January - February, 2015
Gentoo penguins are the third largest from all 17 penguin species behind Emperor and King penguins.
The total world breeding population is over 300,000 pairs. The Falkland Islands hold 21,500 breeding pairs.
Gentoo penguins are quite easily distinguished by white marking across the top of their heads. Gentoo penguins have stiff tail feathers which stick out like a brush. Only Adelie, Chinstrap and Gentoo penguins have such brush-like tails. Gentoo penguins are excellent swimmers and divers. They hold the swimming speed record of 36 km/h (22.4 mph) while for example King penguins reach 12 km/h (7.6 mph). When travelling fast, all penguins leap of the water to take a deep breath.
Gentoo penguins enjoy a bit of hopping as well. One of the most spectacular sights is Gentoo "rush hour" when birds head out to the sea in big numbers on their "highways" and come back after fishing.
January is a busy month for Gentoo penguins as they have chicks to feed. There are quite a few predators in water waiting for penguins. Penguins tend to be safer on land but even here aggressive Skuas are ever present and keep a close eye on the life in the colonies.
The Gentoo chicks are fed by their parents until the chicks are around three months old. Gentoo “teenagers” are very cute and “stylish” part way through the moulting process.
We spent lots of time watching these little fellows and particularly enjoyed so called “chick chase” when Gentoo chicks run after their parents to get fed. Penguins may look a bit clumsy on land, but they definitely can run and even out-run a man over short distances.
Chicks compete with each other and race like crazy.
Only the fastest one is fed.
Chasing builds up strength of the chicks and also encourages them to come closer to water.
Constant begging for food drives adults mad and chicks several times a day are shouted at with frustration.
Photographing Gentoo penguins and especially their chicks without a doubt was one of the best photographic experience in the Falkland islands.
We photographed Gentoo in three locations: Sea Lion Island, Saunders and Volunteer Point.
Sea Lion Island is a stunning location. It holds a wide variety of wildlife. Gentoo penguin colonies are easily reachable and some of them can be observed through the window of the lodge.
At Saunders we stayed at the Neck - a location where a narrow sandy strip divides two large peaks. Accommodation here was very basic but the wildlife was just on the doorstep.
Volunteer Point is a home for over 1000 pairs of Gentoo penguins. Their colonies were easily reachable in 15 minutes from a warden's house.
More information about travel arrangements and wildlife photography in the Falkland Islands you'll find in this blog.
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