Welcome to our travel blog. We are Tabitha and Nic. In 2011 we 'retired' in our early 40s and set off to travel the world. We spent our first year in South America and have been lucky enough to make two trips to Antarctica.

Our blog is a record of our travels, thoughts and experiences. It is not a guide book, but we do include some tips and information, so we hope that you may find it useful if you are planning to visit somewhere we have been. Or you may just find it interesting as a bit of armchair travel.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Volunteer Point and King Penguins

King penguins
On Valentine's Day we took a trip to Volunteer Point where there is a large King Penguin colony.

It was a few hours of driving and on the way Derek our guide also pointed out some of the locations that were in the headlines in 1982, such as Mount Longdon, where Victoria cross winner Sgt McKay was killed, Mount Harriet, and Tumbledown. We didn't take time out to walk around these old battlegrounds, but had we done so, we would still have been able to find the debris of war, such as bullet shells, blankets, boots and even an old shaving kit. Seeing the areas for ourselves, it was clear how difficult the British attack would have been as there was little cover and the terrain was rough going.
King penguin

After around three hours of driving over rough roads first and then bumpy tracks across the boggy fields, we arrived at volunteer point. A few of the king penguins were hanging around the white sandy beach, but most of the colony was at the rookery slightly inland. At last count the were around 750 adults and 550 chicks, so this is a large and successful colony.

King penguin with its egg
Kings only breed twice every three years so the breeding season is variable. We happened to hit a period when there was a mix of incubating eggs and young chicks. It was fascinating to see the adult males shuffling around with their egg or protecting their little brown chicks.

King feeding its chick

It was slightly strange watching them feed their chicks though as it almost looks like the adult has swallowed the chicks head entirely as it regurgitates the food for it.

We did also manage to spot one large fluffy brown chick which would have been a straggler from the last breeding season that had not yet developed its sleeker black and white plumage.

King penguin year old chick

Because the king penguins can abandon a chick if disturbed, there is a ring of white stones around the main rookery, which people do not cross. This way the penguins are content, but we can still enjoy watching them.

The kings are bigger than the other penguins we have seen, and they emphasize this even more as they generally walk high on their legs, rather than shuffling along as the others tend to. They do have a more imposing stance and their orange markings on their head and chest look most impressive.
Gentoos playing under the vehicles
We watched the kings for quite a while before retreating out of the wind to the 4x4 to eat our lunch. As we sat in the vehicle, we were amused to watch the gentoos playing around it and the other one nearby. You could hear them underneath, pecking away at anything that stuck out. When we got out again, I sat down near the vehicles, watching them running around beneath them.

Gentoo pecking Tabitha
And I soon got a black and white visitor myself. After a couple of tentative approaches, the little penguin came up to me and started pecking at the tab on my fleece pocket. Having concluded that this wasn't anything to eat or worry about, it started at my trousers. It then bent down and pushed its head right underneath my outstretched leg, to see if I was hiding anything there. Finally it went around the back of me and started pecking at the top of my trouser waistband. Inevitable it got my back too, which tickled. It stayed with me for quite a while, until its friends all ran of to some new adventure and it followed them. As this one was so inquisitive, I was glad that it was also gentle, as one earlier had taken a few pecks that were a little too enthusiastic!

Of course aside from being pecked a bit too vigorously, the thing that you need to be careful of with the penguins is their projectile pooing. They stand there all innocently, then suddenly lift their tail and squirt out a stream of poo that extends over a foot behind them. Thankfully we were never in the firing line, but we know a person who was, albeit not here. And penguin poo is very smelly.

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