Archive for the ‘Birds’ Category

King Penguin Paradise on Salisbury Plain

February 23rd, 2010 at 9:54 pm (AST) by Jake Richter

After two days of mostly overcast skies and moderate to heavy snow, it was a pleasure waking up this morning to find a clear day with sunny skies. Outside our cabin, in the water, we could see hundreds of King penguins swimming in the ocean, diving down for food, and making the water’s surface come alive.

After breakfast we were taken ashore at Salisbury Plain (see GPS tracking data in the previous post), where we encountered far more King penguins than we could count. In fact, the King penguin colony there was so large I felt the need to shoot a panoramic sequence. If you want to get a good idea of the sheer mass of penguin life, click on the image below to see a 12,112 pixel wide image of the penguin colony.

Panorama of King Penguin colony at Salisbury Plain, South Georgia, with expedition members

Panorama of King Penguin colony at Salisbury Plain, South Georgia, with expedition members

King penguins are the second largest type of penguin in the world after Emperor penguins, and unlike the other penguins we have seen so far, they breed year round. Also, they don’t feed on krill – instead they eat lantern fish and squid. Thus, their guano piles are brown and muddy looking instead of pink like that of the krill eating penguins like the Adelie, Gentoo, and Chinstrap penguins.

The Salisbury Plain area is a beautiful area - with snow covered mountains and verdant plains - and King penguins

The Salisbury Plain area is a beautiful area - with snow covered mountains and verdant plains - and King penguins

A King penguin getting comfortable atop a tussock grass mound

A King penguin getting comfortable atop a tussock grass mound

Because the King penguins breed year round, we saw some penguins with eggs, others with tiny chicks, big fluffy penguin chicks who no longer needed immediate protection, and even ones on the edge of adulthood.

This penguin is checking on its egg, which it keeps in a brood pouch above its feet

This penguin is checking on its egg, which it keeps in a brood pouch above its feet

This young King penguin gives the phrase 'fat chick" a whole new meaning

This young King penguin gives the phrase 'fat chick\

A King penguin chick almost done losing its down en route to becoming an adult

A King penguin chick almost done losing its down en route to becoming an adult

Also, as another component of a non-seasonally driven breeding season we saw ample evidence of courtship behaviors.

A part of the King penguin courting rituals - also note the tongue visible on the left penguins

A part of the King penguin courting rituals - also note the tongue visible on the left penguins

A tender moment between a nesting pair of King penguins

A tender moment between a nesting pair of King penguins

Mating between King penguins is quick, and if it works results in a single fertilized egg

Mating between King penguins is quick, and if it works results in a single fertilized egg

All in all, the two hours we spent at Salisbury Plain did not seem to be nearly enough, but we’re so glad we had the opportunity to see these beautiful creatures in their native habitat.

Coming out of the ocean after feeding, this King penguin still has water droplets on its feathers

Coming out of the ocean after feeding, this King penguin still has water droplets on its feathers

Larger versions of all of the above images can be found on my Flickr pages.

 

King Penguins Are A Noisy Bunch – Audio

February 23rd, 2010 at 3:19 pm (AST) by Jake Richter

It was a spectacular day today as we witnessed a King penguin colony of tens of thousands of penguins. But rather noisy too. Listen for yourself (press the “play” (triangle) button to start):

King Penguin Colony Sounds
Just a small portion of the King penguin colony at Salisbury Plain, South Georgia

Just a small portion of the King penguin colony at Salisbury Plain, South Georgia

 

Port Lockroy, Southern-Most Post Office, Feb. 15,2010

February 23rd, 2010 at 11:53 am (AST) by Krystyana Richter

On this day, we met our first gentoos and saw krill, which is one of the most important food sources for the wildlife in Antarctica.

Regurgitated Krill

Regurgitated Krill

We arrived in Port Lockroy in the morning waiting for officials to board from the base only to find that they thought we were coming in the afternoon. The internet is very unreliable and so they did not get the email saying we were arriving early.

At the beginning of our journey, everyone wrote down their names on one of six pages indicating what group we would be in. This is because of a 100 person limit onshore; you could be on a zodiac or kayaking without breaking this limit because you are technically not on shore. In this case, groups 1 & 2 stayed on board, groups 3 & 4 went to Jougla (think French), and groups 5 & 6 went to Lockroy. The groups rotated places every hour and 15 minutes (mind you, this is not very precise, because people stay longer in some locations and lose track of time quite easily).

We had been waiting to see the penguins after watching a leopard seal chase some zodiacs. Almost the minute we set course for Jougla, my dad asked how you would pronounce the name, turns out there is tons of mispronunciations from other languages and Lockroy is actually a mangling of a French name by the English.

Penguin watching the strange blue penguins

Penguin watching the strange blue penguins

I stepped on shore and was amazed to find that the gentoo penguins were absolutely everywhere and if we were supposed keep 15 feet away from these penguins we would be in the water. The penguins walked along the same paths us humans were using and the penguins had right of way. If you were in the way the penguin would not even look at you and either brush right past your legs or just waddled off onto another path. The rocks that we stood on were slimy with penguin poop and so keeping one’s balance with penguins in every direction was a challenge.

The chicks were at a stage where they chase adults to feed them and humans seemed easier to catch, they would squawk until they lost their patience and then looked for their next victim. The penguins had the tendency to be right behind you, so we had to watch where we walked more so than we had to with the Adelie penguins.

gentoo penguin feeding chick

gentoo penguin feeding chick

Man cornered by two gentoo chicks

Man cornered by two gentoo chicks

Feed baby penguin!

Feed baby penguin!

Port Lockroy was once a place where Norwegian whalers would anchor and they did so from 1911-31. What is left from those days are whale skeletons above and below (David Cothran, the trip’s undersea specialist had been diving there and took video, which included the video of whales’ skeletons). These date from before the whalers learned how to get oil from the bones and so they just left the rest of the whale to drift or sink after they were done.

Someone, who had a lot of time on their hands, put together a makeshift whale skeleton (makeshift because the bones are mostly from different whales, like one is blue, sperm, or right whale and some are in the wrong position) from all the bones lying around. This skeleton had penguins wandering through the bones and one was even trying to use it a windbreaker.

Makeshift whale skeleton and the human comparison

Makeshift whale skeleton and the human comparison

Antarctic blue eyed shags were nesting nearby the gentoo colony and they did not seem bothered in the least by the other being present, unless they came too close to the other’s nest.

Pair of Antarctic blue eyed shags

Pair of Antarctic blue eyed shags

On a lonely little hill, there was an adult gentoo on a nest that contained a small chick and an egg. Many photos were taken but the likely hood that the chick would survive is very low, because it is too late in the season.

Adult gentoo, baby, and egg

Adult gentoo, baby, and egg

After taking many photos of a Jougla and its inhabitants, I found myself near the landing station without a clue where the rest of my family was. I guessed my mom and brother had gone off to Lockroy and that my dad was somewhere on Jougla and he would take his time getting to Lockroy. So, I headed off to the Lockroy base to see the very small museum.

The signs that indicate that you are in Port Lockroy

The signs that indicate that you are in Port Lockroy

I walked through the museum rapidly and bumped into my brother, who then brought me over to my mom. They had been sitting on the porch outside of the museum and were being entertained by the poop and vomit eating snowy sheathbills and their chicks that had a particular interest in the poop-laden bottoms of our muck boots.

Snowy sheathbill chick and bottom of muck boot

Snowy sheathbill chick and bottom of muck boot

People that arrived from a yacht had caught the interest of some gentoo chicks and the chicks started trying to tunnel, headfirst, between the legs of one of the men. My mom’s theory is these penguins like the color orange because the boots the man was wearing were bright orange.

Penguin chick tunneling between legs

Penguin chick tunneling between legs

At the end of our visit of Port Lockroy, we finally found my dad.

For more photos go to Flickr.

 

More Leopard Seals in the Antarctic

February 20th, 2010 at 8:56 pm (AST) by Jake Richter

Among the plentiful life we found in Sandefjord Bay yesterday were a fair number of leopard seals, most of whom were resting on an ice floe in the middle of the bay. You may recall my post about the leopard seals we had previously encountered, but all of those were in the water.

The leopard seals on the ice floe provided us with an excellent photo opportunity, as well as to study them in greater detail.

Leopard seals, just resting

Leopard seals, just resting

Among the things we noticed:

– Leopard seals are true carnivores. We could tell this because they have no molars, just pointy sharp flesh-rendering teeth. Their diet consists primarily of krill with penguin as a bonus (75% krill, 25% penguin, or so).

And here's the tongue as well - note the slick bottom side of the seal where moisture has flattened the fur, making it almost look bald

And here's the tongue as well - note the slick bottom side of the seal where moisture has flattened the fur, making it almost look bald

– Their fur becomes slick when wet. This was apparent when they lifted their bodies and we could see fur sticking up/out where they were dry, while on the part resting on the ice, the fur texture was not apparent, making them look shaved or bald (when in fact the fur was just slicked down).

– They really do have a very reptilian head.

– They are large and beautiful creatures (but I wouldn’t want to be swimming with one or have it think I was a penguin).

It may look like the seal is smiling, but I think it's looking at us and thinking 'dinner'

It may look like the seal is smiling, but I think it's looking at us and thinking 'dinner'

Many more photos I took of the leopard seals yesterday beyond those above can be seen on my Flickr pages, in significantly higher resolution.

 

Video – Leaping and Jumping Penguins

February 20th, 2010 at 5:51 pm (AST) by Jake Richter

With the plethora of Chinstrap penguins at Sandefjord Bay yesterday – both on land and in the water, we found a number of places where these penguins were exiting and entering the water.

Penguin water exits are rather dramatic, with penguins frequently leaping great heights onto land, and occasionally failing. They also have no idea what might be on land at the sites they are launching themselves onto, which produces some very entertaining results (at least for us humans – not sure about the penguins).

To help give you a sense of what penguins flying through the air look like in motion, I have assembled the video collage you can view below. Please note that the laugh track is based on what was recorded at the time of the various events you will be viewing, and not added later (only the music was added later). Enjoy!

 

Penguins and Fur Seals Everywhere

February 20th, 2010 at 2:56 pm (AST) by Jake Richter

Yesterday afternoon we arrived at the western end of the South Orkney Islands, more particularly at Coronation Island and the area known as Sandefjord Bay. And all this is still in what is officially deemed by treaty to be Antarctica.

As I previously related, the waters were alive with Chinstrap penguins, porpoising out of the water non-stop. Well, there was a reason for that. The land around the bay is teeming with life, mostly in the form of perhaps a half million Chinstrap penguins and thousands of fur seals.

In fact the land was so heavily populated that we had no place to make landfall, and instead took an hour and a half Zodiac tour of the area.

To give you an idea of how populated the bay was, below is a panorama of 11 photos of just one small part of the bay.

A panorama of a small part of the land around Sandefjord Bay in the South Orkney Islands featuring hugs numbers of Chinstrap penguins and fur seals

A panorama of a small part of the land around Sandefjord Bay in the South Orkney Islands featuring hugs numbers of Chinstrap penguins and fur seals

This small image, however, doesn’t easily show the tens of thousands of penguins on the rocks. To see those you really need to click on the above image, at which point you will get to a Flickr page where you can see a larger version of the image (still not enough good detail though). From there, click on the “original” link and you will be able to access the original panorama, which is 13,447 pixels across (about 11-13 times the width of the average computer display these days). Or you can click here for the Flickr page giving you that option.

Either way, if you do look at the detailed image look closely at the tops of the tall hills on the right side of the image. The little bumps on it are also penguins. No idea how they got up that high, but they are everywhere!

It’s a really rocky day here at sea as we head to South Georgia today, but we’ll try to get a few more posts up later today.