Thursday, 9 April 2015

P-p-p-pick up a Pengiun!

From Punta Arenas we took a boat along the Strait of Magellan to Magdalena Island, about 35km north. The aim was to see some Magellanic Penguins that nest there. We were greeted by a stench of guano and thousands of honking penguins. The vigour and volume of their honking was quite a surprise, they arch their neck back, look up to the sky and let it rip!

The island was quite bare with hardly any vegetation and the penguins resided in shallow burrows under the soil. It is one of the easternmost islands on the Strait of Magellan and is said to have been an important source for eggs and meat for the native Kawesqar people and later, starting in 1520, for European explorers.

There is an estimated population of 69,000 Magellanic Penguin couples, although some had already started their migration north for the winter. They leave to feed in the open sea of the Atlantic and Pacific and return to the colony in September. We were told they partnered for life, and returned to the same nest each year. After they have reared their chicks they moult their feathers before returning to the open sea. Some penguins were still moulting, which made them look like they had had a rough night out! Whilst they shed their coat they cannot swim for a week or so as the new feathers are not waterproof immediately.

This Penguin species has a black beak with a greyish boarder and a noticeable white circular boarder that starts on their forehead and joins at their throat. They looked very cute when they waddled from side to side and often tripped up! Maybe they'd had too many Pisco Sours!!

Our first taste of Chile, this charming establishment in the middle of the Patagonian steppe, just past the border at San Sebastien on the way to Punta Arenas

Our first sight of a Megallanic penguin as we reach the shore

Their ghostly honking cries drifted over the foggy island

Home sweet home

Many couples had already left, along with this year's chicks, to spend the winter at open sea

A few thousand still remained

Some looking better than others

The shallow burrows provide enough room for two (a cozy squeeze with a chick) to keep out of the freezing Patagonian winds

Penguins are very loyal, this one waits for her partner to finish moulting so they can head out to sea to feed and fatten up over winter

They would greet each other with calls and head bobs and groom each others feathers in those hard to reach places

Some were looking very skinny as they finished their moult having gone at least a week without food

They are not shy!

Over the rocks they slipped, slid and fell

But once in the water they were graceful torpedoes 

On the way back to Punta Arenas we spotted a pod of Peale's dolphin.These can grow up to 2 metres, have a white belly and can often be seen in the waters around Tierra del Fuego. On the ferry crossing from Terra del Fuego we also spotted a pod of Commersons Dolphins, also known as skunk or piebald dolphins, which have a very distinctive black head, dorsal fin and tail but a white body.

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