Thursday, June 17, 2010

Bleaker Revisited

On the 6th of June we all headed over to Bleaker for a nights break away from MPA. The last time the whole family was here was over 4 years ago when we visited John on his 4 month unaccompanied posting. It is a lovely island that used to be known as Long Island and then became Breaker Island for a while due to the large waves that crashed against it. The island covers 5,155 acres with a varied coastline of low cliffs, sloping bedrock beaches, wide sandy bays and sheltered coves. It is long and thin, never more than 2 miles wide and low lying, rarely exceeding 15m, except for Semaphore Hill which reaches 27m. John and the kids are stood on Semaphore hill in the above picture. The settlement itself is privately owned and is used mainly for meat production. It has three houses, one for the owner, one for the manager and the other is Cobbs Cottage where we stayed. It can sleep 5 and in our view is the nicest accomodation on the islands.

We arrived at lunch, had a bite to eat and then headed out to explore. Although it was slightly miserable and damp we all bundled up in our waterproofs undetered by the weather. We went over the top of Semaphore Hill and towards Sandy Bay. It is a stunning beach which is just over 3/4 of a mile long. The kids had been bickering all morning but soon the sea breeze and ocean noise calmed everyone down. They even managed to get along and play together.

Maddie was her usual bossy and humourous self and pointing us all in the right direction. The ground changes from grass into a large but smooth boulders with the odd plant dotted through for good measure and then into an expanisve mass of smooth sand.

John was very observant and noticed this fella out in the water watching our approach. We think it might have been a fur seal.

It followed us along the beach for a little while and then decided it didn't like me trying to get close to the water's edge to take photos and headed off into the distance.

A little way further up the beach we came across our first set of tracks, a sure sign that there was some fishy smelling penguins somewhere in the vicinity.

As we approached the top end of Sandy Bay John again noticed movement out in the water. Pretty soon we could see huge groups of penguins popping in and out of the water, they are so humurous to watch. This particular group were surfing the waves as they came in.

Then as they come into shore the do this funny launch movement where they pop straight up out of the water and fling themselves forward onto the beach. John took these photos as I didn't manage to focus the camera on any, I think I was to busy just watching.

It was starting to get dark so we turned around and made our way back to the cottage for a well earned hot orange and some chicken curry for tea. These little fellas also accompanied us up and down the beach squawking away every time one of the kids got to close.

We had a quick five minutes just before we went in to revisit the Sei Whale bones which are just at the shores edge. They had definitely degraded since we last saw them and are covered in lots of green algae now.

The cottage comes well equipped with a TV (although no signal) and a video player. It has loads of books and films to choose from along with the odd CD to listen to. Euan wanted to do a jigsaw puzzle like last time and had hoped to do the 2000 piece one. John managed to talk him around to just trying the 1000 piece puzzle first which was fortunate as Euan very rapidly lost interest. John was determined that he was not going to go to bed until he had finished it so in desperation I broke my vow not to help him and spent an hour or so putting pieces in.

The next morning we had a lazy breakfast and then togged ourselves up again to go out. I was hoping to get a few more pictures of the penguins in the sea in a better light.

We decided to try and recreate the photo below that was taken just shy of four years ago. I couldn't remember what order they were all in but you can certainly see a difference never the less. I think the biggest change I see is in Maddie, she has lost those baby curls and some of the chubby cheeks.

Bouncy Sand, well that's what the kids call it. Maddie and Euan are seeing how far they can sink before the wellies get stuck! Mum was a spoil sport and stopped it before the sand oozed over the top of them as she knew it would be her fishing it out or listening to the whining when one of them had to walk back squelching!!

The light was stunning, it was almost like a late afternoon light, low slung sun and golden light. One of John's favourite things to do is to stand and just watch the sea. It was nice to see him relax and physically see his shoulders come down a notch or two. It has been a busy little job for him.

Madame was up to her usual tricks, she loves to just sit and draw in the sand.

Well that is until there is a competition to take part in. She may not be the quickest but she certainly seems to have more staying power than the other two, that is unless Miss Ellie gets her determined head on and fights to be first!

Or if there is a good lump of seaweed to be kicked, pulled or thrown.

This day we didn't have a seal audience we had one of the bovine variety. There is something very strange about seeing cows on the beach, especially cows that were stood eating seaweed.

These little guys are called Snowy Sheathbills and they just potter about at the shore line running up and down with the incoming surf. They were not overly bothered by us though.

Mr Man back up to his usual tricks.

and Mini Man having a moment to himself to.
Slippery rocks and crashing waves mark the end of the bay and a chance to just sit and view the sea. Unfortunately for me there were very few penguins hooping about in the sea so no photos :( I did manage to capture this guy though and for once he wasn't pulling a silly face.

We were joined by a pair of flightless Steamer ducks. They are the largest ducks to be found in the Falklands. They feed off the kelp beds and close inshore on a variety of marine life but mostly on shellfish such as chitons and limpets. Although unable to fly they are incredibly rapid over water with paddle like wingbeats, hence steams and the name steamer duck.

Once we finished on the beach we decided to head across land to the opposite shore and to pass by an area known as big pond that sits in the middle. Elaine who manages the island had told us there was a pair of black necked swans who had successfully mated and produced five offspring.
We were lucky enough to see all of them and the offspring as so big now it was difficult to tell them apart. Apparently they live there all year round, only occassionally moving over to small neighbouring islands to rear their young.

Somebody had a tizzy and wasn't really in the mood to have her picture taken. I found this hilarious as it really sums my lot up, one upset, one happy and then one complete nutter ( check her out in the background). It is generally the oldest two that have the breakdowns.

We got back in plenty of time to have a spot of lunch and a tidy up before the heli came to pick us up for the return journey. The kids enjoyed a sneaky video and checked out the childrens packs that Elaine had very kindly given them.

Goodbye to Bleaker, hopefully not for four years this time - Granny and Grandad we thought a visit there might be good when you come down to see us.

An aerial view of the end of the beach and the Gentoo colony. Next time we decided we needed to write something in the sand so we could get a shot from the air. We had tried to spell Bleaker out in the sand using the kids as the straight sections of letters but it was really difficult to photograph it. I think we also wrote it to close to the shore as it was washed away by the time we got airborne.

As we flew over Swan Inlet, the sun was getting lower still and covering everything in a shimmery light. It was so bright most things were only viewed in silhouette, simply stunning to witness.

Yet another big thank you to the helicopter crews for making all of this possible and for giving us safe passage home.

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