Day 6, Nov 6/11- Macquarie Island, Australia
You had to be very careful walking around the ANARE station not to tread on a penguin or trip over an Elephant Seal. From the large groups of Elephant Seals loud “farting” noises emanated constantly. Luckily the stiff breeze dissipated any noxious odours very quickly. As we headed south towards the King Penguin colony we got to visit with lots more Gentoo Penguins and Elephant Seals.
Gentoo Penguins, Macquarie Island
Male Elephant Seal, Macquarie Island
I try not to be judgemental but Elephant Seals range from homely to down right ugly. Even the pups affectionately known as “weaners” lack much in the way of the usual “cuteness” of baby pinnepeds. Many of the adult males show brutal injuries from recent battles.
Male Elephant Seal - a face only a mother could love, Macquarie Island
“Weaner” Elephant Seal, Macquarie island
We worked our way slowly south and were welcomed to the King Penguin beach by several ‘weaners”.
“Weaner” Welcome Committee- Macquarie Island
We approached the first group of King Penguins slowly and as we approached they waddled off slowly. The next group just ignored us and then we started to come into fairly large numbers.
King Penguins, Macquarie Island
Soon we were immersed in King Penguins. Having said that the colony here is new and small only recently having been colonized from the huge Lusitania Bay colony one of the largest in the world only to be outdone by the South Georgia , Salisbury Plain colony.
King Penguins, immature with yellowish-orange neck markings, adult with deep orange neck markings- Macquarie Island
King Penguins, Macquarie Island
We proceeded south along the beach of Buckles Bay and we shortly arrived at the main part of the colony. There were good sized groups of full grown chicks (creches) interspersed with clusters of moulting adult birds.
Adult King Penguins in moult, chick up front -Macquarie island
King Penguin colony, Buckles Bay - Macquarie Island
King Penguin chicks are very bizarre and at one time were thought to be an entirely different species. They appear even bigger than the adults as they have a thick fuzzy coat. They moult from this fuzzy coat into a pale version of the adult which is considered the juvenile plumage.
King Penguin chicks-bizarre and forlorn appearing-Macquarie Island
We hung around the colony for quite a while hoping the penguins would engage in some photogenic activities. Mostly they just sat around doing not much of anything which I suppose is what penguins do best.
King Penguin zumba - Macquarie Island
King Penguin chick, about to lose his head- Macquarie Island
King Penguin, ready for take off, Macquarie Island
Eventually we started back for the stattion. On the way we had a single Royal Penguin on the beach. He wasn’t moving around much and I wasn’t sure if he was sick or just sleeping. The light was poor but i thought I better get some pictures just in case.
Royal Penguin, Macquarie Island
Royal Penguin and King Penguin illustrating size difference, Macquarie Island
On the way back to the station we climbed up a long steep set of stairs to the observation platform. On the way to the top we heard and saw several Redpolls which was an event for some as apparently this is the only site for this introduced species in “Australia”. The view from the top was magnificent and we all took some photos and enjoyed the scenery.
Isthmus at the north end of Macquarie Island - Hassellborough Bay to the left, Buckles Bay to the right
West coast of Macquarie Island
After climbing down from the observation tower we ceossed the isthmus and started to explore Hassellborough Bay. It was packed with lounging Elephant Seals and among them were several scavenging Brown Skua. Northern and Southern Giant Petrels (including several “White Nellies”)were present in good numbers.
Elephant Seals, Hassellborough Bay, Macquarie Island
Brown Skua scavenging among Elephant Seals, Hassellborough Bay, Macquarie Island
It was quite a good opportunity to study and compare the two species of Giant Petrels.
Northern Giant Petrel showing diagnostic brownish-red tip to bill - Macquarie Island
Southern Giant Petrels showing diagnostic pale greenish tip to bill - Macquarie Island
“White Nellie”, white morph Southern Giant Petrel - Macquarie Island
Gentoo Penguins were constantly coming and going busily weaving their way among the Elephant Seals and generally appearing as if they were on important business.
Gentoo Penguins on important business, Macquarie Island
After a thorough investigation of Hassellborough Bay we moved along to our next destination the north end of Buckles Bay. This area is the best spot to find Rockhopper Penguins
which nest on some of the more inaccessible parts of the north head. On arrival we spotted a good candidate a ways off and it wasn’t long before we confirmed its identity with the scope. A couple others were seen as well but photographic opportunities were limited.
Rockhopper Penguin, Macquarie Island
Well time on Macquarie Island was running out - it is hard to describe how incredible it is to visit this amazing island. It is probably only after the fact that a full appreciation for what a great privilege it is to be able mingle with the Gentoos and Elephant Seals on this incredible island.
The Australia Government has recently invested heavily in an aggressive campaign to rid the island of introduced pests especially the millions of rabbits. So far it looks to have been successful and an ongoing commitment to preserving the wildlife of the unique location is apparent. Along with the 4 species of Penguins 15 species of tubenoses breed on the island including Wandering Albatross, Grey-headed Albatross, Blue and Grey Petrels and Soft-plumaged Petrels and of course don’t forget the Redpolls.
As Rodney Russ tried to herd us all back across the isthmus I briefly managed to elude detection and took some parting shots of a very serious little group of Gentoo Penguins.
Gentoo Penguins, Macquarie Island
A lone Gentoo Penguin contemplating a swim on Buckles Bay, Macquarie Island
Back on the ship we eagerly awaited news on landing at Sandy Bay the big Royal Penguin colony. Unfortunately the wind was still up and coming out of the west a most unusual scenario. We cruised down the island and were able to observe the massive Lusitania Bay King Penguin colony from a distance. We also observed several small flocks of swimming Royal Penguins along with many other seabirds.
Royal Penguins off Macquarie Island
A distant look at part of the huge Lusitania Bay King Penguin colony - Macquarie Island
We overnighted off Macquarie Island hoping for shifting winds but it was not to be. After a morning of waiting and hoping, news of an approaching gale sealed the decision to head off towards the next stop Campbell Island.
Proceed to Part 4