The Falklands – Albatrosses & More

Yes, yes this is another Falklands page. I’ll be done with these rough and wonderful islands soon enough. Perhaps we’ll go back to the Galapagos or Australia or Africa – or maybe the winter-beating Brazil. But this page will tie into pages from New Zealand (see March 2014 post) where the kings of the great Southern Ocean, the albatrosses, reign.

These birds range in size, when measured by wingspan, from 6.5 to 11.5 feet tip to tip. The bird’s weight is not exceptional for that large size which allows each square inch of expanded wing surface to “float” only a modest amount of weight. This allows the bird to sail and sail almost effortlessly over and around the great ocean, often for weeks at a time.

The Falkland Islands harbor one species of albatross (or Mollymawk as many books and people call it) the Black-browed Albatross. This species is found world wide in a very southern sense. As a resident of the northern hemisphere I tend to think of worldwide as the US, Europe, Asia, and thing north of the equator; or in expansive moment I’ll include equatorial regions as well. But in the south there is Australia, South America and southern Africa and each of these is pretty much surrounded by water. A circumpolar (hol-antarctic) bird or mammal is a creature who has a range that touches the southern tips of South American and Africa and maybe the underside of Australia. In order to qualify you pretty much have to be a fish, marine mammal, or sea bird.

That said, our “Falklandian” albatross is the most widespread of all albatross. They even wander north on occasion – there are rare records north of the tropics in both the Atlantic and Pacific. Fishing boats and trawlers may accumulate hundreds, even thousands, of Black-brows as they stir up the seas and discard undesired species of fish.

The black brow is usually visible in adults. The bird itself is considered a medium-sized albatross with a white head and underside and a black back. However if you see one standing around like this; then you know both where you are and what you are looking at. It is birds in flight that are difficult to identify for sure. The underwing leads and trails with black and the middle is white – in adults at least. The bill is yellowish-orange. Geography helps a bit though this is a widespread and common sea bird. But look-a-likes in the northern hemisphere are usually Laysan and those off Australia and New Zealand may be Campbell Albatross.
Just for a more local sense; this is a Black-footed Albatross off the coast of California. As mentioned above the Laysan is quite white and this one is kind of a scraggy dusky bird. Those two are the only ones that regularly fly along the coast of the USA and Canada. The Laysan and Black-footed have almost identical ranges that encompass the whole Pacific Ocean north of the Tropic of Cancer; from Japan and Southeast Asia to California and southern Alaska.
The Black-brows are annual nesters. This is a rather significant time commitment as it takes about 10 weeks of incubation to hatch an egg and another 14-18 weeks too fledge the youngster. Thus, half the year is spent with getting the next generation started. In most places they nest on steep slopes but on the Falklands they usually nest on flat grassy areas. The nest is a tall cup of mud, grass, seaweed, and guano. The youngsters will return to the colony at 2-3 years old but won’t successfully breed until they are about 10 years old.
As you can see the birds in a nesting colony are quite placid. Most island creatures have evolved with only minimal predation so they nest on the ground and seem fearless. Really it is that they have had nothing to fear and just don’t understand predation and hunting.
The black brow is a reasonable characteristic but at sea many of the smaller albatrosses look similar. As mentioned the black brow, white head and yellow bill are reasonably diagnostic if you are within Black-browed Albatross range.
In many instances getting there is really all you need to take a good photo.
As shown here the subject will often wander to close to focus.
The bird in the foreground-left is an albatross checking out the optics used by visiting eco-tourists.
The goose in the upper right is likely a female Upland Goose.

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