefully concluding a remarkable wildlife holiday with close views of the southern ocean seabirds which pass just off the shore of this undisturbed Tussac covered island, and maybe a few dolphins as a bonus!
Each island had something different to offer, so each day was exciting and different, both boat trips were good even if a bit choppy!
And the Figas flights were really good, a real wow factor, and everyone was very friendly and helpful.
Alan Henry is a superb leader - very knowledgeable about everything: birds, plants, weather etc. He was very helpful and encouraging. He was excellent in dealing with a few situations that could have tested a lesser man. All in all, a fantastic holiday made special not only by seeing so many birds but by being on the same flight as the 53 veterans on their way for Armistice Day. Super men with very intimate stories of '82. Very humbling. Thank you.
This was a brilliant holiday and very well organised.
The holiday was superb. The Falklands are a wonderful place to visit and I consider myself privileged to have been there. Sitting two or three feet from Rockhopper Penguins is a magical moment.
Overall, a brilliant holiday. The local guide, Alan Henry, was excellent and of course had lots of in depth knowledge of the best places to take us to. I fell in love with the Rockhopper Penguins!
Alan Henry was brilliant.
Service from Naturetrek office - very efficient and helpful. (Leader was) helpful, caring and attentive. This was a very enjoyable holiday, a wonderful experience to be able to watch wildlife at such close quarters.
B. & D P.
This trip more than lived up to our expectations! The bird & marine mammal life were exceptional; the hotels/lodges were splendid and each offered some superb food...the flights...were well organised...our travelling companions provided good company...We would certainly recommend the trip to any potential penguin/albatross/seal lovers!
Thank you for the marvellous trip to the Falklands. The expectations were very high, the realisation excelled them. Will was the perfect guide. Thanks again.
It is obvious that this is a small company because there is the personal touch at each stage.