Members came to our meeting on 21 February expecting to hear a talk on Warden Abbey Vineyard by Jane Markham but what they got was a visual feast of birdlife in the Falkland Islands. Jane was unable to come to talk to us because of family problems and we were very fortunate that wildlife photographer Richard Revels was free to come at short notice. We knew about Richard because he fascinated us with his spectacular photography when he came to talk last September on Britain’s Wonderful Wildlife. This time his subject was The Fascinating Falklands …
It is difficult to believe that it was thirty-five years ago that this country was at war with Argentina to recover the islands from Argentine invasion but the opportunity to learn something about the islands added greatly to the interest of Richard’s talk. The conflict naturally centred upon Stanley because that is the only town on the Falklands and at the time we didn’t hear much about the rest of the area apart from the rugged terrain that our troops had to cross to recover the islands. In fact there are four hundred islands grouped into two areas of the West and East Falklands.
Most of the islands are very flat and low lying with very little vegetation except tussock grass. There are though some areas of rocky ground with low cliffs and some beaches have white sand and are similar in appearance to the Outer Hebrides. The weather is mainly sunny with puffy clouds and little rainfall although you can experience four seasons in one day. All these features were beautifully illustrated in Richard’s photographs.
Stanley has a population of around two thousand and, because of a lack of building materials, most houses are ‘flat pack’ prefabs enlivened with brightly coloured roofs. The main brick-built buildings are the cathedral and the governor’s house. Tourism is centred on Stanley which is visited by thousands of cruise ship tourists. Richard has made three trips to Falklands and each time he has done it by an RAF plane from Brize Norton to Stanley and then a small plane to the outer islands which are the big attraction for wildlife enthusiasts. These islands are very sparsely populated with some sheep farming and they still provide a real wilderness experience. Don’t expect the comforts of home if you make this trip. Richard recommended using a specialist travel agency to arrange a trip although it is possible to do it yourself.
Having shown us something of life in the Falklands the bulk of Richard’s talk was devoted to illustrating the bird life which predominantly consists of sea birds and raptors. Richard spent his time on two islands: Carcas island and Saunders Island. Although these are wild areas Richard said that many of the birds are surprisingly unafraid of people and will stay within a few feet so that a long-length lens is often not needed. He even found one bird pecking at his boots.
If you want to go bird-watching in the Falklands you have a lot to learn because there are none of the birds that are familiar to us. We would recognise geese and ducks and cormorants but the ones we saw were all of different breeds, illustrated with wonderful shots of the birds in flight and landing. Most spectacular and quite unfamiliar were pictures of albatross with an eight foot wing-span and one trying to land where Richard was standing. We saw several varieties of penguin with memorable shots of rock hopper penguins living up to their name going both up the rocks and jumping into the sea. The affectionate behaviour of many sea bird couples locking beaks was beautifully illustrated.
Throughout the story of the lives of these birds we were made aware of the fearsome presence of the caracara. These birds of prey will attack and kill most birds on the Falklands and even humans are well advised not to cross their path; at the least they will take the chance to steal anything from an open bag.
We are very grateful to Richard for coming at such short notice to give us an evening of this high quality. A small selection of photo’s from Richard’s presentation:
Our next meeting will be on 21 March when Michael Brown will talk about Gods in the Garden