Friday, November 14, 2008

Pictures of Penguins in Antarctica

Mum, I'm bored

So go and play on the ice with your friends then.

Seriously though, this chick is begging for food and by the stance of it's parent, it's request is about to be answered in the way it wanted

Who's a pretty boy?

You just couldn't make up an animal like the emperor penguin, the reality is so much more handsome and elegant.

Emperor penguin couple

A pair of emperor penguins that are engaged in a recognition or courtship display. Note that there is no real discernable difference between the pair, penguins are unlike many birds where there is an obvious difference between the sexes, the males and females of all species having essentially identical plumage and markings.

Penguin portrait

Emperor penguins are distinguished from king penguins, the only other penguin species they could possibly be confused with, by the yellow feathers in the ear region that fade to white. King penguins have orange ear feathers and the coloured patch is banded by a thin line of black feathers.

This picture also shows how difficult it is to get a good portrait of an emperor penguin and show the eye rather than it disappearing into the matt black of the surrounding feathers.

Pair of Adelie penguins (Pygoscelis adeliae) on sea-ice

There are more Adelie penguins than any other penguin species. They live in the deep south and as such frequently have to cross many kilometers of ice still bound to the continent or islands to reach land in the spring where they can build their nests. Sometimes they have to travel as much as 100 kilometers, though usually 20-40 is more usual. A long walk nevertheless.

This pair were early arrivals in spring at an Antarctic Island near the northern edge of their breeding range and only had about half a kilometer to waddle and "toboggan".

Tobogganing is a way of getting around where there is smooth snow or ice. The penguin lies on its stomach and propels itself along using its feet, an efficient use of energy and one where the penguin can easily keep up with a running man.

Emperor penguin hide and seek champion

Penguin Pascal late told journalists that his success came from his ability to make a noise like 14 different types of ice so evading detection.

Gentoo penguin (Pygoscelis papua papua - southern subspecies) parent feeding young

A parent gentoo penguin feeding its chick. The chick is very close to fledging judging by its size. Penguin chicks because they are covered in thick down before they gain their adult feathers frequently look bigger than the adults that they are feeding from, it's largely fluff though and once they shed the down and grow the adult feathers they seem to shrink a few sizes.

This feeding is clearly taking place away from the main colony. As the chicks get bigger they beg for food from almost any adult that comes their way. It is only in the adults interest to feed their own chicks, so there is often a chase right through and away from the colony with much calling to each other while the adult establishes that this really is their chick.

A feature seen in this photograph that surprises people is how green some bits of Antarctica can appear away from the snow and ice. This area is covered in snow and ice in the winter, but in the warmer months, this melts exposing rocks and an extensive carpet of moss (not grass), in other areas, large e4xanses of green turn out to be lichens growing on the bare rock.


Those down-turned beaks can be so expressive, by watching a penguin colony or just a small group of individuals, you can imagine a whole host of dramas and interactions that are going on. The reality is more likely that it's all in your own head.

I sometimes wonder from pictures like this whether some emperor penguins have eyes at all?

Emperor Penguin Portrait (Aptenodytes forsteri)

Emperor penguins are the largest of penguin species with an average weight of around 30kg (66lb, but can be up to 40kg (88lb)) and a height of approx. 1.15m (3.8ft).

They have colourful feathers around their necks and heads, though are not quite as bright as king penguins which are almost as large. There is little or no possibility of confusing the two species however as their distribution around Antarctica is very different. While king penguins are a sub-Antarctic species, being based on islands dotted around the continent, emperor penguins are animals of the deep south.

Penguins and glacier ice

Emperor penguins dwarfed by the chaotic ice at a glacier edge, the penguins are walking on sea-ice where the glacier spills into in the summer months. The different coloured bands of the glacier ice depend on how much air is trapped in the snow when it fell. The darker regions have the least amount of air and represent warmer temperatures when the snow fell.

Emperor penguin diving through ice at "Penguin Ranch"

The diving habits and abilities of emperor penguins have been studied for several years by researchers based at the US base at McMurdo Sound Antarctica. A non-breeding group of juveniles are taken to a place about 15 miles away from open sea and kept in a corral known as "Penguin Ranch". A hole is cut for them through the sea-ice and as it is so far from any other holes in the ice, the penguins are obliged to return to where they came from.

Observations on their diving habits and times are taken and they are sometimes equipped with depth recording equipment to show how often and how deep they dive to. The penguins show no signs of harm or distress from this treatment. At the end of the season, the fence is taken down and the penguins wander off to resume their lives as normal.

Lone Adelie penguin (Pygoscelis adeliae) on sea-ice

Adelie penguins weigh about 5kg and are around 70cm tall. They winter on the pack ice where the air temperature is higher than on land and where they can find cracks in the ice to fish through. In October, they begin to move south to their breeding grounds, the males arriving first to establish territories and nest spaces with the females arriving shortly afterwards.

This is one of the first males arriving back in the spring before the remainder of the sea-ice has broken away.

Adelie penguins (Pygoscelis adeliae) on sea-ice

More of the Adélies stuck at low tide. The ice-foot is more evident in this picture and the number of penguins is building up, by the time the tide was rising enough to float the grounded "bergy bits" that the birds are standing on, there were about 50 or so of them.

Adelie penguins (Pygoscelis adeliae) on sea-ice

The last of this series of photographs. This proved a difficult subject to capture on film. A high contrast subject in bright light against a high contrast background poses an extreme problem in terms of exposure. The answer in this as in many other similar cases was to take an exposure reading off a neutral mid grey subject, set the camera for this and ignore anything the light meter told you when pointing at the real subject. After much experimentation, the ideal grey subject for metering turned out to be the pale grey moleskin trousers that I wore. A very happy coincidence.

Adelie penguins (Pygoscelis adeliae) diving into the sea

Antarctic penguins run a constant risk when entering or leaving the water from the almost ever-present danger of their main predator, the leopard seal. Leopard seals tend not to chase penguins in open sea, but hang around the places where they jump into the sea from their nesting areas, or where they leave the sea again as this is gives much more productive hunting.

This gives the penguins a problem when going into the sea, they have to enter it to go fishing and to get places, but being the first one in means that they're first in line for any potential leopard seals. Hanging back isn't any better though as they may get left behind and end up jumping in on their own. What happens therefore is that they gather at the edge of the water becoming quite animated and jostling for position until one near to the edge gets pushed or jumps in - that's the signal for the rest, as the odds of survival are far greater when you're part of a large group, they then all dive in in rapid succession.

Lone penguin at sunset, less than scenic guano streak at the bottom produced by the penguin that's moving off in the mid distant left. Doesn't life always just have to intrude in those perfect moments?

Adelie penguins (Pygoscelis adeliae) on sea-ice

These Adélies have a problem, they went out fishing at high tide and now. some hours later have returned. In the meantime the tide has gone out. Still attached to the land is the "ice-foot" an ice step left behind as the tide rises and falls in the winter months to which the floating sea ice is loosely attached. When the sea ice breaks out, the ice-foot is left behind for a period of days to weeks before rising temperatures and the waves cause this to break off too.

So what was a short hop down for the penguins is now a step too high for them. I spent a couple of hours one afternoon watching and following an ever increasing number of penguins as they came back from their fishing trip. They wandered up and down the shore-line trying to find somewhere to get up, but to no avail. Eventually, the tide came back in and so they floated back up to the right level and were able to get back to their nests. The ice-foot broke off completely a few days later in a mild storm.

Day trip

"And so, ladies and gentlemen, if you look over there, you will see an expanse of ice with some sea-water in the crack that runs through it and beyond that some more ice. Now as we proceed back across the ice to our starting point for today by the ice, you may wish to show your appreciation for the guide with some regurgitated krill...."

Emperor Penguins March (Aptenodytes forsteri)

March of the emperor penguins from the edge of the sea-ice to a breeding colony in Antarctica.

Emperor penguins breed almost exclusively on sea ice and so are perhaps the only species of bird that never sets foot on land.

They begin their breeding cycle when other Antarctic penguins have finished theirs, at the end of April to May. Other smaller penguins at this time head north away from the encroaching winter while the Emperors head south into it. They seem to choose very dramatic sites, a large flat area where they can waddle when carrying their egg or chick on their feet surrounded by high ice cliffs or icebergs that help to give a little shelter from the winds.

Two penguin chicks and parents

I was brought up on Disney "True life adventures" and Johnny Morris "Animal Magic" as my introduction to the animal world and this picture could easily be out of either of those sources, I also find it difficult not to want to give the chicks comic voices.

"Aww go on - lets play hide and seek..."

"No, you always know where I'm going to hide"

Chinstrap penguins (Pygoscelis antarctica) adult and chicks on nest

Waiting patiently for their next meal. Chinstrap chicks get fed about once a day on average, with the returning parent bringing back about 300g of krill. Fishing trips take the adults around 20-30 kilometers from the colony, though distances of well over 200 kilometers have been recorded. The young remain on the nest, looked after in turns by each parent until they are large enough to maintain their own body temperature and can wander around freely. At this point they form a "creche" with other chinstrap penguin chicks, huddling together for protection against the worst of the weather and predators. It also leaves both parents free to go fishing so increasing the food supply for the rapidly growing chicks.

Adelie penguins (Pygoscelis adeliae) - Surprise!

These penguins were walking, waddling and tobogganing up and down the area beneath the ice foot looking somewhere to get out. So I thought I'd play a little trick, squat down out of view and wait for them to turn the corner - no I didn't jump up and shout "surprise!", but the comic effect of the first bird's reaction to realising he was coming towards me at high speed is evident.

Fortunately I managed to get this shot off and capture the moment before moving sea-wards (to the left) and allowing their progress to continue, they were back again a few minutes later though as all they could really do was wait for the tide to come in and raise them up to the right level.

Male Adelie penguin (Pygoscelis adeliae) displaying for a mate

What a handsome fellow! This male adélie is a bit late compared to the others around him who have in the main already paired and nested. The males arrive at the breeding grounds first, find a good spot and then go through this display with much raucous calling and flipper waving to attract a suitably impressed female. (A similar ritual is re-enacted on Friday and Saturday evenings at bars and clubs the world over)

This shnt also shows the half-feathered beak characteristic of Adélies and how stocky and powerful they are despite their diminutive stature. A friend I was with on a similar occasion was attacked by an unhappy Adelie that had decided he was too close to the nest. My friend described it as " having 5kg of solid muscle hanging from your skin by a pair of pliers" - please don't try this at home.