30.03.2013 - 05.04.2013
This morning we headed for the grass airstrip where the FIGAS plane was arriving to take us to Carcass Island. Carcass Island lies to the northwest of the Falkland Islands archipelago. It is 6.5km off Hope Point, the nearest land on West Falklands. We had a couple of stops to make before we arrived at Carcass. We first dropped people at Saunders Island then at Hill Cove settlement. We had a lovely view flying to Carcass Island.
Carcass Island is about 10km long with a maximum width of 2.5km and covers 4680 acres. It takes its name from the HMS Carcass which visited in the late 18th century. It has been a sheep farm since 1872. Today it is owned by Rob and Lorraine McGill, who have lived on the island for 39 years. There are no cats, rats or mice here to predate on ground nesting birds, which thrive here in abundance. Upon arrival we were met by Rob (who is also the fireman in case of a plane crash or fire). We arrived at the settlement which is nicely sheltered in Port Pattison. We settled in and then met Lorraine who had morning tea ready. (I think we will put on weight here). She had baked some lovely cakes and slices and we even had hot cross buns. We had forgotten it was Easter.
After a nice soup and pasta lunch we headed out for a little walk along part of the beach near the homestead to see some of Port Patterson Bay.
Within such a short walk there was so much bird life.
Southern Crested Caracara
We even lucky enough to see a Black-Crowned Night Heron catching fish.
We then took a trip to the other side of the island to Leopard Beach.
There are Gentoo and Magallenic Penguin colonies and we were able to sit on the cliff and watch the gentoos swimming and porpoising. It was lovely.
It was Easter Sunday today. We awoke for breakfast and Lorraine had put out a big easter egg for us. That was a lovely surprise. The weather was lovely again today, it was slightly windy but nice and sunny. We had use of the land rover for the day so headed to the other side of the island to North West Point.
We climbed over the tussock grass carefully in case a big elephant seal jumped out at us. We had been told that there was some big buggers there and there was. Some were just lounging in the sun, others were play fighting on the beach whilst others wallowed in the shallows. It was great.
We even had a Cobbs Wren hop down beside us.
We then headed to Shedder Pond to see what bird life there was on the pond.
While we were there we were lucky enough to see some Striated Caracara’s eating a duck. They were even plucking it with their beaks.
We came back across Rocky Ridge where we stopped to do some whale watching. There were a few spouts that we could see.
We could not believe the weather again today, it was even better than yesterday. The water was really flat as there was no wind. We decided to head back to Leopard Beach today to watch the penguins. We skirted East End Hill and Jason Hill passing Dyke Bay.
We headed up to Gothic Point to get a really good view of Leopard Beach.
We made our way slowly down to the beach as there were quite a few Magallenic Penguin burrows. We decided to sit on the beach with the Gentoo penguins.
It was still really sunny with no wind, so Shane decided to go skinny dipping with the penguins.
Once again we were watched the penguins sunning on the beach, porpoising or just floating in the water. It was such a relaxing day.
This morning we were to fly to Saunders Island. So we farewelled Lorraine and then Rob drove us out to the airstrip. It was another beautiful day and ideal for whale watching. We once again had the plane to ourselves and as soon as we took off we could see some whales it was fantastic. We then headed about 15 minutes by plane to Saunders.
It is the second largest offshore island in the Falklands and is named after the 18th century British Admiral Sir Charles Saunders. Today it is owned by David and Suzan Pole-Evans who run a traditional farm principally for wool with 6000 sheep. The island is 21km from east to west and almost as wide from north-east to south-west. This is the one island that we have really been waiting to visit as there is a Rock Hopper colony that showers under a natural waterfall and there is a large Black-browed Albatross colony. We were collected from the little run way by the Pole-Evans and first made a stop in the settlement to collect some groceries for the next 2 days as we were to fend for ourselves out at a little cottage called the Rookery that is self catering and only sleeps up to 4 people. As it happened we had the place all to ourselves.
The Rookery is 10km from the settlement and is close to the Rock Hopper and Black-browed Albatross colonies. So once we arrived Suzan showed us how to use the emergency hand held radio and the generator and then we were left to our own devices. We had an early lunch before heading out to check out the wildlife.
Our first stop was the Black-browed Albatross colony. It is very difficult to explain how amazing this was. Every September 12,900 pairs of albatross return to breed here. They prefer elevated sites where updrafts assist their take-off and landing. They nest right on the cliffs.
We only needed to walk 5 minutes from home and they were soaring around everywhere right over our heads. They are magnificent birds with an 8 foot wingspan.
There were some adults but a lot of the birds were fledglings. They had darker beaks and some still had down. We were lucky enough to see some of the adults feeding their chicks.
Their nests are about 50cm tall and are a solid pillar of mud and guano with some tussac grass and seaweed in there. They have a depression in the top. It is certainly something that we will remember for a life time.
We sat and watched them for ages but as the weather was so good we also wanted to see the showering penguins as well. This was another 30 minutes walk further on, but you could not miss the colony as there was down everywhere. It looked like it had been snowing.
Most of the colony was perched on the hill.
The natural spring waterfall was down closer to the cliff face. So we carefully made our way down the stone front and there is was. It was a little waterfall that was surrounded by tussac grass and there were penguins lined up to use it. It was so funny to watch them showering. Photos just don’t do it justice, but Shane has some great video footage.
Later that afternoon we headed back to the Rookery to settle in for the night. But it had been another terrific day weather and wild life wise.
Today we had the whole day to enjoy our time around the Rookery. We had a sleep in which was unusual for us and after breakfast headed back to the Rock Hopper colony.
There was a lot of action this morning with penguins literally hopping back and forth from the rookery. They would go in little groups.
We then made our way back down to the waterfall to watch the penguins showering again. You can see it is on the side of the cliff but where the greenery is there is a little waterfall.
We just can’t get enough of this as it is so unusual. They seem to really enjoy it.
The weather was not too bad this morning although it was slightly windy. This seemed to be good for the albatross chicks as they were flapping their wings like they were practising for their first flight.
We walked back to the cottage along the cliff face so that we could enjoy our time once again with the albatross. There were quite a few adults coming and going to feed their chicks. It was great seeing them land and take off. They are so graceful. They don’t even need a run way they just took off in the wind. It will be a shame to leave them tomorrow, but it won’t be long before they all leave too.
This morning we had to leave Saunders Island for the mainland. We were to be picked up at 8.15 from the rookery so we ensured that we got one last look at the Black-browed Albatross. So just after sunrise we walked down to the cliffs to watch the adults soaring and the young ones flapping their wings strengthening them for their first flight.
It was an eerie morning as there was quite a mist over the water and the winds were quite strong. So we headed back to the settlement where the winds had picked up to 45 knots so we were told that all flights were to be delayed. The winds did not seem to ease but at 11.55 our plane arrived. The doors opened and out came a dog. The farmers dog had been to the vet and seeing everything is so remote the planes are used for just about everything. We boarded the plane for our flight to Darwin which went via Pebble Island where we collected boxes of real chooks and then on to Port Howard to pick us some more passengers. It was a bit bumpy in places, a bit like a roller coaster but we made it without either of us having to use a sick bag.
We were met by Fiona and Graham at the Goose Green airstrip and headed a short distance to Darwin House where there are only 4 permanent residents in the Darwin settlement. Darwin was once the largest settlement after Stanley with almost 200 working folk on the farms payroll. The settlement was named after Charles Darwin, who spent some time here during his travels. It was established in 1859 as a centre for cattle ranching and later for sheep farming. Today there are just the 4 of them.
Our other bag had arrived from Stanley so we spent the time catching up on emails and packing for our flight to Santiago which is in a couple of days’ time.
Today Graham took us out for a full day of battle tour history. Darwin, Goose Green and San Carlos are probably best known today for the parts they played during the 1982 conflict between the British and Argentines. We visited San Carlos Water which is a fjord like inlet.
The British Task Force started to land its troops at San Carlos Bay on May 21st 1982 after receiving the go-ahead from London.
One of the landing points.
Troops from 3, 40, 42 and 45 Commando Brigade were landed in San Carlos Bay along with men from 2 Para and 3 Parachute Regiment. The main priorities were to secure the beachhead from attack and land as many men and supplies as was possible. San Carlos Water became notorious as "Bomb Alley" during the Battle of San Carlos as British ships were pounded by Argentine air raids. We were also shown a marker where the HMS Antelope was damaged by two unexploded bombs. One of the bombs exploded that evening while being defused and she caught fire and sank next day.
Ajax Bay was immediately across from San Carlos and this was one of three landing points, and codenamed "Red Beach" as part of Operation Sutton. It was used as a military hospital during the conflict.
We also visited the Blue Beach Military Cemetery at San Carlos which is a British war cemetery holding the remains of 14 of the 260 British casualties killed in 1982. Most of the fallen were repatriated to their families in Britain. The cemetery is surrounded by a 1 metre high wall with a small entrance open to the beach in the style of a stone sheep corral which are historical here in the Falklands. Opposite the entrance, the wall is tapered higher with seven slate panels, six with the Regiment, Name, Rank and Service of the fallen and one with the three Forces' Emblems and the following inscription;
IN HONOUR OF THE SOUTH ATLANTIC TASK FORCE AND TO THE ABIDING MEMORY OF THE SAILORS, SOLDIERS AND AIRMEN
WHO GAVE THEIR LIVES AND WHO HAVE NO GRAVE BUT THE SEA HERE BESIDE THE GRAVES OF THEIR COMRADES THIS
MEMORIAL RECORDS THEIR NAMES GIVE GLORY TO THE LORD AND DECLARE HIS PRAISE IN THE ISLANDS
On our way back up the coast we stopped to get a great view of Falkland Sound which separates East and West Falklands and Grantham Sound.
We also visited The Argentine Military Cemetery, that holds the remains of 237 Argentine combatants killed during the conflict. It is located near the Darwin Settlement close to the location of the Battle of Goose Green. After the conflict the UK offered to send the bodies back to Argentina, but Argentina refused, knowing that the remains would ensure a continuing Argentine presence on the islands.
After lunch we continued to follow the story from when the troops landed up to when the Argentines surrendered at Goose Green. There were some good luck stories and some tragic stories that we heard along the way.
We stopped not far from where Burnside House used to be to hear about the battle that was fought on that ridge. You can still see where the Argentines were bunkered down.
We took a walk on Darwin hill to see where the Argentines had been positioned. Lieutenant Colonel H Jones was the commander of 2 Para, and he was killed leading an attack on an Argentine machine gun post near Darwin on the 28th May 1982. He was awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross for his bravery. We visited his memorial which is on the location that he was killed.
As Jones lay dying, his men radioed for urgent casualty evacuation. However, the British Scout Helicopter sent to evacuate Jones was shot down and the pilot, Lt. Richard Nunn RM was also killed.
We visited Goose Green settlement where the Battle of Goose Green had occurred on the 28th and 29th May.
Two Argentine Air Force warrant officers who were POWs were sent to the Argentine commanders at Goose Green with the terms of surrender. The following day Lieutenant-Colonel Piaggi surrendered all Argentine forces at Goose Green which was approximately 1,000 men, he had not realised that the british only had about one third of this number of men who were at the Battle of Goose Green. We saw the huge shearing sheds where the Argentine POWs were kept and also saw the community hall where over 100 Falkland Islanders were kept prisoner for a month before the troops arrived.
Up on the hill there is a memorial to 2 Para that overlooks Goose Green. This is the only memorial that was built by the actual soldiers as 2 Para did not go home immediately and chose to build the memorial while they stayed in Goose Green.
On the 4th May 1982 Lt Nick Taylor's Sea Harrier was shot down over Goose Green and his aircraft exploded and hit the ground very close to the airstrip. Argentine forces buried Nick with military honours close to where he fell. We went on to visit his grave and memorial.