Nestled down at the bottom of the world you’ll find one of the most stunning and surprising places – Saunders Island.
Never heard of it? Don’t worry, most haven’t, me included. Here I go again spilling the beans on one of the world’s best-kept secrets.
One of the largest islands that comprise the archipelago of the Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas), Saunders Island is often one of the incredible stops on a voyage to the subantarctic with Quark Expeditions. And did I mention the best part?
Saunders Island is home to some of the most incredible birds on earth. Also it’s a sheep farm – it multi-tasks.
A veritable nature lover’s paradise, Saunders Island is a must-visit for fellow bird nerds like me.
While South Georgia nearby often gets all the attention, and usually included on the same itineraries that cover the Falklands, Saunders Island is a bit of a dark horse and is guaranteed to delight and surprise.
These are my favorite places to visit – when you have no expectations and are blown out of the water.
A place so remote that Wikipedia lists its population as four. Yes four, but five in summer, Saunders Island is tiny but mighty, owned by the Poole-Evans family, who will likely come out to say hello to you in their trusty Land Rover Defenders when you make port.
First settled in 1765 by the Brits on their international plan of world domination, less than five years later they were booted out by the Spanish and over the next century shifted ownership until the Brits were victorious in 1833 ever since, though don’t bring this up to anyone from Argentina unless you’re ready to have your head bitten off.
But back to the birds.
With the human population is less than ten, the bird populations have managed to soar, in spite of a sizable rat problem.
With stunning white sandy beaches and blue waters, it’s not what you might expect from such a wild and remote place. Most of the expedition ships like with Quark call into “The Neck” where the highest concentration of wildlife co-exists along with some sheep.
Here penguins rub shoulders with rare seabirds in a place unlike I’ve ever seen before or since. It was the perfect introduction to the subantarctic and absolutely blew me away.
Here are some of the birds you’ll meet on Saunders Island in the Falkland Islands – enjoy!
Ah the gentoos, the classic of the classic penguins, and the most likely to greet you as you step off the zodiac onto the beach at Saunders Island.
With an estimated 6,700 breeding pairs on Saunders Island and around 100,000 on the Falklands, you are definitely going to see these guys waddling around you. While the origin of their name is unknown, it’s pretty cool to note that gentoos are the only penguin on earth whose population and home is increasing, especiall in Antarctica.
Yay! Long live the penguins!
Far from one of the most popular birds on the Falklands, the Johnny Rook aka the striated caracara is a scavenger, that breeds around the penguin and seabird colonies, living off dead stuff and even newborn or weakened sheep, which led it to be persecuted by farmers in the past.
Luckily times have changed and while they are far from abundant, these smart and fearless birds of prey have no qualms about us visitors, and aren’t even phased.
You’ll see them lurking about the beaches, as if oblivious to us humans wandering around ooh-ing and ahhh-ing all of the penguins.
Wow wow wow, now let me just say, nothing will prepare you for how blown away you’ll be the first time you clap eyes on a king penguin.
Magnificent and beautifully colored, I thought we would only see these guys in Antarctica, but boy I was wrong. Saunders Island on the Falklands is home to them too, and we were lucky enough to see them on our visit.
I plonked myself down in the sand for ages watching them, and I could barely believe my eyes when I saw a little chick peek out from underneath one of them – squeee! What a delightful moment!
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With over half a million breeding pairs on the subantarctic islands, on a visit to the Falklands you’ll likely to meet one of my favorite birds – the black-browed albatross.
Albatross are simply stunning creatures. Monogamous and living up to 70 years old, these guys mate for life, and there is a tremendous colony you can visit on Saunders Island.
Rockhopper penguins waddle through their nests above the sea, and the chicks are just enormous, fluffy grey balls surrounded by their parents. Beautiful and smelly, I adore albatross.
They are just enormous, watching them try to land is frankly terrifying as they often can crash and look almost like little airplanes soaring above you on the cliffs.
As if I haven’t mentioned enough of the incredible creatures you’ll spot on Saunders Island, there is yet another penguin mingling amongst the masses – the magellanic penguin.
Named after, you guessed it, the explorer Ferdinand Magellan, who first spotted them in 1520, the classic black and white penguins reminded me a lot of similar species I’ve seen in South Africa.
Rather shy, you could see them hesitantly make their way up the beach to their nests from a day at sea, waddling along with their friends.
Honestly, I don’t think you can watch penguins walk around and not smile! Go on, prove me wrong!
Ok, if I had to pick a favorite, it would probably be these guys. I mean, come on, look at them.
They are the rockstars of the penguin world. With incredible yellow feathery eyebrows and a rather bemused expression, these little rockhopper penguins are hard not to love.
One of several types of crested penguins, you’ll find them on Saunders Island, and these are the ones that swim so fast they can launch themselves out of the water and land on their bellies. I spent a long time observing their colonies on the Falklands absolutely mesmerized by these colorful little penguins.
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In New Zealand where I live you’re very lucky if you see even one of the similar Fiordland-crested penguins, and here I was surrounded by thousands. One even walked right by me as I sat frozen in awe; it was so close I could have kissed him. But I didn’t.
Man, penguins are so cool.
Have you ever considered visiting the Falkland Islands? Would you love to see some of these incredible birds up close and personal? Share!