Friday, December 19, 2014

King Penguins- Finding the Expected

My recent two weeks in the beautiful Falkland Islands revealed both the expected and the unexpected.  There were plenty of penguins that I longed to see coming and going from the sea. Their daily habits were fascinating and are the subject of my first posts.  There were also unexpected  discoveries, the most delightful were pairs of Silver Grebes feeding the chicks riding a parent's back. I'll save those for my finale. In between, I'll also share flight photos for a range of birds and include images of the new life being created in the rookeries.  With all that, I will conclude in a much later blog with insights into the places and people of the Falklands.  It's a bit of Britain far away in the South Atlantic.

The King Penguin is immediately recognized by its bright gold-to-orange auricular patches on the side of the head. The color extends down the neck and across the throat. The gold color is carried over to a matching mandibular plate on the beak.  Their head is deep black with a dark eye that is nearly impossible to see.  Adding to the striking appearance is a coat that is best described as steel gray.

The King is the second largest penguin, standing about 37 inches tall.  Its carriage is erect, and its walk is deliberate and graceful. It reminds of the gait expected of the wedding party entering the church. The penguin comes ashore in groups without much fanfare. (You will see that the Gentoo Penguin often erupts through the waves as though a Sea Lion is on its tail.)

 Along the shore, I often found small groups of Kings in seemingly aimless wandering.  I am guessing that the one on the left just returned from the sea with a full stomach.

 The best way to get close to the penguins was simply to pick a spot and let them come to you. You can see in the sand the wandering path this juvenile King took towards the photographer.

 These little guys - above and left - are second year juveniles still partly covered with brown down.  Called Oakum Boys, they wander about like lost teenagers. (In sailing days, young boys were employed to seal the gaps in wooden ship hulls with a tarry fiber, oakum. It left them coated with brown tar.)

Kings are unusual in their breeding cycle in that after a 54 day incubation, the chick is reared for 14 months.  So, this Oakum Boy is nearing the time when it will no longer be fed by parents.  They often wander about complaining to any adult, presumably wanting to be fed. The juveniles are also seen to hesitantly approach the surf, but never enter. Seems there is an incomplete parallel to our human teenagers.

In December, the King rookery is full, and a regular procession is seen between sea and rookery. They often form a single file to march towards the rookery.

Along the way, I found interactions where two birds would seem to be conversant with some form of physical posturing, sometimes including beak interplay.

The interplay also had, at times, some sounding off.  While tempted to conclude it was a mating display, I am hesitant since single birds also at times raised their head and trumpeted.

 Closer to the rookery, the interactions seemed to increase with groups collecting and sometimes having group hugs plus trumpeting. (Kings seem low-keyed as compared to the testy Rockhopper Penguins.)

Nearby is the rookery with an increased noise level; it's a mix of penguin chatter plus wind.  This place is a mildly odorous place, so the wind is welcome if blowing away from you. (There's another Oakum Boy standing at the edge looking very much alone.)

Of course, there is an equal traffic back to the sea, and a lot of wandering along the shore.

There are predators waiting out there, so it seems (to me) that the Kings have a reasonable hesitance to be the first to commit.

( Note the fuzzy haze over the beach that obscures that lower part of the birds.  The wind is often so strong as to stir up a "ground blizzard" of sand.  The sand gets into everything you have.  I'm due to send all my gear out for a complete camera/lens cleaning.  Tough conditions.)

Back to the sea, someone takes the first step towards the sea and the rush begins.

So, that is a summary of my time observing King Penguins. When we were at Saunders Island, an expedition ship stopped on the beach for about three short hours after two days at sea from Ushuaia.  Then, they were on for another two days to South Georgia Island. We had five good days at two different locations. The more you stay at one place, the more you can truly learn.

Here is my remembrance photo from the Neck on Saunders Island.

If you enjoyed this, I am fairly sure you will love the next post about the Gentoo Penguins. They had chicks in the rookery.

Paul Schmitt

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