Saturday, January 23, 2010
Three others arrived with me for the day- scientist David Ainley and science educator Jean Pennycook came to band penguin chicks--and annual endeavor for the study of penguins and penguin colonies. (They have a great website http://www.penguinscience.com/classroom_home.php)
Not having a permit to touch penguins my assistance was limited to bending the metal bands into a more closed shape and by taking pictures. They banded 1,000 chicks---from the 150,000 nesting pairs.They worked rapidly- choosing penguins large enough at this point to have a chance to survive from the many skuas who await the opportunity to consume a vulnerable young bird--may do not survive! The bands allow them to collect data regarding health, nesting patterns, migration, etc.
It was a gorgeous, sunny, blue sky day----the best of the season I was told. For the first time I could actually hear waves and surf and the blue of the water against the ice edge was spectacular. This was the beginning open water around this side of Ross Island.
The banding finished and we all hiked back up the mountain, (quite a haul) and a helo picked up those not staying. I made my home in a Scott tent, had dinner with my new camp mates--who had been there for over 3 months! ....without leaving at all! They were impressive and welcoming. (The BBC guys had taken a short break from this isolated site.) I took a short walk to the highest local peak (Pat's Peak)to get an overview of the ice edge and surrounding mountains and snow fields.
The next day was also spectacular--relatively warm and not windy. I took a different route to the sea, down what is commonly known as the Penguin Highway. In this crease between a snow field and a mountain side skinny penguins descend to the sea and fattened they return to feed their young.
I spent the day water coloring, half way down and on the beach. The background sound was the constant chirping and chattering of penguins and the waves breaking and skuas crying out. At the end of the day I witnessed the actions of another animal perilous to penguins (in addition to skuas.) I watched a leopard seal consume penguins in the sea--his big head rising out of the water and then chomping down on a swimming penguin. Meanwhile on the beach a Weddell Seal slumbered, penguins keeping their distance--although this kind of seal is not a threat. An amazing day of being in the middle of a completely other kind of world.
I wearily climbed back up the mountains, inadvertently taking a longer route. I could see--(but be careful not to step on) bright orange lichens on black/ brown rocks-this with the blue sky and white snow was graphically beautiful. I avoided, as best I could, the skua nests--but they were none to happy to see me and dive bombed me for quite a distance.
I left the next day--along with the penguin researchers-- a morning helicopter brought us back to McMurdo Station.