Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Happy Feet

By Sanne

The idea was to make this blog post about the rest of the way down to Ushuaia, but then I realised how many photos we have from this little place called Punta Tombo and I decided to keep it short and show you all some photos from there. If you're anything like me and LOVE LOVE LOVE penguins, well then I think you're gonna love this too.

I knew I wanted to come to Punta Tombo as soon as I learned that it is the largest penguin colony outside Antarctica. Close to 1 million(!) Magellanic penguins migrate to this peninsula between September and April to breed. When we were there only 100,000 penguins had arrived, but they were everywhere you looked, so I can't even begin to imagine what 1 million penguins together in one spot are gonna look like. Because they dig burrows for their nests, they have left the area looking much like a moonscape. Penguin couples stand together in front of their nests, protecting their offspring from predators and occasionally one of them goes to the sea for food. We were lucky; only two weeks earlier the eggs had hatched and now little too-cute-to-fathom baby penguin fluff balls were peeking their heads out and some of the braver ones were standing outside the burrows, keeping close to their mum and dad. Penguins are monogamous (researchers found one pair who stayed together for 16 years) so every year the males come here first to find (and sometimes fight for) a nest and then later the females arrive and the pairs find each other again. What's amazing is that outside this breeding season which runs from September to April, the penguins stay out at sea and don't come to land at all (unless they are sick). That's 4 months at sea without seeing land. They can also dive more than 75 meters below the water's surface.

Before you see them, you hear them. They are noisy little things. What was surprising to me was that the sound they make sounds exactly like the sound of a braying donkey! So imagine 100,000 penguins doing that and you can imagine the noise. The reserve is excellently set up so you can walk along walkways where you will cross paths with the penguins. Bridges have been set up certain places so the penguins can walk underneath so it doesn't interrupt their routine of going to and from their nests and the ocean. The penguin male is the ultimate 'modern man'; both the male and the female care for their young, taking turns to incubate the eggs and feed the chicks. It was really sweet seeing the little families stand together next to their nests and sometimes hold each other. Punta Tombo was an amazing experience and definitely one of the highlights of our South American trip so far.

It was early evening by the time we thought we had seen enough penguins and it was too far to travel much further to find a camp. So we rode a few kilometres down the road, found a small dirt track that lead into the bush and found a totally out of view, quiet place to set up the tent and this is where we spent the night. We had hopes that we would be surrounded by guanacos, but when I got up the next morning to pee, instead of lamas all I had was a flock of sheep standing there staring at me. Well, I like sheep too.

Before we got to the penguins we had to dodge a herd of Guanacos

On the dirt road leading to Punta Tombo

The moonscape of penguin burrows

They even take over the walkways

Not too fussed about me sharing their space

 It was quite hot so many of the penguins were seeking out some shade under the boardwalks

To cool down, penguins pant much like dogs and stand with their wings spread out

The curiosity goes both ways it seems!

Penguin highway

And this is where they're heading - the water

As crowded as a Mediterranean beach

Wobbly and uncoordinated on land, but as soon as they hit the water
the penguins transform into super swimmers

OK guys, be prepared for some cuteness...

Check out the size of those feet!

Birds join the party too

And guanacos too

Penguins are so funny - they mimic your movements

I love this photo - did I mention penguins are monogamous

And I love this photo even more...

 Our great little bush camp for the night, tucked away out of sight

1 comment:

  1. Pretty faces ugly feet the penguins that is happy new year xx lesdalex