Falkland Islands 2019 - my workshop, penguins, albatrosses and more

Falkland Islands, thats my second home as a photography destination and somehow my professinalism as a (wildlife) photographer was born there many years ago.

I am still deeply attached to this archipelago and to subantarctica in general and the better I understand the behaviour of the wildlife the more fun it is to watch the wildlife and to spot variations in the behaviour. Over the years I witnessed booming colonies, severe declines and recoveries and completly new locations as well.

As a photography guide I try to rise the awareness of my participants regarding the behaviour of wildlife and the changes I witnessed as well. I am deeply convinced that the understanding of a species is half of a successfull photography trip, the other half is composition, technology and its handling.

Therefore this blog is a bit different as it is more picture - picture story - animal behaviour oriented....

During my workshop we always visit the same locations

  • Sea Lion Island
  • Bleaker Island
  • Saunders Island - The Neck
  • Volunteer Point
  • Stanley
  • Darwing

and we stay always several nights in all of these locations (with one exception - Darwin), which range from hotel like accomodation to mountain hut like self catering. This may sound boring (for me), but to be able to monitor the developoment of all the involved wildlife is at least as rewarding as to scout for new locations and it is a big plus for the participants. But maybe we add another location next time.....

The Workshop

The weather was a bit above average, the participants were motivated, we watched a large variety of wildlife behavour, lots of pictures were taken and we all had lots of fun - it was a good workshop and I am pretty sure that this is not only my opinion!

All participants quickly understood how to approach the wildlife and did not abuse or threaten wildlife, just to get a shot! This deserves to be mentioned and kudos to everybody. I never was dissapointed during my Falkland workshops not in 2015, not in 2017 and not in 2019 and I hope it will be the same during my next Workshops in 2020 and 2021!

But now back to Falkland Islands Wildlife, lets start with the big mammal.....

Southern Elephant Seal - Mirounga Leonina

For most of the wildlife January is the best time, not so much for Southern Elephant Seals. I think the best time is end of September to early November when they have their harem time....

During January most females are back to the Sea, the weaned pups have left as well and only subadult bulls and some exhausted harem bulls are left on the beaches for moulting. Most of the time they do not do much, they are having a lazy time on the beach to conserve their energy while moulting.

During the last visits we always had some very old bulls on the beach, not this time. However we observed this year more frequently the activities of the subadult bulls. They establish their pecking order and I think they train the moves for the bull fights necessary to win and defend a harem for their live as mature bulls.

Sometimes I saw six or seven pairs of subadult bulls fighting on the beach. It remined me in a strange way on a ballet. Sometimes they kept on fighting for minutes, again something I hardly experienced in the years before......

This frequent fighting was fun to watch and a nice topic to photograph in many variations. I liked expecially the challenge to cover the fights in the waters of the tidal zone.....

Overall we had lots of good opportunites for photography and I did not miss much the wrinkly old bulls, which were for whatever reason absent this time. As a bonus we encountered a weaned pup returning on the beach as well. We had a good time with the Elephant Seals of Sea Lion Island.

However, if you want to see the real harem life, come in spring or join my next trip to Subantarctica during November 2020.

All the same even in January a group of bulls on the beach is an impressive sight, sound and smell and it worked for me to foucs on only one behaviour, as I have many shots of lazy Elephant Seals on the beach!

Southern Giant Petrels - Macronectes giganteus

Lets go on with the predators, but with a feathered one and do not forget, the cute Penguins are just predators as Giant Petrels are.

Southern Giant Petrels locally known as Stinkers are easy to watch flying, but they are notoriously shy on land on the Falklands. On other subantarctic islands however they are very tolerant of people, I guess that the local population remembers the times, when they were killed or harrassed. Rookeries are rare and very protected, as it is easy to disturb them and to drive them away from their rookery site.

We visited (with local guide only!) the rookery on Bleaker and it was very rewarding to watch these rare birds. It is located as all rookeries I know on the Falklands, right on the shoreline, very different to the nesting sites on South Georgia. A storm flood and all eggs or young chicks are dead, very risky behaviour! Another little detail I observed is the age of the birds I watched at the colony (and on the pics I shot). Most breeding birds seem to be quite young, perhaps it was just coincidence, or successfull broods are returning now to breed, therefore increasing the numbers, no idea.....

South American sea lion - Otaria flavescens

This trip was by far the best I had for a very long time for Southern Sea Lions! Southern Sea Lions are difficult to photograph, as the most accessible location is a high cliff on Sea Lion Island and climbing down is neither possible nor permitted.

This year we found a couple of harems at a nice spot on Sea Lion, the weather was foul, photography was difficult, but we watched the full range of typical behaviour. Beachmasters (harem bulls in Sea Lion speak) guarding their females, introding bulls beaten off by the beachmasters, full mature bulls in typical show offs, many females and and many pups.

In January the harems are starting to break down, as most mating already happened and the animals are starting to disperse.

But we have been lucky on Sea Lion and especially on Bleaker. The frustrated youngster on a beach on Sea Lion was a special experience and the Sea Lions on Bleaker were really rewarding. In a little cove a new breeding site is establishing since a couple of years and photography is quite good. I prefer to go there with a local guide as it is difficult to find and as I want to make sure not to disturb a new breeding site.

Right next to the accomodation we found a couple in love, very nice, somehow the mating was still going on. And finally we witnessed a hunting Sea Lion near a Gentoo colony. Penguins are no staple food for Southern Sea Lions. In the 90ies this beaviour was very rare, it seems to be a learned behaviour restricted to some populations and it is "bull only". Now I know some more locations, things are changing... 

The hunt is not at sea, Penguins are to fast and agile. But the bulls are beaching together with a group of penguins and try to grab a bird on the beach. Sea Lions can be quick on their flippers. Our whole group stayed on rocky outcrops close to the main beaching site (I try to keep a good distance to avoid disturbance), the bull approached the beach, was irritated by our presence, was eyeing the penguins, was eying us and after a while he left. I guess we save the lifes of some gentoos.....

Falkland Skua or Brown Skua - Stercorarius antarcticus

Falkland Skuas are everywhere, the pressure on the rookeries they are creating is immense! A little neglicence or low vigilance and a egg or a chick is snatched! They act not as coordinated as Caracaras sometimes do, but they try to create chaos or sometimes they just wait.

This was one of the pictures I wanted to shoot for years, Skua and defending Gentoos. Very typical but very hard to photographs. It is still not the perfect shot, but I am getting closer......

We had many opportunities to take pictures of Skuas including the blue legged chicks. This trip was again quite rewarding regarding skuas!

Striated Caracara - Phalcoboenus australis

Striated Caracaras, intelligent, playfull, inquisitive and very rare, but everywhere around the rookeries. They are restricted to the Falklands, which is very risky for a whole species. For a bird of prey of the Falconidae family they show a strange hunting behaviour. They hunt on the ground with their typical hopping gait. When the rookeries are empty they are scavenging for whatever they find.

Both pictures show Striated Caracaras, the first with the duller plumage and rosy skin of the face of a subadult, the other a full mature bird.

Compared to my last visits the Caracaras where not as inquisitive. I strongly advised all participants not to leave camera bags unattended as normally subadult Caracaras are showing up within minutes to investigate everything with their beaks and claws..... Not his year, for whatever reason!

Some words about the used equipment

Before we move on even deeper into the wildlife of the Falklands, a few words about the used equipment. This year it was very easy. All pictures shown on this page were taken with just one lens, very rarely with a TC added. After my long lens arrived damaged two years ago, I then used  most of the time my medium format and wide angle to short tele. This works very well in the Falklands and I got some remarkable pictures, this year however I had a very different approach.

I wanted to test a new lens thoroughly and it was kind of fun to restrict myself to one focal lenght only. And I did not need a big camera bag as well. Moreover I filled some gaps in my stock, which needed a long lens.

All pictures displayed have been shot with a 1:2.8 200mm (Panasonic - Leica) lens (400mm equivalent in full format) on a micro four thirds body (Olympus OMD 1 Mark II). The results in terms of technical quality are extraordinary. Until now I used the body in combination with the 100-400 zoom, which was a great combo, but the AF performance was below standard. The OMD 1 Mark II in combination with the 200mm from Pana-Leica is at least as good, sometimes better in terms of AF as my old, now sold, combo the Canon 7D Mark II with the latest 100-400 L lens. But the handling of the body for wildlife photography is still lagging (far!) behind the 7D or 1D. More about such musings in a sperate blog (if I find time....).

King Penguin - Aptenodytes patagonicus

They are pretty, probably the most pretty penguin species, but they seem to know about this! The colony at Volunteers is the most accessable colony of reasonable size all over the world. There is only limited off road access and the small, but nice and cozy, accomdation has only 2 twins. If you want to stay there plan two years ahead or have lots of luck!

The Kings at Volunteers are doing well, the numbers are gradually increasing. This maybe also the result of a bird warden who strikes a good balance between protection and freedom of access (many thanks to Derek and Trudy!). During the last years we had seen only very few and very small chicks. This year was different, lots of eggs and lots of small chicks!

Therefore I focused primarily on some very specific topics!

  • Adults with chicks or eggs
  • Adults runnig the gauntlet through the colony

Especially the last is a real challenge and it needs lots of luck, determination, good AF technology/skills and lots of battery! When adults want to relief their partner from brooding they have to enter the colony and in the colony is densly packed with birds. They have just two neck lengths of pecking distance between each other. A walking bird just does not fit into this distance, therefore the brooding birds start to bluster and to peck at the intruder, which is therefore running like hell, running the gauntlet penguin style!

I got some nice results, but there is still some room for improvement!

While following the running Kings with my camera, I observed, that they use most of the time the same paths through the colony. As it seems there are "streets" in King Penguin city.


Of course we could observe the full range of typical behaviour like boxing with flippers, seducing, mating, walking for hours on the beach, bathing, trumpeting etc. Volunteers is always an experience and the life of a King on land is slow, very slow. Good to relax and watch.....

As on Bleaker a Sea Lion is sometimes patrolling the beach, we saw him, but he decided not to hunt!

Now from the biggest and least agile to the smallest and most active - the incredible hardy and loud Rockhoppers

Rockhopper Penguin (Southern) - Eudyptes chrysocome

The Rockhopper Penguin, loud, agile, dynamic, hardy and the model for most of the penguin cartoons and animations. In a way Rockhoppers are a bit the opposite of the Kings.... It is hard not to like this little bird!

In general Rockhoppers do not overly well in the Falklands. Over the years the numbers have been declining. My favourite place for taking pictures, the little colony on Bleaker, seems to buck the trend. The colony at the Neck on Saunders is still the by far bigger colony, but was hit hard several years ago and is still not recovering. It is sad to see the outline of the former colony and compare it to the actual size nowadays. Keep your fingers crossed, that they will recover. But watching the heavy toll the Caracaras, Skuas and vultures are taking on the chicks this year let me doubt that this year will add significant numbers.....

We arrived on Bleaker having strong southerly winds of force 6-7 and the clilffs of the Rockhoppers have been pounded by breakers, all white water. I usually climb down the northerly ledges right next to the bluff, but under these conditions it would have been suicide!

However the next set of ledges was safe, not as good for photography, but still more than ok. We watched the huge breakers having our share of spray as well, and we watched the Rockhoppers being tossed around by the waves, jumping out of the water, climbing up using the beak as help, being washed back by the next breaker and unflinchingly doing the same thing again and again! Amazing.

It was a very demanding situation for a photographer, but it was also a unique experience for a naturalist!

The next days the wind started to calm down, but we never got as many birds landing as on our first day. They went well before sunrise (we arrived just at sunrise, but the colony was already empty) and came back to late as the cliffs cast a shade on landing site quite early. This was very different to my last visits, we had a very different rhythm then. Probably the food source was closer, or they just wanted to go early....

Something else was very different. We spotted some chicks right in the zone where breakers wash over the rocks, not on the stormy day, but on all other days. I have never seen this behaviour and cannot explain it. I discussed it with Nick Rendell and he has never observed this as well! Climbing up these rocks is demanding for adults, but it seems quite impossible for half grown chicks!

On Bleaker you can watch creches guarded by adults and during the last visit all chicks were herded by the adults like sheepdogs do it with sheep (pictures here). This year we observed the same but less "disciplined", some chicks strayed. Very risky with Caracaras sitting in the tussock....

This behaviour seems to be less pronounced at the Neck. It is hard to compare, as the topography of the Neck is very different, but I think it is much less visible in this colony.

At the Neck I managed to shot a picture I wanted to have for years, I nearly had given it up, as the numbers declined and you need big numbers.....

It was an evening you can experience only at the Neck. The sun was setting and early evening light was flooding the landing site (and yes we kept a safe distance and very low profile...). It was just perfect and I had the luck as well! The clouds had mercy and after the light was switched off at the Rockhoppers we went to the amazing beach dotted with Gentoos.... But this is another story!

King Cormorant or Imperial Shag - Phalacrocorax albiventer or Leucocarbo atriceps

Bleaker is the place for cormorants. Right next to the settlement is the biggest colony of King Cormorants I know and Rock Cormorants are plentifull in the cliffs.

Predation on cormorant chicks was not as strong as last time, for whatever reason.

We had been lucky weatherwise, it was very dry around the shags, a bit dusty, but not as smelly and muddy as usual. Shooting on cormorant eye-level comes a bit easier and you stay a bit cleaner.

Macaroni Penguin - Eudyptes chrysolophus

Macaroni penguins are just as Rockhoppers Crested Penguins and look like Rockhoppers on steroids. They are among the most numerous penguins worldwide, even if they have been in a decline and are now classified as vulnerable. On the Falklands however they are very rare, do not form colonies and are spotted from time to time as loners or single pairs among Rockhoppers. We have been lucky and saw a grumpy loner among the Rockhoppers! Good for the group, they saw all 5 species in one trip!

Black-browed Albatross - Thalassarche melanophris

Black-browed Albatrosses, magnificent white and immaculate birds. Albatrosses in general are very hard to observe on land. Their nesting sites are located on remote and very often unaccessible subantarctic islands, very often access is impossible, restricted or forbidden!

Therefore it is a privilege to stay so close to Albatrosses as we do on Saunders!

To make it short, most nests have been occupied, lots of courting among unbound singles was going on, they seem to do well at the Neck on Saunders!

There is a reason why they like this coast at Saunders, it is often a windy place. And the Neck itself can be like a wind tunnel and I had many windy days and nights out there. We arrived with FIGAS at the settlement and we had a stiff breeze. Arriving at the Neck it picked up and we had been hut-bound. Finally we had a full storm, the hut was shivering and the location lived up to its reputation. During the night the storm settled and we still had a breeze, but during the next days we could stay outside, often in wonderful sunshine!

For me the Neck has a special spell and this year did not change this experience!

The hut there is similar to an uncatered mountain hut in the alps and we had to cook ourselves. This can be tricky as cooking for a group of 8 with the food available in the settlement is different to your home-cooking.... I was courageous this year and bought frozen lamb in the settlement. Thats something I never dared before!

It was delicious thanks to our chef Bettina and the humble editor. The Neck had a new oven and the dial did not show temperature but numbers. We had no clue, but did all right. Lamb a la Neck will go down in history of my Falkland Islands workshops!

When we boarded at Saunders National Airport the next group arrived and they brought frozen pre-packaged food - ugh, they miss an experience....

Magellanic Penguin - Spheniscus magellanicus

I guess I have shot more files this year as in 2015/2017/2018 alltogether! Normally Magellanics are a bit boring, as you just see them around their borrows, if you are lucky with chicks. Not much activity compared to other species! The burrows are often not photogenic, just dark holes.....

I have never seen the Magellanics as active as this year on Sea Lion. The beach was full of socializing Magellanic Penguins. Billing, talking to each other, preening, courting, bathing, the full range of interactions. And everybody participated, single birds, nesting birds, birds returning to the sea, birds coming from the sea. I do not know what was going on, perhaps I simply have not realized it in former years.... Or this year was different!

It was amazing! As their main landing site is quite close to the Elephant Seals hang out, pose and train beach (I should call it in the future Sea Lion Island Venice Beach, not just Elephant Corner...) we all spent many hours there for the penguins and Elephant Seals.

I will never call Magellanics boring again! And I will check whether the same behaviour will happen next time.

On Saunders the behaviour was different more like it had been at all locations the years before, on Bleaker we have not been at their main landing spots and at Volunteers I focussed on the Kings...

Anyway it was great to watch and great to try to take pictures of the interaction and it was fun!

Gentoo Penguins - Pygoscelis papua

Gentoos - for me they are a special species as my first cover of a magazine was a gentoo. At all locations (not in Darwin and Stanley, of course) we had Gentoo colonies. All locations are good for photography, with very different focuses.

Many years ago, I did not like Sea Lion so much for Gentoo photography, but this changed. I know now many excellent places on Sea Lion and it is now just as important for Gentoos as Bleaker or Volunteers for the workshop.

All the same, my favourite location was and is The Neck on Saunders. It was a bit sad to see, that this year the numbers of the huge colony at the Neck are considerably down. This is not unusual for Gentoos, the numbers of their colonies are quite often fluctuating a lot!

I was amazed to see how different our locations have been regarding breeding progress. Sea Lion and Bleaker are just a few miles apart, but I guess Bleaker was 5-8 days ahead in the development of the brood! Interesting!

Gentoos can have a second clutch, if the first fails, therefore they rebound often very quickly, lets keep the fingers crossed that this will work for The Neck the coming year. The Neck is still an amazing place for Gentoos and if you can not compare you will be overhelmed.... But pick the right time:

At all location the peak in activities at this time of the year is late afternoon til early night. If you compare the above pictures, it looks like different places, but it is the same beach!

Anyway Gentoos are great! Noisy, active, elegant, I guess you got it, I like them!

That's it for the moment. Of course there are much more species on the Falklands and of course I have much more interesting pics, but enough is enough.

The geese, the song birds and all the rest have to wait for my next Blog.... As I will be back in Subanatarctica I will try to do them justice next time!

It was again a great experience and I hope all participants will agree! The Falklands are just a very special wildlife location. Even if we had lots of trouble flying back (we missed a connecting flight, because a stupid pilot of our latam flight did not tank enough fuel! We had to stay an extra night in Sao Paulo, no further comment!), I will treasure this workshop (including the fuel story)!

And lets not forget, that all our hosts had a big share in the success of this workshop:

  • Micky and his team on Sea Lion
  • the Rendell family on Bleaker
  • the Pole-Evans on Saunders
  • Derek and Trudy at Volunteers

What else?

 a bit PR in german

Wir bieten 2020/2021 zwei Touren in die Subantarktis, Falkland in Kombination mit Südgeorgien und nur Falkland. Das Interesse an beiden Touren ist groß und die Listen mit Interessenten füllen sich schnell. Das gilt vor allem für die Falkland Tour, hier sind wir auch begrenzt auf 7 Teilnehmer, nicht zögern sonst ists zu spät!

Wirklich besonders ist auch die Grönland im Winter Tour, sicher etwas für Abenteuerlustige und Kälte sollte man auch mögen, aber es wird sicher ein besonderes Erlebnis!

Und wer das Fotografieren lernen will (Grundkentnisse werden aber vorausgesezt) für den sind die Azoren das richtige!

Einfach auf die Kacheln klicken und/oder uns auf den Messen besuchen!


Our new workshops are now scheduled and we have new destinations. Especially exciting is the Greenland during winter expedition, something very special! And if you are interested to enjoy me (even) more as an instructor, the Azores are the right choice and it is even warm on the Azores!

Check out my workshop pages for my next workshops.


Munich February 2019