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The Largest Colony of Magellanic Penguins
|November 18th, 2006
Chubut Province, Argentina
What can be said, except that this place is ABSOLUTELY PHENOMINAL!! The words about this place will be brief, and we will let the pictures speak for themselves.
Punto Tombo is about 100 miles south of Puerto Madryn, about 12 miles off of Hwy 1. It is located on the Estancia (Ranch) La Perla. For no known reason, the Magellanic Penguins started using an area of coastline of the estancia as their breeding grounds. By 1972, there were so many visitors coming to see the penguins that the owner of La Perla donated 210 hectares (about 500 acres) to the province of Chubut in order to preserve the penguin colony. Today the La Perla runs about 5,000 Merino sheep, which co-exist with the seasonal penguins, and the wild guanacos (a vicuna-llama like camelid).
Every September the males return to the shores of Punto Tombo to re-claim their nest from the previous year. The females return two weeks later to find their mate. Both work to re-furbish the nest. Eggs are laid in October and the male and female take turn sitting on them for the next 40 to 42 days.
The Magellanic penguins are about 17 inches tall, with the males weighing in at about 9 pounds, while the females are a bit thinner. As you can see in the pictures, the babies are grey and only get their adult colors when they are one year old.
This preserve allows for walking amongst the bushes in certain areas where the nests can be closely explored. Some are sleeping and some are proudly sitting on their 2 eggs. If you listen closely you can follow your ears to the nests with newly hatched chicks. The penguins start hatching mid-November, so we had just caught the first hatchings. There were many egg shells still in the nests, so the babies we saw must have only been a couple of days old. It was absolutely amazing to be so close to these guys.
The size of the colony is astounding. From the ocean the next 3 hills away were covered by nest after nest after nest, only interrupted by the occasional sheep munching grass as though they were unaware that there were thousands of penguins waddling around them. Let alone the walking hazard that these thousand of nest holes caused for the sheep! In what I assume is the oldest nesting area, the shrubs have all died out, and the hillsides are covered with penguin holes with half buried penguins poking out of them. It reminds me of the big prairie dog town in the U.S. West.
The new babies can fend for themselves by January. This is when they go to the sea and don’t return to the land until the next season. The penguins stay at their rookery until the adults have molted, usually March to April. Then by April the shores are empty again, and the sheep have some peace and quiet.
This colony is the largest one, comprised of about 500,000 adults, not including the season’s new babies. Other Magellanic Penguin colonies exist down the Atlantic Argentine coast south to Tierra del Fuego.
|Punta Tombo Gallery|
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