I remember the first time I saw a penguin. We were on a cruise through ice fjords surrounding Tierra del Fuego in Patagonia. Seeing penguins was highly probable at this time of the year, but nothing was guaranteed. On the first day in the afternoon we drifted into the area near Tucker’s Islet, home to a colony of Magellanic Penguins. I was hanging out in the lounge, my binoculars glued to my face scanning the horizon for penguins. And then I saw one, a distinctive black-and-white form scooting around like a duck on the surface. Wow! My heart started to flutter.
We boarded the zodiacs and headed to shore. The suspense built as we rounded a corner and spent time observing a Rock Cormorant rookery. As we backed away from the cliff edge and moved forward we could see dozens of tiny black-and-white shapes moving against the backdrop. We edged closer pulling up onto the shore.
A few things impressed me right away about penguins. Their strange call, almost like a musical form of gargling, hit my ears before I really focused in on them. Dozens of chicks and adult penguins appeared before us scattered along the shore, some of them huddled in close formations. Every where I looked it was a frenzy of animated activity. It seemed every penguin was moving in a different way, all at the same time. Some were flapping or preening, others were laying down, walking, or snuggling with each other.
One of my favorite moments was watching one penguin shuffle down to the water with a drunken gait, bend forward like a wizened old man, and then glide seamlessly into the water. Instant transformation. Wow!!
When I saw Galapagos penguins last year, I found myself filled with the same mixture of awe, delight, wonder, and incredulity. Sometimes it still doesn’t feel real that I saw penguins.
I’m continually impressed by these amazing, magical animals. They live in barren places but somehow find a way to get along, play, and keep each other safe from those leopard seals!