When folk visit my home, especially children, they often make a comment about the penguin souvenirs or pictures we have scattered around. Even the screen saver on this computer. The answer is always simple in that I became fascinated with the Adelie penguin after visiting Antarctica. It is hard not to be and most of the penguins of the craft variety date back to when our own children were growing and we developed a family passion for the little guys I’d had the good fortunate to see, hear and smell in their natural habitat.
When I returned home from my sojourn on the ice I brought with me beach towels featuring a very large penguin motif. These were favorites with our daughters. Who else had such a towel, at the beach or at the pool? They lasted a good many years before being reduced to car cleaning cloths.
Before going south, the only penguins we had seen were the Little Blue Penguins which frequented beaches in New Zealand. There were always some around the offshore islands at our home city and occasionally they would find their ashore at night.
It was some weeks into my Antarctic adventure before I got up close and personal with the Adelie penguin, the iconic tuxedo clad fellow we are probably most familiar with, thanks to cartoonists around the world. My initial encounter came while on a field trip across the sea ice from Scott Base on Ross Island to Cape Evans, the site of Scott’s last expedition winter-over quarters.
We were happily trundling along in a SnoTrac when we came across a quintet tobogganing their way along the ice. They weren’t greatly fussed about us and in all likelihood had never seen a human before. I was ecstatic. You could see their little pink clawed feet going nineteen to the dozen driving them forward at great speed. They stopped, stood up and proceeded to waddle on their way completely unconcerned about clicking cameras.
A few weeks later I had the good fortune to visit the Adelie rookery at Cape Royds, further up the Ross Island coast from Evans, and the location of Shackleton’s 1907 expedition. Wow! There were thousands around this little bay. It was nesting time and by just standing there the curious fellows came right up to me. Some just looked longingly up at me and allowed me to “stroke” their head while another would come up and batter me round the legs with his wings. They sure were wonderful to watch. I was fascinated with their game of pinching a stone from a nearby nest and scurrying back to deposit the stone in their own nest.
There are only 17 different penguins in the world and all of them live in the southern hemisphere. The northernmost is the Galapagos Island penguin. Cartoonists would have us believe there are penguins in the Arctic. Sorry, the last time I looked Santa does not have any living with him at the North Pole.
(a continuing story)