Penguins on the Falkland Islands

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How unlikely to find oneself on the Falkland Islands.  We decided it was time to round Cape Horn and found the perfect itinerary on Holland America:  Buenos Aires, Uruguay, the Falkland Islands, the Straits of Magellan, Tierra del Fuego, around the Horn, and up through the fjords and volcanoes of Chile to Santiago.  It was all wonderful, but there is no question that the highlight was a visit to the penguins at Volunteer Point on the Falkland Islands.

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Upon arriving in Stanley, four of us boarded an impressive Toyota Landcruiser and joined a convoy through the peat bogs to Volunteer Point.  This part was an adventure in itself as there are no specific roads, just tracts that the convoy leader chooses based on what looks good that day.

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One of the vehicles in our convoy broke down so we squeezed a Russian-speaking woman into our Landcruiser and tied the spare tire to the roof rack.

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On the way, we saw our first penguin, a little Magellan.

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Eventually, we arrived at penguin heaven.

I was totally unprepared for what awaited us.  I had bought a zoom lens for the trip and practiced photographing water birds at a distance in our bay.  In an effort to minimize my equipment, I took only the zoom lens on this excursion.  Well, of course, it turned out that the penguins were utterly underfoot.  I had to back up to try to get pictures in focus.  To the penguins, we were just another animal.   We would bump into each other, bark a bit, and each go on our way.   For an insightful discussion of fear in penguins, read The Thing with Feathers, by Noah Strycker

Talking to penguins

There are about 1,200 penguins and three different species each claiming their own roosting spot at Volunteer Point.  The first we came across was the group of gentoos.  The fledglings are adorable.

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Next, the baby Magellans huddled together.  They seemed to have a preference for mud.

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On the hillside, the nearly yard-tall king penguins roosted.

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But it was the beach that was astonishing.  Hundreds and hundreds of penguins–all types–swimming, marching, preening–enjoying icy, pristine, turquoise waters.

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Sometimes the king penguins stood on their heels.

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Sometimes they marched in a circle.

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The gentoos flapped.

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Or conversed.

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Too soon, our time was up.  We had some sandwiches that were an odd combination of chutney and other random ingredients, and bumped our way back to Stanley.

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What a spectacular day!  If you are ever offered the privilege of visiting Volunteer Point, jump at it!  Or, stay home and consider sponsoring a penguin here.

Author: Juliana Jensen

Juliana is a traveler, dog lover, cancer survivor, gardener, artist, beginning contemplative, and, of course, a walker.

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