Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Unexpected Moments

Chinstrap Penguin (Pygoscelis antarctica)
I was pleased to be asked to return to Antarctica this month, as a lecturer on the National Geographic Explorer. It is one of my favorite corners of the planet and the timing was good: I am working on an updated version of my 2000 book Penguin Planet and would love to include as much new material as I can. And because I have quite limited time on the Antarctic Peninsula, I thought this would give me a shot at some new images of the 3 most common penguin species found there: Adelie, Gentoo and Chinstrap.

There was still a lot of snow on the Peninsula this season, and many of the nesting birds were arriving at their colonies to find them still buried. Although penguins generally choose nesting sites in areas that are among the first to be snow-free, sometimes a heavy snowfall defeats them. They can't lay their eggs on the snow, and can only sit there waiting for it to melt.

This Chinstrap was doing just that, sitting on a snowbank, several feet above what he had expected would be his nest site. When I started photographing him, he was drifting in and out of sleep, and I was just about to walk on when he suddenly woke up and had a stretch, opening his mouth in a wide yawn - and twisting his body into a contortion that I had never seen before - nor thought possible.  He held it for just a second...and then promptly went back to sleep.

So although it may look like he was warning me to back off, I can assure you it was a simple, extravagant stretch - born of boredom and frustration (or so I imagine).  Whatever the emotion, it created a striking image, even if slightly weird (like a feathered ball with handles), and I was grateful for it.

Nikon D3 with 70-200mm lens

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