Black tie affair

We have been meaning to post some pictures and a few words about our January visit to the penguin convention at the Harberton Estancia in Tierra del Fuego, since… well, January.  Nothing like a deadline – our impending return home – to motivate some action.  So, here, belatedly, are some great photos and a couple of observations about what was really one of the highlights of our time in Argentina.

Harberton is a very large private estancia that is home to a breeding colony of Magellanic penguins.  In addition to providing for conservation, research and a museum, the owners have an arrangement with a local tour company that allows for tourists to come and take a guided walk around the island among the penguins.

There are actually two species there – by far the most numerous are the Magellanic penguins pictured here.  The adults are instantly recognizable by the curling white stripe on the side of their heads and a white bar below their necks and down their sides.

The other species present on the island is the larger, but less numerous Gentoo, pictured here.

To protect the penguins from over-friendly tourists who might adversely affect the animals or their nests, most of the area one can walk through is roped off.  Of course the penguins flagrantly disobey the restrictions and in the end you have to step rather carefully to avoid scaring or even stepping on them.

Just having a little friendly conversation here.

We were there near the end of the chick-rearing season, when the babies were almost as big as their parents but still depending on them for food.  Here a parent (could be mom or dad) is regurgitating a recently-fished lunch to feed two very hungry young’uns, each of which wants more food NOW!!  (Our pals at Wikipedia tell us that Magellanic penguins generally lay two eggs; both parents incubate the eggs, and they also share the task of feeding the chicks, for about a month.)

This link will take you take you to a video I uploaded to Youtube showing a clearly exhausted Gentoo parent who feels that she has fed his/her chick enough and wants to keep the rest of his/her lunch!  Most parents can probably relate:

One of the things that becomes obvious when you see young penguins up close is that they really are feathered birds.  This molting chick is taking a nap in the summer sunshine.

This close-up shows the feathers on a wing that we found on the beach, presumably left behind by the skuas (predatory birds) that prey on isolated individual penguins.

If, like us, you have grown up seeing photos and videos of penguins on ice and in the water, it is surprising to see that these guys run around on the grass and dirt and make nests in holes in the ground.

Pretty cool eh?


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