07 February 2011

King penguins in the wild: Salisbury Plain part 1

Ingrid Sinclair
All photos courtesy Werner Sinclair

Our beautiful king penguin, Ivan, passed away last month. In his honour, we’ll be featuring photo essays of this magnificent species as they appear in the wild. Here are pictures of a massive king penguin breeding colony at Salisbury Plain on the north coast of South Georgia, an island in the freezing Antarctic region. These images were taken by Werner Sinclair, an avid South African birdwatcher who’s taken his passion for twitching to the deep sea. Bouts of seasickness notwithstanding, Sinclair speaks of the Antarctic as a place of unique opportunity to see marine birds in their spectacular natural habitat.

See also: King penguins in the wild: Salisbury Plain part 2

All photos courtesy Werner Sinclair

Salisbury Plain in the Antarctic region, not to be confused with the landmass of the same name in southern England, is famous for its king penguin breeding colony: An estimated 60 000 pairs of these birds breed on the island.

All photos courtesy Werner Sinclair

The birds’ breeding colonies can be found “on the sub-Antarctic islands at the northern reaches of Antarctica, as well as Tierra del Fuego, South Georgia, and other temperate islands of the region. The total population is estimated to be 2.23-million pairs and is increasing,” according to AvianWeb.com.

All photos courtesy Werner Sinclair

A king penguin egg takes up to three days to hatch, says AvianWeb.com: “Chicks are born semi-altricial and nidicolous. In other words, they have only a thin covering of down and are entirely dependent on their parents for food and warmth. The young chick is brooded in what is called the guard phase, spending its time balanced on its parents’ feet and sheltered by its pouch.”

All photos courtesy Werner Sinclair

This brown, downy little tyke is royalty in the making!

All photos courtesy Werner Sinclair

When a king penguin chick is about six weeks old, says ARKive, “It joins a group of chicks [in what is] known as a crèche.” This safety in numbers allows parents to go foraging simultaneously to bring back food for their “voracious offspring”.

All photos courtesy Werner Sinclair

This image shows the beautiful blue but subtle outline of the king penguin’s beak, as well as the emerald green collar, equally subtle, between the black neck and orange chest.

All photos courtesy Werner Sinclair

AvianWeb.com says that, when foraging for small fish and squid, “king penguins … repeatedly dive to over 100 metres, often over 200 metres. This is far deeper than [most] other penguins.” King penguins are incredibly strong swimmers.

All photos courtesy Werner Sinclair

These birds are highly gregarious. When they gather, their vuvuzela-like trumpeting resounds across the island in a cacophony of sound. The spectacle is overwhelming and quite surprising in its scope.

All photos courtesy Werner Sinclair
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