I spent the weekend at our house on Cape Cod and once again had time to enjoy being outdoors each day in some beautiful fall weather. Today we stopped for one last look at the Atlantic Ocean at Red River Beach. I saw this lonely sea gull perched on the lifeguard’s tower. It made me think of the skuas in Antarctica, and how they will be the only bird of flight I’ll see for several months. Skuas are related to the sea gulls I saw today, and are one of only a few birds found in the McMurdo Sound/Ross Sea region of Antarctica.
Skuas are scavengers and will take something right out of your hand if you’re not careful. They’ll hover above, squawking and are always on the lookout for their next meal. Their diet consists mainly of fish, scraps, carrion (dead and decaying animals) and they often look for unguarded penguin eggs and weak or isolated penguin chicks. Here’s a random fact for you…at McMurdo Station (where I’ll be headed in late November to work with scientists) there are large bins called “skua bins.” They are places where people in McMurdo put their discarded or unwanted items for others to scavenge through….just like the scavenging skuas on the ice! Last time I was down there I actually got a couple of “presents” from my friend Myrna…courtesy of the skua bins. One person’s trash is another one’s treasure!
Of course I hope to be lucky enough to see Adelie and Emperor Penguins, which are the two penguin species found in the Ross Sea region near McMurdo Station. These flightless birds waddle on land/ice and also toboggan along on their belly. When tobogganing they use their feet and stiffened wings to push themselves forward on the ice and snow. They are agile swimmers and very at home diving into the water and rocketing through the ocean in search of krill or fish to eat. Their streamlined bodies and stiff flipper-like wings make them perfectly adapted for their marine environment. Predators can include orcas (killer whales), leopard seals and skuas. Penguins use their superior swimming skills to out maneuver their predators in the ocean and make it back to the ice/land.
Follow my friend and colleague, Jean Pennycook and scientist David Ainley, as they study the Adelie Penguins nesting and living at the rookery at Cape Royds, not far from McMurdo Station. Jean is headed to Antarctica very soon and she will have plenty of excitement to share with you! Click on the Penguin Science link in my blogroll.