Though we didn’t think it possible, our second landing in the Falkland Islands (Saunders Island) was perhaps even more incredible than our first. Disembarking the ship onto the Zodiac to take us ashore, we were followed by a pod of Peale’s dolphins. Zodiac rides are, however, notoriously bumpy and wet so we didn’t have our cameras out. Tragic, we know, particularly since the waters were exquisitely Caribbean-turquoise blue!
As we were sitting atop a steep incline with one of our guides, Ossi, watching a colony of Rockhopper penguins and Blue-Eyed Shags, this Striated Caracara (aka the Johnny Rook or Flying Devil) began to stalk us. For those of you who are curious about the etymology (as we were), Rockhopper penguins used to be known as “Rooks” and a “Johnny” is a thief, pillager, or mischief-maker. As you might imagine, it doesn’t always bode so well for the petite (6 pound, 21-inch-tall), albeit feisty (in fact, almost terrier-like), Rockhopper penguin when they face off with the Johnny Rook. There are only about 500 breeding pairs of Johnny Rooks left in the Falkands. So, despite being a bit anxious about Johnny’s approach, we were pleased to have such a good vantage point.
Prior to our trip, we pre-selected our favorite penguins. Naomi’s pick was the Macaroni Penguin (for obvious reasons – what could be better than macaroni eyebrows?). Mark’s was the Gentoo – mostly because he felt they didn’t get enough hype. This series of photos are the action shots of the penguins that we affectionately dubbed “the Wiley Gentoos”. The nickname originated simply because the Gentoos were quick and more difficult to snap.
The Gentoos were often porpoising just off shore, engaging in a feeding chase, and (thankfully) hanging out on the beach. A quick word on the feeding chase. Gentoo parents go out to sea to gather enough food to feed both themselves and their young. They then return to their young and their partner goes out to sea and the feeding cycle continues. Most comical part to watch, upon arrival on shore the returning parent is forced (full-bellied) to do a 100-metre dash, followed by all the hungry young on the beach awaiting the return of their own parents. Parents can recognize and will feed their own, waddle-sprinting until only their own young are following behind.
We have to be honest. We did not want to go back to the ship. On Saunders, we also met several pairs of Magellanic and King Penguins in such unexpected surroundings. Who could have ever expected to see penguins in crystal clear waters or on dried out sun-burnt grass?