Cape Royds- The Adelie Colony

Jan 5, 2014

In addition to exploring the site of Shackleton’s hut, when we visited Cape Royds we were also able to check out the Adelie penguin colony nearby. The colony is actually very close to the hut, and before we even saw the penguins we were able to hear them squawking from over 100 meters away on the other side of a hill. The colony itself is an “ASPA”; an Antarctic Special Protected Area, so we weren’t allowed to get up close & personal with the penguins but we could watch them from above on the hill.

The Cape Royds colony is the southernmost penguin breeding colony on the planet, and has approximately 12,000 Adelie penguins and 2100 nests. We were lucky enough to arrive shortly after many of the season’s baby chicks had hatched from their eggs, so many of the penguins were busy sitting on the chicks in small rock nests to keep them warm.

IMG_8092dThe penguins on the left, mid-left, and far-center of this photo
are sitting on two newly hatched chicks each,
while a penguin on the right sits on an egg

IMG_8097cEach nest consists of an average of 200 small stones that the adelies collect and often steal from their neighbors

IMG_8199dgoofy-looking Adelies

IMG_8107dAn Adelie with two chicks

IMG_8169fTwo chicks nestled under an Adelie penguin

Adelies mate for life (keep the same breeding partner each season) and create nests of roughly 200 small stones where they sit on the egg, and later the chick, until it is almost half the size of an adult penguin 6-8 weeks later and starts to grow out of its fluffy brown down feathers into a warmer, more water-proof black & white feathered coat. This year’s penguins started to hatch in late November, but there were still a few parents sitting on late blooming, unhatched eggs during our visit in late December.

IMG_8080bHatched penguin egg

IMG_8078bFluffy penguin feathers scattered everywhere as the chicks lose their soft coats

IMG_6709ePenguins on floating sea ice near the coast

IMG_6743dPenguin tracks in the snow

IMG_6676dA lone penguin farther out on the ice

IMG_8211dGathered on the edge of floating ice

IMG_8196dDiving into the water…

IMG_8164d…and jumping back up on the ice

IMG_8156ePenguins gathered on floating ice while others swim towards the far shore

IMG_8250dRelaxing penguins

IMG_8242dTaking a nap on the ice edge

After visiting the penguin colony, my team hiked across the coast looking for ponds where one of my teammates collected algae for her research. We’re now in the warmest point of Antarctic summer, and you can actually see thick algal mats of various colors in many of the ponds.

IMG_8219bColorful algae in a small pond

IMG_8232bHiking across the volcanic rock of Cape Royds towards more ponds

On our way back towards our helicopter rendezvous point a few skuas (large, brown seagull-looking birds) started flying over us and squawking territorially. As we continued to pass by they began dive-bombing us, swooping down close to my teammates’ heads and trying to scare us away from their land. While we didn’t see any nests, we supposed that we must be in their nesting territory and they saw us as a threat, so we quickly hurried back across the bay to avoid getting smacked in the head by large, ornery wildlife.

IMG_8269cMy teammate getting dive-bombed by a skua

At the very least I’m glad I work in the Antarctic instead of the Arctic, so that the biggest animal threat I’ve really had to worry about is a group of angry brown glorified seagulls rather than polar bears and wolves.

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Posted on 2014, in *Season 3: Life in the Dry Valleys, 2014 (01/05) Cape Royds- The Adelie Colony. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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