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.
Looking Across the Beagle Channel Toward Isla Navarino
This is a picture I took a little more than ten years ago on November 15, 2006, the day I broke my shoulder at one of the ends of the earth. That day, I took a cruise on the Beagle Channel to Estancia Harberton, a place of great importance in the history of Tierra del Fuego. The channel was named after the ship that bore Charles Darwin on his five-year cruise around the world, sailing under Captain FitzRoy. It was here—and not the more northerly Straits of Magellan—that the HMS Beagle cut between what is now the Argentinean Tierra del Fuego and the Chilean Isla Navarino, where the southernmost town in the world, Puerto Williams, is situated.
The weather was starting to get bad, so bad that our motorized catamaran, the Moreno Jr., dropped us off at Harberton; and a bus was called for from Ushuaia to take us back. By the time we approached town, not only was it slowing heavily, but the waters of the channel were getting increasingly choppy. It was that snowstorm that iced the streets of Ushuaia and made me fall shoulder first into a high curb at the intersection of Magallanes and Rivadavia.
Now here’s the real story. This was the real beginning of my love for Argentina. Motorists stopped for me and called an ambulance on their cell phones. I was well taken care of at the local hospital; and the owner of the bed & breakfast where I was staying helped me in every possible way, to the detriment of her own business. Even as I left the country from Buenos Aires’s Ezeiza Airport, the security people didn’t make a big deal of signing my name on the forms, as my writing arm was in a sling.
On this grim day, I fell in love with a country and returned there twice. And, with luck, I will return again. Regardless of the weather.
In South America, the Friendly Beaver Is an Enemy
About seventy-five years ago, someone thought it would be a great idea to introduce beavers to Tierra del Fuego, at the southernmost tip of South America, so that it could be hunted for its fur. The 20 beavers brought over from Manitoba in 1940 have now multiplied to 150,000—even outnumbering the 134,000 human residents of the area.
As is usually the case, the well-intentioned people who introduced the beavers did not consider the vastly different ecosystem. The dams built by the invaders do not help the ecosystem as wetlands do not form due to the type of flora, and the forests of native Nothofagus trees are being destroyed by the beavers, which have no native predators. Residents of Patagonia are afraid of the species’ spread northward, as they have no difficulties crossing salt water on their trek to the mainland.
Seeing the devastation wrought by the busy little rodents in Tierra del Fuego, New Zealand has prohibited the introduction of the beaver under its Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act of 1996.