Sunday, January 27, 2008

More penguins with aberrant plumage

Here are some more penguin photos I promised in an earlier post. The first two were found on Torgersen Island in 1996 or so. The first is a very interesting pied chick.

This is what he looked like compared to normal colored penguins of the same age.

This is a very pale colored chick from the same year.

This is a melanistic King Penguin from St. Andrews Bay on South Georgia. The best part on this bird was the yellow tips to the feathers on the head an neck that made the bird look as if it had been pollinating flowers. They were more evident on this bird than the normal pigmented birds because of the black background.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Cape Horn and Ushuaia

I am finishing up the last of my posts about my most recent trip to Antarctica in November 2007. I am starting with photos of a Wandering Albatross taken just south of Cape Horn. This individual was coming close as he worked his way up alongside and then wheeled away to come back at a different angle from behind the ship .

As we approached the cape from the south we passed the Cape Horn Memorial perched on a low headland near the cape. This sculpture by José Balcells is composed of two offset halves that, when viewed from the direction of the Drake Passage (or the opposite direction to the north), line up to form the outline of an albatross in the negative space between the composite plates.
This is the view of the monument from the south with the Chilean guard station on the right. Below is a closer photo from the north from this website which explains more about the monument.

This poem is inscribed in a marble plaque at the base of the sculpture:

I, the albatross that awaits
for you at the end of the

I, the forgotten soul of the
sailors lost that crossed
Cape Horn from all the seas
of the world.

But die they did not
in the fierce waves,
for today towards eternity
in my wings they soar
in the last crevice
of the Antarctic winds

Sara Vial
December 1992

Although designed to memorialize the sailors lost at sea in this treacherous part of the world's oceans, it is very fitting that the image used is an albatross because it now could also be a memorial to the destruction of the world's albatrosses. More here.

We arrived in Ushuaia later that evening and I made a quick call home to hear my family's voices again and a beer or two in honor of Captain Kruse's birthday. The next morning Mike Nolan and I headed out to look for a bird that I hoped to see in the short time available before boarding my flight north - the White-throated Caracara. This was a bird that I had missed in previous years but not for a lack of trying. The place that was advertised as the best spot to find them had changed and they were no longer being found there (but I looked) and I hadn't been able to track down exactly where the new spot was. Last year I came close after getting a taxi to the new location but I was unable to find any White-throated Caracaras there. This time was different. We observed at least 10 individuals this year.

Here it is. This was the best look I got at this bird. Below is a picture of a more typical view at this location.

The dump. There are 3 species of caracara in this photo; a number of White-throated Caracaras in the center and to the left; a few Southern Caracaras in the middle; and a number of smaller light brown Chimango Caracara's scattered throughout the image. There is also one Turkey Vulture, a couple of Chilean Skuas in the background, and many Kelp Gulls as well. This spot and species are also special in relation to this blog because last year while searching on the web for more information on the location of the new dump I found Clare Kines blog The House and other Arctic Musings, now one of my favorites. Clare had posted about his visit to this very dump looking for this bird too. We are a bit of a strange lot with visits to refuse pits at the end of the world looking for birds but there must be a few of us because both years the taxi drivers have known what we were asking for and didn't seem surprised and the main part of the dump is closed to entry because of past problems from too many birders getting in the way.

On our way back to the ship to get my stuff and head to the airport we stopped by the mouth of a small stream in a industrial area of town and found a number of birds along the shore there as well including much better looks at a White-throated Caracara. The other birds we found there were Flying Steamer Ducks, Crested Ducks, Kelp Gulls, Kelp Geese, and Dolphin Gulls.

Adult Dolphin Gull

Immature Dolphin Gull

For those of you interested in the locations I mentioned in this post here is a map of Ushuaia and the locations where I found the White-throated Caracara.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Interesting penguins

About a week ago GrrlScientist posted a note with a photo of a penguin near Granholm Hut, Antarctica by Brett Jarrett that is lacking black pigmentation. It is not completely lacking pigmentation so it is not albino but the feathers that are supposed to be black are a creamy colored white. You can see the photo here. In the comments to this post, Tony Pym discuss the different terms for abnormal plumages, particularly those lacking normal black pigments. Tony also has a link in this post here where he has photos of a number of oddly pigmented penguins too.

As I noted in my comments to GrrlScientist, this is not an entirely rare event, probably made more obvious by their obviousness and the magnitude of the breeding population concentrated in one area making these anomalies more apparent.

I have found a number of odd looking penguins and penguin eggs in my work in Antarctica including a pair of Albino chicks about a year ago on Heroina Island in the Danger Island group in the Weddell Sea side of the Antarctic Peninsula. Here are some photos of those birds.

Note the lack of pigmentation in the bill.

Close-up of the eye of this bird. No pigmentation.

I also have a few photos of a pied chick I photographed on Torgersen Island near Palmer Station about 10 years ago and a King Penguin that has black feathers where the white feathers should be from South Georgia, and an emerald colored egg from King George Island but they are all slides or printed photos. I will post them here when I get them scanned.

Here are a couple of photos of a penguin that I photographed on Snow Hill Island in the Weddell Sea about 7 years ago. It was found by another guest onboard the National Geographic Endeavour and he showed it to me. He found it weathering out of a snowbank and it appeared to have been buried in the snow for quite a few years before being exposed. It looked like the remains of an Emperor Penguin to me.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Odds and Ends

It's been so long since I posted anything here that B15D probably melted by now. I did lose the ability to track this berg because it has moved north of 60 south and the iceberg tracking center doesn't track bergs north of that line.
Here is a bit of what has been going on here. We have no snow. Nothing. The temperatures have been unseasonably high and dips below zero (Fahrenheit) have been few and far between. Normally (whatever that is anymore) we have at least a couple of weeks, often a month or so, where the temperature seldom climbs above zero. There is ice on the water though and we have gone ice fishing a couple of times. Once at the local kids fishing pond and once on Fort Peck lake.

Benton and Crean at Homerun Pond. I am not sure why the sign was still up - the ice was fine.

Benton with one of his fish. He wound up with 3 that we had for dinner that night. He thought they were delicious.

We spent New Year's Eve at home with the boys and celebrated the New Year with the folks in
Qaanaaq Greenland (8:00 pm our time).

We went for a walk on New Years Day. There was no snow but it was certainly cold.

Addie enjoyed the time out and about and came home a mess.

Last weekend Addie, Benton and I headed out to Bone Trail, about as far west as you can get from here on the north side of Fort Peck Lake without taking a big detour. I hadn't been out that far for probably 20 years. We checked some tip-ups with Ryan Fast and Kelly Burke and their boys, Colton and Morgan Fast and Nick Burke. We caught no fish but had a great time. Since there was no snow we wound up sliding down a shale bank at the edge of the lake. Here is a photo of the country around the lake at Bone Trail.

We stopped at a Black-tailed Prairie Dog town on our way home and got barked at by a few dogs.

More to come soon.