Wednesday, December 23, 2009
at Cape Royds
I landed at Cape Royds yesterday morning after a brief (but exciting! helicopter ride north along the coast of Ross Island and McMurdo Bay. I met penguin research scientist David Ainley, who "lives" here and (he is a actually a marine ecologist)he gave me a tour of the Cape, from the penguin colonies to the point above Black Beach. The land is covered with back volcanic rock in different formations, some are obviously tunnel-like from the running of the lava, other in pillow like hexagonal shapes.penguin scale
The penguins really do live in colonies, where they return year after year. This was a much larger colony and was growing but when the very large iceberg B15 broke off it changed things here- including causing the Cape Royds penguins route and nesting place to be altered. ("This colony’s population has been declining over the past six years because the fast ice has failed to beak out owing to a recently grounded iceberg and a lessening of winds." from the website http://www.penguinscience.com/clim_change.php )With the iceberg gone their route to open water (where they get their food) became longer. Now there are 1700 nests with eggs here all hatching right about NOW!!! I can see little fuzzy gray penguin chicks under penguin adults and others sitting on their rock nests. Other penguins are scurrying around collecting rocks in their beaks and others head down to the ice and then to the open sea to get food. They really do seem to head down to the open water in single file, their wing/ flippers outstretched to balance.
I sat and drew them yesterday and they came almost right up to me looking very curious. I also watched the skuas waiting for an opportunity to grab a penguin chick.
David Ainley and I also walked a bit further north to an incline above Black Beach and watched for whales. I did catch the spray of 2 Minke Whales and David saw a Snowy Petrel.