Just after arriving at Davis and while the ice was still ‘in’ we had an opportunity to walk out to Gardiner Island and have a look at the large adélie penguin colony. We were taken out by Jen and Vas who had just completed a winter at the base and were field trained.
It is a 4 km walk across the sea ice to Gardiner Island. Long before we got to the island we could hear and smell the adélie penguins.
Adélie penguins live all around the Antarctic coast and on the sea ice. They come to their breeding grounds in October or November. The male builds a nest made of rocks. The female will lay one or two eggs.
The eggs are incubated for 32 – 34 days with both parents taking shifts on the nest. The shifts are usually around 12 days with the brooding parent not eating during that time, while the other parent is out foraging for food.
All the while skuas gather at vantage points awaiting an opportunistic meal. Penguins that are distracted lose their eggs or young chicks to these skuas.
Based on a 2014 analysis (Wikipedia) there were 3.79 million breeding pairs of adélie penguins in 251 breeding colonies around Antarctica.
Always on the periphery of the breeding colony are many young adult penguins and/or breeding penguins that have lost their eggs. They look for opportunities to steal a nest.
The skua’s also hunt snow petrels, sometimes taking them in mid-air. When they catch a snow petrel they will eat everything except the bones and the wings. It is not uncommon to find pairs of snow petrel ‘angel wings’ around the Vestfold Hills.
The chicks start to hatch just before Christmas. Once hatched they stay in the nest for around 22days then leave and join other chicks in crèches. The chicks then moult into their juvenile plumage and go out to sea after 50 to 60 days – some time in March. All the while the adult parents take turns feeding – going out and fishing, feeding themselves and adding reserves to feed the chick or chicks.
The next time I was at Gardiner Island was early February when the chicks were 5 to 6 weeks old and in their crèches.
Penguins in general are a hardy lot and show amazing agility, strength and ingenuity to traverse their harsh and extreme environment. They are truly one of the wonders of nature.
The following photographs of adélie penguins were taken (by me) when I spent a summer as a weather forecaster at Casey Station in 2007/08.
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Until Next Time……..