The penguins of Bluff Cove

November 27, 2019 • 9:00 am

It’s sad because today’s my last day aboard ship, and we’ll be heading all day toward our final destination, Punta Arenas. Tomorrow I’ll disembark, head for my hotel in Punta Arenas to spend Thanksgiving night, and then (Ceiling Cat willing) fly to Santiago on Friday afternoon, then to Miami, and finally a flight to Chicago. It will be strange to be back home and remember that just two weeks before that I was walking on pack ice and seeing penguins.

One thing I can say for sure: apart from my three hiking trips to the Himalayas when I was younger, and especially to the Everest region, this journey has provided the most wonderful scenery that has ever met my eyes. You’ve seen some of it in these posts, and there will be two more. But this trip had the addition of fantastic wildlife, especially penguins. My five weeks aboard the MS Roald Amundsen has truly been the trip of a lifetime. I hope some readers have enjoyed a vicarious visit to the nether regions of the globe.

Sunday, which began with a morning’s walk around Stanley, finished with a visit to Bluff Cove to see penguins, especially King penguins—the smaller version of the Emperor. And that’s what today’s post is about. Sunday was a splendid day.

But first, where we are now. The ship’s real-time map shows us (red-circled boat) about halfway between the Falkland Islands and Punta Arenas (green circle):

And the ship’s Panomax camera shows a lovely sunrise, with mostly clear skies:

On Sunday, as part of a ship’s package tour, people headed out to Bluff Cove Lagoon, southwest of Stanley. The area is a privately owned sheep ranch and wildlife preserve that harbors a mixed rookery of gentoo and King penguins. The tours are a highly rated activity in East Falkland.

The location (red maker):

Bluff Cove is also well known in the Islands as being the site of the Bluff Cove air attacks during the Falklands War with Argentina in 1982. On June 8 of that year, Argentine planes attacked British troop ships unloading soldiers in the harbor. Three ships and a landing craft were badly damaged, with the loss of 56 British soldiers and another 150 wounded. Thankfully it’s all peaceful now, but the Falklanders haven’t forgotten.

To get to the Cove, one takes a minibus for a half hour south of Stanley, and switches to a five-person Land Rover that goes over trackless and bumpy fields to the beach. As you turn off the main road to the private ranch, you see large areas of granite stones (photo below). These are called “stone runs,” a common geological feature in the Falklands.

In Wikipedia‘s articles on stone runs and the geology of the Falkland Islands, these formations are described as the sequelae and product of glaciation:

stone run (called also stone riverstone stream or stone sea) is a rock landform resulting from the erosion of particular rock varieties caused by freezing-thawing cycles in periglacial conditions during the last Ice Age.

The actual formation of stone runs involved five processes: weathering, solifluction, frost heaving, frost sorting, and washing. The stone runs are essentially different from moraines, rock glaciers, and rock flows or other rock phenomena involving the actual flow of rock blocks under stress that is sufficient to break down the cement or to cause crushing of the angularities and points of the boulders. By contrast, the stone run boulders are fixed quite stably, providing for safer climbing and crossing of the run.

Stone runs are accumulations of boulders with no finer material between them. In the Falklands, they occur on slopes of between 1 and 10 degrees, and are the product of mass-movement and stone sorting during past periods of cold climate. They everywhere occur in association with poorly sorted, clay-rich solifluction deposits.

 First, a view of the stone run we passed. They’re all over the place in that area: you can see another on the hill to the right.

Falklands stone runs also have their own section in Wikipedia. Darwin visited them when the Beagle stopped here!

The Falklands stone runs are made up of hard quartzite blocks. They are more widespread and larger on East Falkland, especially in the Wickham Heights area where the largest of them extend over 5 km in length. Those on West Falkland and the minor islands are fewer in number and of smaller dimensions. Darwin’s “great valley of fragments”, subsequently renamed Princes Street Stone Run after Edinburgh’s Princes Street that was cobbled at the time, occupies a 4 km long and 400 m wide shallow valley trending east-west. The feature is situated off the road to Port Louis, some 20 km northwest of Stanley.

You can read more about Darwin’s description of Falklands stone runs here.

Right where the Land Rovers stop, there’s a large colony of gentoo penguins (Pygoscelis papua) . The breeding season is more advanced here than in Antarctica, and they’re all sitting on eggs. You can tell where the nests are as each one is surrounded by a halo of penguin-poop streaks.

Front view of a nesting and resting gentoo:

Is it a male or female? Only the penguins know for sure. From Wikipedia:

Gentoos breed monogamously, and infidelity is typically punished with banishment from the colony. Nests are usually made from a roughly circular pile of stones and can be quite large, 20 cm (7.9 in) high and 25 cm (9.8 in) in diameter. The stones are jealously guarded and their ownership can be the subject of noisy disputes and physical attacks between individuals. They are also prized by the females, even to the point that a male penguin can obtain the favors of a female by offering her a choice stone.

Two eggs are laid, both weighing around 130 g (4.6 oz). The parents share incubation, changing duty daily. The eggs hatch after 34 to 36 days. The chicks remain in the nests for around 30 days before joining other chicks in the colony and forming crèches. The chicks molt into subadult plumage and go out to sea at around 80 to 100 days.

Some of them lie on the beaches; these may be bachelor males or expelled adulterers:

They fish daily; here’s a pair running from the sea to the rookery. As you see, this habitat is quite different from where they nest in the Antarctic!

And—the goal of my trip—a group of King penguins (Aptenodytes patagonicus) hangs out on the periphery of the gentoo rookery, with their own rookery. Their breeding season is well along, as there were fluffly molting chicks. Since the time from egg-laying to fledging is 14-16 months, the young you’ll see below were clearly hatched about a year ago. (Kings usually reproduce once every two years and lay one egg at a time.)

They’re the second largest species of penguin, and have the Emperor-like yellow/orange coloration on their heads and throats. Aren’t they lovely?

Hanging out and schmoozing:

You can see that they’re right in there with the gentoos, though, thinking themselves superior, they scorn the smaller species and form their own clique at the colony’s edge:

They cover their feet with their ample bellies. Look at those wicked toenails!

I believe this pair was bonding, as they did synchronous motions with their heads and also touched beaks:

More head bobbing of the pair above:

Bill-touching. “Billing and cooing” is not just a metaphor in this species. (Indeed, I believe the phrase, which means courting, kissing, and wooing, comes from the behavior of doves.)

And look at those huge fluffy chicks, appearing larger than their parents! And indeed, they may be, as they’re still being fed by them as they can’t fish for themselves with those downy coats. During our visit, many were molting into adult plumage:

A closer view. Molting penguins look pretty scruffy:

This molting chick looked a bit disconsolate. I believe they get peevish when molting, as it’s physiologically onerous and probably itches or hurts.

Two fat and fluffy King chicks. They look for all the world like Steiff toys!

This one looks resigned to its fate, or even a bit proud. The strong winds were blowing back its baby feathers. Note that it’s standing back on its heels, which penguins often to do keep their feet from contacting cold ground.

Adult versus chick. You can see that they’re about the same size:

I like this photo because the penguin’s orangish plumage matches that of the lichens on the adjacent rocks:

A group hanging out by the shore:

A King penguin looking around:

Of course I wasn’t alone; I was with a group of about 25 passengers from the ship, all of whom were keen to photograph the King penguins (we’d become jaded about gentoos at this point). So I took a few photos of people taking photos of penguins.

A couple taking a selfie of the man with a stray King:

I love this photo. It’s as if the penguin was strutting its stuff and showing off for the photographer. I call it, “I’m ready for my closeup now.”

Prone man photographing a prone gentoo:

For the last 20 minutes of our 3-hour trip, we had tea and pastries at a beachside emporium, the Sea Cabbage Cafe, which also sells all manner of penguin-related souvenirs. It’s run by the farm’s owners.

You get tea and a choice of two pastries. I had a caramel cake and a scone with clotted cream and jam made from a local fruit, the “diddle-dee” berry, Empetrum rubrum.  It’s a popular jam in the Falklands, and the plant is found throughout southern South America and adjacent islands

Here’s a photo of the plant and its berries from the site 123RF:

The stove in the cafe is fueled with peat, a popular source of heat before there was electricity.

All manner of penguin souvenirs!

Oy: Gentutu!

An obligatory self-portrait in a penguin mirror:

The cafe’s restroom. I didn’t see any penguins in the loo:

As we left the farm, I asked the driver to stop so I could photograph a cow I’d heard about but never seen: the Belted Galloway. I suppose they do well in this windy habitat. Wikipedia says this:

The Belted Galloway is a traditional Scottish breed of beef cattle. It derives from the Galloway cattle of the Galloway region of south-western Scotland, and was established as a separate breed in 1921. It is adapted to living on the poor upland pastures and windswept moorlands of the region. The exact origin of the breed is unclear, although the white belt for which they are named – and which distinguishes the breed from the native black Galloway cattle – is often surmised to be the result of cross-breeding with the similarly-coloured Dutch Lakenvelder breed.

Belted Galloways are primarily raised for their quality marbled beef, although they are sometimes milked or kept for ornament.

A handsome ruminant, no?

Tomorrow: A visit to Carcass Island and my first sight of Magellanic penguins.


47 thoughts on “The penguins of Bluff Cove

  1. Ah, the Belted Galloway. The breed was brought to my attention years ago, while in college. I see them from time to time on farms here in Arkansas. My favorite.

    1. I’d see them raised as beef cattle in New Zealand back when I was a child – the dairy cattle were almost exclusively Jersey for the high milkfat content of their milk.

    2. Fearrington House Inn [just south of Chapel Hill, NC] keeps a small herd of Belted Galloways. I don’t think they serve them up for dinner; I think they are more treated like pets.

  2. Gentoos breed monogamously, and infidelity is typically punished with banishment from the colony.

    So essentially the Amish of the penguin world? 🙂

  3. In that picture of the couple with the penguin, I don’t think it counts as a selfie, since the person holding the phone will not appear in the picture. It’s a someoneelsie.

  4. I have enjoyed tremendously following your adventures in Antarctica and the Falklands. The penguins, the geology, life aboard ship, the lichens, the food…. what an adventure!

    I am envious and very thankful

    Paul Peed

  5. PPC(E) should be sent away on his travels more often. Way more often. And here’s why.
    We, the undeserving subscribers, are getting fantastic pictures and narratives of his travels and of course all the gastronomic highlights such that should any of us wash up accidentally in and about South America (in this incidence) we’ll not starve.
    And that’s not all. We’re still having endlessly interesting and varied posts brought to our notice without interruption. Almost.
    And there’s more. The goings on in Botany Pond, Hili and Leon and so much more besides are still reported by stand-ins. Does it get any better?.

    1. An excellent observation. I too love the travel posts where we get to vicariously take part in Jerry’s adventures.

  6. This has been a wonderful series of pictures and maps to orient us. Absolutely spectacular! Thanks for putting in the time and effort to share this trip with us.

  7. I posted this yesterday, but I would like you to read it:

    Jerry, I honestly think that these are your best posts ever.
    It is an utter delight, and I am sure your other faithful readers agree, to see and read about what is surely the most extraordinary experience of your life.
    And still unwoke!
    Go PCC!
    Anthony K

      1. I can see the long, strong, toes help a lot. They move forward just beneath the center of gravity. Wish I could do that.

  8. I’ve always wanted to visit the Antarctic, and these posts have definitely encouraged me to do something about it. I’m sure that applies to many others here, too.

    I’m a bit scared to look up the prices of the trip if you’re not being hired to give lectures, though.

    Do any Antarctic cruises need lectures on Statistics by any chance? I’ll get my coat.

  9. I’m glad to see the restaurant serves with real china plates, proper tea cups and saucers and silverware. Plastic would certainly kill the mood.

  10. I too am enjoying your journey. However, I don’t believe it’s ended just yet, has it? Don’t we have at least another day? Mentioning the plane rides seems to imply all is ended, but not quite is it?

    1. No, as I said above, there are at least two more posts: one tomorrow on Carcass Island and one either Friday or soon thereafter on West Point Island. And then there are the videos that I’ll post after getting back to Chicago.

  11. Those Kings are my favorite penguins yet, chinstraps my second. Though I do love the eyebrows (if that’s what they are) of Rockhopper penguins which I don’t think you’ve encountered. I may have missed a post? Looking forward to the Magellanic penguins and their distinctive markings…I read they are the most numerous Spheniscus penguins with over 1 million pairs!

  12. Solifluction! Thanks PCC. There’s a word new to me.

    “Solifluction is a collective name for gradual mass wasting slope processes related to freeze-thaw activity. This is the standard modern meaning of solifluction, which differs from the original meaning given to it by Johan Gunnar Andersson in 1906”.

    Andersson’s original meaning seems to have been subjected to a mild case of floccinaucinihilipilification. Which is a word you don’t want to use if you suffer from hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia.

    1. My guess is that most chicks grow up on brown rocky ground, where they’re cryptic. When they’re adults and in the water feeding, the black on the back and white on the belly helps hide them from predators below (where they appear light like the light above) and from above (where they appear dark like the sea). At least that is my theory, which is only partly mine.

      1. It’s interesting that penguins breed on the Falklands, given that there was originally one predatory land mammal species there, something they don’t have to worry about in Antarctica, New Zealand or any of the smaller islands in the Southern Ocean.

        I wonder how the Falklands penguins managed to cope with wolf predation, or whether their breeding range has expanded since the wolf became extinct?

        1. The poor Falkland wolf. Plucky enough to cross an ice bridge to the Falkland Islands (presumably) only to be hunted and poisoned to extinction by the callous hand of man.

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