Shortly before my son Jack was born my wife and I watched March of the Penguins and something from it stuck in our subconcious... Not long after he entered the world he became El Penguino.
When he was just a few days old and I was doing the midnight feedings I would sing the above rhyme to him. Over the last 2 years he has collected a few more nicknames, The Small Man and Mr Helpful being the most prominent, but he is still El Piquante Penguino de Quispamsis.
The Small Man doing what he does best. And ceaselessly.
and robbing passers-by.
So it was clear when the chance to visit Antarctica prsented itself I had to come back with penguin pictures, movies, trivia, tales, and even a hitchhiker if I could manage it. All but the hitchhiker turned out to be possible. Luckily I was able to use the SCINI project to lure Peque, the World's Most Technically Astute Penguin, into travelling with me. He has really enjoyed himself, and at cape royds he made friends with a seal who was interested in using our dive hole.
As luck would have it a dive trip to Cape Royds came up and with only a little abject pleading I was able to convince Stacy to take me along. When we got there I was amazed to see that the dive was going to be done through a hole melted in a crack in the ice. We had to break up the ice that had formed over the surface of the hole and dip it out with a bucket.
After the dive we went over to the penguin rookery and Shackleton's Hut. The Hut was impressive. The wind was really biting and the snow was blowing and it was overcast. The men that wintered in that hut had weeks at a time where the bad weather we were experiencing would have been a welcome respite from the continuous storm they sheltered from in that little wooden hut.
The most important feature was a great old stove. I want a beautiful stove just like that to put in my house. It must have been a fight to see who got the bunk closest to the stove.The warmest thing in their world
Just outside the hut was the penguin rookery. I sang them the Penguino rhyme, but the wind must have blown the words away because they did not respond. There were about 4,000 breeding pairs of penguins living in the area.
Lots of Birds...
We were at the end of the world. The sea ice ended and we could see the open water of the Ross Sea. And the penguins trekking over the ice for about a mile to jump in and fish.
We had a tour guide in the person of Dr David Ainley. He lives at Cape Royds and studies the birds. He turned me on to the excellent Penguin Science website: http://penguinscience.com/ He knows what there is to know about the birds, and is of the opinion that Happy Feet was a movie full of truth and good messages. I asked him about the singing and dancing and he allowed he had seen no dancing (yet) but that penguins do recognize each other by their distinctive individual voices, so that singing part of the movie was not so far fetched. Looks like Jack gets a dvd for Yule.
One of the great things at Cape Royds is Penguincam! If you look at the "hut pic" for 6 Dec 2007 you can see a couple people in red jackets who Rusty and I have decided must be us (they don't get a lot of visitors).
The aliens have landedThe website has tons of pictures of penguins being at home and you can see what the weather is doing at any time. I took the following movie standing just in front of the Penguincam. Check out the flag beating itself ragged in the stiff wind.
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PENGUIN FLAG! (download).
So there you have it. I came with a clear mandate to collect penguin experiences and I can return to El Piquante Pinguino de Quispamsis with stories, pictures, and a feathery little friend suitable for cuddling and assisting on whatever engineering projects The Small Man comes up with in the next few years.
It turns out that while I have been down here winter has arrived back in New Brunswick and El Penguino has started training for his own Antarctic expedition.