After having spent two days travelling and waiting around, I took the opportunity of a ‘day off’ to stretch my legs and start exploring my new 'winter' home.
Image: sunset over Stanley from the public jetty
Walking east from the town, the wind whisked all moisture from my face and tried to push me in whatever direction it chose, but it was warm when the wind paused, and the clouds were thinning, revealing the sun and gentle blue skies. I kept to the coast for maximum wildlife viewing potential, and very quickly spotted families of endemic flightless steamer ducks with their new broods, paddling in the shallows and riding the waves. A little further on I met the kelp geese, the males conspicuously white, the females more camouflaged except for their yellow legs which reminded me of fisher’s wellies. The wind brought some aerial visitors my way too, including a pair of Falkland skuas, a group of birds which have a special place in my heart. But the highlight was a southern giant petrel cruising in towards the coast and flying right over my head! And I hadn’t even escaped the town yet! It wasn’t a bird I’d expected to see so soon, or frankly anywhere other than in the midst of remote seabird colonies, so it was a real treat and an inkling that I must be somewhere pretty special and somewhere very far from home.
Image: a southern giant petrel masters the wind in Stanley harbour
The path took me along the bottom of the farm, with rows of potatoes just starting to show their leafy heads. The wind provided an interesting soundscape for the day, as a constant presence interacting with everything in its path. As I went past an old jetty, the rusty metal creaked and groaned with the waves. The wire fence on the other side of me made strange whistles as the wind rushed through it.
I approached a metal bridge crossing a small sound, the tidal edges lined with upland geese taking a break from the salty water. On the seaward side sat two ship skeletons, abandoned since the mid-1900s. I crossed the bridge and walked along the road until I came to another more imposing shipwreck, that of the Lady Elizabeth. She sat at an angle in Whalebone Cove – where I saw no whalebones – collecting sand behind her.
Image: the Lady Elizabeth in Whalebone Cove
Past the cove, I walked up on the closely-cropped sward, spotting two-banded plovers and black-throated finches foraging amongst the taller vegetation. The hill gently rose, keeping the next bay out of sight and increasing anticipation of what may lie beyond. I walked further until a sweeping bay of bright white sand edged with clear aqua waters came into view. Yorke Bay. I made for the path in the dunes, stopping for some time to photograph a family of upland geese. A gate caused me to pause to dip my boots in disinfectant and warn me of potential quicksand. It was at this point that I realised I had no means of contacting anyone in an emergency (someone left their SPOT tracker in the motel…) so I ignored the temptation of gentoos on the right – beyond the quicksand – and scurried hastily to the left, keeping to the edge of the dunes just in case. Waders were in the shallows, including fluffy plover chicks looking ungainly with their long legs. In the corner of the beach stood just two birds, but these were who I’d come to see. Magellanic penguins, a new species for me! As I watched them from above the beach, another appeared out of the surf. It stood preening near the shore and as it did so, one of the other penguins waddled down to greet it. They stood tidying their feathers together for a few minutes then strolled up the beach side by side, pausing for a quick swim in a pool at the top of the beach before looking at me then making their way into the tussac.
Image: male upland goose at Yorke Bay
Image: two magellanic penguins having a paddle in a pool at Yorke Bay
I left the penguins to their bonding and continued round the coast to Gypsy Cove. I could smell the gorse before I could see it. Thanks to the sunshine and the blue-green ocean, the scene didn’t need any more vibrancy but the gorse added a real riot of colour to the hillside. To top it off, more penguins littered the beach and the slopes. A delightful mix of the Scottish Highlands, the tropics and the Antarctic. A viewing platform made for a perfect lunch spot to enjoy the view and watch the birds, before the wind started sapping my energy and drove me home.
Image: the riot of colour that is Gypsy Cove
Image: magellanic penguins on the beach at Gypsy Cove