Birding

Penguins

January 29, 2019 (Note: this is #25 in a series of posts describing my NSF-sponsored fieldwork in Antarctica aboard the Laurence M. Gould)

I’ve been a bad blogger. I mentioned a while ago that we dropped the birders off on Avian Island for a few days of intensive bird studies. I forgot to write that we did eventually recover them safe and sound (and smelling strongly of penguin…it’s pretty unmistakable). They brought back several bags of penguin diet samples (the penguins are “encouraged” to regurgitate, and the scientists learn what exactly they have been eating). The diet samples were stored in the aquarium room, where my experiments were also housed. After the birders returned, we spent several hours transiting in rough seas, so the aquarium room was sealed shut. I later unlatched the door to change the water in my experiment. The seas were still pretty rough, and the smell in that room was intense! I had to dash outside and take a few deep breaths of fresh air before going back to finish my work. [Interesting ‘job hazard’].

They are now spending a couple more days documenting the status of seabird colonies. Yesterday, it was too icy for them to get onto Minnow Island, but today they have been able to survey colonies on several small islands near Prospect Point.

The picture above shows some adult Adelie penguins (black and white feathers) and their chicks (downy brown feathers). The chicks have started to molt, some of them have bare patches or bits of white on their chests already. They’ll grow in the typical streamlined black and white feathers that move smoothly through the water. The penguins eat a lot of krill, so much that the rocks below them are stained pink, and the white feathers of some of the penguins is coated with pink excrement. It seems pretty icky to me, but apparently it doesn’t bother the penguins.

While the birders have been working hard, it’s given the rest of us some time to catch up on data entry and other tasks. We’re gradually working our way north, and the cruise is starting to feel like it’s winding down.