Penguins, Penguins, Penguins!!
Spoiler alert! This post contains pictures of adorable penguins! And, another spoiler…it won’t be the last post from this journey that will focus on them! Just wanted to make sure you knew that up front. Today was a fabulous day! It started with the view below…from our breakfast room at the Alto Andina Hotel in Ushuaia, Argentina. In less than 48 hours the Homeward Bound expedition will depart from that same wharf you see in this photo…bound for Antarctica and our leadership training, field trips, science instruction, and a whole lot of adventure. If today is any indication of how much we will be learning and laughing…well, we are in for an awesome 3 weeks on the ship!
This afternoon 9 of the HB (that’s what I’m calling the Homeward Bounder women/group from now on!) boarded a coach bus for a 1.5 hour bus ride through the natural environment and countryside…to reach a coastal area. It was very interesting to see the landscape change from a dramatic shoreline to a more subtle look at distant scenery of mountains, lakes, and rivers, and to see more trees inland just a bit. Still, many areas were more grass-covered than forest. It was a great mix of vegetation and rolling hills.
Once we arrived at the coast, we boarded a covered zodiac for a short (10-15 minute) ride to an island called Harberton, in the archipelago near Ushuaia. It was first settled in 1886.
Before boarding, I spotted these lupine….I love the sturdy stem shooting straight up, the colorful flowers, and the heartiness of this flower. I’ve seen it in high latitudes in Sweden and Norway. It likes this cool coastal environment.
Here’s our group boarding the zodiac…excitement was building because we knew we were going off to see penguins…soon!
It’s almost like this Gentoo penguin was heralding our arrival. As we climbed out of the zodiac, we saw penguins filling the entire beach, stretching down for quite a distance. One thing I learned right off the bat, Gentoo penguins were different from the Magellanic penguins we saw on the same beach today. They have orange beaks and feet.
Now these guys below are mostly Magellanic penguins. They are the most populous on the island, with about 5,000 breeding pairs here from October through December. In January, the juvenile penguins arrive to hang out here while their feathers molt, and by April all of these penguins move out to sea to feed during the winter months. Magellanics are continental penguins, meaning they are found more on land, not ice. In contrast, the Gentoos are often found in Antarctica, and only about 40 breeding pairs are here on this island.
We were told by our guide to stay back at least 2 meters and sit down or lay on our bellies to observe or take photographs. Penguins are not very afraid of people, but by making ourselves lower to the ground we would be less intimidating. They went along their merry way, hardly giving us a moment’s notice. BUT, we sure noticed this special penguin shown below…a King penguin! They are a species of penguin that likes to explore…and it is not common to see them here on this island. They are adventurous…and it reminded me of the adventurous nature of our Homeward Bound group. We could relate!
I’m sure you can see the beautiful coloration of the King penguin…with it’s bright orange and yellow patches/areas. It’s also the second largest penguin (can be up to 80-90 centimeters), after the Emperor Penguin (100-120 centimeters tall).
I couldn’t stop snapping photographs….it’s hard when you are surrounded by such beauty.
Here are some more Magellanic penguins pictures…
I wonder what “Curious George” here is looking at?
And I was just fascinated while watching this King penguin. He didn’t just lay still….he was quite aware of our presence nearby, but we were careful to keep our distance and use our telephoto lenses, because we did not want to stress these birds out. It’s important to be respectful of animals in the wild, to give them their distance and to watch quietly. After all, we are the visitors in their habitat.
You know, I’m not sure what this shore bird was…but aren’t those stripes on his/her front chest just gorgeous?
It almost looks like this pair of geese is walking over to get on our boat!
Here is another difference between the Magellanic and Gentoo penguins. The Magellanic penguins were along the shore and nesting in holes in the ground (you’ll see soon) while the Gentoos had nests made of rocks and a few sticks. So, the ones below…you guessed it…they are Gentoos.
This little guy…Magellanic. You can tell because he does not have an orange beak. He’s just black and white. I like that circular pattern around his head….cool isn’t it?
Remember, life and death is part of the food web and cycle of life. Sad as this is to see a penguin carcass, it meant that other animals were able to eat.
A Gentoo, ready to sit down on the nest. Notice the brood patch low and in the center of it’s body? That will where the eggs and eventually the chicks will stay warm and snug.
These two pictures show determined Gentoos…carrying sticks to their mates on the nest.
And when I turned around in ANY direction today, we were surrounded by nature’s beauty. It was a bit breezy,, but other than that…a perfect blue sky day!
Heading up hill a bit we saw more nests of the Magellanic penguins…in holes in the ground.
This little fellow seemed to have something to say about us parading through his neighborhood!
This Gentoo was just peeking out from his/her nest in a hole under our boardwalk. Curious, curious birds were watching us as much as we were watching them.
I like to take close up photos of the various animals I “meet” along the way. This photo shows the dense feathers that penguins have. They use natural oils secreted by their bodies to help preen themselves and keep them warm and dry in the water.
Skuas (this one a type of brown gull), are often known as the public enemy because they hope to get their next meal by snatching an egg or chick from a penguin nest. They are also nesting this time of year.
I wish I knew the name of this species of goose…the male is very pretty, while the female has a brown drab color for her feathers This offers her good protection, which is the case for coloration for many birds.
After we left the island, we visited a quaint little tea house, on the original property of settlers here from the 1800’s. Actually the very same family has been here for 4 generations. I can see why…it’s an incredible spot. These whale bones create an archway for the front gate of the house
A small museum nearby has thousands of specimens! It’s named the Museo Acatushin, a name given to this area by the German settlers who first came to this region.
This is part of the spine of a whale. Whales are in the cetacean family.
More of the bones on display outside of the museum.
Here are examples of the skulls of whales.
These next two shots will give you a good comparison of the bones of a Magellanic penguin versus a King penguin.
Our guide talked a lot about the sea birds, and cetaceans. This baleen comes from a member of the whale family. I’m not positive which one, but I do no know that Minke, Right, and Blue whales are all baleen filter feeders.
The teeth and jaw below came from a sperm whale.
One of the extra storage barns for the museum with additional whale bones piled around the sides. Our group even got a walk through the storage area in the main building , where thousands of additional samples and bones are housed…some I’m sure used for research and some possibly used in other displays. It was an amazing collection for such a small, rural museum along a rather deserted (unless you count the penguins) coastline.
One last scenic shot looking back toward the archipelago and the island we visited.
Thanks to our guide, Valentine (pronounced Valenteen….I’m not even sure I spelled it correctly), who was so informative, enthusiastic, and funny! You should have seen his face when we told him we were part of a group of 76 women in science from around the world about to take off on an adventure in Antarctica! Priceless! He also didn’t think we’d pick him up for a photo! Ha! There is nothing I wouldn’t put past these Homeward Bound ladies!