Wind Speed: 27 knots
Conditions: Overcast, windy
I'm falling miserably behind with this blog. Things happen so often and time passes so quickly. I still want to chronicle some of the training I had before I even got here, but it seems hopelessly bygone. But, I like it here so much that I'm already talking like I'll be back next year, so maybe there will be time. For now, I definitely need to get up to speed with our fine featherless friends on Torgersen.
In between blindings by Brack's neon-orange Helly Hansens,
the Adelies have been diligently running with rocks:
They run back and forth from uninhabitable molars of jagged igneous to uninhabitable slurries of rancid guano, which they inhabit, carrying marble-sized pebbles and collecting them in a haphazard pile. The pebbles are the subject of much contention, and a penguin living in the middle of the colony must get a running start to charge into the pack, bouncing like a pinball through the squawking pecking hoards in the hopes of making it to his or her mate with the pebble still in tow.
As the snow melts away, leaving only rock and penguin poo, these pebbles will form a nest for mommy and daddy to take turns laying on.
The Adelies have very specific requirements for successful survival. They need bare rock in their breeding areas to lay and incubate their eggs, but they also require considerable sea ice in the winter for feeding. The sea ice is important because the algae that is the base of the food chain grows beneath the ice. Some of the researchers here are also trying to determine if deep sub-marine channels are also a necessity. They think that chasms in the sea floor help to channel nutrient-rich biomass up from the deep and into areas where the algae has the proper balance of ice, nutrient and sunlight.
In recent years, the Antarctic Peninsula has warmed considerably, causing there to be less and less ice, which is affecting the Adelie colonies negatively. They are in a serious decline in this area. Gentoo penguins, whose requirements match a slightly less cold climate, are starting to have more and more presence here as they too move south to escape the warming world. In fact, a brand new Gentoo colony was discovered on a nearby island just this year. Gentoos are distinguishable from the Adelies by an orange beak, a white band across their head, and a white trailing edge on their flippers:
On Torgersen Island, the Adelie population has dropped to a third of what it was thirty years ago. There are no nesting Gentoos there yet, but they are often seen hopping about on the edges of the island:
Typically, an Adelie lays two eggs.
Of course, the Skuas are always on the prowl, and many Adelies end up with only one egg.
And some are unfortunate enough to end up with no eggs. These poor parents may even become distraught and confused enough to attempt to commandeer the eggs of another breeding pair. This behavior puzzled me. I watched this group fight to lay on an exposed egg for fifteen minutes:
Mom and dad alternate between feeding themselves and keeping the eggs warm, so there is a constant flow of penguins to and from the island. They waddle when necessary, and when the terrain is amenable, they slide on thier bellies:
Coincidentally, if you have any burning questions about penguins, now's your chance to have them answered. Tomorrow (December 15th) at 1PM EST (10AM PST) our very own NPR journalist, Jason Orfanon, will be hosting a live chat session with the birders, Jen Blum and Kristen Gorman, on NPR's website. You can type in your questions and with any luck they'll make it into the chat. Of course, the rest of the Palmer crew will be competing from the galley with lots of local jokes and unpublishable nonsense to try and throw poor Jen and Kristen off. And with any luck, we'll get a couple inside jobs into the chat. There are likely to be some amazing pictures from Jason. It'll be here:
[added Dec 17: You can tell which questions belong to our boating coordinator, Fonseca, because Kristen Gorman moved the keys around on his keyboard! And "White Chocolate Ginger" is the handle used by our cooks, Stacey and Diane. It may also be an alter ego for Stacey.]
I think I'll leave you now with just another beautiful evening in Adelie land: