I lived the best part of 29 years in the UK and never knew all that much about the wildlife there (perhaps because it was so normal to someone who grew up there). Upon arriving on the Islands last August, however, I’ve developed the unfortunate habit of wanting to know what the hell I’m looking at. This makes me sound, at times, like something of a twitcher. By popular request (Frankie asking), I can share this substantial list of just some of the native birds of the Falklands with you all in the hope that you won’t judge me for wanting to know what they all were and a little about them:
One of the most common birds found all around Stanley and Camp is the upland goose, which is not popular amongst farmers due to its habit of eating grass but does make for some delicious paté. These geese mate for life, so I’m told it’s good practice to shoot them both if you have to cull them. They’re all around and quite pretty, but they are seen as pests so there used to be a bounty per beak collected. The excellent Museum here has wires full of beaks, harking back to the old days of Camp life.
Next up in terms of what you’ll see around Stanley and Camp we have the turkey vultures. These guys are stunning in the air but ugly the moment they land, with distinctive red heads odd-shaped beaks to work around their huge nostrils. They have one of the best olfactory systems in the animal world, as well as acute vision so you can find them anywhere that there’s something dead. They’re also quite common around concentrations of penguins and sea lions, so they come in handy for locating wildlife. They gather on certain old and poorly insulated roofs in Stanley and make quite a sight when you scare them away in large numbers:
Similarly good at locating dead things and equally impressive in the air is the Southern Giant Petrel. Known locally as the ‘Stinker’, these birds live up to their names with their impressive size. They gather in numbers around anything they can scavenge but they glide just over the surface of the waves so they’re brilliant to watch out at sea.
Of course, if we’re talking giant birds, let’s not forget that the Falklands plays host to huge populations of albatross. Not easy to get to or find, they are quite common out at sea and just always amazing to watch. What else can you say?
There are three more quite sizeable and common birds to be found wandering around the extensive coastlines. The kelp goose is often found in pairs and has a striking black and white shading. They’re more protected so I don’t think we’re allowed to eat them. At least, I’ve never seen them on the menu. It also seems to be a bit of a mystery where they nest as it’s quite easy to find upland goose eggs but I’ve never come across any kelp goose nests at all. One of two endemic Falklands species is the Falklands flightless steamer duck/Logger duck. True to its name, these cute ducks cannot get airborne so make quite an effort to get away from people when disturbed. One unfortunate soul was recently prey to a leopard seal in the harbour so hopefully that won’t become too common an occurrence. It strikes me that they’d struggle with any significant predator. We also have, now returning to the Islands to nest, the black-crowned night heron. Like its European cousins, these fisherfolk have long necks and legs with some funky yellow wisps sticking out of their heads. They’re found all around the coast and nest not far from Stanley. Always excellent to watch, they make a valuable addition to any rockpooling wanders we take.
Two seabirds we should mention are the cormorants. Around any rocky faces on the coast we find the noisy king cormorant/rock shags, shown on the left here with a night heron nesting. They don’t seem disturbed by other birds at all so they’re easily located. You can usually smell or hear these before you can see them, as they have a distinctive fishy odour to their nesting sights and make a noise similar to that of a sea lion, oddly. The imperial cormorant is its cousin, nesting in the pictures here on Bleaker Island in tens of thousands on land as opposed to the the rock shags’ preference for cliffs. Also shown in the picture is the South Polar Skua. These vicious brown birds are feared by most of the other species and make short work of anything they can get hold of from other birds, from eggs to chicks to the weaker adults. They nest not far from the colonies they prey on so it can be a little odd to see their own vulnerable chicks being raised so close to those they torment.
In terms of smaller birds, there are four main ones that catch your eye and ear whilst you wander along the coast. First, on the outer islands that are bereft of invasive rats, there’s the other endemic species: the cobbs wren. Small, friendly and inquisitive brown birds that aren’t too common any more, they nest on the ground and love the tussac grass. Larger but similar, the Falklands thrush is told apart by its yellow beak and is equally friendly, hopping over and spending time checking out any passers by out of what appears to be curiosity. Heading down onto the beach itself, you’ll often find the tiny two-banded plover sprinting from kelp bundle to kelp bundle in a comedic fashion. Never too far away from them the high-pitched squeak of the oyster-catcher is pretty distinctive. With their bright red beaks they are fairly easy to spot, though the black and white Magellanic is easier to find than the blackish (genuine name) version.
There’s also the black-necked swans we saw on Pebble Island, as well as numerous others that we haven’t yet had the pleasure of snapping on a lens:
Away from the coast, there are some other winged companions to be found. The common snipe turns up in the long grass and has its oddball beak to help identify it. The bright red chests you encounter driving around are not some form of turbo-robin but instead are the meadowlarks that zip about from fence-post to fence-post:
All of the above tend to form the bottom end of the food chain here and there are, of course, birds of prey that take their toll. Peregrine falcons, red-backed/variable hawks and several types of owls make up the higher-ups. By far the most interesting of the talon wearers are the caracaras. Two types reside here and the striated caracara/Johnny rook is by far the most characterful. They are incredibly intelligent, being known to open zipped bags, undo geocache boxes, carry away cameras/lenses and generally take liberties whenever they have the chance. Their Southern crested cousins are not as common but equally noticeable.
And then, OF COURSE, there’s the five species of those little penguins but I won’t go into them in detail for now:
DISCLAIMER: I’m clearly not an ornithologist. All of the above is what I THINK is the case and what I have learnt by being here, walking around and talking to people but someone who knows more might tell me my names/pictures/details are wrong.
It might seem like we go out looking for these birds but I want to reiterate neither Han nor I are twitchers (not that there’s anything wrong with that, for any twitchers reading). Instead, we’re people who just take the opportunity to go places and see things and this is what we’ve come across. This week has been half term, for example, and we’ve been heading out off road to the Murrell river making use of the camping gear we shipped down as well as returning to Bertha’s Beach on a sunny day to enjoy what the Islands have to offer. This week has seen the return of the gentoos to their breeding ground and the first eggs to be laid this year. This has been oddly symbolic as I arrived last year before the penguins’ breeding cycle began, so a milestone has been reached and it’s time to start seeing their life cycle all over again. I can’t wait.