25 Oct 2018

Expedition To Emperor Penguins by Maureen


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We had another amazing day out on the ice! My helicopter group was the first out this morning, so we left the ship around 6:45am. We visited new areas today because the penguins moved around a bit overnight. Weather was sunny and “warm” again — I actually took off a jacket layer and my gloves for a time, but then the slightest bit of breeze came up and I needed to bundle myself again.

I tried to focus more on the chicks today since I already got some great photos of the adults yesterday. Those chicks are so cute. I’ve had a couple debates with my cabinmate about whether the emperor vs. king penguin chicks are the cutest. I’m on Team King. These emperor chicks are super adorable, but the kings have greater personality. Someone else on Team King mentioned the same thing to my cabinmate, so I think we won the debate.

There was a particular sub-colony that I really liked because there were levels of ground where the penguins stood and so you could see lots of things happening depending on where you focused for a moment. There was another King of the Mountain play structure. There was a slight downhill area that some penguins tobogganed from. There was feeding, there was playing, there was highway crossing, there were chicks that were almost the size of the adults, and there were really tiny chicks I just wanted to scoop up (but wouldn’t, of course). I spent a good deal of time watching this group.

And then across a muddy highway, there was another nice sub-colony location with beautiful backgrounds — icy blue wall on one side, gorgeous snowy expanse in another. And of course some very active chicks running amok.

While watching the penguin interactions, I picked up on the feeding and courting behaviors.

Feeding: it’s truly amazing that the parents find each other and find their chicks in this chaos. They can recognize each other’s calls. How one penguin’s whistle differs from the next one is beyond our hearing comprehension. Amazing. But when the parents do find the chick, the chick wants to eat. It will usually back up into mum or dad, not quite sitting on their feet but practically, the chick will tilt its head backwards and up towards mum/dad’s face a few times, and make some noise. Mum or dad will then kind of make a classic (if you have pets) regurgitating motion in the throat. Once something has come up, mum/dad will bend down towards the chick with a wide open mouth and the chick will insert its head right in there to take the food up. This feeding bout can last quite a while.

Courting: this is another behavior that happens after the parents find each other and I think that each time I saw this, there was at least one chick in between the parents, but there was usually more than one chick around (because I think the adults can’t escape hungry little ones, even if they aren’t theirs). But the two adults will face each other and be quite close (little one in between), their heads facing slightly upwards. Then one will drop its head quite dramatically into its breast. After a long moment, the other penguin will do the same. Then the first will roll its head all the way back and then roll it sideways around and back up into the original head-facing-slightly-upward position. After another long moment, the other penguin will do the same. And so it goes until the little one does something that causes one parent to lose balance and need to interrupt the “dance” to move around.

I stayed out until around 4:30pm today. Like yesterday, I ate a big breakfast, skipped lunch, and didn’t dare pee in the open toilet. It was wonderful to stay out among the penguins for so long.

Top photo: a bit of both beautiful backgrounds: icy blue wall and great expanse
Middle photo: chicks!
Bottom photo: what crossing the muddy highway looks like (because penguins are clumsy and trip)