30 December 2012

First Landing: Sea Lion Island, Falkland Islands

Elephant seal mother & pup on Sea Lion IslandPhoto Credit: Ryan Holliday

Elephant seal mother & pup on Sea Lion Island
Photo Credit: Ryan Holliday

It was spitting rain all day but there were many happy travelers once staff ferried everyone ashore by zodiac. A quick briefing at the landing site got people oriented and then we were free to roam on our own or join a geology walk.

Sea Lion Island is made up of flat-lying Permian Lafonia Group sandstones, mostly covered with low, dense vegetation, and lots of penguins. Magellanic Penguins, with their handsomely striped faces, burrow under hummocks to nest. Handsome Gentoo Penguins nest on open ground in fairly dense colonies full of entertaining, big, fuzzy chicks. King Penguins also have colonies on other islands in the group and at least three were seen.

Southern sea lions and southern elephant seals were visible at beaches across the island. To get there we oriented ourselves by the all-weather gravel airstrip next to a small visitor lodge in the center of the island.

Sea Lion IslandMap Courtesy of Falkland Islands Tourist Board

Sea Lion Island
Map Courtesy of Falkland Islands Tourist Board
http://www.sealionisland.com/downloads/map-bw.jpg

The rain and breeze were a bit chilly after the heat of Santiago, but everyone seemed happy with the experience and with their foul-weather gear.

The bird list for the day was almost all the species one could hope for in the Falklands, including Upland Geese, Cobb’s Wren, Black-throated Seed Finch, Two-banded Plover, Rufous-chested Dotterel, nesting Magellanic Oystercatchers, South American Terns, and, of course, the numerous penguins.

As soon as all the zodiacs were hoisted aboard we set off for South Georgia, two days’ open ocean sailing away to the southeast along the northern edge of the Scotia Arc. The gentle ocean swells lulled many to sleep as we left the lee of the islands.

- Kate Spencer, Staff Naturalist; Cheesemans’ Ecology Safaris