Well there’s nothing like a cute penguin picture to get you all hooked, and there is nothing more delightful then a Gentoo penguin and chick if you ask my humble opinion. Out of the five different types of penguins found here in The Falklands, the Gentoo is my absolute favourite. Others will have different opinions, ranging from the dynamic and enigmatic Rockhoppers. the majestic King Penguins, the raucous Magellanics or the unmistakeable, almost flamboyant, Macaronis.
Since our arrival here in October 2019 we have been fortunate to have already seen all five types. There is one famed Macaroni penguin, who has made his home in amongst a colony of Rockhoppers out on Sea Lion Island. This is not unusual, there is a colony of Rockhoppers mixing with a few Macaronis on the north side of Berkeley Sound, an area to the north of Stanley. This collaboration of Macaronis and Rockhoppers has produced a few of the wonderfully named ‘Rockaronis’. Also residing there, with an equally impressive title is a ‘Mocha-hopper’, which is a brown, not black, Rockhopper.
Isn’t nature wonderful!
King penguins, arguably the most easily recognisable of all penguins thanks mainly to a certain brand of chocolate biscuits, are one of the biggest tourist draws here. They certainly pay their way with tourists and cruise ship passengers parting with handsome sums to visit the King penguin colonies. Most famous of all is Volunteer Point situated on a remote spot on the eastern coast of East Falkand. After bumping and jolting in a 4×4 for about 1.5hrs over diddle dee, scrub, heath and moorland, you reach a spectacular beach which hosts King, Gentoo and Magellanic penguin colonies. The Gentoo and King penguins have their colonies on open ground whilst the Magellanics, the shyest of the lot, make their homes in burrows in the sand, peat and heathland. It is quite fun watching them pop their heads up from their burrows to see what’s going on. You have to be careful where you walk so as not to disturb them or put your foot through the roof of a burrow. This can actually be quite a challenge as in some places they have excavated a whole series of tunnels and burrows in the land and caution is required!
King penguins and Gentoos are very curious and will come close if you sit quietly. They can spook quite easily so stay still and you will be rewarded. We had a magical experience on Sea Lion Island when we sat calmy by a colony of Gentoo and some came over to us and started gently pecking shoelaces and clothing. One even dropped a small stone on my leg as a gift. King penguins, the largest breeding penguin in the Islands, will also pass closely by if you are quiet. Sitting quietly observing them makes you appreciate how stunning their plummage is and how hard they work to keep all the feathers clean, tidy and waterproofed. They are constantly preening as if they know how photogenic they are and don’t want to be caught looking untidy!
Rockhoppers can be more difficult to locate and photograph given their penchant for living on clifftops. They are the smallest of the penguins in the Falklands, and their choice of habitat means they have to be agile. However, despite saying they are agile, they always look as if every time they jump it is their first time doing so. They give each little hop their undivided attention as if bracing themselves to actually jump. Then they pause and do it all again. It is truly amazing seeing where they build their colonies and how they clamber up the cliff faces to get home each day after a hard day’s fishing. They are very distinctive with yellow, straight, thin eyebrows. The Macaroni penguin has a mass of yellowy/gold plumes which sprout from the forehead. When you see the two of them together, Rockhopper and Macaroni, there is no mistaking who is who!
Gypsy Cove, which is the nearest and most accesible penguin colony to Stanley, houses a large colony of Magellanic penguins. They have distinctive black and white bands on their head, neck and chest areas. They are also known locally as Jackass penguins as they have a very distinctive braying call. Some of them have burrows very close to the established footpath so penguin wardens are employed at the height of the tourist season to ensure the penguins have safe passage between their burrows and the sea. Legend has it, and newspaper reports tend to suggest it is a true story, that a few years back a penguin was kidnapped from here and taken aboard a cruise ship seemingly destined for a lifetime of adventure in Asia. A cleaner on the cruise ship had an almighty surprise when they happened upon the penguin in the shower cubicle!! It was returned, and the people responsible for the kidnap heavily fined. Hence there are now penguin wardens employed to protect from over zealous tourists.
That was clearly taking the ppppppick up a penguin mantra too far!
The penguins of the Falkand Islands are one of the area’s biggest draws. They are a delight to watch. On land they may appear awkward and you can’t help but wonder why some build their colonies so far from the beach, but the moment they hit the water they become streamlined topredoes. It is truly magical to watch them frolicking in the waves, fishing and leaping about. The speed they can build up has to be seen to be believed. It is one of my favourite sights watching them whizz into shore and then pop out on the beach. Some are more refined at this than others who stand up too quickly only to be bowled over by the next breaking wave. You can easily ‘waste’ an hour watching the shoreline for penguins returning from a day fishing.
So, if you find yourself down Falkands way come and seek out these fascinating creatures. Each type has their own character, style and behavioural pattern and you really can watch them for hours.
Just don’t be tempted to take one back with you!!!