S.American glimpses 4.

Subject: S.American glimpses 4.
From: "Wim Vader" <>
Date: Thu, 13 Nov 2003 09:51:51 +0100


My elder daughter Anna and her partner Kjetil started out more than two
years ago on a RTW sailing trip on their 32 ft Aegir. On arriving in the
Falkland islands in the southern Atlantic a year later, they liked the
place so well, that they stayed on for more than a year. Although they soon
will sail off again westwards into the Pacific, this south american trip
gave me  just in time a chance to go and visit them, combining this with
several collecting activities: amphipods from fresh water localities , from
sandy beaches and those associated with crabs. So on Saturday 25 October I
arrived at Mt Pleasant airport and was picked up by Anna and Kjetil, and on
the way back from the airport to the capital Stanley, could get a first
impression of 'the camp', the rolling grassland with which most of the
Falklands are covered, grazed by innumerable sheep and ubiquitous Upland Geese.

The next day it was time for the first walk in a new area, something I
always find extra fascinating. Around Stanley the possibilities are still
restricted, as many minefields remain after the Falkland War (The Conflict,
as it is locally known). One of the areas cleared is Gypsy Cove, an area
where apparently visiting birders often are brought to. And I can quite see
why, as during our few hours walk we saw quite a number of birds, many of
them very tame indeed. The landscape is a combination of dunes and a low
cliff coast, with beautiful sandy beaches (most still incommunicado) on the
outside, low cliffs on the headlands, and stony and coarse-sandy shores in
the bay itself. The vegetation is 'camp': much diddle-dee (an Empetrum
species with red berries) and coarse grass, here and there large clumps of
the cushion plant Balsam Bog Bolax. The first flowers are already in bloom:
surprisingly large white or pinkish flowers of the Scurvy Grass, an Oxalis,
the national flower of the Falklands Pale Maiden, a Sisiryngium,
surprisingly lots of daisies Bellis perennis(very numerous everywhere on
the Falklands), and a white, prostrate Caltha, Arrow-leaved Marigold. Here
and there clumps of the tall Tussac Grass survive (or were even planted
in); these very tall grasses originally dominated large areas, but do not
tolerate grazing and have therefore disappeared most places except on
outlying islands.

Geese are maybe the most characteristic birds of the Falkland camp, and the
Upland Goose is by far the most common, although the more dainty
Ruddy-headed Goose also occurs. These geese can be found virtually
everywhere, and although still much persecuted by the sheep-holders, they
are very tame at places like downtown Stanley. Om the shore there are also
Kelp Geese, with the all-white males standing out from afar: but these are
strictly littoral birds, and never move far from their preferred diet of
green algae.

The most famous birds of Gypsy Cove are no doubt the Magellanic Penguins,
that nest in self-dug holes all through the area. Now during midday most of
the birds were either inside the holes or out at sea, but we still saw them
quite regularly. If surprised in the open, they usually retreat into their
holes. On the coast, the ubiquitous Kelp Gulls are most common, but Dolphin
Gulls and Brown-hooded Gulls are also present, and South American Terns
fish the shallows. The dominant cormorant here is the Rock Cormorant, and
the onomatopeically named Quark, the Black-crowned Night Heron, also nests
among these low cliffs.
Smaller birds also abound in this area.

 Most conspicuous amongh the smaller birds, as very unafraid, are probably
the darkheaded Austral Thrushes, and the Long-tailed Meadowlarks (locally
called Starling),  inconspicuous brown birds, until they turn and show
their brilliantly red bellies. Smaller birds usually turn out to be either
the Black-chinned Siskin with its black cap and small throat patch and its
chaffinch-like song, or the beautiful Black-throated Finch, a new
acquaintance for me. Correndera Pipits also occur here, but are more common
elsewhere on the camp, in grassier areas. I also watched a single stripy
Sedge Wren, singing very close to the shoreline.

On a rocky outcrop the local pair of Hawks, i.e. the Red-backed Hawk, had
its nest, and both parent birds were present. One forced down a passing
Kelp Goose on the shore, but then left the poor bewildered bird in peace
afterwards. The stony shores of the bay held many male Falkland Steamer
Ducks (here called Loggers) with their white heads, the only endemic bird
species of the islands; these birds one would maybe overlook, were it not
for their constant stream of muttered protests as soon as people get
close.  No doubt the female is are nesting somewhere close by. Also Grey
Ducks, the Crested Ducks of South America, are common here, and we saw both
Magellanic oystercatchers and the eye-catching Rufous-chested Dotterel in
close up views
In the days ahead, the birdlist slowly grew to ca 50 bird species, and
there were many magic moments. But little goes beyond such a first walk in
unknown territory.

                                                        Stanley, 28 October 200 
                                                        Wim Vader, Tromsø Museum
                                                        9037 Tromsø, Norway

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