Sunday, February 14, 2016

Penguins in Tierra del Fuego

Nesting Magellanic Penguins
 One of the highlights of our time in Ushuaia in Tierra del Fuego (on the Argentine side) was visiting a penguin colony. The colony  near Ushuaia is where both Magellanic and Gentoo penguins nest. We were especially lucky because we also got to see six King penguins who just happened to show up earlier in the week. King penquins have colonies elsewhere in Tierra del Fuego, but they don't nest near Ushuaia.

We took a zodiac out to the colony, on an island. It's kind of crazy that people are allowed to walk around (within a roped area) where the penquins are nesting. We were told studies have been done to determine how many human visitors the penquins can tolerate per day and the tours are restricted to that number. The rule is that you're supposed to stay at least two meters away from penguins at all times, but our guide told us the penguins "don't respect this rule." Below is a penguin not respecting our need to walk up the staircase to view more penguins.

The Magellanic penguins are the small ones with a black stripe around their white front side. They nest in burrows, which they reuse year after year. If they have to dig a new one, it takes them three months! The Gentoo penguins are a little bigger and don't have the black stripe. You can see one King penguin in the photo below, it has yellow around its head. The Kings were pretty comical. The six of them were spread out among the Magellanic and Gentoo penguins sitting perfectly still looking very stoic while the smaller penguins ran around in every direction. Makes me wonder why they chose to go ashore and chill with penguins of another species, rather than any other piece of shore in the Beagle Channel.

Stoic King penguin
The Magellanic penguins chicks were 1-2 months old when were there - a funny stage because they are essentially adult-sized but (mostly) still had their down. Some were molting, but they were still pretty adorable.

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