Elephants, Leopards and Lions - with flippers.

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Dewi
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Re: Elephants, Leopards and Lions - with flippers.

Post by Dewi » Tue May 22, 2012 9:29 pm

Not often we hear good news regarding wildlife these days.

Ok, I'm heading to warmer climes for this post and, seeing as there are no raptors further South than this, thought I'd better not post a whole report without any pics of my favourite birds in. :lol:

I really missed not seeing any raptors when in Antarctica, so always looked forward to my brief visits to the Falkland Islands. I did see one Peregrine on South Georgia, a vagrant bird that was blown in by a storm and hung around the old whaling station for four or five days.

In the Falklands, the Peregrines are of the sub-species Cassini. Generally darker than the ones I'm used to seeing, but, as with most species that have a cosmopolitan distribution, there are variances and the extremely pale form, once thought to be a seperate species altogether, the Kleinchmidt's or Pallid Falcon, also ocurrs. This "mythical" bird was discovered to be a very rare variant of the usual peregrine colouration and chicks of both phases have now been observed in the same nest.

Peregrines in the Falklands feed on a variety of bird species, but the adaptation that I marvelled at was when you would see these birds alight onboard a ship 50 to a 100 miles out to sea and hunt Prions by using the masts as lookout posts and flying out to grab an unsuspecting bird.

"Cassins" Falcon stooping.
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Turkey Vultures are now a common species on the islands. Once almost extinct here due to persecution by shepherds who believed that they killed lambs, they have been protected and have made a good recovery. They have an acute sense of smell and can track down rotting carrion from great distances.

Turkey Vulture.
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Striated Caracaras, or Johnny Rooks aas the locals call them, are related to Falcons. These birds were also heavily persecuted at one time and once had the distinction of being the rarest bird of prey in the World. Fortunately they have made a good recovery, although are still not as numerous as they once were before the arrival of man to these islands. They are gregarious birds, hunting in groups and socialising together. They are extremely curious and will steal hats, gloves, cameras and binoculars from unsuspecting people!

Striated Caracara with Penguin carcass.
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Juvenile.
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Adult.
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Red-backed Hawks are also quite common and even hunt over Port Stanley. They also have variable plumage phases from very dark, to almost white morphs. As with most island birds, they are very tame and can be approached closely. When visiting the island, I always looked out for the pair that nested at the entrance to the harbour as you approached Port Stanley.

Red-backed Hawk.
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Short-eared Owls are another cosmopolitan species that breed here. They are even tamer than the Hawks and I spent a wonderful evening watching these enigmatic birds hunting birds in the whitegrass on Sea-lion Island. They "bounced" about in the grass attempting to flush out wading birds. They are cryptically coloured and can be difficult to spot until a movement gives them away. Their bright yellow eyes are mesmerising when they stare at you. Hypnotic even!

Short-eared Owl.
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Dewi
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Re: Elephants, Leopards and Lions - with flippers.

Post by Dewi » Tue May 22, 2012 9:30 pm

Macaroni Penguins are thought to be the most numerous Penguin species in the World with estimates ranging from 18 to 23 million birds, however numbers have been declining steadily over the past few decades.

They breed in large colonies on Sub-Antarctic islands from South America through to the Southern Indian Ocean. They return to the colonies from September onwards and set up nesting territories on steep facing cliffs and hillsides. They have an unusual breeding strategy in that although they lay two eggs, the first laid is completely ignored, and only the second laid egg is incubated. Most birds that lay more than one egg usually discard the last laid and so forth as insurance against losses due to e.g. food shortages. Studies proved that the egg is viable and the embryo will develop and hatch if given the opportunity, although the egg and young chick average smaller than the second laid, by the time fledging ocurrs, the size difference becomes negligible. The question here is why do they "waste" energy producing and laying an egg which will be ignored? I guess that the answer lies in the fact that this strategy has been successful for Macaronis for millenia, so why change?

Macaroni Penguins returning to their breeding colony.
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Displaying bird.
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Pair bonding.
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First egg, which will be ignored.
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Second egg being incubated.
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Chick.
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The "Big Mac" colony. (45,000 pairs).
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Portrait pic.
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Dewi
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Re: Elephants, Leopards and Lions - with flippers.

Post by Dewi » Tue May 22, 2012 9:31 pm

So what do most of the wildlife featured in my ramblings here depend upon mostly to survive? In short, Krill.

Antarctic Krill are crustacea which reach up to 50mm in length. The egge are laid in the ocean where they sink to the bottom before hatching. The larvae then migrate to the surface where they feed upon phytoplankton. Vast swarms of Krill can be encountered in good spawning years, however, the lack of sea ice in recent years has meant a decline in biomass of this species. Estimates put the annual biomass of Krill somewhere in the region of 125 to 750 million tonnes.

This vast food supply is utilised by all manner of wildlife, from fish, penguins, petrels and seals all the way up to the great whales and is the most important food source in the ecology of Antarctic wildlife.

Antarctic Krill.
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Some of the fish that abound in the rich waters around Antarctica include.....

Patagonia Toothfish, which reach 1.2m in length.
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Icefish, which have their own built-in antifreeze to survive the cold.
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Yellow-bellied rock-cod.
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Marbled Rock-cod.
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and Crocodile Fish.
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Spider Crabs also abound.
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In complete contrast to the above, on South Georgia, the Whalers introduced Reindeer from Norway to the island as a source of food. They were originally released into bays surrounded by glaciesa so they could not escape, but after a couple of hersh Winters, some were forced to find alternative forage and crossed the glaciers to pastures new and the population now stands at over 6,000 individuals.

There has been talk of repatriating some animals back to their homeland as they are now the only disease free Reindeer left in the World today.

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Dewi
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Re: Elephants, Leopards and Lions - with flippers.

Post by Dewi » Tue May 22, 2012 9:32 pm

Marion Island lies approximately 1,769km South-east of Port Elizabeth. There are two islands that make up the Prince Edward Islands group, Prince Edward Island and Marion Island. Marion is the larger of the two islands, being 290㎢ in area. Originally under British rule, the Islands were annexed by South Africa in 1947/8 with British agreement and the South African base has been run there ever since, studying meteorology and biological sciences.

The seas around the island are frequently wild.
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Mascarin Peak, 1,242m, is the highest point on the island.
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Now named RSA Marion Station, the base is situated on the North-east coast at Transvaal Cove. The older buildings are the silvery grey ones to the left, with the newer buildings, built in 2006, being the orange and green structures.
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Transvaal Cove.
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Old Sealers tripot on beach.
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Tripot cove.
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Rugged coastline.
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Kerguelen Cabbage.
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Rock blowhole - African style.
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Sunset off Marion.
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Dewi
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Re: Elephants, Leopards and Lions - with flippers.

Post by Dewi » Tue May 22, 2012 9:33 pm

As a birder, I often tease my birding friends that I've seen all of the World's different species of Sheathbills - all two of them. :lol:

Sheathbills are strange birds with even stranger habits. When breeding, the female lays the eggs, then abandons them for the male to look after by himself. She flies North to South America for her holidays and lets him indoors bring up baby.

Sheathbills feed on a variety of foods, but tend to scavange quite a bit on the beaches, feeding on carrion, faeces, birds eggs, chicks, stealing Krill from Penguins or pecking at scabs on a live seal to open the wound to get fresh blood.

Although strong flyers who migrate each year, when on the breeding grounds, they only seemed to make short, weak looking flights and tended to walk everywhere. When we would go off on our Winter jollies, a Sheathbill would inevitably walk along behind us, stay with our camp the whole time, then accompany us back to base on foot!

We called them "Mutts" due to their strange calls and you only had to go outside the door and call "Mutt-mutt" and half a dozen would come running over like plump chickens to see what you were up to.

The Pale-faced Sheathbill breeds on the Antarctic Peninsula, South Shetlands, South Orkneys and on South Georgia, with Wintering populations in the Falklands and Southern South America. The Black-faced Sheathbill breeds on Prince Edward, Marion, Crozet, Kerguelen & Heard Islands, but does not migrate.

Pale-faced Sheathbill
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Black-faced Sheathbill
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Feeding on dead Fur Seal
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Waiting to steal Krill when the adult Gentoo Penguin feeds the chick.
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They spend a lot of time bathing, but often looked dirty & scruffy nevertheless.
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Nests were difficult to find as the birds rarely went in if they knew you were watching.
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Two eggs in a grass & shell nest.
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Beachcombing
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Portrait shot
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In flight
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"Mutt-mutt"
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Sheathbills are not named after anyone in particular.

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Dewi
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Re: Elephants, Leopards and Lions - with flippers.

Post by Dewi » Tue May 22, 2012 9:33 pm

Rockhopper and Magellanic Penguins breed on the Falkland islands and the Southern tip of South America. The recently split Northern Rockhopper breeds on Tristan da Cunha, Gough and Amsterdam & St. Pauls Islands.

While Rockhoppers breed on ledges of flat topped cliffs, the Magellanic Penguins are burrow nesters and either excavate their own burrows, or utilise those made by other burrowing mammals.

These three species lay a clutch of two eggs whick are incubated by both adults in turn. Feeding of the chicks is also a shared responsibility.

Northern Rockhopper Penguin. Note the long Yellow tufts on the head. These are more ectensive when in breeding plumage. This bird is in moult.
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Rockhopper Penguins have shorter crests than their Northern counterparts.
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Regular preening keeps the feathers in good condition and they have a preen gland which oils the feathers and helps to keep them waterproof.
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Incubating bird.
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Breeding in large colonies, they are often found nesting in association with Black-browed Albatross. The birds tolerate each other, but sometimes fights and squabbles break out.
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Magellanic Penguins favour tussac strewn heaths where they burrow out a nesting chamber in the sandy soil.
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They are raucous birds and often bray loudly at the entrance to the nest.
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Groups gather on the shores or rock platforms before heading out to sea to feed.
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Dewi
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Re: Elephants, Leopards and Lions - with flippers.

Post by Dewi » Tue May 22, 2012 9:34 pm

Cape Petrels are oceanic wanderers that have a circumpolar distribution. They are always encountered following in the ship's wake as soon as you enter the Southern Oceans and wander as far North as West Africa when not breeding.

They breed in numerous colonies all along the coast of the continent and on virtually all the outlying main islands. They lay a single, large egg from November onwards and the egg is incubated for 40 to 50 days. The chicks are fed by both adults and fledge after approx 50 days. They feed on cephalapods, crustaceans and fish, but will also take carrion and offal thrown from ships.

Cape Petrel.
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They are gregarious birds and often roost together on the surface of the sea.
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Pairs display on nesting ledges on cliff faces.
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The single, white egg is laid in November-December.
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Both adults take turns to feed and shelter the chick.
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The chick grows quickly on a rich and varied diet.
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And soon fledges into it's piebald plumage.
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Before heading out to sea to wander the Southern Oceans.
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Adult bird resting on sea.
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Preening and oiling the feathers.
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Scouring the surface for food.
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Dewi
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Re: Elephants, Leopards and Lions - with flippers.

Post by Dewi » Tue May 22, 2012 9:35 pm

Visiting the Falkland Island on my way in and out of out voyages further South gave me the opportunity to see some of the birdlife that abounds there. Even in Port Stanley itself there is enough going on along the shoreline to keep you enthralled for hours on end.

Black Crowned Night-herons are common here. A juvenile was feeding along the shoreline and allowed close approach.
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An older bird was just as confiding. It was starting to moult into adult plumage.
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But the adults look stunning in their black and grey livery.
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Magellanic Snipe were also common. They would often be so confident in their camoflage that they remained motionles when approached, even if they had chosen the wrong background to hide on.
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But close up were stunning to look at with their cryptic markings.
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Small flocks of White-rumped Sandpipers could be found on the beaches. These small waders breed in the high Arctic and fly all the way South to spend the Austral Summer here.
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Two-banded Plovers were also common.
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This one was braced against a strong wind and had it's eyes closed against the blowing sand.
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Rufous-chested Dotterel were seen out on the Camp (Falkland term for heath or rough pasture). This juvenile has yet to attain the colours of the adult.
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The adults are striking birds with their multicoloured bands.
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Dewi
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Re: Elephants, Leopards and Lions - with flippers.

Post by Dewi » Tue May 22, 2012 9:35 pm

The Falkland Islands have some of the most pristine beaches I've ever seen. Some of them have been "protected" by minefields laid by the Argentinians in 1982, and are now havens for wildlife within walking distance of Port Stanley.

I loved to walk along the beach at Surf Bay to see the breaking waves on the shore, the white sandy vistas and the rock formations at each end of the bay.

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Magellanic Oystercatchers were always present on these beaches, running along the sand in search of food and probing their bright orange bills deep into the sand in search of food.

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They scraped out hollows in the sand to form a nest cup and laid their eggs there, often on a small rise to ensure a clear all round view.

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When the chicks hatch, they immediately leave the nest and hide amongst the tide wrack, with a watchful parent in close attenfdance. Can you spot the chick in this photo?

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A chick keeps a low profile and blends in with the surrounding Kelp and driftwood.

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Blackish Oystercatchers were less common than their cousins, but were ever present in the harbour in front of the main street.

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Wave-worn stones on a beach at Sea Lion Island.

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Dewi
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Re: Elephants, Leopards and Lions - with flippers.

Post by Dewi » Tue May 22, 2012 9:36 pm

There are several differend Duck and Geese species in the Falkland Islands, the commonest of which are the Upland Goose, which wander around town as if they own the place. They are prolific poopers, so you have to be careful where you walk. :lol:

Male Upland Goose.
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Upland Goslings.
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Ruddy-headed Geese are also numerous. I'm sure RP will want to comment on their choice of name here. :lol:
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The markings are sublime.
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Kelp Geese are often along the shoreline, the difference between the male and female is striking.

Male Kelp Goose.
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Female Kelp Goose.
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Chiloe Wigeon in flight.
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Patagonian Crested Duck.
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Two species of Steamer Ducks are found here. One is flightless, the other not. Identifying them can be an issue, but if you see one in flight............ :lol:

Falkland Steamer Duck.
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