Dec 28th: The chicks are essentially engaged in an eating contest. Before summer dwindles and the sea ice returns they must be big enough and fast enough to fend for themselves. Occasionally, the marathon-paced eating (they are gaining the equivalent of their hatch weight every day) overcomes a chick's ability to stand and it tumbles over, belly first onto its nest.
Even the bird researchers here admit it - at times the chicks appear to have silly grins on their faces.
Although most nests on the interior of the colonies still have two chicks, a few little birds are missing. Most of these have been victim to the South Polar Skua. A pair of Skua is nested close to the penguins on Torgerson and feed their own chicks on return from hunting. A small number of viable-looking and well-protected chicks have also died - apparently as confusingly to the parents as to us watchers.
Entry 2: Muddy and wet !
Jan 7: On this morning I can smell the colony long before I get to it. It's a fact that doesn't come across in television or movies - penguins stink ! Our bird researchers have their own tent to change clothes and shower in for a reason.
I land amid light rain and return to the five nests I am watching most closely. At all of them the chicks are incredibly mobile and active. They flap wet wings and pace on muddy feet. The chicks don't go far though - to do so is to risk ostracism and death. In time, a few more weeks, the chicks and parents will recognize each other by smell. This ability isn't developed yet and chicks who wander from their nest at this stage will be treated as intruders and pecked by any adult they approach.
At one of the five nests I always check out both chicks are missing. Have they gotten lost ? I guess that the one sad and bedraggled kiddo below belonged to the nest once. Its now shunned and pecked by the adults I watch.
Entry 3: Awkward adolescent
Jan 13th: The chicks are now a month old and some of their babyish ways are beginning to drop away. They still can't defend or feed themselves but are starting to adopt adult postures and vocalizations. The little chick bodies, all bulging stomach and floppy wings are being replaced with a straight spine and cartilage. The oldest ones are just beginning to molt. In adults the yearly molt is supposedly uncomfortable and the birds are irritable while they wait on land for the molt to complete. The chicks however seem oblivious to any itchiness. Maybe they're proud of this next step towards the sea.