New and Improved: Now with More Penguins!

Yes, there have been many new arrivals in the past week, including the Oden icebreaker and the Nathaniel B. Palmer research vessel.

A troop (flock? cabal? herd?) of 79 Adelie penguins walked past Hut Point a few days ago, though unfortunately I was at work and missed the commotion. But there are four or five Adelies that have been lounging around Hut Point more or less all the time the past several days.

Camera-shy, as always.

This little fella got up and walked away as soon as three of us arrived to take his photo… you can hear how smitten we all are when he does his little hop near the start.

And this guy was splashing about a small stretch of open water near the ice pier for quite some time. It seemed he always knew, however, when I was poised and ready with the camera (due to a cold wind and my camera’s fickle battery, I couldn’t just stand there with it on indefinitely). So this is the best of the footage I got. Yes, Adelies apparently roll on their backs and sides and sort of wiggle a bit sometimes when they swim.

I’ll be the first to admit it’s less than thrilling video but hey, it’s free.

Also free: this image looking down to Hut Point, with Mt. Discovery on the horizon, from the Hit Point Ridge Trail. We’ve had some amazing light the past few days, glowing yellows and reds, though today is bitingly cold and foggy… it feels like a Scandinavian winter. Brr.

Other new arrivals:

OOOOODDDDDEEEEENNNN! (Just remembering Buliwyf's line in "The 13th Warrior.") Oden the Icebreaker at the ice pier which, coincidentally, it broke (the boat apparently bumped into something it shouldn't have, necessitating emergency repairs to the ice pier. Well, what do you want? It's an icebreaker...)

The Palmer at the ice pier a day later... The Palmer is a research vessel usually located near Palmer Station, on the Antarctic Peninsula (that snaky bit of land reaching up towards South America). It doesn't come to McMurdo every year, so it was a treat to get to see it.

My roommate Natalie posing with another new arrival... The Scott Base (New Zealand) Rugby Trophy. The Kiwis forfeited the annual Scott Base-McMurdo rugby match, claiming they couldn't field a full team. Shortly thereafter, the trophy went missing, the note "forfeit the game, forfeit the trophy" left in its place. It turned up on, ahem, our salad line. For a short period, until the Scott Base director showed up to escort it home. Word has it the Kiwis were not amused. North and South Koreas, you got nothin' on "international incidents" when it comes to messing about with Kiwis and rugby.

But wait, there’s more… more penguins!

I rode shotgun on the galley truck out to the runway yesterday after hearing a rumor of Emperor penguins molting near the road.

Emperor penguins having a spat... just look at the body language! You'd think Penguin A asked Penguin B "does molting make my butt look big?" and that Penguin B answered honestly. Oops.

Yes, there they are! Two Emperor Penguins! Right there! Molting! Right… there… uhm… just standing there. Doing. Nothing.

After several minutes I asked my friend “so… are you sure they’re not lawn ornaments that someone put out here as a joke?” As if in reply, one of them moved, reaching to pick at his molting feathers (the one on the right).

Shouldn't they be, I dunno, "marching" or something? Tap-dancing? Anything?

Yeah, not the most exciting birds. And when they did move, it wasn’t cute like the Adelies, which just tickle me to watch. The Emperors look and act rather uppity. Damn snooty birds. While they molt, by the way, they don’t eat or drink. They just… molt. Well, it’s not like they’re burning up tons of calories running around or anything.

The most exciting thing about the field trip was getting to check another penguin off my “must see every kind of penguin in the world, in the wild” obsessive list. I’m up to six now, seen on three different continents, which is kind of cool. Only ten (or 12) more to go (penuinologists disagree on how many varieties there are).

The second most exciting thing was getting to see the runway on a relatively clear day. The first time I was out there, when I arrived in August, it was dark and mysterious. When I left for R&R, it was gloomy. When I got back from R&R, it was bright sun, but we were running late and got herded into transport immediately.

This time, with nothing to do for three hours, I got to walk around at my leisure.

Another dramatic lighting day. I suspect it's because the sun is slowly getting lower in the sky, though our next sunset, the first since October, is not until February 20.

Half an hour later, the sky looked like this. (Note the planes in the foreground have skies, not wheels, for landing gear. Mt. Discovery in the backround.

The International Arrivals Terminal at Pegasus Runway, Ross Island. Also the International Departures Terminal. And the Domestic Terminal, for that matter.

Mt. Erebus, as seen from the runway, with a wee plume of smoke coming from the open caldera at the summit

What I love most about the above shot of Erebus is that it captures the “puny human” quality of Antarctica. I’ve posted photos of Erebus before, but only from the trails around town. For whatever reason, the volcano looks a bit modest when you’re closer to it. Here you get a better idea of its scale as it shoots up from sea level to more than 12,000 feet. The dark rock in the center of the photo is the McMurdo area. Ob Hill is on the right, and on the left is the ridge I follow when I do the Hut Point Ridge Loop. McMurdo Station itself is between the two, between the sea ice and the patch of snow sitting like a saddle between the bare black “hills,” some 14 miles from the runway to the southwest (where the photo was taken) and 20 or so miles from Erebus, rearing up to the north.

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One thought on “New and Improved: Now with More Penguins!

  1. Pingback: Groom with a View | Stories That Are True

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