Sunday, March 21, 2010

Saunders Island

WARNING MONSTER POST!!!! On Friday 12th June we headed out to Saunders Island for the weekend. Saunders lies north of West Falkland and is around a 40 minute heli ride. We had booked accomodation at the Rookery which lies to the south east of the island. The settlement and alternate accomodation is based near a place called the Neck which is further north. It is an 11km walk over the peaks to get to the rookery from there or a 25 minute drive. We were lucky enough to be dropped off on the doorstep by the heli. One gentleman was dropped off in the above valley for the day to do a spot of fishing. The trade off being he had to catch some for the heli crew!

Looking past the dirty windows of the heli we had some fabulous views of the rugged scenery. What you cannot grasp from these photos is that most of this land in uninhabited by humans. There are plenty of sheep and wildlife but only one or two settlements populate vast miles of this country. You catch a glimpse of the occasional set of vehicle tracks which shows you how they get in and out of their settlements but that is it.

Euan managed to snap a picture of Mum and Dad starting their much needed wind down and get away from Mount Pleasant. You find that you go stir crazy if you don't get away from the gold fish bowl that is MPC every few months. Part way into the trip the Load Master came back and invited the children to come up to the front one by one and speak to the pilots. The were able to don a pair of head phones with a microphone and look out the front of the cockpit.

At first Maddie wasn't so sure about it all but Ron bless him soon settled her down and chatted away with her to make her comfortable. As usual Miss Ellie was well up for any new adventure and had the pilot laughing away within a matter of minutes. Apparently she was sharing her secrets for Mothers Day!

The Rookery consists of a small building that has two bedrooms a kitchen cum dining and living room along with a seperate bathroom and power shower (better than the one we have at MPA). It has a few out buildings which house the generator and oil tank but that is it for miles around. You are completely on your own with no other contact except an emergency radio. John sat with the bags as the heli took back off to go on to West Point Island.

When we arrived the owner of the island was trying to get the generator to work as it had been left to run dry and needed its oil changing. If she was unable to get it going we were going to have to head back up to the Neck as we would have had no heat or power. Thankfully they managed to get everything up and running and left while we wandered down to look at the Albatross.

I am not sure what I was expecting from these birds but it certainly wasn't what I found. I think I had presumed they would be a lot bigger than they actually are. There is no getting away from it, their wing span is enormous but their bodies are around the size of a normal duck. These babies are about 3 weeks away from being fully fledged and heading out to sea. Their feet are comedic in proportion to the rest of their body.

The nesting sites themselves are fairly spectacular. They are perched on the cliffside and the birds nest in hand (or rather beak) made mud nests. Some are definitely built sturdier than others, the odd one looks like it is built on a pedestal like the picture below. Others seem fatter and squatter and you feel they are more likely to survive the blistering wind and weather that the coast line gets bombarded with.

The Albatross will let you get fairly close to them but when they feel threatened they start to clack their beaks together like the fellow below, this is your indication that you have come a step to close.

There are also those that just like the sound of their own voice like this chap below who squawked and clacked away for a good five minutes. You can see the soft downey plummage that they still have to malt before they can leave the nest.

Euan and Ellie were very curious to come down the cliff side with me but Maddie decided she would rather sit with Dad at the top of the hill and look out for whales out to sea. The coast line on this side of the island changes dramatically every few hundred metres. You can be walking along a lovely mossy green slope which all of a sudden falls away to the sea 40 metres below. Just a few yards later the cliff side is like the one below with managable out crops that step down to the sea bed.

Move along again and you have the view below that is loose and dangerous to walk near.

Amongst the young albatross there was a smattering of adults. These are black browed Albatross and you can see where they get their name. This one was busy building a new nest. He was scrapping up the wet mud on the cliff face and flicking it with his beak in the general direction of his perch. He would then flatten it into shape with the side of his beak before pressing it down with his feet.

The adults beaks are alot more colourful than the young and they don't have such a humourous appearance. There was plenty of preening going on while we were there and downey feathers littered the wind.

You certainly wouldn't want to be on the receiving end of a nip from one of these beaks.

We didn't see any birds coming in to land while we sat and watched however, there was lots of wing stretching and flapping going on.

Once we had our fill of the Albatross we headed back to the cabin to have a spot of soup for lunch. I had unfortunately realised on the heli that our dinner for Saturday night was still sat in the freezer at home! aah thankfully I had made a huge tub of spaghetti bolognese which we could eek out for two nights. Bread was on rations and it had to be dry as I had also neglected to bring along butter. Being out all day and then entertaining the night before going away is not conducive to a productive packing session. Lesson learnt and we were hardly going to starve or waste away for two nights. We had packed doritos, popcorn and Cadbury's creme eggs so it wasn't all doom and gloom. After lunch we decided to head down towards the beach we had seen as we flew in. You can see the cabin that we were staying in, in the shot above. The ground around it is very peaty and covered in diddledee bushes which have edible berries on them at the moment.

We formulated a plan of action, firstly we were going to head onto the beach and see if we could find any penguins and then we decided to head up the hill you can see to the right of the above picture. It would give us a great view of the opposite valley.

On the way down the slope to the beach Euan and I came across this fantastic cow skull. Dad was not enthralled and wouldn't let us touch it let along bring it home with us which would have been my plan. I could just see it cleaned up and mounted on the wall. Euan and I both went into a sulk for a good twenty minutes over this one! We were fast learning that Dad doesn't do skulls or bones.

Both Euan and I find them fascinating and would collect them all given the chance. There were plenty of sheeps jaw bones lying around to with fully intact sets of teeth.

About half way down the slope we came upon a set of Magellanic burrows which we thought at first had been abandoned. We were proved wrong and this little chap wasn't so sure about the noisey bunch at his front door.

Feathers it seems are acceptable to collect and we found lots of large bird of prey feathers around the place. The kids used them to draw pictures in the smooth sands. Euan got lost in his own little world for a good 20 minutes creating a fantastic fantasy spaceship.

He called it Planet Euan but couldn't tell me what all it's components were.

Ellie was also happy pottering around the beach and was oblivious to anything going on around her with her wooly hat and coat bundled up around her ears.

I loved just being sat watching the kids work away at their masterpieces with the waves crashing behind them in the background. Ellie's work consisted of lots of love hearts and girly shapes.

Maddie took herself off further up the beach and found herself a little private patch of sand to work in.

When I popped over to see what she had been working on I was treated to this little gem, a fancy fish for the penguins to eat apparently!

We all started to get a bit cold from just sitting and started to make our way over to climb the hill. Just as we were leaving John spotted something in the water. It was three penguins racing along parallel to the beach, diving in and out of the water.

This was the only picture I managed to capture of the scene which is a shame as it isn't very close up. They were really motoring along and it is the first time I have seen them doing this.

Half way up the hill Maddie started to struggle and complain of tummy ache. Ellie and Dad were almost to the top so I settled down with her for a break on the soft and springy diddledee bushes. It wasn't long before Euan could be heard crying heading back down the hill. He was distraught as he had just lost one of his gloves and couldn't find them. Bearing in mind this would be his third pair of gloves to go missing he thought he would be in serious trouble. As it was he couldn't be blamed for it, one had dropped off the loop that clips onto his zip and probably been blown away in the wind. I offered to help him look and we slowly zig zagged our way back up the hill to look for it.

The one positive of looking down where you are going instead of up is that you find lots of gems like these rocks. I am not sure what caused the patterning on their surface but if anyone knows I would love to be enlightened.

It is almost crystalised and is a good few milimetres deep on the surface. We got to the top to find Ellie celebrating being the first to the peak. She and John had taken a crafty five minute break from the wind and climb in a small rock outcrop. Euan by this stage still had not found his glove and couldn't be consoled, so we offered to have one more look for it on the climb down.

The view back across towards the cabin was wonderful. The cabin lies just on the other side of the outcrop about half way along.

Thankfully John found Euan's glove tucked away just past an area he had been playing in. What were the chances, but boy was Mum glad that he was finally smiling again.

We got back just as the sun was starting to fade and our energy was pretty much spent. We had our pasta while watching Five Children and It on the laptop and then early nights all round. We were treated to a fairly wild night with the wind howling away blocking out even the sound of the ocean. The next day we awoke to further high winds and battering rain. We had planned to head up to the RockHoppers with John taking himself off for the round trip walk to the Neck. We decided instead to hide away in the cabin. John as per usual headed back to bed, I did some reading and the children watched their remaining DVD's. We had a bit of lunch and then the children and I made some felt strawberries for a while before we all got bored and decided to bundle up and face the elements.

The sea was spectacular to watch as the wind was blowing the waves from two directions and when they met it caused small tornados of spray on the surface. You cannot get a proper perspective from the picture above but it was rather awe inspiring. The winds were really strong and moving both John and I about making us fight to stand upright. A look along the cliff edge was completely out of the question so we headed inland slightly and off to the back of the cabin in search of Rock Hoppers.

And Rock Hoppers we found, absolutely hundreds of them. This was the first time the children had seen them and they quickly decided they were their favourites. It was still raining sadly so we couldn't get down to the edge to see the famous Rock Hopper shower were the water cascades off the hills edge into the sea.

There was a steady precession of penguins heading up from the sea to the nesting grounds that were scattered up the hillside.

The penguins looked so down trodden and despondent as they made their wet climb up the hill. They were caked in mud and other disgusting bodily fluids. As long as you stood still they were quite happy to pad past you with their heads tucked down against the driving rain. Euan and Ellie were sat watching them and I could hear them making up stories about groups of swimmers, some with their towels wrapped around their bottoms (these were the ones who were malting and looked like they had a skirt on). The apple doesn't fall far from the tree hey!

The odd one thought he was Fred Astaire and treated us to his cabaret act, proudly bowing for applause at the end (ooh careful now Helen I am off into my alternate penguin world again).

Some were just interested in posing for the camera and making sure that I got their best side.

This bunch were alot more active than those at Bleaker and gave us a good demonstration as to why they received their name. I didn't really manged to capture it on camera but they were busy hopping from rock to rock in their attempts to get back to sea or up the hill.

Some of them were leaping down like above over a foot and a half high which for such small fellows without arms was quite impressive. Others managed a massive jump up onto large boulders. You can see this one was just coming in to land.

I of course had to take my obligatory foot picture, no I don't have a foot fetish I just like seeing what all the different feet look like. I am sad to say the Rock Hoppers just don't manage to get my vote, I still prefer the bright orange of the Gentoos.

John found the hills were calling him and headed of up the slope of the rockery hill to walk back to the cabin along the mountain peak. We watched the penguins for ten more minutes until Mum decided the rain really wasn't doing the camera any good and plodded back across the diddledee for a warm cup of hot orange and tea.

The kids busied themselves drawing pictures of everything they had seen in the visitors book and reading the last of their christmas books. Mum sewed a few more strawberries and started to scrape together some dinner for the hungry troop.

Sunday morning brought a fresh new day with a bit more promise. We cleaned up the cabin packed away our sleeping bags and remaining food supplies in readiness for the heli pick up at noon. I enjoyed a last shower where the water actually keeps you warm rather than running around looking for the drops as you do here. Having said that though, here you don't get the peat smell filling your nostrils and the brown water washing over you (actually you do on occasion when they switch water supplies). Definitely an experience to try.

We had one last trip up to the Albatross but the wind was still vicious so the cliff edge was out of bounds again. We did sit and watch this character as he came into land and strutted his stuff on a rock outcrop.

We headed back as the incoming clouds turned grey but unfortunately didn't make it in time before we got pelted with this stuff. Bloody hell (excuse the language) it hurt as it whipped you in the back of the legs. We had gone from bright blue skies to an almost total white out in a matter of minutes.

Euan correctly summed it up when he said that we have had all four seasons in one hour. You can only just see the children half way back to the cabin in the shower. They are just past the border of the second set of diddledee bushes.

No sooner had we got back, it cleared up to bright sunshine but a very cold wind. The girls got themselves ready to watch the heli coming in and shouted at each other with their ear defenders on. After a bit of a phaff and a further 30 minute wait we loaded into a warm heli for the trip home.
We had a quiet heli ride back and noted that the mountains we had passed on Friday now had snow capped peaks. I am not quite ready to admit that winter is on its way and will shortly be knocking or rather blowing down my door.

It was Euan's turn this time to yawn his way home although I think we were all in a similar state, tired, happy and ready for a warm bed.

We came home to a dog who was very pleased to see us, a fence post that had been ripped off its hinges and a fairly flat tyre. New job for me on Monday then. I was treated to lunch at the Oasis for Mothers Day and the frozen pizza which I had forgotten for our meal on Saturday for dinner. Another successful adventure I would say. Take care Love Helen

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