Racing to the Point

Last week, we took a walk in the sun to the lovely Gypsy Cove around the corner from Stanley. It’s our regular walk, just to cheer ourselves up and got see some penguins waddle around for a quick bit of the outdoors. It’s also quite a good indicator, in the tumultuous Falklands weather, for exactly what time of year we currently are in:

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Competition time for the regulars: what kind of bird is it?

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Han sunbathing…in a down jacket…

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Night herons returning to nest

The return of the beautiful night herons to their nesting site at the Cove signalled that we were indeed in the Spring. Half term also helped to remind us of that so, as is so often the case with school holidays, it was time to head out to Camp to enjoy what the Falklands has to offer. We went with some friends to Race Point farm, in the far North-East of East Falkland. It takes about 2 hours to drive there, depending on the condition of the un-surfaced road, which can depend on a whole host of things.

Race Point is seen as ‘a taste of the West’, with some beautiful, hilly scenery overlooking San Carlos Water similar to that found on the West Island. Given that and the fact that the farm also hosts the other landing site of Fanning Head from 1982, the detritus of conflict is still present as with so much of the Islands:

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The one thing that this trip did allow is something I’ve only touched on over the years. Often we judge places by what they have: infrastructure, connectivity and other aspects of modern life. I could go a lot deeper and comment on how this reflects the materialism of our society, but that’s not the purpose of this particular blog. Instead, think about the ABSENCE of some things and how they could be a good thing.

Take, for example, a place LACKING in lots of things. A place LACKING large structures. A place LACKING in urban areas, infrastructure and connectivity. That also might mean a place LACKING in pollution, of the air and light. That place is somewhere that has clear, open skies and wide, uninterrupted views. That’s the kind of place a camera can be handy. I’ve been trying to capture the night here for a while now, but I’ve not always had the right gear on me to experiment (DSLR & tripod). Night time out in Camp is truly dark! It’s easy to forget what that means in some countries. Some nights, we’ve been outside and had it so pitch black that your hand in front of your face is completely invisible. Some nights, the skies offer an unbelievable view of the solar system and a star-gazing opportunity not to be missed. I’ve tried to capture the darkness (and lights) of the night over the weekend and the results from about midnight were these:DSC_0072DSC_0070DSC_0064I’m quite pleased with them so far, but I know there’s more scope for these photos on future trips to Camp to offer a new insight on it. Still, you can see why we like to spend nights away and in the outdoors.

Sprung

The last month in the Southern hemisphere has shown some brief signs of Spring, which saw all kinds of annual traditions/patterns remind us that the Summer approaches again and nature will soon be blossoming even more than usual here. Two years ago, we made the choice to spend our first Summer here on the Islands rather than travel elsewhere, which proved so memorable that last year Han’s family joined us (one day, there might be a blog post about that – Irish timing pending). This year, it looks like some of my family will be joining us so that’ll be three for three on Summers spent on the Islands. It’s not that it’s especially tropical, obviously. In fact, it’s usually the opposite as the wind picks up outside of Winter. It is hard to explain/capture what it’s like to live with the ceaseless Westerly winds but nevertheless I tried (and failed) to capture the last few days’ worth of 35mph winds:

Contrast these unpleasant conditions, then, with the beginning of the Motocross season here on the Islands a couple of weeks ago, when we made our way out to the beautiful farm at Long Island for the day’s (free to attend) racing and you’ll get a mediocre example of the unpredictability of the weather here:

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Stone runs seen from the beach – an unusual geological feature bountiful in the Islands

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Not a bad spot for a bench

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The beach racetrack seeing some practise

I will use that poor excuse for meteorology to segue into the unpredictability of other aspects of life here, however. Last week, just going to work ended up with me seeing the following two sites (photos not mine):

It is a characteristic of the small community life here that you just never know what you’ll be getting up to next. The weekend just gone, for example, we had two boiler-suited barbecues in two days, one in town and the other out at the settlement of Darwin (two hours’ drive from town) with some impromptu archery thrown in. The Darwin barbecue gave us the first opportunity we’ve had to catch up with our friend Guy who signs off the de-mining program here. The de-miners have been back for about a month now and continue their sterling work taking care of the very real remnants from 1982. They are expected to finish in late 2020, but in the meantime Guy was able to update us on the fate of the Goose Green sheep that captured the attention of so many friends and family online in our blog post back in April. It transpires that we weren’t correct in stating that the sheep would be unlikely to set off the anti-personnel mines; the most sensitive types recovered take just 8kgs to set off (and they are also, we are reliably informed, the most likely to remain pristine). As such, it hasn’t been uncommon for sheep to suffer the same messy fate as the cow from the Murrell Farm that strayed into a minefield (and stepped on an anti-tank mine that happened to be resting on an anti-personnel mine acting as a fuse). DSC_0012Guy informed us that this cheeky Goose Green sheep had, in fact, been chased out of the minefield on several occasions (quite HOW I don’t know as dogs would also be a suitable weight and people entering the fields would risk prosecution alongside maiming). Each time, however, he had returned to the field in question! We can only assume to bask in the attention and fine pasture (in that order). Thankfully, you’ll all be pleased to hear, the de-mining team recently signed off the Goose Green minefields as now being clear of devices and the sheep is conclusively safe from landmines! Thus, this particular fable about taking risks, spreading your weight, greener grass, going your own way and many other life lessons, all wrapped up in this heart-warming and historically-linked tale of a cute animal, ends happily ever after thanks to the amazing team at BACTEC/Dynasafe. I’ll pay a visit to the de-mining office at some point to get the full low-down on the mine situation for you all, but in the meantime here’s one proven upside of their work. Oh, and they save people from dying too.

Just because you can

This is an Upland Goose:Upland GooseThey live everywhere in the Falklands – we see them around Stanley, out on the Islands, out in Camp, all over the place. They’re among the most common birds here and, as they eat quite a bit of grass, they’re not a farmer’s favourite. In times gone by, there would be a bounty on their beaks and the Museum here has wire strings of beaks handed in to Farm Managers to claim a small prize.

Now they’re at least sort-of protected in Stanley (you can’t shoot guns in town, but you could theoretically kill one with bolos), but otherwise they’re fair game. There’s no shortage of them, so they’re in no danger yet. They’re usually used for paté, which I have to admit is distinct but nice. This time of year, ‘egging’ is a common past-time out in Camp (with some working dogs specially trained for the purpose), so I thought I’d take the opportunity to try my second unique egg from here (some may remember the penguin egg trials). One of my tutor group kindly brought me an upland goose egg from their weekend’s bounty:

That makes two eggs I never could have predicted I’d try in my lifetime. As we slide into our third year here, so much has become so normal but sometimes it’s the little things that catch you realising it’s an unusual life we lead.

Return to Sea Lion Island

Last night marked the end of a long weekend here – yes, it’s Peat Cutting Monday; a bank holiday set aside in the Falklands to preserve the tradition of peat cutting despite being a little too early to cut peat. I don’t know either, but no-one’s going to complain about a bank holiday! We decided to get away to Sea Lion Island, taking advantage of their season-opening offer and some generous FIGAS flight vouchers we received as Wedding presents from our Falklands friends Rob, Karen, Regi and Pete. I LOVE the FIGAS flights, so even though Sea Lion is only about 35 minutes’ flight out, it’s still a great reminder of how much fun it is to take a weekend away here:

Obviously, like pretty much all of the outer islands here, Sea Lion is great for seeing the ubiquitous Falklands penguins (Gentoos, below, as well as numerous Magellanic and Rockhoppers).

Surely, you ask, if you wanted to see some penguins, you’d just nip along to Gypsy Cove 10 minutes’ drive down the road and watch them there? Exactly. Sea Lion Island is home to the Islands’ largest population of elephant seals, which, for those regular to the blog will remember, attracts some very smart Orca whales (who behaved for the BBC team in the link but didn’t put in an appearance this weekend despite being spotted the night before we arrived – argh). Still, the elephant seals have their own unique and unforgettable appeal. If not pretty in appearance, they have a certain majestic quality such that any animal of their size would possess. Add to that the hilarious mannerisms of the species (spending a substantially large amount of the day rotating between sleeping, burping, farting and being herded into harems by the males) and you have a bizarrely addictive way to pass the time. These impressive beasts are worth knowing about: weighing in up to 11,000lbs, able to dive for 2 hours at a time and to depths of over a mile deep (!!!) they are quite something. The males herd the (significantly smaller!) females into harems and guard them until mating season begins so there’s always some interesting behaviour to observe when the males get too close to one another. As you can see, they are quite unaffected by weather, people, cold tides coming in or, indeed, the passing of time:

Currently, the females have returned to give birth (on the same beaches they were born on) so that added a very sweet dynamic to the whole weekend, with new-born pups multiplying each day.

That being said, of course, nature is both beautiful and cruel and the life cycles of other beings rely on the annual failure of some of the attempts to rear new pups. Despite our best attempts to dig out one pup that had been buried by heavy sand, it was just one of many to die and find itself prey to the scavenging Striated Caracaras, Giant Petrels, gulls and Turkey Vultures. Apologies for the graphic nature of some of the pictures but it holds a morbid curiosity to some. Similarly, the birds were also quick to take full advantage of the other…’byproducts’ of the birthing season and, as you can see, the placenta from one birth didn’t last long in the flock:

Observing the seals this time of year gives an insight into their unique character, but there is a lot more to be known about them. The Elephant Seal Research Group (who can be found and are worth following on Facebook) have been studying the population on Sea Lion for years (hence the names dyed onto most of them) and can offer an excellent understanding into individuals as well as trends in the group behaviour. There are other populations and studies going on, but it’s always more interesting when you’ve seen the individuals involved.

Of course, the mixture of the wildlife, weather conditions and plant life of the island attracts far more than the seals and scavengers and first light made for a stunning walk on our final morning:

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A sealion floats into shore

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The lodge viewed from the beach

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Getting up at first light is worth it.

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Early morning bathing