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17 September 2014
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Chinstrap penguin
Penguins diary

Read producer Nikki Waldron's dispatches from Deception Island:

What do the thousands of chinstrap penguins on Deception Island get up to?

Day 9: 200,000 penguins

Chinstrap penguins returning to their nests

We'd lugged all the equipment up the hill from the landing beach but I forgave all the climbing for the amazing view of the penguin colony stretched out beneath us. The sweep of the valley down to Baily Head was majestic, with green algae adorning the rock face on the right, and steely grey glaciers standing craggy and proud high up on the left. The edges of each slope were crowded with nesting birds, and you could see that whole place was dotted with black and white bodies milling about, all the way down to the beach at the far end. The sound of the calling birds drifting up on the wind was pretty breathtaking - so too the smell. How can I describe it? Well, much like what you might have experienced at a zoo's penguin enclosure: slightly fishy, with a strong hint of ammonia. 200,000 penguins who all seem to squirt jets of pink guano at will was quite an assault on the senses!

Day 19: Slippery when frozen

We climbed up over to the glacial melt stream where Steve had gone before to wash his socks in clean(ish) water, and saw how the penguins really struggle to clamber over the crumbling banks. There were some penguins trying to traverse a slope of glacial sheet ice. Steve started filming, and I couldn't help giggling as these poor birds skidded and slid across the ice, desperately using their flippers, claws and even beaks to stop their fall.

Day 21: Of all the stones on all the hills...

Just looking out of the doorway I had to laugh out loud as a penguin was walking past and managed to trip over the only pebble for miles around. I don't know how he didn't see it, just bowled straight over it and landed on his tummy looking a bit shocked! A quick shake of the head and he was off again.

Day 22: Snow and surf

Penguins in the snow

The wind had been straining at the tent poles all night but we awoke to a blanket of thick white snow. This is great news for the filming as the penguins are struggling to wade through the snowdrifts and have switched to toboggan mode, sliding on their tummies. I have been watching them sink in the soft snow, coming up with ice cones on their beaks! Steve filmed furiously all morning, and got some great stuff. I'm not sure the birds like the snow much, but I have seen some eating it, and a few fighting and chasing each other much more than they normally do.

Down at the beach the wind had whipped the waves up into a serious storm. If the weather is anything like that when we are due to be picked up, we'll be stuck here for sure! Even the penguins seemed to flounder in the surf. I wonder if any of them ever drown? I did see one get dumped by a wave. He came cartwheeling out of the surf and lay there panting for some time.

Day 23: Growing up quickly

Chinstrap penguins, adult and young

Every day more and more birds seem to have started moulting, and in a light breeze the white feathers whirl about as if a flurry of snow. Many of the chicks at the nest have their adult feathers, just keeping clumps of tufty grey down on their heads so they look like they are wearing woolly hats! Although smaller, once feathered, it is initially hard to tell the youngsters from the adults – until they emit a high pitched, mewing cheep of a call. In the sunlight their black feathers have more of a blue hue to them.

Small groups or crèches of young birds have formed. I think this happens as they get weaned form their parents, but whatever the cause there always seems to be some fighting and squabbling going on.

It is amazing though how much of an age spread there is between the chicks in the whole valley. The nests right at the top of cliffs seem to have the oldest ones, so I assume that they are the first ones to lay and must be the best spots, perhaps because the wind blows the snow off them first.

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 In From the field

Life diaries

 Elsewhere on bbc.co.uk

Sea life fact files
Chinstrap penguins and other polar creatures.

Icebreaker challenge
Play science officer aboard an Antarctic voyage to discover how temperature and salinity control ocean currents.

 Elsewhere on the web

Wikipedia
Entry for Deception Island.

British Antarctic Survey
About Antarctica, its wildlife and geography.

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