Having been confined to station due to weather for what seems an unfair number of weekends; this past week we’ve finally been able to get out and about for some recreational trips. And where would a Mawson-ite want to go at this time of the year? Auster of course! To see how our neighbouring emperor penguins are surviving the winter and progressing through their breeding season.
Last time a group visited – approximately a month ago – the chicks were just beginning to hatch and just one or two were sighted and a few heard, but this time… chicks everywhere!! There seemed to be a chick on every pair of feet in the main colony of penguins, and with that a cacophony of sound as the adults (with no nest to return to) identify each other vocally when returning to the colony, ready to switch responsibility for chick-rearing and so releasing the other parent to travel long distances across the sea-ice to the ocean to feed.
Although we maintained our distance from the main colony, and hence the penguins with chicks, we thank technology for telephoto lenses which allowed us to take some extraordinary photos of the newest Antarctic residents. All chicks are still confined to their parent’s feet, with some more adventurous chicks making a timid step onto the ice but never roaming far away from mum or dad.
As is usual, the visiting groups of expeditioners were quickly surrounded by unencumbered penguins, whether young singles or one half of a couple in transition between feeding and chick-rearing, distracted by something new at the colony. Whenever we visit we are always warmly greeted and then followed throughout the entire time we’re in locations. The small delegation of penguins stand about 4 or 5 metres away, watching with great interest the goings-on of the (usual) film crew that comes encumbered with cameras, lenses, go-pros, tripods, phones and any other recording devise available to capture this extraordinary place and incredible birds.
Expos return to station refreshed and revitalised and cognisant of the absolute privileged position we enjoy… to be able to visit this extraordinary location and most incredible group of animals on a semi-regular basis through the winter. We still have half the station keen to visit when weather next allows to see the chicks in this stage growth. We are also all very excited to visit again in a few more weeks when we’re reliably informed the chicks will gather in groups (creches) whilst the parents head to the ocean to fish. Just imagine those photos! Stay tuned!
Bec J, Mawson SL