Antarctica, Day 13 Part 1: West Point Island

January 1, 2020

Paul Kay

We’re traveling Antarctica on the Silver Cloud with Silversea Cruises. Today, we arrived in the Falkland Islands and visited West Point and Saunders Neck Islands. Since both visits were so busy, today’s post will be in two parts. Here’s how our day went.

West Point Island originally was known as Albatross Island. Albatross, particularly the black-browed albatross, have built large nesting grounds here. Roddy and Lily Napier own the island. They run it as a sheep farm and tourist attraction. We landed early in the morning and met the caretakers that have been running things for four years. They were a delightful couple and spend the summer months taking care of tourists from cruise ships.

Madeline and Welcome Sign, West Point Island, Falkland Islands, Antarctica

  A warm welcome on a cold island

A large sign welcomed us to the island. And we arrived at a dock—no wet landing full of slippery rocks and penguin guano! All we had to do was take off our life preservers and head up the hill.

You visit West Point Island for the birds, especially the large albatross nests. Rockhopper penguins and imperial cormorants also make their home here.

Rockhopper Penguin, West Point Island, Falkland Islands, Antarctica

 Rockhopper striking a pose

Rockhopper penguins’ jumping ability gives them their name. They jump on top and over rocks. West Point Island had no snow. It’s the Antarctic summer after all. We saw rockhoppers jumping around. But this is their nesting season, and their focus was on caring for their eggs and chicks.

Rockhopper Penguin Chick, West Point Island, Falkland Islands, Antarctica

 Rockhopper chick striking a pose

All penguins are cute; their chicks are impossibly cute. Rockhoppers are no exception. They create their nests on beaches, high up on cliffs or inland on islands. A group of nests is a rookery. A female rockhopper lays two eggs. Both parents incubate the eggs for a little more than a month. Chicks leave their nest when they are between two and three months old. We spied a little guy who looked like he was close to that age. But I didn’t check his identification.

Rockhopper penguins look quite fashionable with their red eyes, fancy hairdo and eyebrows. Their beaks are a bold orange color, and their feet are pink that makes them unique and recognizable. Macaroni penguins have a similar flair with their crest. But they’re no match for rockhoppers.

But West Point Island wasn’t called Rockhopper Island. It used to be called Albatross Island. And for reason.

Black-browed Albatross and Chick, West Point Island, Falkland Islands, Antarctica

 Mama black-browed and her chick

We saw black-browed albatross nests everywhere. But it took a long hike to get the nesting site, about a mile from where we landed. And they weren’t just nesting; they were everywhere.

Black-browed Albatross, West Point Island, Falkland Islands, Antarctica

 Albatross are impressive in flight

The albatross doesn’t look like a huge bird when it’s on land. But it’s rarely on land. The albatross’ wingspan measures 11 feet, 4 inches. And the wings are hinged. Albatross live well past 60 years. When flying, they rarely flap their wings like other birds. Instead albatross use dynamic soaring and slope soaring to cover great distances with little exertion.

Albatross can fly 10,000 miles without landing. They feed on krill, squid and other fish along the way. At six years old, albatross choose a partner and remain paired for life. That doesn’t mean that either the male or female is monogamous. But they stay together to raise their chicks. Albatross do an interesting dance when courting that seems to seal the deal between them.

Black-browed Albatross About to Take off, West Point Island, Falkland Islands, Antarctica

 Albatross are even impressive not in flight

From a distance it’s hard to see the expansive wingspan. But when they fly over your head, you quickly appreciate their size.

Black-browed Albatross Group Nesting, West Point Island, Falkland Islands, Antarctica

 Just a few of thousands of albatross nests

The nesting group we saw was quite large. One picture captures only one percent of the nests. We could walk to within 50 feet, but our guides kept us there. The birds tolerated us, considering they were trying to raise their chicks.

Striated Caracara, West Point Island, Falkland Islands, Antarctica

 This striated caracara wasn't shy around my camera

The albatross were not the only birds on the island. We also saw a striated caracara that noticed my camera as we passed.

Striated Caracara Looking for Food, West Point Island, Falkland Islands, Antarctica

 A striated caracara searching for food

The striated caracara primarily scavenges for food. Sometimes, they attack lame newborn lambs or sheep. But this guy was scratching up grubs.

Striated Caracara Profile, West Point Island, Falkland Islands, Antarctica

 A striated caracara off in search of more morsels

We watched him catch a few morsels for his morning snack. He paid no attention to us.

Turkey Vultures, West Point Island, Falkland Islands, Antarctica

 Two turkey vultures keeping watch

We found two turkey vultures sitting on the top of a store house used by the island’s caretakers.

Like the striated caracara, the turkey vulture lives on West Point Island for the sheep. The island’s caretakers herd sheep. But the sheep don’t need much care. Farmers don’t like turkey vultures because they attack their sheep. When you live in the middle of nowhere, there’s not much you can do.

Upland Goose, West Point Island, Falkland Islands, Antarctica

 An upland goose mama on her way to her chicks

Upland geese also live on the island. We admired a mom keeping an eye on her young ones.

Upland Geese Chicks, West Point Island, Falkland Islands, Antarctica

 Upland goose chicks grubbing under mom's watch

The young ones searched for grubs.

Male Upland Goose, West Point Island, Falkland Islands, Antarctica

 A dad upland goose on the lookout

Dad kept an eye out for trouble. None of the geese judged us as troublemakers and continued grazing and enjoying the day.

Tea and Cookies, West Point Island, Falkland Islands, Antarctica

 Tea and cookies fit for kings and queens

At the end of our three-hour tour of West Point Island, the caretakers invited us into their home for tea and cookies. The table swelled with other sweet and delicious things.

We didn’t expect anything like this. The two caretakers (and their dog), imported some friends from nearby islands to help with the food. The spread was tasty!

Silver Cloud, Silversea Cruises, West Point Island, Falkland Islands, Antarctica

 The ever-patient Silver Cloud waiting our return

We went back to our Zodiacs to make the trip back to the Silver Cloud.

I cover the next stop, Saunders Neck Island, in the next post.

Tips: You can learn how we planned our trip by reading Planning Our Antarctica Trip. Learn what we read to prepare at Reading Antarctica. And you can find out what we packed at Packing for Cruising Antarctica on Silversea.

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