Heading back toward their nesting grounds in the South Orkney Islands, this was one of several groups of chinstrap penguins (Pygoscelis antarcticus) that took advantage of the channel our ship had opened up.
Location: South Orkney Islands. Date: 20th November 2015. Camera: Canon 7D with 300mm Canon lens. 1/1600 sec, f/5.6, ISO 200.
Gentoo penguins (Pygoscelis papua) are all around Bird Island all year but start coming ashore seriously in September. Heading over to their nesting beaches in the evening you see groups of them at sea, leaping and coming closer, then disappearing in the last few meters before a wave breaks and dozens of them charge chaotically out the water. Once clear they generally stand around and preen for a while before heading up to their nests.
Location: Bird Island, South Georgia. Date: 12th September 2013. Camera: Canon 7D with 70-200mm Sigma lens @ 100mm. 1/500 sec, f/2.8, ISO 320.
King Penguins (Aptenodytes patagonicus) returning to the colony at St Andrews Bay after a day at sea. I have added some false colour to this photo but it captures how strange an evening it was; it had been a baking hot day but with an occasional cold breeze blowing down off the glaciers whipping up dust and moulted feathers. There was certainly an unearthly feel about everything.
Location: St Andrews Bay, South Georgia. Date: 4th October 2017. Camera: Canon 7D with 17-70mm Sigma lens @ 37mm. 1/800 sec, f/14, ISO 100.
There’s never a bad time to visit St Andrews Bay, the location of around 300,000 breeding king penguins (Aptenodytes patagonicus). The they breed every 18 months and it is over a year before the chicks are independent, so there’s always plenty of them at different stages. Plus leopard seals in winter and elephant seals breeding in spring.
This was a short holiday just after new year when the colony was at its busiest. While one cohort was sat tight on eggs, large, brown, fluffy chicks wandered between them, forming creches and chasing after anyone they thought had food.
Location: St Andrews Bay, South Georgia. Date: 4th January 2018. Camera: Canon 7D with 17-70mm Sigma lens @ 34mm. 1/250 sec, f/7.1, ISO 100.
On an iceberg just north of Signy Research Station this lone Adelie penguin (Pygoscelis adeliae) watched our ship head past. At this time of year small groups of them were heading back through the pack, swimming down channels and climbing over floes, to get back to their nesting grounds.
Location: South Orkney Islands. Date: 19th November 2015. Camera: Canon 7D with 300mm Canon lens. 1/4000 sec, f/4.0, ISO 200.
Macaroni penguins (Eudyptes chrysolophus) take turns guarding their eggs through November and December. This is the middle of the sub-Antarctic summer yet snow showers are not uncommon. During these most penguins hunch down, turning away from the snow which gathers on their backs. Such is their insulation it will not melt and generally stays until it is shaken off.
Incubation shifts can last a week, during which the attendant penguin goes without food or drink. Following a fall it is not uncommon to see one twist round and take a mouthful of snow from its own back, or try and steal some from the back of a neighbour.
Location: Bird Island, South Georgia. Date: 31st December 2015. Camera: Canon 7D with Sigma 300mm lens. 1/400sec, f/4.0, ISO 125.
Macaroni penguins (Eudyptes chrysolophus) return to their colonies in small groups that get larger as they join up with others the closer to home they get.
Emerging from the sea is fraught with dangers, from the possibility of leopard seals in the water around the colony to opportunistic scavengers like giant petrels and skuas looking for weak individuals at the surface and on land. Many days the exit itself will be a maelstrom, a swirling vortex of crashing waves that can cause serious injury if timed wrong.
So frequently the penguins will check out the exit and the land around it from the sea surface before diving down, grouping together and riding a wave up the rocks, emerging out the foaming sea in a scrum, scrabbling for purchase with feet, beaks and wings and climbing the slope before the next wave washes them back off.
Location: Bird Island, South Georgia. Date: 17th February 2016 Camera: GoPro Hero4 Black on the end of a very long pole. 1/60sec, f/2.8, ISO 131.