Cape Royds penguin rookery and Shackleton's Hut.
Two weeks before I left the Ice, I received the icing on the cake of an amazing season. I went to the Cape Royds, which is is the home of Shackleton's Hut and an Adelie penguin rookery. To travel there, we took a Bell 212 helicopter to the cape which is on Ross Island about 20-30 miles north. I've said it before and I'll say it again, my best days on the Ice have started with a helicopter ride.
Deke in front of the garbage dump for Shackleton't Hut.
Dog houses at Shackleton's Hut.
Properly labeled cargo will ensure a speedy delivery.
Deke and I were at Cape Royds to download data from their automated penguin camera. The scientists were there to break down some field equipment to take back to base. When we finished our work, we helped them haul their gear up the long hill to the helicopter landing site. Fortunately, we finished all the work about an hour before we were scheduled to be picked up which gave us a little time to explore the area. Unfortunately, we didn't have the key to Shackleton's Hut so we couldn't get into it, but we might have had time to loot the whiskey from under the hut if we had thought of it (Sorry, Fraggle). I used my extra time running around with my telephoto lens taking pictures and admiring the wildlife, specifically watching the penguins swim and jump in and out of the water just outside of the rookery.
An Adelie penguin carries a pebble to its nest that it is building. The penguin with the biggest pile WINS.
Each year, the single male Adelie penguin builds a nest out of pebbles to try and court a female. The mated pairs from previous years usually return to each other and rebuild their old nest site. On a continent made mostly of ice, there are not many pebbles to choose from so the Adelies have been stealing the same pebbles from each other for centuries to build their nests. Each year, they try to defend their territory, but other penguins are always able to steal a few pebbles. Watching this behavior as they chase each other around was really entertaining. I think they are done breeding for this season so I'm not sure why they were stealing pebbles when I arrived. Maybe they were practicing their Capture the Pebbles skills for next season.
A curious parent and chick.
A less curious cute chick and parent.
Mated pairs will typically lay two eggs in late November that will hatch in late December. The parents take turns incubating the eggs. Once the eggs hatch, the parents will continue to take turns with their offspring to defend against any predators (i.e. skuas) while the other gets food for themselves and to regurgitate for the chick. I was amazed at the ferocity of the displays of the Adelies when a skua approached. The parents will continue taking turns until late January when the chicks' appetite require that they both go out to collect food. During that time, the chicks will gather around each other in crèches for protection.
Adelie penguin tries to fly?
Adelie penguin chick.
Apparently, the Cape Royds rookery has some of the fattest chicks around. There just isn't the same competition for food as there is at other rookeries so the parents can easily get enough food for themselves and their offspring. Cape Royds has around 2,000 mating pairs. Cape Crozier another colony on Ross Island, has 150,000 breeding pairs of Adelies. I'm not sure if the adults end up bigger as well. I'd assume so. Adelie adults are between 18"-30" tall.
A banded Adelie penguin.
King of the Hill.
Adelie penguins on an ice chunk.
An Adelie penguin tries a plane style take off to fly.
Adelie penguin diving board.
My favorite parts of visiting the penguin rookery were watching the penguins swim and exit the water. I'll put some video up of it soon because stills don't do it justice. They look like they just leap out of the water. If you blink, you might suddenly see two or three standing on the ice where there were just none. It was magical to watch those clumsy landlubbers become streaking torpedoes when they enter the water. They are completely different creatures. I realize that they need to surface to breath, but it looked like they were playing in the water more than they were feeding. I was captivated and wish I had more time to spend with them.
Adelie penguin roar.
Adelie penguin covered in penguin guano from sliding on its belly.
An Adelie penguin builds up its nest with a new rock.
Not every penguin makes it.
Swimming Adelie penguins.
Swimming and resting Adelie penguins.
Adelie penguins and ice sheets breaking away.
Shh, be very, very quiet. He is sleeping.
Notice the red on the underside of the wings. It is redder because of the extra blood flow in the area when they are swimming.
One of the neater things that I was able to see was the different colors of the penguins feet and wings. When they are warm and dry, their feet and inner wings are white. After they swim, the feet and inner wings are pink from all of the extra blood in that part of the body to keep them warm. Very, very cool.
A crabeater seal at the southernmost point of its range.
Just south of the Cape Royds penguin rookery.
Two skuas eat the remains of a penguin chick.
The Kiwi's EC-130 lands with Mt. Erebus in the background.