The Falkland Islands - a wildlife wonderland

Imagine a world where you can have a full-on, Force 10 wildlife experience in the company of almost nobody else. The Falkland Islands is the war zone that became a wildlife wonderland.

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Falkland Islands article spread
BEN'S TOP SPECIES TO SEE
 
Black-browed albatross
The Falklands have more than 60 per cent of the world population of these seabirds.
  • When: Their breeding season lasts from October to April; chicks hatch in January.
  • Where: The largest nesting ground is a remote rocky outcrop called Steeple Jason, but it’s easier to reach the colonies at West Point and Saunders Islands.
  • How: Even away from the breeding colonies, you can’t miss these goose-sized birds with a 2.45m wingspan as they fly low over the sea.
 
Rockhopper penguin
Technically the southern rockhopper, this species is declining, but it’s still the most plentiful penguin in the Falklands.
  • When: Catch the adults displaying in October and November, and the chicks in January to March.
  • Where: Pebble, West Point, Saunders and Sea Lion Islands, and at Steeple 
  • and Grand Jason.
  • How: Extremely tame. Late afternoon, when the adults return from fishing expeditions, is a good time.
 
Southern elephant seal
Famous for bloody battles in which mature males tussle for females.
  • When: Bulls fight in September and October. Pups can be seen from mid-September, but most of the seals return to the sea by mid-November.
  • Where: Sea Lion Island is good for breeding seals. Moulting seals visit Carcass and Saunders islands and Kelp Point in January and February.
  • How: Head to Sea Lion Island during the mating season.
 
Flightless steamer duck
One of the easiest birds to see in the archipelago. The males’ wheezy alarm calls are an unforgettable part of the islands’ soundtrack.
  • When: All year. Flotillas of ducklings can be seen from October to January.
  • Where: Almost everywhere. You can even see them in the harbour at Stanley.
  • How: Approach slowly to avoid spooking them. If disturbed, they patter across the water with flailing wingbeats – hence their name.
 
Southern sealion
It’s possible to confuse them with elephant seals, but they’re much smaller.
  • When: The mating season starts in December. Pups are born in January. By March, most sealions have gone out to sea to feed.
  • Where: Widely distributed throughout the outer islands and on East Falkland. Breeds on boulder-covered beaches and among coastal tussac grass.
  • How: You can see them on boat trips or by visiting one.
 
ESSENTIAL TRAVEL INFORMATION
 
Getting there
  • The international airport is based at the Mount Pleasant military complex, about 60km from Stanley (not Port Stanley).
  • The cheapest option is to fly with LAN, which operates a weekly flight from Heathrow via Santiago in Chile.
  • An MoD flight leaves twice-weekly from RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire with a possible stop-over on Ascension Island 0207 222 2542; check here for details. 
Tour operators
  • Organising independent travel is straightforward, though not necessarily cheaper than taking a tour.
  • Windows on the Wild offers tailor-made trips, flying with the RAF, visiting all the locations described. Another company to consider is Naturetrek.
 Cruises
  • Cruise ships are an excellent way to see marine wildlife and visit some of the more remote locations such as Steeple Jason, though inevitably you will be part of a large group.
  • Even during a brief stopover at Stanley, take an excursion to Bluff Cove or Volunteer Point to see king and gentoo penguins.
  • For a list of companies that visit the Falklands as part of a tour, see here
 Further Information
 When to go
  • Roughly October to March. Go early to see bird courtship, fighting elephant seals and wildflowers; for seabird chicks, travel later. In March and April, whales swim past the western islands on the return leg of their migration from Antarctica.
 
Further reading
  • Field Guide to the Wildlife of the Falkland Islands and South Georgia, by Ian Strange (ISBN 9780002198394, £14.99, code W0609/10). An out-of-print but essential reference; used copies are widely available.
  • A Visitor’s Guide to the Falkland Islands, by Debbie Summers (ISBN 9780953837151, £12.50, code W0609/08).
  • Important Bird Areas of the Falkland Islands, by Falklands Conservation (ISBN 9780953837168, £12, code W0609/09). Buy all these books on p76, quoting the relevant codes.

 

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