Emperors at Taylor

This week at Mawson: 13 July 2012

From the hut at Colbeck we made it to the Taylor Glacier emperor penguin rookery! Fantastic weather came along for the ride as well. We parked the two Haggs on the sea ice, and started unloading cameras. A small group of penguins were a little shy of the strange creatures that came out of the even stranger brightly coloured, noisy boxes, that had no legs but could still move. Penguins being penguins, it wasn't long before they plucked up enough courage to come closer to our strange party. It also meant that they could get on their way to where ever it is that penguins go. Perhaps the desire for food simply outweighed their fear, as they didn't stop for long to investigate the strange troupe on their walkway, but carried on their way to the sea and their next meal.

After putting our camera gear together, we set off to find the rookery. Rules being rules, the special permit that was required for us to enter this Antarctic Specially Protected Area (ASPA) only allowed four people entry to this unique place. That meant two of the six people on the trip would be missing out on seeing this rookery. The lucky four, with cameras packed, headed off towards the rookery area, wondering where exactly the penguins would be this year.

It didn't take very long at all before we spotted the colony. Right at the front of the valley they make home, all huddled together. It looked like it would be hard to get all of us to a suitable vantage point to take photographs for population counting, without disturbing the penguins. A change of plan was decided, and I was the very lucky person to sneak past the penguin radar and take the photographs we came here to take. Ten minutes, and some very slippery ice later, I had the tripod and camera set and ready to start shooting. Four sets of sweeps over the whole colony were taken, firstly using the designated settings, and then some variations; just in case. 30 minutes and over 150 photographs later it was time to pack up and head back to the rest of the group, hopefully with enough suitable photographs that can be stitched together to allow the number of penguins to be determined.

So, why did we visit Taylor? Well, at this time of year all the female emperor penguins are (or at least should be) away from the area, off stocking up on food for the new chicks that should be hatching in the coming weeks. While the females are away, the male penguins are incubating the eggs. By counting the number of penguins in the colony now, an estimate of the breeding population is obtained. Counting the number of chicks at the end of the season, then gives an indication of how successful the colony has been breeding this year.

Kelvin Cope

View of penguins in a large huddle
The entire penguin colony at Taylor
(Photo: Kelvin Cope)
Group of penguins
A group of penguins checking us out as they leave the colony
(Photo: Kelvin Cope)
Penguins in a huddle
Penguins huddle together to keep warm as they incubate the eggs in…
(Photo: Kelvin Cope)
Pneguin huddle
At Taylor there are around 3000 penguins over the winter
(Photo: Kelvin Cope)