While preparing for my voyage, I was looking forward to meeting my fellow participants and to see penguins. As our ship route took us past the Falkland Islands on our way to the Antarctic peninsula, and thanks to our fantastic and extremely knowledgeable expedition team onboard the Island Sky, we were able to see some amazing places that were home to four different kinds of penguin: Gentoo penguins, Rockhopper penguins, King penguins and Magellanic penguins. These penguins are found in warmer climates, including South America and the Falklands.
We arrived at the beginning of the breeding season and the Gentoos had already laid eggs. Occasionally, I was able to spot an egg under a fluffy penguin’s belly while they were moving around on their nests made of rocks, grass and twigs. Walking in between a colony of hundreds of Gentoos was a loud spectacle. Many were moving busily around while continuously chattering with each other, instigating impromptu quarrels over nesting materials, and emphatically reinforcing their opinions with plenty of wing flapping. There was constant communication that always seemed friendly, involved and surprisingly inclusive despite the occasional disagreement while spending their days waiting for their chicks to hatch.
The Southern Rockhopper penguins gave off a completely different vibe. Hundreds of them had climbed up a steep and rocky cliff to get away from the sea and in between nearly as many resting albatrosses. With their long spiky yellow feathers on either side of their heads and red eyes, they came across as quite intense. Yet many of them were sitting quietly on rocks with their eyes closed looking like little Buddha statues. There was plenty going on across the colony but much occurred in the air with albatrosses constantly landing and taking off. Additional chatter was provided by the Imperial cormorants with their bright blue eyes and orange-yellow nasal knobs. The ability of the Rockhoppers to jump up to 6 feet at once to tirelessly move up steep cliffs reminded me more than once to just not give up until you reach your destination. And if there is an obstacle in the way, just jump over it
Another marvelous penguin encounter took place at a large beach. A dozen King penguin chicks were quietly standing right there in the cold wind as we were approaching. They were born last season some 12 months ago and about to grow their adult feathers. Two of them already looked half chick-half adult. A Magellanic penguin kept cheekily running between them but nothing was going to bother them. Their fluffy brown down coat was keeping them warm on land — they had not yet gone to sea, getting patiently fed with fish by their parents.
The adult King penguins were slowly waddling around in small groups not far from the chicks and seemingly unconcerned about them or us. Seeing these majestic penguins right in front of me was breathtaking and reminded me that it’s good to occasionally be as cool, calm and collected and to not worry too much about what your team members, or kids, are up to.