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So many penguin photos … how should I organize them to share? Same conundrum I had with safari last year, haha. But I get lots of requests to share penguin pics … so I’ll make at least a couple posts. I thought for this first one I’d share some pics that show the daily routines of penguins. I’d seen nature shows about these amusing creatures on television (and of course the March of the Penguins movie), but it’s quite different to witness them first-hand. And let me point out that the penguins who nest along the sea shores are different than the emperor penguins that the March of the Penguins movie is about. The ones we saw – gentoos, chinstraps, and adélies – all make nests out of rocks near to shorelines in highly-populated rookeries. These penguins’ behavior all centers around nest-building. They’re so anthropomorphic in their behavior and expressions. (How does a penguin make a facial expression without any moving muscles in their face except their blinking eyelids and jaw? Haha, this is very curious, but I think a lot of it has to do with the rest of their body language. Plus the way they walk around on their little legs and big floppy feet like awkward people ... so endearing.)
First let me briefly introduce you to the three different penguins species we saw. Here's the adélie with its black head and stark, white-rimmed eyes.
The chinstrap, with its … well, you can see why they were given that name. I think they often look so happy with their little "helmets" on (like the guy on the right, below). But they also look like stormtroopers. Erik made up a little cartoon chinstrap character, Darth Penguin.
The gentoo, the most common species we saw, with the white stripe from eye to eye across the top of its head. They always look sinister or angry or suspicious … they are somehow the most expressive. On the ship before our first landing, we had a briefing explaining the protocols to observe while on land. We were not to approach penguins closer than 10 feet, but if they approached us, then we weren’t to run away or anything! They did in fact come up very close to us and sometimes seemed as interested in us as we were in them (as in the first photo below that Erik took of me and a penguin considering one another). Sometimes we'd be boxed in by them walking all around us, and we had to stand still until they finally moved on far enough away to obey protocols, but sometimes there was no way we could keep 10 feet away! The second photo below really cracks me up how the one penguin casually walks up and stands in the middle of the people, like, "Whatcha guys looking at?"
The last slide in the briefing about penguins ordered, “Do not cross the penguin highways.” I thought this was terribly amusing but I had no idea what it meant. The expedition leader assured us we would recognize them. Indeed, these are the penguin highways … troughs cut through the snow that the penguins use to commute from their homes – their nests up on land – to the sea, where they catch their food in the water. It was so funny to watch them commuting on these, and sometimes they get in little traffic jams when penguins are trying to go opposing directions on the same highway. As you saw in the Kayaking Club post sometimes they commute in mass packs along the shoreline.
The penguins live for perfecting their nests, which are made up of small stones and sticks that they find on the land or steal from their neighbors. Both sexes of a couple do all the chores of nest building, nest defense, egg incubation, and feeding their chicks. So when on nest-building duty, they putter around all over the place on their little floppy feet and look for pebbles and sticks either on the ground or in somebody else's nest. When they decide on the new addition to their nest, they carry it back and place it carefully on top or on the side, then turn around and go back out to look for more. Sometimes they roam way far away to get just the perfect pebble that appeals to them.
This guy is contemplating quite the addition to his nest ..... I think he's calculating if he can dig it up, fit it in his mouth, lift it up ... he's got visions of a total mansion in his head.
It's not just stones and sticks in their nests ... you can see here a bone in this one. I would guess it belongs to a fellow penguin? But I have no idea.
You might think the partner out gathering and stacking stones is the one “at work.” Sometimes the penguins sitting on their nests look positively serene.
But defending the nest from all the resident thieves … basically every other penguin on the colony … is ceaseless work, always on the look-out, yelling at the thieves when you catch them. This poor gal was yelling back and forth from one thief to the other, they were closing in on both sides. While she was yelling at one, the other one would take the opportunity to start sneaking in, then she'd whip around and yell at him, at which time the first thief moves back in, she turns back to him, etc. etc. back and forth. It looked completely exhausting! This pic turned out kind of funny because I think the thief in the foreground looks completely admonished, like he's dropped his head in shame. The other thief is the one standing up facing us in the back. He's eyeing the scene waiting for the right moment to swoop in (in about 2 seconds).
If a penguin is sleeping while its partner is out feeding or something, its nest will certainly will be raided, but gathering stones seems to be the raison d’etre for the penguins, so it keeps them continually, happily busy -- they hardly seem to feel the setback of a depleted nest. One time another couple on the ship told us that they watched a penguin hunt around for a long time for just the right stone to take from an existing nest. They really do spend tons of time inspecting the rocks around them before deciding on one to carry back to their nest. You wonder what a particular penguin's criteria is for an appealing stone. So anyway, this one penguin peruses all the stones in this nest, whose occupant remains curiously silent, and finally decides on one. Picks it up and carries it around to the other side of that nest and places it carefully on top. He had raided his own nest for a stone. I guess at least you know he agrees with his own taste in pebbles.
It's hard to know if these two penguins are just randomly arguing beside somebody else's nest, or if one of them is co-owner with the sitting penguin and chewing out a potential thief.
As I mentioned in the Kayaking Club post, the sound of a penguin colony can be almost as overwhelming as the stench of it. Not quite. But it's loud. In addition to yelling at thieves, they engage in duets and choruses for reasons unknown to me, there seems to be no rhyme or reason sometimes, just all of a sudden a whole bunch of them stretch their necks and point their mouths to the sky and start calling into the air. They're not always standing near their nests, so it doesn't seem like they'd be calling to their mates. ? I missed the on-board lecture about penguins, which I guess I regret now, because I have to go do some research to find the answers (gasp!).
Additionally, they seem to go through a little ritual each time the parents of an egg switch over incubation duty (to keep either eggs or chicks warm), which involves calling back and forth at each other for awhile. I don't know what they're discussing ...
"Okay, my turn to be with the kids, you take the highway to the ocean now."
"Nah, I'm comfy, why don't you go steal some stones or something."
"No really, I want to get off my feet, it's my turn on the nest. YOU go steal some stones if you're not hungry."
"Look I'm really not in the mood for this, there was a terrible traffic jam on the highway getting home, plus several seals on the beach I had to walk around. I just want to sit on the nest now."
Etc. etc. ?? Who knows.
If you wonder which penguin gets latrine duty, that would be none of them. In case you wonder why the feathers on their tummies are sometimes yellow or reddish, it's because they were sliding on the ground through ponds and rivers of penguin poo. You can see the white, yellow, green and red streaks decorating the exterior of their nests ... their exterior painting is poo.
Then of course the nest serves its purpose once the female penguin lays her eggs, typically two. We were fortunate to visit one rookery where penguins were just starting to hatch. I was unfortunate with my camera that I failed to obtain nice focus on the little boogers, but I think in spite of that shortcoming, their cuteness is still well-enough discernible. I might typically put photos of hazy focus into my personal bin … pics I keep and enjoy for myself but don’t share with others. But I think it would be a shame not to share these cute critters regardless of photo quality. Hope you enjoy a few, too.