“No one has ever met a penguin they did not like.” Frank Todd, Our Penguin Expert
If you weren’t interested, indifferent, or didn’t like penguins before this trip, I’m almost certain that you have never seen one alive and in front of you. And even if that one penguin had a little trouble convincing you the first time, imagine if you were surrounded by thousands of them. I’m pretty sure they would overpower you with their charismatic, but quirky disposition, their awkward waddle, but graceful aerodynamic lines, and their unfamiliar, but human like expressions.
I was told by friends and family that be prepared for unexpected and bad weather. About half their landings were cancelled because of weather. So I knew before hand not to miss anything. (I was on the first Zodiac boat off and the last Zodiac back on the trip) But we had made great time over the Drake Passage that we had been able to arrive half a day early and see penguins on the very first day. I was so excited. I had thought to myself that this may be the one and only chance I get to see them. This first landing was the culmination of several months of planning and investment. I was not going to miss a thing.
We had reached the South Sheltand Islands. Many of us were perched on the bow of the ship trying to spot anything. We were ripe with anticipation. We had seen a few penguins bobbing and porpoising in and out of the ocean, but still too faraway to get a good look. The first landing was on Aicho Island, home to many Gentoo, and Chinstrap Penguins. As we approached the islands, there were thousand of black dots covering one of them. Could they be?
Yes! We had reached Aicho Island on December 10th, and it was in the last period of the incubation cycle. The eggs had not hatched, but in a few weeks they would. Penguins everywhere were nesting on their rock and pebble nests atop of rocky outposts jutting out from the snow to ensure dry and warm contact with the penguins keeping them warm. Each of them keeping a watchful eye for egg stealing Petrels, and pebble pilfering penguins prying stones to build their own nests. This kept them relatively busy, because they did not seem to mind us too much.
I’ll warn you up front, there may be quite a few penguin pictures that this blog will show, but I’m not worried about penguin fatigue. Despite seeing thousand of penguins for eight days straight that were close enough to snatch and use one as a pillow for the night, we were still so excited about seeing any penguin that was even 100 yards away coming up for air in the ocean. Even the expedition staff and old timers who had been here countless times before still could not contain their excitement seeing them again.