Tropical Penguins

Feeding Time for the Humboldt Penguins at the Santa Barbara Zoo

I am looking back to a visit Martine and I made to the Santa Barbara Zoo some ten years ago this month. At the time, penguins interested me more and more. In 2006, I had seen some Magellanic penguins at Isla Pájaros on the Beagle Channel in Argentina’s State of Tierra Del Fuego.

In 2010, I had hopes of talking Martine into coming with me to Argentina in 2011 (which she did) and seeing the penguins at Pájaros and Punta del Tombo in the State of Chubut.

The penguins at the Santa Barbara Zoo are similar to the Magellanic penguins of Argentina, but they inhabit warmer country, namely the coastal regions of Northern Chile (site of the Atacama Desert) and Peru.

Lone Humboldt Penguin

I have always regarded the penguins at the Santa Barbara Zoo as my favorite exhibit. Clumsy on land, the Humboldts swim with speed, fury, and precision. (For that reason, they are much harder to photograph when they’re in the water.)

You Can Start Celebrating Now!

Mark April 25 on Your Calendar!

I love penguins. So much so that I traveled over 6,000 miles to see them in Argentina. Oh, not the big Emperor Penguins of Antarctica—though they were only about 600 miles farther south. No, Martine and I visited with the Magellanic Penguins (Spheniscus magellanicus) in two places the Isla Martillo in Tierra del Fuego, and Punta Tombo in the State of Chubut.

Why do I like penguins so much? They lead such strange lives. Months at a time in the icy waters of the South Atlantic, then return to the same old rookery to find a mate and try to raise a family of little penguins. As it happens, we were at Punta Tombo in November 2011, right when their eggs were hatching. We saw the penguins look on helplessly while ravenous gulls pushed them aside and devoured their progeny. Their wings were great for swimming, but helpless to defend their eggs against more aggressive shore birds.

Penguins on Isla Martillo in Tierro del Fuego’s Beagle Channel

In the above picture by Berkeley Breathed for World Penguin Day, the middle penguin is my hero, Opus. You can see his adventures by going to Breathed’s Facebook page at Bloom County.

Here are some facts about my friends, the Magellanic Penguins:

  • Magellanic Penguins can reach 24 to 28 inches in height and 9 to 11 pounds of weight.
  • They have black plumage on the back and white plumage with broad, black, horseshoe-like marking on the breast. They have a white band on the head that stretches from the eyes to the throat. Skin around the the eyes and bill become featherless and intensely pink during the breeding season.
  • The diet of Magellanic Penguins concentrates on small fish, crustaceans, and squid.
  • They are excellent swimmers. They can travel 620 miles from shore and dive to a depth of over 150 feet to find food. They usually hunt in groups.
  • Natural enemies of the Magellanic Penguin are sea lions, leopard seals, killer whales, and patagonian foxes.
  • Magellanic Penguins are monogamous birds. The male circles around the female and pats her with his flippers during the courtship. Formed couples last for a lifetime.

If you’re interested and want to read more, click here.

Tarnmoor’s ABCs: Patagonia and Penguins

Killing Two Birds with One Stone

Killing Two Birds With One Stone, So To Speak

I was so very impressed by Czeslaw Milosz’s book Milosz’s ABC’s. There, in the form of a brief and alphabetically-ordered personal encyclopedia, was the story of the life of a Nobel Prize winning poet, of the people, places, and things that meant the most to him. Because his origins were so far away (Lithuania and Poland) and so long ago (1920s and 1930s), there were relatively few entries that resonated personally with me. Except it was sad to see so many fascinating people who, unknown today, died during the war under unknown circumstances.

My own ABCs consist of places I have loved (Iceland), things I feared (Earthquakes), writers I have admired (Chesterton, Balzac, Proust, and Borges); things associated with my past life (Cleveland and Dartmouth College), people who have influenced me (John F. Kennedy), foods I love (Olives), and things I love to do (Automobiles and Books). This blog entry is my own humble attempt to imitate a writer whom I have read on and off for thirty years without having sated my curiosity. Consequently, over the months to come, you will see a number of postings under the heading “Tarnmoor’s ABCs” that will attempt to do for my life what Milosz accomplished for his. To see my other entries under this category, hit the tag below marked “ABCs”. I don’t guarantee that I will use up all 26 letters of the alphabet, but I’ll do my best. Today the letter is “P” for both Patagonia and Penguins, which kind of go together in my mind.

Above is a photo I snapped on Isla Martillo, which lies on the Beagle Channel in Argentina’s Tierra Del Fuego. I had always wanted to go to Patagonia, ever since I read Paul Theroux’s The Old Patagonian Express and, even more, Bruce Chatwin’s In Patagonia. It was one of those places at the end of the earth. About six hundred miles south of Isla Martillo lies the Antarctic Peninsula. Even farther north lies Buenos Aires and the heavily populated temperate territories of Argentina.

Martine and I have always loved penguins. There was something helpless and cute about them, even though their fishy smell made them somewhat less than huggable. I think I was only able to get Martine to come with me to Patagonia if I could take her to places where she could walk among penguins in the wild. Although past “expeditionary” vacations in search of puffins and moose turned up a blank, I was able to deliver on the penguins—in spades. Isla Martillo was a small penguin rookery that was fascinating, and Punta Tombo in the State of Chubut was even more spectacular. We were there right around the time, to the day, that the Magellanic penguins were hatching. Our trip there was one of the happiest experiences of my life.

Do I want to go back to Patagonia? Absolutely. I’ve been there twice: The first time, on my own, I broke my shoulder by slipping on the ice in Ushuaia … but the second time was a charm.

Life always seems brighter when you could go to far places that you love.




Mischa the Penguin

A Lone King Penguin Among Magellanic Penguins on Isla Pajaros

A Lone King Penguin Among Magellanic Penguins on Isla de Pájaros

Serendipity strikes again. I just read an obscure Ukrainian crime story by Andrey Kurkov entitled Death and the Penguin. The narrator is one Viktor Akelseyevich Zolataryov who writes for publication what his editor refers to as obelisks. These are obituary essays written about living people so that, when death comes to them, the newspaper is not caught short for materials to publish quickly. Oddly, though, it seems that all too many of the individuals Andrey memorializes in his deathless prose wind up … dead.

My favorite character is Viktor’s pet and companion, the King Penguin Mischa. When the zoo in Kiev was suffering a financial meltdown, they sold their penguins; and Viktor bought the one he called Mischa.

Mischa is very like the King Penguin at the right in the above picture, which was taken on the Isla de Pájaros on the Beagle Channel in Tierra Del Fuego. The largish penguin took a wrong turn into the Beagle Channel and wound up in a rookery consisting mostly of Magellanic Penguins and some Gentoos. It was obviously very lonely and disappointed. Every once in a while, he would try to mate with one of the Magellanic females, but caused uproars every time he tried.

Viktor’s Mischa shambles around the apartment, looking into the mirror, establishing a kind of hiding place behind some furniture, and displaying all the symptoms of a morose and puzzled disposition occasionally verging on depression. Even while Viktor worries that his writing job is connected with an assassination ring, Mischa slowly keeps getting worse. At the same time, he winds up taking care of Sonya, the daughter of one “Mischa-non-penguin,” who was associated with the editor who hired the writer, and who disappears after leaving money and a pistol. He also hires a teenage girl, the niece of his friend Sergey (who dies mysteriously) as a nanny for Sonya, who lethargically enters into a relationship with him.

I loved Death and the Penguin for its mellow strangeness. For a man surrounded by violent death, to which he may be contributing in some unexplained way, Viktor is relatively cool. Eventually, the situation changes rapidly. Mischa becomes ill and gets a heart transplant; and Viktor, well, let us say he takes action of an unexpected kind.

An Old Friend from Patagonia

Young Magellanic Penguin at the Aquarium of the Pacific

Young Magellanic Penguin at the Aquarium of the Pacific

Today, Martine and I cashed in on a two-for-one discount ticket at Long Beach’s Aquarium of the Pacific. As usual, it was a wonderful experience—with one exception: the large numbers of small children in evidence. Although we were there at opening time at 9:00 am, so were the crowds; and they only grew as the day wore on. But then, there was enough to see to keep the curmudgeon side of me in abeyance. It is a rare achievement for me not to have thrown any whining, obstreperous toddlers into the shark tank. And the sharks also looked mighty appreciative at my consideration.

Before the crowds got too large, we saw a presentation about penguins at the Aquarium’s Molina Animal Care Center. On display was a young Magellanic penguin, of the type Martine and I saw two years ago in Patagonia, first at Isla Martillo in Tierra Del Fuego and then at the giant rookery at Punta Tombo in the State of Chubut. These are not to be compared with the larger Empire and King penguins to be found in Antarctica. Instead, they are to be found mostly in the southern parts Argentina and Chile. Below are some Magellanic penguins Martine and I saw on Isla Martillo on the Beagle Channel in Tierra Del Fuego, near Estancia Harberton.

Adult Magellanic Penguins

Adult Magellanic Penguins

Penguins are having a rough time of it because of the changes in ocean temperature due to global warming. Instead, jellyfish seem to be taking over by eating the penguins’ favorite food, krill. For more information, click on this article from The Telegraph. That would be a shame. No one ever had the urge to hug a jellyfish, but there is something about penguins that makes one’s heart go out to them.

Penguin Feeding Time

Friday Afternoon Penguin Feeding

Friday Afternoon Penguin Feeding

I have always loved penguins. They are at one and the same time naive and well able to defend themselves with their razor-sharp beaks. The penguins on display at the Santa Barbara Zoo, which Martine and I visited last Friday, are Humboldt Penguins from around Peru, close to the Equator.

Never have I seen any emperor penguins, though I did see one disconsolate king penguin in Tierra Del Fuego in 2011 who got lost from his group and wound up with a colony of Magellanic and Gentoo Penguins on Isla Martillo in the Beagle Channel. (See picture below.)

Lost King Penguin in Argentina

Lost King Penguin in Argentina

That King Penguin was making a nuisance of himself by trying to mate with the smaller local penguins, who were having none of that particular type of miscegenation.

Why do Martine and I like the Santa Barbara Zoo instead of the much larger one at Griffith Park in Los Angeles? It seems that every time we go to the L.A. Zoo, they are undergoing major construction, forcing large crowds of people into narrow walkways past some upcoming future attraction. Until that future attraction arrives in the sweet by-and-by, we would be assailed by countless strollers wielded by desperate parents pushing their progeny through a surly mob. The future is nice, but I usually make my judgments based on the present.

There is some construction going on at the Santa Barbara Zoo, but it is small-scale compared to the pharaonic scale of L.A.

I’ve always loved zoos. We had a good time in November 2011 at the Buenos Aires Zoo, and I am toying with the idea of visiting the small Reykjavik Zoo in Iceland this June.

It was pretty hot the two days we were in Santa Barbara, but there are always a lot of shady benches for us to rest and re-hydrate ourselves.

Looking For Bullwinkle

Martine at Manchester/Boston Airport with Moose Sculpture

Wildlife tourism tends to be a bit tricky, because most wildlife is not terribly interested in interacting with humans. We had no problem seeing the Magellanic penguins in Argentina last November, mainly because penguins by nature just look at us quizzically until we make a threatening move toward them. And then the beaks come into play. We easily saw over 100,000 of the cute avians at their Punta Tombo mating grounds in coastal Chubut province.

On the other hand, we have had no luck with puffins or moose. We went to Orkney in Scotland to see the puffins in 1997, but they weren’t there yet. Then I went by myself to their Vestmannaeyjar Islands breeding grounds in September 2001, but they were just leaving.

Moose are a different matter altogether. They do not migrate, which I suppose is a blessing as they are so very large (nine feet or so). One could see them if one gets up early enough or late enough. The problem is that we always look for them around noon, when they are safely ensconced in their forest fastness digesting their last meal. At the B&B we were staying at in Chéticamp, Nova Scotia, a whole moose family walked past the picture window of the dining room around 7 am the day before we arrived. But they did not stage a repeat performance the next two days, even though I was up early looking for them, having been pledged to wake Martine up if I saw any. Nothing doing!

In 2008, we had visited a wildlife park at Shubenacadie in Nova Scotia, where there was (allegedly) a moose in an enclosure. If he was there, he was hiding around the back of the pen, where we were not allowed to walk because (supposedly) they were working on the walkway. So once again, nothing doing.

We actually did see a moose two years ago at Glacier National Park in Montana, but it was from the rear and from about a quarter of a mile away. It had just drunk some water from Fishercap Lake and was headed back into the woods. I photographed the beast with my 7X zoom:

Distant View of Moose

Well, there’s always next year!