An Outdoor Theatre at West Point Island (The Falkland Islands)

Kellie Netherwood_Flying Black-Browed Albatross_West Point Island_Falkland IslandsIn the northwest corner of the Falkland Islands, a dramatic wildlife story plays out amidst a spectacular backdrop of tussock grass and sea-facing cliffs. Welcome to the unofficial outdoor theatre of West Point Island.

 

West Point Island was the first landing of my travel expedition through the Falkland Islands, South Georgia and Antarctica last month – and it felt earned.

I had spent the previous evening sliding from one end of my bed to the other as our ship fought with a storm in the Southern Atlantic Ocean. I spent the first few hours of the morning impatiently waiting for confirmation that the swell had decreased enough to permit our landing. And on my first visit to the region two years earlier, adverse weather had prevented an approach to the island altogether.

I arrived on West Point Island a little wet after a short but windy zodiac ride and began an uphill hike against strong winds and drizzling rain on a rocky and uneven track. But the effort was worth it, as the end of the path signalled the beginning of a dramatic wildlife story, played out in an outdoor theatre called Devil’s Nose.

The stage took the form of a dramatic cliff, covered in tussock grass and facing the ocean. There were three main characters: the Black-Browed Albatross played the leading role, the Rockhopper Penguin was the crowd favourite and the Striated Caracara was cast as the villain.

The Black-Browed Albatross

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The Rockhopper Penguin

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The Striated Caracara

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The story was scripted as a dramatic tale of survival.

I had front row seats to a 4D performance: wind from the wings of flying Black-Browed Albatrosses cooling my face and tussock grass brushing against my legs.

The overriding storyline was an annual one of survival, but within the noisy and seemingly chaotic breeding colony I watched a number of sub-plots unfold.

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Black-Browed Albatrosses had reunited with their life partners, identifying each other by their unique calls and showing affection through dancing and preening. They had built nests, mated, incubated eggs and were now sharing the parenting duties involved in raising their new chicks. They were using the wind rising from the cliffs to take off to go fishing and to return and land to feed their young. The bond they had with their chicks and each other was strong, as was their protective instinct.

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Contrary to popular belief, their neighbour the Rockhopper Penguins, don’t mate for life. But many had found a partner for this season resulting in the little chicks that occasionally peaked out from under their parents’ protective nest. Others were hopping around the colony annoying the other birds or resting in the tussock grass away from the noise and activity.

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Kellie Netherwood_Rockhopper Penguin with Chick_West Point Island_Falkland Islands

Although they seemed to antagonise each other on a regular basis, each species tolerated the presence of the other. They co-existed in the colony, perhaps aware that strength in numbers increased their chicks’ chance of survival against a common enemy.

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Kellie Netherwood_Black-Browed Albatross with Chick_West Point Island_Falkland Islands

All good stories need a villain and in this one it was the Striated Caracara, one of the island’s leading scavengers.

Constantly circling the colony in search of an unprotected chick or exposed egg, the caracara completes the circle of life on the island and was a constant reminder of the harsh reality of life in the wild.

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As I reluctantly left my front row seat and started the downhill walk back to the zodiac, I realised the sub-plots were entertaining but ultimately irrelevant. This was a story of survival, a daily challenge for the birds that call West Point Island home.

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It was an exhilarating start to my expedition, an entertaining introduction to the wildlife that calls this part of the world home and just one of many incredible photographic opportunities that would be presented to me on this journey.

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(For more photographs and stories from my three week travel expedition through the Falkland Islands, South Georgia and Antarctica in Dec 2014 & Jan 2015, enter “Antarctica” in the search box at the top of this page, or sign up for email updates per the instructions below)

 

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Kellie is a traveller and photographer who is most at home when exploring the world beyond it. Through the intersection of her travel, writing and photography passions, she shares her experiences to inspire others to create there own. The desire to live life instead of existing through it has introduced Kellie to inspirational locations throughout seven continents and from this a passion for landscape and wildlife photography has evolved. She feels a particular connection to the polar regions and Africa. You can see more of her photography at www.kellienetherwoodphotography.com

Comments

  1. Kellie,

    Gorgeous photos as usual. This is bringing back such wonderful memories from late November. I too trekked up that hill and was blown away to be instantly immersed in my own personal wildlife documentary. It is amazing what a difference few weeks can make. There were no babies when we were there. But plenty of action as the albatross courted and fought. And it felt like we were in the middle of an airport runway.

    Just amazing and a wonderful first day to what turned out to be the most wonderful trip of stunning scenery and wildlife experiences to blow my mind. I am reliving it now as I edit and create a few books of my favourites. I eagerly what out for your posts and more great memories.

    Carol
    Australia

    • I find it incredible that we all go at different times and see something different. You didn’t see the chicks, but sounds like you saw some amazing courting action. I don’t want this trip to end (I’m still travelling until the end of next week) but knowing I have thousands of photos to go back to edit is somewhat comforting!

  2. Great post Kellie. Makes me keen to go. The photos are of very high quality. Looking forward to the next post from the trip.

  3. Michael Aldous says:

    Hi Kellie. Photos are great. Would feel very jealous but the business park is looking fantastic this morning

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