I mentioned in my last post that there is another island in Prydz Bay that is home to a rather large Adelie penguin colony. Gardiner Island is about 4km across the sea ice from Davis station and is a very popular walking destination when the sea ice is accessible. I didn’t actually get the opportunity to walk out to Gardiner this season but I did visit twice last year before the sea ice was closed.
The male Adelie penguins arrive at Gardiner Island very early in the summer and wait around for the snow to melt so that they can get prime nesting spots up the top of the island. The females arrive a little while later and find their mates, or make new ones, and then settle in for the breeding season. Adelies make their nests out of rocks and it is an endless struggle to maintain the biggest and best rock nest amongst their peers. Whilst one of the pair is sitting on their egg the other runs around and steals rocks off everyone else’s nests to bulk up their own. Once they disappear to go feed, others come over and steal them back, providing endless amusement for expeditioners who are watching from a safe distance.
Gardiner Island is also home to a population of Skuas, who happen to feed on penguin eggs, chicks and adults if they can. The Skuas are definitely not a welcome addition to the island as far as the penguins are concerned and there is a constant fight between the two as the Skuas soar overhead looking for food. They also like to swoop at anything else that happens to be wandering through the colony, namely expeditioners, and can be quite aggressive if you happen to find yourself a little too close to their nest. Skuas also nest in the rock and their eggs are exactly the same colour, making them very hard to spot.
Penguin colonies aren’t all that pretty really and they smell awful due to the thousands of penguins present at any one time. They are, however, a great place to perch on a rock and watch the Adelies interacting with each other. There is one all-white penguin who lives in this colony and finding him is a common pursuit. Sadly, he wasn’t present the times that I visited. Back on the sea ice the penguins act very similar to us really. They can spot us from a few kilometers away and race over to us in groups, keeping a safe distance away while they check us out, exactly the same way that we do. They have no land-based predators in Antarctica so they aren’t afraid of us, more curious at what we might be. They’re not the smartest animals but they do provide endless hours of amusement for us.
I’ve uploaded a whole bunch of photos to Facebook if you want to see more pictures of ice and penguins.