Mawson’s amazing Emperor Penguin rookeries.

A tale of two rookeries

At Mawson, we are incredibly fortunate to live between two of the most amazing Emperor penguin colonies in the world: Taylor Rookery 90-kilometres to our west and Auster Rookery 51-kilometres to our east.

The Taylor Rookery is situated on a low rock outcrop snugly surrounded by the Taylor Glacier to the west, the icecap to the south, and the frozen sea ice to the north and east. Taylor is the only Emperor penguin colony to nest on land rather than on sea ice.

Human interaction with the penguins here is kept to an absolute minimum, with small teams of 4 going out to conduct an ongoing census 2–3 times per year dating back to 1954.

During the year, the first census is completed in June to attempt to photograph the huddled males who remain to incubate the eggs whist the females are at sea feeding.

The rocky hills to the south-east provide a perfect screen to take a series of photos which, when expanded, give an accurate count of the males on eggs whilst not disturbing the huddle. This area is classed as extremely sensitive and as such is protected by the provisions of an Antarctic Specially Protected Area (ASPA) — in practical terms, this means only two photographers are allowed to enter the area to limit any disturbance.

There are also two permanently mounted cameras which need to be serviced and redirected depending on the position of the huddle.

The second census visit is conducted in October to check on the colony, photograph the newly hatched chicks, and recheck the mounted cameras. A third visit is sometimes conducted in November ~ should the sea ice be still thick enough for vehicle travel.

I was lucky enough to have taken part in the first visit this season and, along with Mawson Mechanical Supervisor Tom Dacy, had the enviable job of taking photos in the ASPA for the amazing Barbara Wienecke and her team in Hobart to count the huddled males — I am happy to report that the tally was a healthy 2400.

At Auster Rookery, the penguins breed and nest on sea ice sheltered by towering icebergs approximately 8 kms north-east of the Macey islands.

The colony was discovered in August 1957 by a Royal Australian Air Force Flying Officer (D. Johnston) whilst in an ANARE Auster aircraft — hence the colony name.

This colony is visited in strictly limited numbers by the expeditioners here at Mawson at various times during their breeding, hatching and rearing cycle, taking extreme care to adhere to approach distances both in vehicles and on foot.

Sitting quietly and being patient brings enormous rewards, with the curious birds coming over to say hello which makes this one of the highlights of the year for all at Mawson Station.

Kim De Laive (Mawson Chef — 72nd ANARE)