|Encounters with Gentoos|
|Awakening after a rough trip across the Drake Passage between Tierra del Fuego and the Antarctic Peninsula, our first landfall took us to a Gentoo Penguin (Continued below)|
|"Song of the Deep South 2"
A young male singing to attract a mate at the edge of a colony.
|"Song of the Deep South 1"
A young male singing to attract a mate with blue glacial ice behind.
|colony. We left the mother ship on a Zodiac and landed on a small island in the South Shetland Islands group. When the Zodiac crunched on the gravel shore, we stepped into the frigid ocean and waddled ashore in our bright red bulky parkas - while Gentoo Penguins waddled toward the sea in their black-and-white feathers with bill and foot accents of reddish-orange.
This was December (early in the Antarctic summer); along the gravel shore, the snow had melted and the Gentoo Penguins were well into nesting. Their nests were mounds of gravel and one of the Gentoo mates was laying on each mound, keeping the pair of eggs (or sometimes single egg) warm. Around each nest were radiating streaks of pink and white, showing where the birds had defecated their krill and fish diet while lying on the nests. And, yes, the smell was intense! Some of these nests were built among old whale bones left from the whaling era of a hundred years ago.
How did the penguins respond to us? Well, I think they thought of us as big red penguins. We were supposed to stay about 15 feet away from any penguins, but sometimes a penguin would walk right up to one of us and look up into our eyes with a curious stare. Mostly, though, they went about their lives normally as if we weren't there. And it was magical.
In the days that followed we encounted half-a-dozen Gentoo colonies at various stages of nesting. At several research stations, the penguins stood on the snow surrounding each building waiting for the deep snow to melt before they could begin nesting.
In other colonies the birds were actively building nests from the gravel, which made for some interesting behavior. The gravel nests used up most of the gravel on the beach, and often a nest-builder would sneak up on the nest of an already-incubating penguin and steal a piece of gravel to add to its own nest. This led to some intense fights! At these sites we would also see some unattached young male Gentoos wailing with their heads tipped steeply toward the sky - this was their mating song and it seemed a bit lonely.
In still other colonies the young had begun to hatch out. They were tiny, and one parent protected the young with its body while the other parent went fishing. Upon return, the young would feed on the krill and fish that the parent regurgitated.
We were there too early to see the young Gentoos reaching full penguin size, but apparently the young gather together in tight groups (known as crèches) for protection from predators while both parents go fishing.
When the Gentoos emerge from the cold Antarctic seas, the underside of their flippers are bright reddish-pink. This color comes from the intense blood circulation in these extremities; the bodies are adapted to keep the core temperature warm while the flippers and feet are very cold.
We saw the Gentoo Penguins in so many locations that these birds became old favorites by the time we last saw them in the Falkland Islands.
|"Posing for a Portrait"
Still wet from the sea, a Gentoo Penguin pauses to examine the photographer.
|"Harmony in the Deep South"
Two young males singing at the edge of a colony, hoping to attract mates.
|"A Parent's Hopes and Dreams"
A parent pauses from incubation to turn the egg over.
|"A Window on Antarctica"
A pair of Gentoos wait for the snow to melt at the British Port Lockroy research station.
|"Strutting Down the Beach"
A Gentoo emerges from the sea and walks toward its nest site.
|"Antarctic Conga Line"
Clean, with bellies full, a line of Gentoos heads toward the nesting colony.
|"Attempting to Fly"
All right, penguins can't really fly, but they can appear to be trying.
|"Claiming a Continent for the Crown"
Gentoos waiting for snowmelt surround the British flag at Port Lockroy.
|Please click here to go to page two of two for horizontal photographs of Gentoo Penguins|
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Waiting for snowmelt at a nest colony surrounding a Chilean research station.
Penguin Photographs by Lee Rentz
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