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Volunteer Point

Volunteer Point - by Graeme Nott

King Penguin at Rothera Winter 05. Iain Airth King Penguins at Volunteer Point. DJ Max Graeme and King Penguins. DJ Max

At 08:30 last Thursday (7 April) DJ, Rod S, Kathy Kew, and I (Graeme) trooped down the gangway and into a waiting Landrover and headed off to Volunteer Point. Despite the overcast skies and intermittent rain we were loaded down with camera equipment as we were heading to the largest colony of King penguins on the Falklands. Along with the Kings there are Gentoo and Magellanic penguin colonies as well on one small strip of land between the open ocean and a sheltered lagoon so we were expecting photographic opportunities aplenty.

Volunteer Point is reached by driving from Stanley to Port Louie (the old capital) and then on to a farm settlement where the road stops. From there it's over the peat fields guided only by the experience of the driver. Tony did a grand job, all the while reciting amusing stories of people getting stuck out there for hours.

The site is on private property and is run as a farm but it was still very strange seeing sheep grazing on the grass around the penguins. One can't help but wonder whether the landowners take the value of the site as a tourist destination seriously; still they employed a warden for the first time this summer so that's a step in the right direction.

Last winter, one very lonely King turned up at Rothera for a about a week so it was fantastic to see a hundred or so of these majestic animals, with each looking decidedly more chirpy than that solitary fellow. There were a significant number of chicks too and this made for a dynamic colony with parents continually coming ashore and trumpeting to attract the attention of their chick. Somehow, amongst the cacophony, chicks were able to identify their parents (and vice versa) and were fed. All this provided many great photographic moments.

Down on the lagoon edge the Gentoos had almost completed their moult for the season and most were fishing in the water alongside the Kings. My most memorable sight of the day was of a school of small fish being shepherded into the shallows where the Kings and Gentoos darted through the water, eating their fill. The Magellanic penguin colony was quite empty so late in the season but there were still perhaps a score of birds there. These are very timid and so quite difficult to photograph before they scurry back into their underground burrows. Still, with a bit of patience and a long lens I was able to get half a dozen shots or so.

By 15:00 we were back in the car and starting our 2.5 hour journey back to Stanley. It was a short stay but very enjoyable. The ultimate visit would have to be staying in the warden's house overnight giving plenty of time to sit around and take it all in. Admittedly, the warden may have something to say about this.