Moira Smart visited South America for the 5th time with Across South America. Today we are bringing a Story about her trip to see penguins in Punta Tombo, Patagonia Argentina. The nature reserve of Punta Tombo is home to the largest colony of Magellanic penguins in the world. Every year the Magellanic penguins arrive in october in Punta Tombo to breed. Continue reading and find out the amazing experience of Moira during her trip.
Thanks Moira for sharing a new trip story in our Blog!
Think of penguins as ocean sentinels. They are on the frontline of sea change
The wild Patagonian wind seemed to leave nothing untouched, except the scene playing out before me where hundreds of Magellanic penguins went about their daily activities, unperturbed.
Energetic chaps waddled to and fro from their nests to the water; loving couples preened one another; while donkey-like braying came from those standing upright, flippers spread wide, and beaks pointing to the sky. I witnessed a marvellous transformation when they entered the clear waters: it was as if the circus clown dropped his costume and became an acrobat and trapeze artist.
My viewing deck was a three-kilometre wooden walkway at the Punta Tombo Reserve in the Chubut province of Argentina; an opportunity to observe the penguins without disturbing them or their habitat.
Every now and then a fearless, inquisitive bird hopped onto the boardwalk and admired the view of the bay and rookery with me. The abundance of nests was either deep, carefully dug burrows where the birds disappeared like miners, or mere half-hearted scrapes under straggly bushes. The noise of their calls came from all directions.
Guanacos in Punta Tombo
Meanwhile, further afield the graceful rust-coloured guanacos grazed calmly among the plodding penguins. It was these wild relatives of the llama that the tall, hardy nomadic Tehuelche Indians relied on during their winter sojourn on this barren steppe; the meat and blood for food, the fat to grease their bodies against the cold and the hide for clothing and shelter.
Penguins Migratory Journey
Penguins are key species for monitoring the health of marine ecosystems as they are extremely sensitive to environmental changes. Because they live most of their lives at sea but return to land to breed and moult, they are accessible to researchers who use the knowledge gained to develop effective conservation strategies.
After their lengthy migratory journey, as far north as Uruguay and Brazil, the Magellanic penguins return to Punta Tombo in September to breed. The male navigates around the many burrows to find the same nest site he occupied the previous year. His lifelong mate recognizes his distinctive call and arrives to a warm welcome in her refurbished home. Elaborate courtship ensues, usually resulting in two eggs.
The parents alternate incubating the eggs, caring for the chicks when they hatch and foraging for food at sea. Back home at the nest the partner is forced to watch them die rather than expose them to predators like the grey fox that I saw lurking around, the sneaky armadillo scuttling along like a clockwork toy or the sizeable skua screeching overhead.
Punta Tombo designated Blue Patagonia UNESCO Biosphere Reserve
The reason for lack of prey is mainly due to commercial over-fishing. Now finally, based on scientific data gathered over 35 years, the Global Penguin Society celebrates 2 major victories at Punta Tombo: a designated Blue Patagonia UNESCO Biosphere Reserve of 3.1 million hectare of land and sea, and a new Marine Protected Area which will protect their feeding areas and routes extending up to 12 nautical miles. This penguin community has also suffered the devastating effects of oil pollution.
Further research of the Magellanic Penguin Project team revealed that climate change is having a devastating effect on the survival of the chicks. Besides rising temperatures, storms are more intense and unfledged chicks die of hypothermia when burrows are flooded.
Reducing our carbon footprint is a part we all can play.
When I reflect on my day spent among these entertaining little jesters at their breeding colony, I now envisage them in the darkness of long winter nights, riding the swells of stormy seas; intrepid and resilient, facing the challenges of an unsure future in the race for survival.
Read More: Five places to see Penguins in Patagonia
IF YOU GO . . .
WHERE IT IS: Punta Tombo is on the Atlantic coast of Argentina, 110km from Trelew airport.
WHEN TO GO: From October when the penguins arrive to breed, until March when they begin to moult and prepare for migration.
WHERE TO STAY: The seaside town of Puerto Madryn with its promenade and sea view hotels is the ideal base for daily excursions.
Thanks Moira for sharing with us the story of your trip to Punta Tombo!
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