Wednesday 20 December 2017

Silver Explorer, Day 3 - A veritable (also actual) rainbow of colours

With thanks to Silversea for this hosted cruise

That guide in Ushuaia the other day, telling us to treasure the green while we had it? Load of old codswallop. The colours so far on this cruise have been intense, especially today: blue, turquoise, black, white, yellow, red, orange and purple. Totally Technicolor.
First, we landed on West Point Island, one of the Falklands group - it was a dry landing, which meant out of the Zodiac onto a jetty, easy as, and then were straight into walking up over this mainly low, barren, windswept dot of land. It's owned by one family, who farm sheep here ("Falklands lamb is the best in the world!" declared Tim, our guide today, totally tactlessly) and generate their own electricity by wind and sun, and order their groceries online for boat delivery from Stanley. We passed the little wooden homestead and went to ogle a rookery of black-browed albatrosses and rockhopper penguins who had built mud nests on an area of rocks surrounded by tussock. 
In typical bird fashion, they chose a site above the highest cliff in the Falklands - a long climb for a little penguin without much grip. They didn't seem to mind our getting to within about 2 metres to watch them preen, snooze, feed chicks, argue, squawk at hungry caracaras and greet returning mates. Time passed very pleasantly as we all tried hard to get our best pic of the birds. It was so warm and sunny that there was even some panting - by birds as well as people.
Then we ambled back to the farmhouse for morning tea - a lovely spread of home-made treats like cakes, biscuits, scones with cream, and tea in proper cups and saucers.
After lunch and a nap while we repositioned, it was the same again, sort of, as we did a wet landing (onto the beach) at Saunders Island - another the same, with long sandy beaches as well as the usual low headlands and absence of trees. Here we saw Magellanic penguins on the first beach, then a colony of Gentoo penguins, busy hatching eggs and feeding fluffy chicks, as well as fending off marauding skuas (always the baddies in any Antarctic nature documentary) and caracaras. There were also a few King Penguins, the second biggest after Emperors, and strikingly smart and beautiful with their yellow stripes. They were the undoubted stars of the island.
Further on, past the neat whale skeleton on the close-cropped grass (sheep here too) I got down to the beach to watch the smaller penguins come ashore and immediately do a major preen of the feathers. It was still really warm and I took off several layers as I sat on the sand to enjoy the tropical-looking sea and the all the various birds.
Up on the hillside was another rockhopper colony, again patrolled by opportunistic caracaras, surrounded by burrows under the grass where Magellanic penguins were nesting. There was another albatross rookery too, but having spent ages trying to photograph birds in flight, the weather had had time to change, and we were hustled down to the beach to return to the ship before it became impossible. We had to wade knee-deep to get into the Zodiac, and then bounce and splash over the waves back to the ship where the crew did a fine job of getting us back aboard without incident despite the movement on the water.
By then it was 6pm - where did the day go? - and time to head down to the Panorama lounge for a drink before dinner with two Dutch people and an English/Japanese couple. Dinner was good, naturally, but there was a sudden rush out of the restaurant as we finished because a complete rainbow had been spotted behind the ship, with an amazingly intense and long-lasting sunset in front. So, colours from start to finish. Treasure the green? Pft.

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