There is lots of activity with the hawks and ospreys at Bolsa Chica right now. If you time it right you can see them while they are dining on some local cuisine.
Lets hope nobody encounters this when flying in the United States. I am not sure the pilots here are as used to this as the bush pilots in Africa. They have seen this before, and make sure the coast is clear (and they do the clearing) before unloading passengers.
In September Dr. P met his cousin in the Puget sound area to enjoy the beautiful scenery and look for Orcas. We hired a private boat and guide from Maya Legacy in Friday harbor. Allen our guide did a great job, and we learned much and saw many pods. His assistants April and Zoe also helped out.
We were in a part of a large ecosystem called the Salish Sea that is filled with salmon breeding grounds, which has attracted Orcas.
The resident (there are transients here also that eat marine mammals) Orcas are in serious danger of extinction. This is due to a major decrease in their main food source, chinook salmon. It is also due to pollution in the waters around them, and excessive sounds in the water, confusing them and making communication difficult. These sounds come from all the boats (the cavitation from the spinning propellors) in the area, and also the active sonar from Navy ships.
We stayed in Friday Harbor and went whale watching 3x all around the area
Friday Harbor is in the San Juan Islands, just east of Victoria, Canada
The people that live in this part of the world know their Orcas. This ranged from the naturalist that talked to us about them on the ferry ride over to Friday Harbor, to the captain of our boat and his assistant. They know all of the pods, whether they are local or transients, each family member, and what they eat.
It takes a team effort to find them in these vast waters. There are biologists and naturalists that continually do research on the Orcas. Their knowledge is critical to understanding them. They worked together well as team with the local guiding companies that take people out to see them. The companies that take tourists out to find the Orcas are professionals, and share their knowledge with each other to help everyone see them. These guides have a private radio channel and private Facebook page to help facilitate this communication. It was a job well done!
The Orca kids!
Allen with his assistant Zoe scanning for the mist from the whale blowholes when they exhaled
Zoe using Allen as a tripod to keep her binoculars steady. Hey, whatever works to find them!
Nicole was part of our team of Orca scanners
It takes a lot of eyes to find them, so Hugh used his “eagle eyes” and helped out also
Hugh got his chance to use the big glass. The most important things he learned was not to drop it in the water!
Chloe got jealous when Hugh got to use the professional camera and lens, so we had to let her have a go at it
This is a large male, as evidenced by his large dorsal fin, near our boat
You never know what direction they are coming from, so you need to be observant at all times
They are not easy to photograph. You need to be ready and time your shot for the few seconds they pop to the surface to breathe. In a bobbing boat this can be a challenge!
They were quite active and breached several times
Allen did a great job of anticipating where they would go. One time several members of a pod swam just a few feet in front of our bow.
Allen put a hydrophone in the water as they swam by
Their eerie sounds as they communicate with each other are mesmerizing. They can communicate like this for vast distances
Even though we were close to them, sometimes it was nice to see them in the distance
There is plenty of other wildlife throughout the area, including southern sea lions, bald eagles, and several different species of seals.
Dr. P took Dr. K and two assistant photographers to tour the Falkland Islands (they should be renamed the Breezy Islands) on a three-week personal tour in January of 2018. Our tour guide was Georgina Strange, a Falklands native. She was trained by her father Ian, the man who wrote the book (actually ten books) on the Falkland Islands 40 years ago. She knows her stuff, and was our personal tour guide par excellence!
Georgina has a company called Design in Nature that takes small groups on specialized tours around the island, teaching photography and the natural history of the area. We interviewed her in front of the house where she grew up (in between being chased by baby penguins).
It was such a good trip Dr.P is going back in late October of 2020 (not 2019 like Georgina says in this video, the date had to be changed to accommodate the number of people that are interested in going) with a group to watch the ginormous male elephant seals up close. You will see why he is going back when you go through this page. It was penguin and marine mammal heaven!
Pace yourself, this set of pages on the Falkland Islands has many links to a large number of photos and videos. A few of the thousands of photos we took are on this page. They are downsized and in low resolution for easy downloading. They represent only a small fraction of the photos and videos we have of this trip.
Our welcome to the island at Stanley harbor
Our group, after several days of traveling to get there. We look pretty good after all that traveling! We have two Michiganders, two Californians, and one Falklander in our group of peeps.
The Falkland Islands lie 3oo miles east of the tip of Argentina. We went in late January, which is their summer since they are south of the equator. Temperatures ranged from the high 40’s to the low 70’s.
Here are the four locations we visited:
1. Stanley– the main town, and staging area for flights to the other locations
2. Sea Lion Island– for one week to see an extensive amount of penguins and marine mammals
3. Volunteer Point– for two nights to see the King penguins
4. New Island– for one week to see a wide variety of marine and bird life up close and personal
Stanley is a quaint little town that contains most of the 3,200 that live in the Falkland Islands. We stayed at a wonderful bed and breakfast called the Pale Maiden.
We started the day with full tummys after eating the gourmet and fresh food Teresa made for us every morning. It was a great way to start the day. Dr. P told Teresa that she was the Martha Stewart of the Falklands. She wasn’t sure what that meant, and had to call her daughter to find out that it was a compliment (we never told her Martha went to jail!).
There is a large monument to the people that died in the war with Argentina in 1982. Even though the British won that war, and don’t plan on leaving any time soon, there is still some animosity between the two countries.
Walking around Stanley we got a kick out of some of the signs, like this interesting speed limit sign limiting speed to 9.5 mph. Leave it to the Brits!
We ate at a wonderful restaurant in town called the Waterfront. This is the bean burger. Dr. P forbade anyone from taking pictures of him trying to eat it.
We love the British sense of humor. This is a sign at the entrance to the ladie’s room at the Waterfront.
And now the men’s room
These signs have historical significance. They were used during World War II to help the British people withstand the bombing of London from the Germans.
After a night in Stanley we flew on the Falkland Islands Government Air Service (FIGAS) airplane to Sea Lion Island. You find out what time your flight is leaving the night before when they announce it on the radio. They do this after the weather report, and after they tell you the ultraviolet radiation index for the sheep for the next day! It’s all part of the quaint Falklands experience.
Here is the announcement
The FIGAS pilots are very experienced, and flew low over the water on the way to Sea Lion Island to help spot whales. If they see one they will circle over it to get a good look.
Landing on Sea Lion Island in a BN2B Islander airplane
We made it to Sea Lion Island!
At Sea Lion Island we were literally in the middle of Gentoo, Magellanic, and Rockhopper penguins, along with Elephant Seals, Southern Sea Lions, and Imperial (King) shags (cormorants). This is the place we are returning to in the late fall of 2020 to see the large elephant seals do their thing.
We stayed at a very nice lodge on the island that was located in the middle of the wildlife. In the video you get to meet cardboard Rocky for the first time.
The staff was great, and accommodated us with all of our dietary and personal needs
Our lunches even included personalized Snickers bars
On one unusually calm day we went hiking to see the huge Southern Sea Lions. We decided to make a video with Georgina explaining their behavior while sitting on a cliff above them. It was a great opportunity to do a field interview without the wind interfering.
The lodge is a 5 minute walk from a gentoo penguin rookery. Click on the photo to see some of the way-too-many photos we took of them (we couldn’t resist) as they went fishing, fed their chicks, and waddled right up to us. There is nothing more entertaining than a penguin!
The juvenile elephant seals are molting and resting after months of feeding. Click on that cutie’s face above and watch them as they spar with each other in preparation for when they go from their current 2,000 pounds, to 8,000 pound beachmasters in a few years. This is when the males fight for control of a harem, and will be on the focus for the October 2020 trip.
There is a reason they are also called “jackass” penguins. Click on the photo and see a some of their antics.
They are nothing short of amazing as they climb high cliffs by jumping on the rocks with their stubby legs. This Rockhopper offered Dr. P a rock-how appropriate for a bird with “rock” in its name! This section shows how amazing they are.
They posed for us whenever the camera was pointed at them. In this section you can see them as they come in for what is best called “an uncontrolled landing”.
After Sea Lion Island we went to Volunteer Point to see the King penguins. But first, we had to get off Sea Lion Island. The expertise of the FIGAS pilots with their BN2B Islander airplanes was apparent, as they came to get us right on time, and off we went to our next destination.
They look like they are little people wearing tuxedos as they stand at attention. Learn more about them in this section.
After Volunteer Point two members of our photography team flew home, after a final toast to the Falkland Islands, of course.
After they left, Dr. P, Dr. K, and Georgina flew to the island where Georgina was raised. It was here that her father taught her the extensive knowledge she has of the area. It was a special part of the trip, since tourists routinely do not go on this island.
To get to New Island in the far west of the Falklands we needed to take a plane and a boat. The boat was captained by Jerome Poncet, a 72 year old French gentleman with an extensive knowledge of sailing these waters. Any professional film crew, like the BBC or National Geographic, hires Jerome to take them around.
We spent a week on New Island and stayed at a small house that Georgina grew up in. Not only is she an outstanding guide, she is also a mean chef, and cooked up quite the spread!
Her homemade bread was delicious
In the links below you will learn what it was like to sail with Jerome, see the Rockhoppers that risked their fins every day in the rough surf finding food, watch the graceful Black-Browed Albatross as they soared overhead, and a get a front row seat to watch a special sea lion that has a taste for penguins. We end with the quaint museum at New Island, and then some photos of us in action.
King penguins are the largest penguins after the Emperor. Even though you can find an occasional one on different small islands within the Falkland Islands, most of them congregate at Volunteer Point.
Derek and Trudy Patterson run the show here, and we stayed in their house with them. They are a wealth of knowledge regarding the area, and gave us free roam of the areas where the penguins congregated.
Make sure you do not miss the video at the end of the Magellanic Penguin stalking Dr. P.
It is a 4 hour off-road drive to get to Volunteer Point from Stanley. Halfway there you can take a break and get a nibble at the Bake Safe (did you notice the Facebook icon?).
It is filled with fresh baked goodies
An aerial view shows Derrek and Trudy’s red roofed house were we stayed in the center bottom. The land just above the house is where the Magellanic penguins had their burrows. On the beach we saw Gentoo, Magellanic, and King penguins.
Here are all 3 of them for a size comparison
This is the view when walking past the burrows to the house from the direction of the beach
The house is quaint, with just a few rooms for guests. Our hosts made us feel at home, with their hospitality, food, and knowledge of the area. We had free reign of the land, something the guests that came in on the tour boats did not for their few hour visit.
It would have been nice to have our tea time on the quaint porch, too bad the wind was a bit brisk to say the least
Dr. P likes to share, so he shared his flu symptoms of stuffy nose and achey body with Georgina and Dr. K. (hey, what are friends for?). They pretty much stayed in bed recovering from their ailments the two days we were at Volunteer Point.
Now you know what King penguin footprints look like
The Kings acted like we were not even there as they paraded around in their tuxedos. They would sometimes stand as if at attention, waiting for us to take a photo of them. As you will see, we even discovered a new subspecies of King Penguin, called the penguinous headless (headless penguin).
Walking back home from the beach past the Magellanic burrows one evening Dr. P had one of the best penguin encounters of the trip. Being careful not to disturb the penguins at their burrows with their chicks, he walked slowly and tried not disturb them as he continued on his way. Halfway back he had the feeling that something was following him. He turned to find one very inquisitive penguin following him. He stopped and turned on the video camera while the penguin moved in so close that he was afraid the little guy would scratch his lens with its beak. It was friends at first beach! This one experience alone made all the time and effort to get here worthwhile.
The view from the beach as the walk began
There were many burrow, adults, and chicks, and most of them seemed leery of him. Most, but not all, as you will soon see!
They exchanged email addresses, and will be seeing each other again when Dr. P goes back in the late fall of 2020
These birds go by several names: Imperial Shag, Imperial Cormorant, King Cormorants, Blue-eyed shag, Blue-eyed Cormorant. They are graceful fliers, but ungainly on land due to the position of their legs.
They streak past as they pursue a diet of fish and squid
It’s a different story when they come in for a landing. As they get near the colony they put on the brakes, flop their wings, and drop unceremoniously in the middle of the flock, sometimes knocking other birds over. Its quite entertaining as you will see from the following photos.
Once they are done crashing into each other they start their grooming and bonding
This is your chance to get close for some shots
These two stayed in this position for quite a while as they watched the sun set
Georgina and Dr. P decided to get a different angle by walking into the middle of the colony. If you go slowly you do not disturb them. The following 3 photos show the view from this new vantage point.
On Sea Lion Island we came across groups of juvenile male elephant seals that were resting and molting. They had been feeding out in the open ocean for several months, and were resting up for their next journey into the sea.
These juveniles are big boys, weighing up to 2,000 pounds. After seeing how big these juveniles are, it’s hard to imagine the size of the mature male elephant seals that are up to 4x larger. The big guys come to this beach in October and November each year to gather their harems and mate. At the same time, the pups are born and the killer whales are hanging around to see what easy pickings are available. That will be next time, when I go back in mid October of 2020.
I set up shop right next to them as the Magellanic Penguins walked right up to me
The elephant seals were calm and relaxed in my presence for the most part, so I was able to walk amongst them
Periodically two of them would pop up and start sparring
This woke up some of the others that were snoring away
It is best they get used to your presence by walking around them slowly before taking photos
Once they accepted me they let me get close and take some nice portraits of their cute faces
Their fingers are human-like
One was so calm that he did not move when I touched him
One of them was none-too-happy about me being this close
When he reared up and moved towards me I got the message that it was time to give him his space
He was the most aggressive elephant seal of this group, so I kept my distance so as not to disturb him, while I photographed the others
Later on I decided to make a video of him, and got the same reception as before. As he got closer I decided that he weighed a good bit more than me, and it was time to stop recording and move away.
You can see the video shake as I was rapidly moving away. He does not look as big in the video as he is in the flesh (or should I say blubber).
I moved far enough away to give him his space, and filmed him with a telephoto lens. He still was not happy with me, and kept coming.
Eventually he stopped his charge and gave me a piece of his mind.
These males practiced their fighting abilities in preparation for being a beachmaster one day and having a harem. Some of the fighting was ritualistic, and they would just push each other around. Most times they would bite and knock each other off balance. Some of the fights started on the beach and moved into the water. When they rear up to fight you have a better idea of how large they are. This is a real good time to keep your distance.
Sometimes the fighting was in the water. As you can see from the scars on their necks, the sparring is more than a ritual
As we walked around the island we sometimes found elephant seals resting in the tussock grass away from the water. They were just hanging out and enjoying the warmth and sand.
They will bask for hours
They love to bury their faces in the sand and snort away
Georgina explained their behavior to us in these field interviews
Even though they were calm it was a good idea not to get too close
We got the message
One last snort before we go
These guys are characters, and are sometimes called Jackass penguins due to the braying sound they make and their silly antics. Unlike the rookeries where the Gentoo, Rockhopper and King penguins raise their chicks, the Magellanic penguins raise their chicks in burrows.
Our first encounter with them was while walking towards the the beach where the juvenile male elephant seals lounged around. Their chicks were several months old, and would soon be leaving the burrow to go off on their own.
When we got to the beach some of the adults were going out for their morning fishing expedition
They walked right past us in single file, seemingly oblivious to our presence (and to the presence of the 2,000 pound juvenile male elephant seals)
Before entering the water they would gather for a huddle
One of them got an earful after the morning huddle!
After the braying it’s a headlong rush into the water to feed
They came in waves and waddled their way up to the surf
They dipped one foot into the water and came running back out
He just stood there for a while on one foot
Hard to explain why they came back out so fast, maybe the water was a little wetter than normal?
This was our chance to get some close up shots
Eventually the adults went fishing, and were mobbed by their famished chicks when they returned with a full tummy of fish and krill to regurgitate
We saw them in many locations around Sea Lion Island. They were either in burrows, or going into or out of the ocean.
This pair did not have a chick
This one kept a wary eye on us as it emerged from the surf
We pre-positioned a video camera and watched them as they got the courage to walk past it
We also saw the Magellanic’s again at Volunteer Point when we went to see the King Penguins. The Magellanic’s had burrows adjacent to the beach, and to get back to our accommodations we had to walk past them.
The walk from the beach to our house took us right past their burrows
They seemed disturbed by our presence, so we kept on walking slowly past them
As Dr. P slowly kept walking towards the house, distancing himself from these penguins, he had a funny feeling something was behind him. He turned around and saw this inquisitive penguin following him. He stopped and turned on the video camera, and stayed there for a few minutes while this little guy checked him out.
We saw them one last time at New Island while we were watching the Rockhopper penguins brave the rough waters as they returned from a fishing excursion.
These two were smart as they hid amongst the rocks while watching the Rockhoppers get thrashed by waves at New Island
There was a mixture of adults and molting chicks that were three months old
The adults were quite vocal as they interacted with their chicks
As the sun set a nice pink sky appeared
They did their final vocalization before it got dark
In the morning they would walk the one mile to the ocean to fish for the day
They entered the water in one big splash and disappeared
Some of theM would run out of the water as soon as they entered it. Maybe it was too wet for them that day?
After a variable amount of time in the water they would return
They came from all directions, so you needed to be ready at all times
They move surprisingly fast even with those short legs
Some of them had such full bellies that they waddled back to shore
Off they went in a group for the one mile hike back to the rookery to feed the chicks
They walked on well-marked trails through tussack grass to feed the starving chicks
They were on a mission to feed their chicks, so we had to stand out of the way to avoid being run over
They move surprisingly fast with those full bellies
The molting chicks were so hungry they would mob the adults and chase them incessantly until the adults regurgitated food for them. It was hilarious to watch this, as the relentless chicks never gave the adults a moment of peace.
This adult was chased by two chicks
This adult was lucky only one chick chased it
There was so much running around we had a hard time singling out just one to photograph
These three chicks were so zealous in their pursuit that they knocked the adult down
Some of the chicks chased the adults into the water. These chicks did not know how to swim, and once they were literally in over their heads they would flop around in a panic. It was quite entertaining to say the least!
Eventually the adults gave up and stopped running
The chick would bring its beak up to the adult
It would rub its beak against the adults beak to stimulate it to regurgitate
The chicks finally got their meal
After eating some of the chicks found a nice tuft of grass for a siesta
You are not to approach the chicks while they are molting. Molting is a stressful time, and if the chick perceives you as a danger ,it can succumb to the stress and expire. Nobody told this to the more inquisitive chicks though. After feeding, if you laid on the ground some would approach quite closely as you will see from the following sequence. This is the pee-your-pants moment.
They would slowly approach as a group at first
Eventually one would run up to us as if we were long lost friends
He would stare at us for a few minutes before moving closer
Eventually he walked right up to my camera and put his face in my lens
Sometimes his friends would join him to see what all of the fuss is about
We also saw Gentoo penguins when we went to New Island. They were at the north end, and were being stalked by a rogue sea lion that eats penguins. You can learn about him when you go to the Rogue Sea Lion page.
Here are some photos of the Gentoo’s on a day when they were not being hunted, but were still practicing their ocean landing by jumping out of the water at the beach.