Articles tagged with "penguins"

The hardy migrants

The hardy migrants

We wanted to see some penguins while we were in Patagonia, but we were there at a bad time of year. All of the magellanic penguins come here for the summer, and it was just barely out of winter now. No trips were going to Isla Magdalena, the largest penguin colony in the area, but we found a trip going to Seno Otway and went there to see if we could see some.

It was a wild and windy day at Seno Otway. We walked out to the beach where the penguins come in and go out to sea, and we found just a handful of penguins there. 5 or 6 of them were testing the waters, bracing themselves for a day out in the ocean. We watched them for a while and then wandered inland to their colony. Again, just a handful of penguins were here, scattered across the grass. They reminded me of people who arrive at Glastonbury three days before the festival starts, nicking all the best camping spots. But I also thought that these were the coolest penguins. While thousands of their comrades were still lazing about on Uruguayan beaches, these ones were the hard core, the pioneers. No easy life in the sun for them. Patagonia had called them, and they had come.

We walked back to the beach. The penguins had gone out for the day and it was empty. We headed back to Punta Arenas.


Moonrise over penguins

Moonrise over penguins

The beach which had been empty during the day took on a whole different character as night fell. Thousands of gentoo penguins came in from the sea and gathered there before heading inland to their colony. All across the bay, penguins were leaping as they came in, bursting from the waves in huge groups and running up onto the sand. A full moon rose just as the sun set.

On a little map of Bleaker Island that I had, a line between the beach and the penguin colony was marked as the “gentoo highway”, which I thought sounded pretty funny. But actually it was a pretty accurate name – at rush hour on the gentoo highway there was a huge column of penguins all heading inland, waddling up the hill.


Chilling with the penguins

Chilling with the penguins

I hired a car and drove around East Falkland. I passed the downed helicopter on the Mount Kent Road again, and then headed on to Elephant Beach Farm. I stopped for a cup of coffee with Ben, the owner of the farm, and then he gave me a lift to a beach, a few miles from his farmhouse.

I’d thought that nothing would equal Saunders, but Elephant Beach Farm came close. Here there was no hut to stay in so I was camping, and once again I was the only person for miles around, just with a few hundred gentoo penguins to keep me company. As I watched them coming in from the sea, I caught a glimpse of a movement a long way out to sea. I wasn’t sure what it was, but a few minutes later I was looking in the right direction – a dolphin leapt high into the air, heading straight up, hanging in the air for a second and catching the evening sunlight, then splashing back down.

I had one major disappointment at Elephant Beach. I set up my tent, and it was fantastic to be camped in such a remote place. I’d stocked up well in Stanley and I was looking forward to cooking up some hot food, but once I’d got the stove and my soup and my pasta out, I realised there was one thing, just one little thing, that I had forgotten in Stanley. A stove is not much use if you can’t light it.

In the morning I packed up and started hiking towards the farmhouse. I stopped for a little while outside the penguin colony, sitting down a little way away from them. They noticed me, and soon they were getting very curious. I sat and watched as two groups of penguins slowly edged towards me, looking as if they were absolutely torn between fear and excitement. As I watched one group, the other would move a bit closer, and if I looked at them they would stop and the first group would start moving. Eventually I was surround by penguins, just an arms length away. They actually look pretty big if you’re sat down almost on eye-level with them, and I thought if they decided to attack me I’d surely come off second best. But they just stood and watched, giving every impression that they were just completely amazed to find something as exciting as a human on their territory and they just wanted to be close to this incredible thing. So they watched me, and I watched them. And then, to their surprise and mine, I sneezed. They fled. I picked myself up, and headed back to the farmhouse.


Saunders Island

Saunders Island

I’ve never been anywhere like Saunders Island. I spent three days there, in a hut at the other end of the island from its 7 inhabitants. I was in complete isolation, with just a radio to contact the settlement if necessary. Just me and the penguins and the karakara and the dolphins and the wind and the rain.

There was a huge colony of gentoo penguins and a small bunch of king penguins. Each morning I’d walk down to the beach and watch them heading out to sea, and each evening I’d go down again and watch them coming in. Penguins coming in from the sea is something extraordinary. From a long way out they were leaping from the water. I’m not sure if they do it just for fun or to see better where the land is, but it looks like fun. Then as they got near, huge groups would surf down the insides of the waves, then make a sharp turn and leap out of the water onto the beach. Always it looked like there were just a handful about to emerge and then suddenly there would be 20 or 25 penguins bursting out of the wave, shaking themselves down and waddling off towards the colony.

I’d have happily stayed for weeks but I had a flight back to Stanley to catch. So after three days I radioed the settlement, arranged for them to come and pick me up, and headed back to Stanley. It seemed like some kind of metropolis after Saunders.