Antarctic Fox
The log of Rachel and Kevin Fox's trip to the Antarctic Peninsula in the Summer of 2008-9
Day 1: Penguino
December 26 - King George Island, Antarctica

With our bags and ourselves on the ship, we heaved a big sigh. We'd arrived! We had a few hours downtime consisting of lunch and some unpacking, and then it was right in to our first excursion. During lunch the ship had repositioned to an isolated part of King George Island where there was a thriving Gentoo colony, and a visit to the colony was our first outing.

Rachel and I got ready for the excursion with our base thermal layer, a fleece thermal layer on that, jeans, and a waterproof pant shell, along with our expedition jackets. Waterproof gloves over medium-weight glove liners, glacier glasses, wind-shielding snow hats, wellington waterproof boots, plenty of sunscreen on our 2% that wasn't already hidden from the elements, and we put our cameras, lenses, and binoculars into the Aquaknot dry-bag. We were ready to go on our first adventure!

As we'd learn quickly over the next few days, four layers of leggings was definitely overkill, and as time went on we'd get more cavalier about how much we needed to coddle our cameras and equipment, but on this, our first excursion, it was like walking on the moon: you're not sure exactly what you're going to need, and it's better to have too much than too little.

We met up in the 'mud room' at the stern of the ship where we donned our lifejackets and learned the proper way to enter and exit the zodiacs (always have a hand free for the 'zodiac grip') and the proper way to sanitize our boots and gear between landings to minimize the risk of spreading contagion from one penguin colony to another. A few minutes more and both zodiacs were full of Foxes with Rob and Tim at the tillers and we were off to visit the penguins!

What's Black, White and Green...

What's Black, White and Green... - A Chinstrap penguin resting on a lichen covered rock near King George Island in Antarctica. - Photo by Rachel Lea Fox
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We'd learn a lot more about penguins in the coming days, but there are a few things right off the bat: A clean penguin is a happy penguin. Summer is nesting season for the penguins, and so one mate has to sit on the nest while the other goes out and spend a whole day gathering food for themselves and for the chicks. The difference between a dirty penguin and a clean penguin is that the former has been sitting on the nest all day, has regurgitated much of her food for the chicks, and hasn't eaten all day, while the clean penguin is fat with krill and squid, ready to spend a day on the nest with the chicks.

Coming back from a feeding foray, penguins will pop out from the water and straight on to their feet, surprising the unwary. Antarctic wildlife regulations dictate that humans shouldn't approach closer than 15 feet to a penguin, but if you're standing still and they approach you it's okay (unless they're clearly approaching you because they're trying to get someplace and you're in their way, in which case the penguin gets the right of way. After all, it's their road). Standing on the beach and having a penguin pop up beside you is a bit of a surprise, and almost as surprising is how little notice they take of people for the most part.

When a penguin pops out of the water, he'll frequently extend his wings and either flap or just stand there with wings extended. Unlike most times when the underside of the wing is white, when they're coming back from a stint of feeding the underwing will be much pinker. Despite swimming through freezing water (often literally), the penguins generate a lot of heat, and the blood vessels under their wings are close to the skin surface, so the wings are used like heat radiators to cool the bird down. After all, it's not easy to eat for three!

Beach Bathing

Beach Bathing - These two Chinstrap penguins are cooling off on this rocky beach. The light pink under the flippers shows that the penguin is warm still from swimming long distances. They will sit and rest till their flippers are cooler and return to white. Often the flippers can be seen as a dark pink almost red when the penguin has just come out of the water. - Photo by Kevin Fox
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Returning Home

Returning Home - A Gentoo penguin returning home from swimming and fishing. Likely off now to feed its chicks. - Photo by Kevin Fox
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Penguin Beach

Penguin Beach - Our Hanse Explorer off in the distance from the penguin beach we are exploring. - Photo by Kevin Fox
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Bath Time

Bath Time - There is a gland in a brush tailed penguins tail that creates oil to help keep a penguins feathers waterproof. This penguin is getting some oil on its beak that it will then spread around on its feathers. - Photo by Rachel Lea Fox
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Splish Splash

Splish Splash - A Gentoo penguin checking out the visitors to its beach. What is this place coming too? - Photo by Kevin Fox
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Looking Up to Mom

Looking Up to Mom - A Gentoo penguin's nest. This penguin has recently come back from fishing (you can still see the water in its feathers) and the baby is anxious to be fed. It looks like big brother may already have been fed. - Photo by Rachel Lea Fox
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Home Sweet Penguin

Home Sweet Penguin - A little family of penguins near King George Island, Antarctica. Its likely one parent just came back from fishing and has just traded places with its mate to care for its two growing chicks. - Photo by Rachel Lea Fox
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Chick Chick Here

Chick Chick Here - A baby Gentoo poking at the pebbles. - Photo by Kevin Fox
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Penguin Choir

Penguin Choir - Gentoo penguins raising their voices in trilling song. - Photo by Rachel Lea Fox
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Hi Honey, I'm Home

Hi Honey, I'm Home - A greeting between Gentoo penguin mates. - Photo by Rachel Lea Fox
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What You Lookin' At?

What You Lookin' At? - Wha'choo lookin' at? - Photo by Kevin Fox
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Feed Me Feed Me

Feed Me Feed Me - "These darn checks are always hungry!" A slightly annoyed Gentoo parent and its persistent chick. - Photo by Kevin Fox
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My Mini Me - with fluff

My Mini Me - with fluff - I love how fluffy and mini sized the chicks are. I say this about most all baby animals though. Too cute!! These are Gentoo penguins near King George Island, Antarctica. - Photo by Rachel Lea Fox
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Snowy Days

Snowy Days - Another snowy day on the beach for this Gentoo penguin. - Photo by Kevin Fox
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Rocky Rookery

Rocky Rookery - Gentoo penguins nesting on the rocks near King George Island in Antarctica. - Photo by Rachel Lea Fox
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All-told we spent about an hour walking the beach alongside the colony. It was a great taste of things to come, and an excellent run-through for how to handle our equipment and ourselves in this environment. After we got back, we got a full ship's tour, safety briefings, a wonderful dinner, and an early bed. Good thing, too, as we were going to need as much time to try and sleep as possible.

Read the next chapter: Day 2: Chicken

Table of Contents:

Introduction: Telling the Story posted Jan 10, 2009

Day 0: Positioning posted Jan 12, 2009

Leaving, on a jet plane posted Jan 12, 2009

Day 1: The Herc posted Jan 15, 2009

» Day 1: Penguino posted Jan 16, 2009

Day 2: Chicken posted Jan 17, 2009

Day 2: Leopard posted Jan 19, 2009

Day 2: Snow Day posted Jan 22, 2009

Day 2: Shipwreck posted Jan 26, 2009

Day 2: Totally Tabular posted Jan 27, 2009

Day 3: Gentoo Cute posted Jan 29, 2009

Day 3: Lichen Shag Glacier posted Feb 3, 2009

Day 3: Palmer Station Visit posted Feb 9, 2009

Day 4: Icy Penguins posted Feb 11, 2009

Day 4: Adelie Awesome posted Feb 15, 2009

Day 4: Leopard Seal Attack posted Feb 17, 2009

Day 4: Kayak posted Feb 19, 2009

Day 4: Vernadsky Station Visit posted Feb 23, 2009

Day 4: Vernadsky Sunset posted Feb 25, 2009

Day 5: Antarctic Circle posted Feb 27, 2009

Day 5: Polar Plunge posted Mar 5, 2009

Day 5: Mouth of The Gullet posted Mar 13, 2009

Day 5: Ice Camping posted Mar 18, 2009

Day 6: Flamingos on Ice posted Mar 20, 2009

Day 6: Mountain Climbing posted Mar 24, 2009

Day 6: Ice Textures posted Mar 26, 2009

Day 6: Antarctic New Years posted Apr 2, 2009

Day 7: Crystal Sound Icebreaker posted Apr 9, 2009

Day 7: Abandoned Antarctica: Base W - Part 1 posted Apr 17, 2009

Day 7: Abandoned Antarctica: Base W - Part 2 posted Apr 21, 2009

Day 8: Bird Watching in the Fish Islands posted Apr 23, 2009

Day 8: Icee Day - Part 1 posted May 5, 2009

Day 8: Icee Day - Part 2 posted May 11, 2009

Day 9: Port Lockroy - Base A posted May 20, 2009

Bonus Chapter: Baby Penguins! posted May 21, 2009

Day 9: Antarctic Humpback Whales posted June 3, 2009

Day 9: Dallmann Butt Sliding posted June 11, 2009

Day 10: Birthday Whales posted June 23, 2009

Day 10: Hannah Point Part 1: The Birds posted July 15, 2009

Day 10: Hannah Point Part 2: Elephant Seals posted July 22, 2009

Day 10: Deception Island - Part 1: Walking on the Moon posted Dec 11, 2009

Day 10: Deception Island - Part 2: The Martian Chronicles of Oz posted Dec 15, 2009

Day 11: Emperor Penguins posted Jan 8, 2010

Day 12: Black and White and Pink All Over posted Aug 4, 2011

More chapters posted every few days...

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