St Andrew’s Bay was a picturefest, so this post is mostly decorative too.
I wrote at the time that Jordi warned us of a river crossing and potential weather changes. The morning, though, was spectacular, the hills and glaciers all around the bay standing out against the sky as if unreal. Jordi said that in 17 years visiting the area, he had never before seen all the peaks at once. It was a beautiful sight.
We crossed the river at a fairly shallow point. These pictures make it look less slippery and ankle turning than it was. By the time we came back, a couple of hours later, the water was deeper and had little breaking waves on it. Sarah and Megan of the crew were dressed up in the orange, full-body dry suits, and stood by to catch an elbow or guide us if necessary. We all got across safely to be greeted by lounging fur seals. For Megan, walking up the hill in that kit was a hot job.
The crest of the ridge revealed the huge colony of penguins. It’s mostly clustered around a large river mouth behind a shingle bar. You can see the little icebergs floating on the river, calves from the glaciers high above.
The colony, the largest in South Georgia, spreads up the valley. Gradually the penguins spread more thinly, but they still hang out in little groups, small collections anxiously feeding their youngest chicks in between being bullied by the adolescents trying to fatten up before the winter.
People often ask if the penguins come close. They had a very good look at Jordi as he set up his camera. They are also noisy in such a large group. On the video you can hear the endless conversation and the buffeting of the wind.
This was a great opportunity to get some close up pictures of penguins (with photobombs). They may be concentrated in the valley but there were plenty up on the heights. More came along, interested in the visitors.
The colours of the king penguins are vivid and rich. From a distance they can all look very similar, but even the same penguin can have different shades on the cheeks or head. Their body feathers are all the shades of grey and of course they lie tightly together to create a warm air layer. The exception is right under the wings, where the feathers get much thinner. If the penguin gets too hot, it flaps its wings to expose that part to the cool air. When we arrived at the colony the sun was very warm and a lot of penguins were waving their wings about. (That’s why so many penguins in zoos keep flapping: they’re overheated.)
King penguins breed all through the season, though the little ones we saw that day will have struggled to survive the winter. At St Andrew’s Bay there were many tinies, keeping warm beside the parental feet and begging for food. Those adult beaks look vicious but are used with great delicacy to groom and feed the chicks.
Penguins have big feet. They need them, to clamber over rocks, propel them in the water and grip into ice. The chicks are like Labrador puppies, their feet too big for them as if wearing oversized gloves. Balance is a delicate trick it takes them time to learn. I loved this wee one having a scratch. It’s one of my favourite pictures from the whole trip.