December 23, 1999

Adelie penguins with chicks on Torgersen Island.

It has been a busy week, as folks on Station try to wrap up their work in time for the long weekend. Almost everybody at Palmer works six days a week, from 7:30am to 5:30pm. With Christmas coming, Saturday and Sunday will be days off for most of the support staff. At the end of the day, people gathered to decorate the galley and the Station Christmas tree.

With New Zealand being 16 hours ahead of us, Christmas Eve was dawning at lunchtime; Steve and I stood by at the Inmarsat telephone. In the early afternoon, Matthew Finn at New Zealand Radio called and we transferred the radio program, via satellite, to the station Wellington. It was a good feeling to know it all went smoothly!

The Christmas tree in the galley at Palmer Station.

It was good to be out of our little studio in the Bio Lab. Steve and I made for Torgersen Island. It has been a week since we had checked in with the Adelie colony. The chicks were pretty much all hatched and growing fast. Skuas wheeled overhead, like vultures, looking for opportunities to grab and egg or a chick. The penguins replenished their nest with stones, travelled to and from the water on foraging missions into the harbor. They always pause at the water's edge to look for leopard seals. It is a risky business, getting into the water, as the leopards patrol and lie in wait for an unsuspecting, careless, or downright unlucky victim. The scree on Torgersen's slopes have avenues worn by traffic and, during this time of year, it always seems like rush hour. The Adelies waddle to and fro from their nests, in businesslike fashion. The rotations at the nest are constant, as the chicks' appetites are voracious. The main fare in the colony is krill and their reddish pink color is seen in the feces that stains the rocks and pockets of snow.

Adelie penguin with a chick.

We find a spot overlooking Arthur Harbor at the edge of a nesting site. The peeping of chicks is one of the most pronounced sounds we hear: a continuous veneer of delicate sounds that percolate through the rookery. This is more dense than a week earlier. Sudden bursts of ecstatic displays errupt as pairs reunite at the nest--mostly to change positions. One tends to the egg(s) or chick(s) while the mate makes a foraging run and then they change places, with great fanfare. This little quotidian drama plays out thousands of times a day all over Torgersen with the sounds producing a constant hum of activity.

Click here to listen to an MP3 sample of an Adelie penguin ecstatic display.

Click here to listen to an MP3 sample of penguin chicks.

It is warm and Steve and I settle in for several hours of listening, recording and watching the comings and goings. We see and hear many ecstatic displays, rock stealing, and even a fight. When Adelies do battle, they peck and face off, pummeling each other with their flippers. These carry quite a bit of force and the rapid, thumping sounds pound across the scree.