I don’t know what I was really expecting on my trip to Antarctica but I did think there’d be some ice, wildlife and rough seas. Well, two out of three ain’t bad.
Mid-summer it may be but there was plenty of ice. And being mid-summer, most of the critters were out of the water, on land preparing for or tending to the newly hatched young. It was quite a staggering site.
Can’t you just imagine a young chick back-chatting its parent? And, by the look of things, the parent is already caring for a younger chick snuggled up on its feet (protected by the pouch covering the top of its feet).
One gets fed, one misses out …
It was always special to see a young chick poking its head out from underneath a parent.
My first encounter with penguins was on West Point Island (in the Falklands) where we saw rockhopper penguins nesting in the same area with black browed albatross. They didn’t care that we were there, just carried on with their lives as if they were still all alone.
A rockhopper penguin on West Point Island
A black browed albatross with chick sharing its space with rockhopper penguins.
Salisbury Plain provided me with my first mind-blowing encounter with penguins – it seemed like there were millions of them – king penguins and their young – in all stages of development. It seems a bit trite now but I was pretty overwhelmed by the experience and walked around in a daze for the first half hour or so. In fact, I felt a tear or two form as I stood there entranced by the experience.
You’ve just got to enlarge this photo (click on it) to get some sort of an idea about how many king penguins were in this colony. And this is less than a quarter of the population in this area alone.
Our guides did give us an estimation of the number of penguins in the first major colony and I think, from memory, it was a paltry 250,000 pairs. Though my memory is pretty faulty. It seemed like there was a lot more.
I decided that I loved the chinstrap penguins best – they have a charming personality and an inquisitiveness that brought them into close contact with some of the people on our trip.
Chinstrap penguins taking the plunge
You can’t say that you’ve had a bad hair day until you can rival this chap.
They say that we have to keep five metres between us and the penguins – but someone forgot to tell the penguins. It is nothing to be sitting down and have a penguin or two come up to you to start up a conversation. It is really quite wonderful to be amongst wild animals that don’t have a fear of humans. And I enjoyed every moment of our encounters.
A magellenic penguin on Carcass Island in the Falklands.
Macaroni penguins get their name from that dandy who stuck a feather in his cap. This photo is courtesy of Gerda Eilts. I don’t know what I did to my camera but I didn’t get one good photo of a macaroni penguin – and they were the penguins I really wanted to see. We only came across them in Elsehul Bay so I didn’t get another chance to improve my technique.
I just love the dramatic effect in this shot – no, he wasn’t about to become a meal. The elephant seal in the backbround was having a tussle with one of its mates and was totally ignoring this penguin.
Ain’t love grand?
A penguin superhighway – from the rookery to the ocean so they can catch fish for their babes.
This colony is in trouble – they reside in Neko Harbour where a glacier calved. The ice spread all around the shoreline of the harbour. Not only did that stop us from landing, it also stopped the penguins from getting to or returning from the ocean with food for their chicks. They were trying to negotiate their way through the ice looking for a gap in the ice pack. They’d occasionally make it out of the water but then slip and have to start all over again. It was a traumatic situation and colonies have been know to fail because of an event like this. A few penguins were starting to find their way around the edges of the ice pack back onto shore so I can only hope that they found a way.