Dee Boersma, Christopher Joyce
Magellanic penguins discussion.
Dee Boersma, Christopher Joyce
Magellanic penguin discussion.
1 Adult Female
1 Adult Male
Sight and Sound
Includes Mutual Duet vocalization.
NPR/NGS Radio Expeditions
15 Feb 2003
- Punta Tombo
- -44.03893 -65.20241
- Sennheiser MKH 50
- Sennheiser MKH 30
Decoded MS stereo
Log of DAT #:8
Date: February 15th, 2003
Flawn says this tape is ms pair mkh 50, mkh 30.
This is interesting here, you've got a male and a female and look here he's trying to get her to come into that nest. And do you see how he's bending down? We call this a kind of a circle dance. He's going to try to circle around her with his neck bent. And now he's in the nest. And you'll notice there's another pair just behind, in their nest so it's almost like apartment living here, there just about a beak away from one another.
And you call it what?
Circle dancing, because the male often will circle around the female and he'll keep circling around trying to get here to come into that nest sight. So if she'll wander away you'll see him run out, circle around her and try to herd her back into that nest. And often the female will be not his mate and so she'll just continue to walk along. But he'll try a number of times to do those circle dances at least for her to stop and take a look And often females will, you know, spending some time looking at the nest and often times, for whatever reason, she'll decide that's not quite the one she wants and off she'll go again. We've been able to actually show females prefer nests that have high cover, presumably because it protects them from the wind, it protects them from the sun and they need the shade to keep them cool, and so that's what females look for. And we know that because, again, we've followed these males for such a long period of time that we've looked from one year to another and we've used the same male and said okay, if the male moved to a nest that has a higher cover did more females stop to visit him, or the same number, or less? And what we are able to show is that more females stopped to visit if a male moved to a nest of higher cover. If a male moved to a nest of lower cover in the following year, few females visited him, and if he moved to a nest with the same cover, the same number of females visited him. So females are paying attention to the nest sight. And that's pretty interesting to us in comparison to other penguins, like a Daly penguins, what the penguins pay attention to is how fat or how heavy the male is, cause the males in Daly penguins take the first incubation duty, so if a female picks a skinny male he's likely to have deserted her eggs. Here the female takes the first incubation stint so presumably she's looking at the real-estate in terms of where she has to sit for a couple of weeks until he comes back.
Interesting, so it's either the environment that determines the choice or in the Daly case their looking at the size of the male.
Right. So here they're looking at real estate, there they're looking at the fatness of the male. So corvettes and houses work.
Ambi. Wind, penguins, walking sounds.
Notice how close these, uh, mated pairs are. Here you can tell that's a mated couple. Look they're laying side by side, they're touching each other, often you'll even see them mutually, what we call it mutually preening, but they gently peck one another's necks with their bill in places where they couldn't normally preen themselves, but really affectionate. And, in fact, in some cases you'll actually see birds with flippers over one another and sleeping on one another. So you'll see they're really physically close when they're a mated pair.
Ambi. Walking, penguins.
(Laughing). He almost got you.
I'm too quick. He had that look in his eye.
Here's one actually starting to...See this? This is the mutual preening I'm talking about. See those two heads almost wrapped around each other? You can see the male and the female both nibbling at each others neck, basically at the same time. Can you see that?
Not like he tried to nibble you (laughs).
Preening I don't need.
That's the thing, he wasn't going to preen you, he was about to bite you. You got within the bill length distance.
Okay here you're going to see some circle da¿bill dueling, actually or maybe circle dancing. Let's see.
So he's trying, is that a female?
No they actually sometimes try to pat down other males and they end up in bill duels. So the other male will say ¿no, not me, you've got the wrong one here,' and off they'll go.
Ambi. Penguins, walking sounds.
(faint, farther from mic) There are two pairs there, a male that's just walking through. See them pretty close to one another, now you're starting to see the circle dancing. The males leading the female off over around that bush sight to take a look
Check it out.
And these, I don't know where their nest sight is, if it's over underneath that bush, or if they're just standing around without a nest site.
I'm a little confused about the, if they're monogamous, why are all these single females around to be led off by a male?
Well, mostly there's single males around here. The females you do see are often kind of walking in to their nests and they get accosted by all these single males trying to have them come see their place. The sex ratio is highly skewed so there's a lot of males that just don't get females.
Well that's like the harems that the elephant seals have. I mean, or the sea lions, I mean, a lot of the juveniles, a lot of males don't get to reproduce because they have dozens, if not scores, of females.
And the males are excluding the females here¿
The other males.
I mean the other males, really, they're trying to find a female. Now we actually have what we call babysitters here. Female lays her eggs, her mate goes to sea, and we talk about these babysitters. A new males moves in, he moves into the nest with her, and sometimes will even sit on the eggs. And what we've found, these babysitters that spend that much time with a female, next year he will often get the female if she fails with that mate she will mate with the babysitter and move in with him.
So there is some genetic benefit to the babysitter in babysitting someone else's¿
Or at least spending a lot of time, no they don't, they don't actually, he may incubate the eggs when the females there, but every time the females left the eggs he's left too, so he's just interested in the female. So it's basically he can establish a pair bond with this female while the males gone. We've never seen any fights really between the babysitter and the male, but that's because we think what happens when the male comes back the babysitter leaves cause the female leaves. He's not interested in staying, except when the females really around. But it does seem to benefit some of these males because that's a way that they do get a female the following year. So that's why this skewed ratio is leading to a lot of interaction of males trying to attract females and so they circle dance that comes by or any bird that may look a little like a female, so occasionally they make, it looks some mistakes and start to court a male and it turns into bill dueling.
It is complex.
I can see why you've spent 22 years doing this. Is it 22?
20, this is year 20. But you know I never would have thought I'd do this for 20 years. I thought I would've done this for one or two or three years. But the thing is, it's like people. Once you've got a neighborhood, you've got more questions about how that neighborhood works. And the same thing's true for studying penguins. I mean the more we learn about individuals, the more questions we have. I mean, everything from how do they get these pair bonds established, and it seems to be there are several ways that they do it. One is by courting these individual females that they are stopping going by their nests, they advertise their nests, so they're just trying to get anybody that's going by. Another way is that they seem to stand around on the beach, and they follow the female wherever she wants to go. If she goes into a nest they wait outside, if she stays in their too long he tries to go in there with here and throw out who's ever in there.
You're not seeing as much activity on the highway now because birds that are going to forage for the day have pretty much gone, and birds that are foraging will be coming in later in the afternoon, so this is the downtime. It's one of the reasons that this tourist trail really doesn't conflict with how the penguins are using it most of the time because the penguins that are on land are pretty much sleeping or looking at nests or doing whatever they are around these bushes from about nine o'clock to about four in the afternoon, so they're not foraging and so people can't really upset them, as long as they're allowed to go to the sea in the morning and come back in the late afternoon. So the tourists schedule coincides with the penguin schedule
Ambi. Penguins, ocean, walking sounds.
Discussion on no tourists, it being cold and rainy, and they leave to get lunch.
Ya, there's an awful lot of food around there these chicks have been well fed.
Ambi. Driving back to station.
But you can see they're always crossing the road to get to the other side here because they've either got to go to the sea, or they gotta go to their nests so there's constant traffic across this road.
Now are we allowed to go in areas other than the tourist¿
Ya, cause you're with me so I can take you out here as long as you're in greens and browns and so you are so we can go off the trail. But this area off to the right, occasionally you'll see flags, but you'll see it's pretty hard to see them. We try to hide them from the road but that we can still find them. But this is one of the areas where we have a lot of our known age birds. Now here's another one, you see a little red flag, here's a couple of pairs there, again having a conversation about the nests. This is a chimango that's falling right in front of the car. It's one of the local Ker-kers. It's a hawk It is one of the major scavengers over the colony. Look, how he's, uh, having difficulty flying. He's interested in the fresh water, too.
Isn't he pretty?
Has he got the white bands on the underside of his wings?
Ya, those are the ones we were seeing on the side of the road.
Ya, you were probably seeing a lot of them.
You call that a Kerakera?
Yes. The Spanish name is Chimango.
Here's that chick that we saw coming out, still standing on the road.
Ya, we know how old they are because we banded them as chicks and then we have found them when they returned to the colony to breed. So those are the ones that we're trying to follow for lifetime reproductive success. So we're trying to look at population dynamics of this colony, so the only way to really get some idea of what happens to a bird as they get older. As females get older to they lay bigger eggs? Or do they, once they, kind of, you know, lay their first egg is it always that size throughout? What is the change in egg size tell you? Does it say something of environmental variation, does it tell you what the ocean is doing or not? So we follow all these individual birds so we know when they're three, we know when they're six, we know when they're 10. I thought I'd only do this for a few years, but I had no idea it would take so long for some individuals to breed. It looks like some individuals may not breed until they're 12 or13 years old, at least based on their behavior and we haven't seen them before. And it seems unlikely in these areas, cause we've searched these areas so intensely, that we would have missed it. So it looks like some individuals wait a long time to reproduce and it's probably in part because, um, they, um, are not very good foragers so they don't know how to do it and they don't have the extra energy to be able to stand around.
Caution about bus coming by.
Has anybody else worked with a penguin colony as long as you have with this one?
Um, I think, um.
No modesty aside.
Ya. Well, there's a guy named Rich Dale who worked for 18 years on yellow-eyed penguins in New Zealand. He was a school teacher, um, and he did this in the fifties. And again he got interested in these yellow-eyed penguins and so on his vacations in the summer from school teaching. And, I mean, talk about hard field work because we have spring balances now. He had to take out meat scales. That was the only way you could weigh things, to weigh these birds and follow them. That's mutual preening. See they're just, a, nibbling at each other's neck? And look at how gently they do that. Some people have thought it's to get rid of fleas, but it seems unlikely that they would actually kill any fleas that way. It seems like something they would both enjoy. And you only see that with mated pairs.
Now, when you came out, did you see a big burned area?
Flawn or Chris says ¿ya¿
So it was visible, the fire?
It was still smoky
It went up a hill, up a ridge, so about 50 yards¿
Spanish speaking on the intercom
Dee explains how to use the water in the facilities.
Flawn sets up next recording. PNO, Twin omni DPA.
Just chillin' at the station.
Okay, we're going to head through here down towards the cañata(?). We have different areas and we've named them, not very, I guess descriptively. This is the cañata because, as you can see, water runs down through here so it's kind of like a canyon. And we have another area called the sea, cause it's close to the sea. And we have another area that we'll go by called the hill (laughs) because it's a hill. And we have another area that we call the maximum cause it's the maximum distance that penguins walk into the colony. And we have another place that's called the vista cause you really can see the point, and things like that. So what we're going to do is go through this canata and cross through some of our other areas so you can see the different kinds of habitat these penguins use. And in some cases they've got to walk in more than a kilometer. So it's a long walk for guys that have little tiny legs.
You're doing great Chris, just keep going, following the path.
Ambi. Walking sounds, wind.
How much money do you raise for your non-profit?
Um, depends on the year, but the funders for this project have been the Wildlife Conservation Society. That's been our funder for all 20 years. Exxon Mobil has funded most of our satellite tracking work, along with the Few Charitable Trust(?). And then private donations.
I guess I was meaning private donations.
Depends on the year. I mean I don't know how this year's going to go because donations have been low (sound gets too low as they trail off).
We've got the whole life history of these birds. In some cases, like Harry, an 18 year old bird. That's guanaco poop. This is a communal pooping ground. So they all come here and this is where they poop.
Why in one spot?
So they mark, they mark their territory in this way, apparently. So they come this way, all of them, they're marking their grounds. And so these are on the outskirts of their territory. And you can see the different colors of poop. The brown poop is new poop, some of the black is even newer than that and then you can see this old, dried, darker gray. But you know the nice thing is it doesn't really smell. You think of pooping grounds as really smelly and stinky places, and people can have the impression that sea bird colonies are smelly stinky places, and often they are, but you notice here, it's not smelly, and it's because it's a nice, dry, desert environment so things desiccate, and so it's not stinky.
Although remains of a dead animal. That's a dead penguin.
The remains of a dead penguin.
Again, desiccated. It's been here for several years and things don't go away very fast here. See, look over there, all the white bones, obviously all of that now has scavenged and desiccated and gone and so it's just got the bleach white bones.
It's got a, not only a really big spine at the end, at the tip there, but it's got some sort of, if you touch those and they prick you it hurts a lot and it's got some sort of like sulphuric acid or something at the end and it often leaves a spine in there, which really upsets your fingers. And you look at those little yellow flowers, even those are spiny. And the amazing thing is the Rheas eat these yellow flowers. You see the poop and it's full of yellow flowers and you wonder what are they getting out of it cause it comes through almost in tact.
Here' you're walking by another nest with our little green flag. So you can see here's a known age bird that's been in here and you can see on each one of these little flags we put who it was so this happened to be 5039 and it was here last year and this year. So coming back to the same nest, but he's gone right now out to sea. But you can see a pretty poor quality nest. Pretty open, not much cover at all, but that's where he's living and he's not gotten a cover at all so he's not gotten a female and they haven't had eggs.
And he will always come back to that same nest?
Pretty much he'll move in the same area, I mean these birds are really sight faithful so they'll often come back within five meters of where they are. And that's how come we can talk about divorce because we know birds have gotten divorced, meaning that we know both of them are alive and in some cases they've been nesting within a meter of each other the following year. So it's not like they don't know that their partner's alive. They've actually chosen somebody else. And not surprisingly, divorce tends to go up if they've been unsuccessful at raising chicks.
Who gets to keep the dog in the house?
(laughs) Usually the male, the female moves.
Does the burrowing under these plants eventually kill the plants?
Um, sometimes these plants die and I'm not sure if it's the burrowing under it as I think they get a pretty good nutrient load. Look here, looks almost like a sunburst. This is a good example. This is a nest that was successful this year. It fledged chicks and that's why you can see so much guano here. Um, that chick actually left just a few days ago.
You're guessing that, or do you know?
No, we know because these are, we go by these nests all the time. So I've seen chicks here, well I saw ¿em in December and then I saw then when I got back this time, and now they're gone. In fact this morning we went out and checked nests and I'll take you this evening and two chicks fledged this morning. They were there last night, gone this morning.
What are these plants called here?
This is called Kilumbai(?), and these are Lyceum. In fact all these really spiny ones are Kilumbai. This is Montecabajo, that's really rare around here, but most of these plants are Kilumbai and then we've got another, the common name for this one is Snake-eye, Ojo-devibra. It's got little tiny red berries.
Do birds eat them?
Ya, birds eat them, but not penguins.
Ambi. Wind and walking.
See, now you can see some burrows, here. Look at that guy, see how he's turning his head? That's that aggressive display I was talking about, head turning from one side to another to tell us that we're about close enough and he owns that place. You can see all these little burrows in here and it was all started by armadillos. This is where armadillos have dug up and then the penguins have come in and enlarged places where the armadillo had his complex and then turned it into his own nest.
Okay, now if you look out that way you see all those little tags, little orange, blue, that's what we call the canata. You see that little stick that's sticking up there?
Okay so we've got a stick there and a stick on the other side, all four corners, and all the nest in there we mark and follow all those penguins and we call that the canata because it's in a canata and then we follow the history of those nests throughout the study. So for 20 years we've been visiting the nests every day to look at the nests. Particularly the ones that are raising young, and following how long do they go to sea, when do they came back, so the frequency of change over, how fast do their chicks grow, we visit the chicks every 10 days. So it's kind of like being the census department, we census the health and well being of this little colony as an index of the whole colony. So we have the canata that we study most intensively, but we have other areas close to the sea that are really far in to give us some idea of the variation from one end of the colony to the other, cause this is huge, you'll get, as we walk you'll see more how big this colony is. But there's like 250,000 breeding pairs of penguins here. So this is why it's such a spectacle of nature. This is a huge breeding colony. You'd have to go to some place in the Antarctic to get something close to this. And most of those places in the Antarctic won't be this big.
And what's amazing to me is that, like most people have a conception of penguins. You know, you think of large groups of penguins on ice flow, or somewhere on the Antarctic. Here we are, we're sort of in a bowl or a depression surrounded by all this scrub brush and you look out and you know I can see one or two or three little black and white shapes, but you'd never know there are just penguins everywhere around us.
Well, except, did you hear those sneezes just then? That psst, psst? Those are penguins spraying out salt from their salt glands. So even when sometimes when you don't see penguins you can hear them and then you realize you really are more surrounded than you think because you don't always see them. They're just hidden amongst the vegetation.
Ya. It's not what the normal concept of a penguin colony is for a lot of people, I think.
No, most people think that penguins are only found in cold places, when in fact these magellanic penguins, or Patagonian penguins, cause they're found in Patagonia, they're temperate species of penguins. And if you start thinking about it, there are penguins in South Africa, that's another temperate, there's four of them that are members of these temperate group penguins; the African one, the Peruvian penguin, this Patagonian penguin, and the Galapagos penguin that actually nests on the equator.
Tell me again that story about how the penguin, that, this group of penguins got its name.
Well, this whole group of penguins is called Jackass penguins and the reason that they got the name is because there were people in South Africa, scientists that were camping out, and they thought that they were surrounded at night by donkeys and so the next morning they got up to look to find out where all these donkeys were and of course all they found were penguins, and hence, Jackass penguin, that's the first penguin that was named of this group, and it was called Jackass cause they sound like jackasses, so hence jackass penguin. It's now called the black footed penguin, but still some people refer to that one as the Jackass penguin, that's another common name for it. Well these magellanic penguins that were looking at here, some people do call them Patagonian penguins. I personally think that's a better name because it's more descriptive of where they're found in both Chile and Argentina in the Patagonian area, but, of course Magellanic comes from Magellan cause he was the first one, Pegafate, his naturalist was the first one to see magellanic penguins. And some people call them magellanic penguins, but when you get to Spanish countries, um, it's made more Spanish, and so hence magellanic.
I'm trying to remember in reading the voyage of the beagle whether Darwin ever mentioned penguins when he was down here. Do you remember?
No, he mentions the plains of Patagonia and how timeless and endless they look, but he didn't mention penguins and probably there wasn't penguins here in most of the places he mentioned in Patagonia. This colony that you're looking at that's so incredible is really recent. The first penguins came here probably in the 1920's. That's what the local Astoncia people tell us. And now we've been looking at some of the genetics and our preliminary work suggests that these colonies my students and I have collected blood samples all the way from the Falkland Islands all the way along the coast of Argentina, and they really are not well differentiated, suggesting they did probably expand rather rapidly and somewhat recently, and that's somewhat fitting what the Astoncia people have told us and there's a report from the 1700's by a guy named Dunford, who visited this very colony at Punta Tombo and did an elaborate bird list, as only Brittishers can, and described the number of cormorants out at the point, and talked where the sweet water was, and one of the first issues of Auk, and he came, I know because he wrote about it, December 24th and December 25th, which is the heart of the breeding cycle for magellanic penguins, and never mentioned penguins. So that's also evidence that in the 1700's they weren't here.
Ambi. Nat sound, ocean waves, walking, wind.
Well, what we've now learned by putting the nests, the reason why we picked this canyata is cause it's a representative habitat, but the other reason we chose it is because the bushes are nice and low and it's easy to look in so we thought we could walk through here, read the band numbers of the penguins, basically not disturbing them, and it wouldn't be really hard, I mean you wouldn't have to get down on your hands and knees in order to read the band number. We now know, as I mentioned, the birds really like a lot of cover. So the birds tend to move out of the canyata and up into that hillside where there are very deep burrows and so those are much more preferred nests because of the higher cover. The other reason is because these nests that are low in the canyata flood. So when we get a lot of rain these nests flood, while so if you're on the hill slope you don't flood. So there're some other advantages of those well-covered nests.
Ambi. Faint penguins, wind
FX. Male, female penguin call.
Finally a chick
Oh, we've got a chick here.
And look at how little this guy is, I mean that's why he's still left. He's got a little bit of down left on the head, but he's just skinny still. So he's waiting for both of his parents to give him really one good meal. If they don't come eventually he'll try to make it, but obviously much better if he can get fed up before he leaves cause that'll give him several more days before he needs to learn how to find fish. And they're pretty hard-wired. So, in that sense, what they're interested in is movement. You'll see, before these guys fledge they'll see like a fly go by and they'll try to grab it out of the air. And they really have got amazing eye-bill coordination so they're programmed to find fish. But if they leave here and there's not any fish close by they clearly are going to have to swim several hundreds of kilometers and of course the first time they try to capture it they may not be successful so they gotta try a lot of times. And so that's why it's important they go with some reserves before they go to sea.
Uh, let me ask you about that because one of the things that you've been researching is that in some years and I think you saw a trend where they had to go farther and farther out to sea to get fish and this is maybe where changes in the over the larger environment may be having some influence over the colony.
FX. Penguin call (over Chris and Dee's conversation)
One of the things that I certainly didn't anticipate when I started this is that these penguins could tell us as much as much as I think they are telling us about the environment. Twenty years later what we've seen is this colony has declined by about 20 percent since the 80's and, uh, since I've been here every year it seems like they're slightly less. Now some years they're even less than other years because we've had an oil spill, or something like that, but the last few years, looking at these satellite tags is that the birds just had to disperse much further during incubation. Instead of going a hundred or 200, or even 300 kilometers, this last year was the worst. Some of these birds went 800 kilometers away from their nest to presumably look for food. They were up north, 800 kilometers up north, searching for food, and of course many of them didn't come back to relieve their mates in time, so consequently they lost their eggs, or their chicks. So, I think every year, well for the last five years certainly, it looks like every year has gotten a little harder and they've had to go further north.
Well, any ideas of why they have to go so much father to get food?
It's probably because of the changes in migration of their prey species, these anchovy. We know that the migration does involve following their prey, and we know that the anchovies migrate and so and that's mainly what these guys in Punta Tombo eat and so they're relying heavily on the anchovy. And so probably they're trying to go far enough north to find schools of small fish.
Would that have anything to do with the change in the, what's is it, the Folcomlovenus current that is carrying most of the food off of the shore of Argentina, anything to do with the changing of the water temperature?
It could be well have something to do with the long-term climate changes, or the variation in climate changes. For example, we know that this year in the Falkland Islands they actually closed down the squid industry because there were so few squid and birds did very poorly, penguins in the Falkland Islands. Gentu penguins actually died probably because of some toxic algae bloom, but many birds deserted their nests. Shags, the rock-hopper penguins, the magellanic didn't do very well, um, apparently there just wasn't a lot of food apparently. The squid boats didn't find any food and so hence they were worried about the collapse of the squid industry and so they closed the fisheries. Here we early in the season saw all kinds of indications that there was not very much food. One is how far the birds were traveling when they tried to find food, and two is when they came they were in poor body condition, didn't weigh as much as they did in a lot of other years. And so they started out kind of behind the eight ball. And so if you looked at kind of the size of the eggs over a number of years. What we also find is eggs are smaller in years they do quite poorly.
What's interesting also is that when people think of changing environment, whether it's global or just regional, they tend to think of how it's going to affect one particular animal, or one particular species, but what we're talking about is a set of, a chain reaction of events that affects, in a secondary sense, not necessarily what affects not necessarily that species or that animal, but what they eat.
In the whole system. I mean, the thing that's amazing to me about the whole South Atlantic is that it's been incredibly under-exploited in human terms, but certainly in the last couple of decades this place has just taken off. I mean, with the increase in the number of fisheries, everything from fish that we've never even heard of before, like Patagonian tooth fish, that now are, hopefully, not served in too many restaurants. Now they're called Chilean sea bass, and a number of other things, but we know that was mining and we've taken most of those out of the South Atlantic, of course we took most of the whales out of the South Atlantic. And, of course, we've got a sanctuary, in a way, in the Antarctic, but of course we've still got whaling going on and we've got the breeding grounds for these many important species here in South America, and in Argentina specifically for the right whale, which is now starting to come back. But, uh, this is, to me, one of the wonderful oceans of the world and one that we really should do more to think about how to use it in a more sustainable manner and the penguins, I think, are a good cue to use to think about what are we doing to these oceans. And we now know that these oceans are connected in ways that we didn't know several decades ago. What was it? A couple of weeks ago that they found a Patagonian tooth fish off of Greenland? The only way it probably could have gotten there is on the under current on the Antarctic, all the way up to Greenland. So these are not closed bases in the way we used to think of them. Just like we used to think of El Nino only occurring off the Peruvian Coast, now we know it has global effects. And certainly we know we have El Nino events in the Atlantic and in the South Atlantic as well. And here, in Patagonia, we see it, as we have this year, this incredible amount of rainfall. We see it as kind of characteristic of what we see as El Nino events in the South Atlantic.
Back on that theme, though, again, people think of, for example, that come here and see these penguins and say well if you protect this land here on shore that you are protecting these penguins, but that's not half the story.
That's exactly right. I mean, that's the thing that's been so sad about this. I mean, here we have a provincial reserve, which is exciting to have a reserve at all, but essentially a state reserve, not even a national reserve for this treasury of wildlife and there's nothing around it that's adequate at all by any stretch of the imagination to think about protecting these penguins. What is unusual, though, is the Argentines have been foresighted enough to actually have a fishing reserve area. It's a spawning ground for the Marlusa, for the Heich fishery and they exclude big boats. So they only allow the little local Artisano fishery out of Rousen in particular. So they're kind of two day, three day voyages. They don't go very far to exploit the fisheries in this area. And part of that is certainly going to be helpful for penguins and other wildlife cause lots of things depend on anchovies, including the heich fishery, cause that's what the heich eat, as well as the penguins. But interestingly enough, whenever we draw things on maps we often draw squares and if you look at it from the penguins viewpoint from the satellite tagging, it's not a square at all. In fact, part of the area that's protected to the south, the penguins never use, and presumably the heich don't use either, but it would be better if we looked at more realistic biological boundaries.
So they're yearlings?
No these guys have got to be at least two years old, they could be 30 years old.
Do they moult every year?
Oh, they have to moult every year. They've got to get new feathers. It's like buying new jackets, you know, you've got to have good feathers and good insulation. Without that you can't go to sea and stay warm. So they come back every year to moult. But, I don't know, one of the things I find so interesting is that these mated pairs often will moult together in these burrows. The males almost always moult in their nest site because they got a lot. They have to have a nest to have a female, so they're pretty invested in their nest sites. But often the females will come and moult too. Usually the females will start the moult a little before the males, the males will be the last, but they usually overlap so they might even spend two weeks together just sitting around doing nothing and dropping feathers and growing new ones.
That is the sternum, or something near the tail end, no, no, sorry, that's the jaw.
No, you're right the first time.
Is that the sternum?
Ya, that's the sternum. That's what's kind of interesting is that's the sternum from a penguin, and of course you can see how keeled it is and that shows you how even though we think of penguins as flightless birds, they have to be able to fly through water, and they have to have a big area for muscle attachment, and hence the really keeled sternum.
Now when you say keeled, for people who can't say this, obviously it's the breast bone, otherwise known as the sternum. And it has this one inch long ridge that sticks up from the middle of the sternum.
Right, just like what you'd get on a sail boat to keep it from tipping over.
And that helps it go through the water as well as provide a place for muscle attachment.
Well it's the muscle attachment that's really important because then what they're doing is they're using the flippers as paddles and that gives them the strokes so that's why they're really flying through the water.
And it's so light.
Ya, certainly, sternums are light, but the thing that's interesting about penguin bones compared to other bird bones is that they're solid. Other bird bones¿
Right, that's not hollow¿
¿are hollow, but penguins have very solid bones, and of course that's not really surprising cause they really aren't flying through the air, except when they porpoise and solid bones are going to be an advantage in the water and it's probably also important for females particularly during egg-laying cause they can absorb a lot more calcium out of their bones. We know that they can eat shells around egg laying too, and probably take up some of the calcium carbonate that way. And interestingly enough the eggshells of penguins are among the thickest of all the shells. And that shouldn't surprise you if you've looked at the nest because there's not much nesting material in there and if you're going to lay your egg on rock or hard ground you don't want them to break. This is a little piece out of an egg and look at how, I mean, feel that compared to a chicken egg, it's like double the thickness.
Ya, that's really rigged and thick. And it's a big egg, too.
FX. Cracking the penguin shell.
Ya, it's pretty sturdy.
Yep, really sturdy, and not easy to break. And in fact, most of the eggs don't break. We've found the majority of our eggs that get broken, get broken in fights. You probably couldn't build a thick enough egg to withstand one of these penguin fights cause they really are pretty vicious and they end up breaking the eggs by stamping on the eggs by accident, or crash into them.
FX. Tapping on the sternum
What do you think this is?
(Dee and Chris laugh) Sphenoid bone. No, that's a digit?
Yep, that's the foot bone.
It's the foot bone, it's talons.
You see how it's fused, the foot bone is fused? You find a lot of these from, unfortunately, chicks that haven't quite made it, but a lot of little foot bones around.
And so those are the three, actually, the three foot bones, but they're fused into one?
Ambi. Walking, wind, penguins. Some talking in background.
So they walk all the way, well, gee you can see the foam from the ocean over there, but anyway, they come all the way up this highway, around down through this canyata, and then up this draw, so that's about a kilometer these guys are walking in, but of course they're walking at least flat. And then what you see on both sides here are these hills that are just loaded with apartment-like dwellings and it's burrows all over as far as you can see. Those are the ones that come up this highway and turn right and left and are in apartment buildings more or less.
They see a fight, but it broke up.
One thing I forgot to ask you do is a basic ID like my name is and what you do. No, not me, you.
I'm Dee Boersma and I ¿m a professor of zoology at the University of Washington and what I like to do is spend time with penguins. I'm just fascinated by wildlife in particular and looking at sea birds to tell us something about environmental change and environmental conditions.
Ambi. Walking, talking, wind surf, penguins
Ambi. Wind, penguins, crashing waves.
What does that tell you, I mean, is that really flashing? So it's important so you can really see them from a distance? One of my colleagues and I have been kind of trying to work and this and see does it tell you is it sychrony? I mean we now know in human faces that we find beauty in faces that are much more synchronus. Is this something that penguins can look at the white on both sides when they turn it back and forth and the ones that have better synchrony are more likely to be mated? But we really don't know what that black and white is for. We do know that penguins have incredible eyes. Their eyes are just like owl eyes. They gather very low amounts of light. Of course, they're visual predators, not surprisingly, but on moonless nights these birds will still be pretty active, and when there is a moon out they'll be even more active. They can see pretty well, just like owls can. One of the things I wanted you to notice in this valley as we go up you see all this introduces weed here, this goosefoots, or lambsquarters. It's apparently poisonous, or so the ranchers tell me, for the sheep, but this year it's all over. I mean it's so green here, and of course it's so green here in part because we've had so much rain because it's been this El Nino kind of year in the South Atlantic. But another thing that's so amazing is it's growing up so much that this is, in other years it's totally bare. I know you'd find that hard to believe, but now it's totally green, and instead it should be totally bare and you'd see penguins all over. Now you don't see very many, but as we walk up this valley it's littered with burrows, almost a burrow per every square meter. I mean, it's just wall to wall penguins in here, but you can't see them.
Well I put my foot in one burrow, I know that.
So this is last year's chick and he's up here finishing his moult. You can see he's about half moult, he's still got to grow his new ones in, so he'll probably be here for two weeks more. He's just walked in what about a half a kilometer from the sea and he'll be hanging out around these bushes to get a little shade. And you can see he's standing out in the open cause it's so cloudy and overcast and windy. He doesn't need to be in the shade now. Do you see those feathers?
Each one of those feathers, you can see he's been on land a while. You can see his yellow poop. That means he hasn't been eating for at least four days. Okay, give me a feather here.
He didn't seem to mind that.
Nope, didn't even feel it. You can see he's losing all these feathers and here's each one of these feathers you see has a little down feather associated with it? So it's really two feathers. It's the outer feather that covers up this little down feather, but the feathers are so short it's almost like fur. Feel it, it's almost like fur.
Ya, it's very soft. But it's amazingly short. I mean, given the condition that they have to live under I would think that they would have a much heavier coat of feathers.
Well, but they have so many feathers. I mean, they've got about like 90 feathers per square inch. More feathers than any other bird, most birds have, you know, what, three or four per square inch, maybe a bit more in some species, but nothing like 90 per square inch. So these guys have got highly modified feathers that are almost like fur.
Ya. I mean, they almost look like seeds from a tree, from a flower.
We're just going to come up this highway so we won't fall in too many burrows. Just be careful because there's burrows everywhere, you don't want to fall through. The penguins definitely wouldn't like that so careful around the top of that one.
Ambi. Walking. Penguin sounds.
Here's an adult and a chick, now there's a healthy chick, but you can still see it's got a little more growing to do. It's still about half covered with down and it's pretty fat, but it's probably going to wait a few more days until the other parent comes home. Often they wait until both parents come home on the same day and then they really get a big meal and then off they'll go.
So both parents will go off and forage and say catch squid, come back and regurgitate it into the chicks mouth?
Yep, in this case mostly they're feeding on anchovies, but ya, occasionally squid too, but they much prefer anchovies cause it's a lot oilier and higher in caloric content for them so they grow faster on anchovy than they ever would on squid.
So they bulk up on a last meal before they head on down into the ocean?
Ya, what I've found is that they're much more likely to fledge if both parents come home and interestingly right before fledging it looks like the food must come closer to Tombo because the parents are coming back little more rapidly. So, earlier, when the chicks are little they're coming and trading off about every day and a half so that means the parents can't go that far. I mean they can go maybe 100, 150 kilometers away, but when the chicks get older and bigger and they have bigger storage capacity the adults can go even further away, but near the time of fledging the adults start coming back a little more rapidly and so instead of having to wait six days, you know, for a parent to come back, they only have to wait maybe two days and so occasionally both parents come back together and feed them up and it's usually right after that the chicks starts walking off to the sea.
Tell me a little bit about the geology of this part of the world, what we're standing on.
Oh, ya, I was going to tell you about that. Here's, if you look on both sides here you'll start to see these hills and you'll notice all the way along the coast lines there's a couple of berms and those are covered in gravel, round gravel, and they're really well polished and that's because they've been so tumbled, wave-washed, and that's because they're showing you the old oceans, of you know the past oceans, past geological history, and so that's why the oceans used to be much higher than what they are now. And so that's why¿
So this is mostly sedimentary?
Well, if they're volcanic, I mean, you'll see, that's a nice piece of jasper, look at how polished that is. It's tumbled, it's round, so you know that it's been water tumbled, came down, probably came down from the Andes. But that bright red is because of the jasper that's been here. And there's a lot of artifacts of Indians being here, artifacts, we should run into some chips, arrowheads, you'll find really well developed arrowheads here that they've chipped off, or scrapers. That was just a guy pooping in the background there.
Thank you for making sure we knew what that was.
(laughs) You didn't want me to think it was you. There's a lot of that jasper around. But this was former ocean, then this would be sedimentary rock, but that's covered over with rock, that's come down from the Andes?
Well, ya, these are rounded, tumbled rocks here, and then of course you're going to see volcanic rocks because this is of course this whole part of Argentina is geologically active and the Andes are still growing so you get the crust uplifting here and so you'll see some rocks. Now that's a¿
That's an agate, actually.
Oh, really? Is it mixed with something else or is that all agate?
Well, usually around agate you get other things too, but that, and I can't, I'm not a geologist so I can't tell you what's around that.
Makes a nice chest piece.
Ambi. Penguin cries, wind. Faint conversation discussing agate and other rocks.
When you talk about recruitment help me out with that. Recruitment means what?
Oh, um, recruitment means coming back into this population to eventually become a reproductive individual. So I've been interested in what keeps this population going. Okay, so these chicks survive and they go out to sea. How many of them actually come back to eventually become part of the reproductive population. So one of the things we're going to do is go over to the beach and start to look at some of th birds along the shore. Some of them we'll be able to tell how old they are because they'll be juveniles and they won't have any of those adult white markings around the head, the crescent on the head, or around the body, and so we'll be able to tell that those are juveniles and those are last year's chicks, and we'll be able to tell the juveniles because the juveniles are brown and the adults are black, but once they are adults we can't tell how old they are, except by the bands. And so, what we can do, because we've banded so many birds, is go along these beaches and look at our age groups, I mean read the band numbers and then we know what cohort they came from. And because we banded 4000 chicks every year for nine years and now we're banding about 500 chicks a year still, we get some idea of the survival. Some years are better than other years. We don't understand why, yet, some years are better than other years, but we think that eventually we'll get some insights into what is happening in the ocean that allows some years to be really good years for penguins and why some years almost none seem to survive.
Ambi. Wind. (there's more ambi before and after times, but people are talking).
Well, we call that high point and that's actually made up of lava. And look to the left of that and you can actually see your first rhea. See it? So there's a whole mixture here, a lot of igneous rock, and a lot of tumbled and now is gravel with agates, and then big volcanic rock, and then poorly developed soil, but nevertheless soil, and some places that have a lot of shells because it used to be under water and so now you can see the fossil berms around the area where the sea level used to be higher and we'll walk over some of those. There'll be a big one over on the other side of here.
In keeping with our wonderful names, we call this area the mesa, because, nos surprisingly it's flat, like a table top.
Ambi. Walking, ocean, gulls, penguins
I was telling that there's some indication of a lot of Indian use here, and there's , here's an example here's some jasper, but it's all been chipped, see somebody's hit that rock and chipped it.
Ya, sharp edge.
Ambi. Walking, penguins, wind.
Well, some of them have already moulted to adults. They probably were juveniles before, but now we can't tell because if it was an adult before and it moulted it probably would still look like an adult. So we only can really be sure until they go through this first moult because once they start losing these feathers, as you can tell, the adult plumage starts showing through and then we lose their age. And so that's one reason why we band the 60 adults every year because that's the last chance we have of knowing this age group. But look theirs one adult that's starting to moult. So you can see if he lost most of the feathers around the head, or even part of the body feathers then we couldn't tell. But most of these are juveniles, probably 90 percent of them, probably even more than that, probably 95.
When you get them together this close you can tell they do smell.
And we're very upwind of them as well.
Ya. Ya, you can smell the guano, but that's mostly because what you're smelling is, don't forget we got 33 millimeters of rain last night so the soil's damp, so that's why we get any smell at all because we got really wet last night. Otherwise you wouldn't even smell this. But I must be somewhat habituated to it because I didn't even notice it.
You don't see anybody that's banded do you?
On the foot you mean?
Nope, on the wing, we put the band on the wing. So what you're looking for is a stainless steele band on the wing.
Like a little clip, it doesn't go all the way around the wing?
Like a little bracelet, more or less. I don't see any, but I just want you to keep your eyes open for it cause that's what we're looking for.
Okay, let's go up to this berm and see if the wind blows us over.
Ambi. Strong wind. Walking up to berm (some talking in background)
Well we're not gonna be looking along this beach. Look, you can feel the sand hitting our back?
Ya, I can feel that, all right, into my face. There's a few penguins down there.
Well they're in the water but they're not standing on the shore. There's a few standing up there, but not too many.
Is it the surf's too rough?
I think it's just a¿The surf's not bothering them as much as I think the sand blowing I mean that's pretty strong. So that's why they've come up over this ridge and are standing around the bushes down here to moult. You know they're not moulting just along the shore, which they normally would be doing because if it gets too hot they can go right directly in the ocean, but of course on a day like today they don't have to worry about getting hot. So they're just standing around inland where there's not quite so much wind. But, boy, that sea is impressive, isn't it? With a lot of white caps as far as you can see, but that's a lot of big waves.
Ya, that's gotta to be blowing 40 at least.
I'd hate to think what that storm is like where it's coming from. Presumably in the Antarctic since the winds strongly coming from the south.
But look at the penguins out there, you can still see them in the surf.
Ya, the big surf doesn't bother them, they dive right underneath it?
Nope, they dive right under, right like a before it breaks on top of them.
They are such great swimmers.
On some days I've watched them and it's like watching surfers. They actually will body surf. You'll them playing in the waves, just coming in, rolling in. Well, I think I'm foiled, I can't do any surveys here today, it's just too windy.
Ambi. Strong wind. Surf on the red rocks.
So, what are these things?
Well, these are just clickers, they're counters, talliers. Actually called tallywackers by some. And what we do is use these to count birds. I mean you could count 1,2,3,4, but it's a lot easier to click. What we like to do is we're looking for banded birds. We haven't banded any juveniles over here, or any chicks, since 1984. In 1984 we banded a couple a hundred of chicks in this area, but we haven't banded any since then. One of he things we're interested in is how sight faithful are these penguins. I mean, one of the questions you have is if this penguin colony is declining are they gonna move, or how is it penguin colonies expand, and some decline? Are all the chicks that are born here do they come back here or do they move to other colonies? We know that there's colonies up on the Penninsula Valdez that are actually growing. There were no penguins there until 1969. And then the first scientific report came that there were a pair of penguins that established there and reproduced. Now there' probably I don't know, 20,000 up there. Still a relatively small colony by Punta Tombo standards, but nevertheless, how did they get there. Is it all done by the birds that were up there, or are there birds that were moving up to the peninsula or other places? So banding is one of the ways that we can tell that. Another way is genetics. So we're going to be looking at genetics in one of these colonies and one of my collaborators is an Argentine that's working in the United States at Bowling Green. So we've been looking at these genetic questions, but banding is an easier way because if we banded a bird here we know that it was hatched here and that if it comes back we obviously know that it's returned to where it was hatched. And we've had a couple of cases where a bird has come back within a meter of where they hatched.
And in one case we were really worried because we thought geez here's this young bird that's come back, it's a young male, it's father, the male had died, the mother was still in the original nest where he was hatched and we thought this chicks gonna come back and he's gonna mate with his mother. In fact he moved a meter away and mated with another female.
Good for him, no Oedipal complex with these penguins.
None. But that's what's really the advantage of what these long-term studies tell you. I mean, you really start to understand the structure of the population and you can understand how infrastructures within the colony work. So what I first like to do look if any of the birds are banded and how many of the birds are banded cause we haven't banded very many of the birds over here, ever, and obviously none since 84. So what we do is count left flipper bands so that gives us an idea of how many birds are banded here and we do that in lots of the areas where birds are banded and that gives us an idea of how many of the birds are banded, and then by reading the band numbers if they're known-age birds, and then what class they came from; if they were banded as chicks if they were banded in 86, or 89, or 94, or 98, or 2002. And we should actually have some birds, if we're lucky, we might find some from even last year.
So before I freeze to death here, tell me what I'm supposed to do.
You take a clicker,and every time you see a left flipper you click.
A left flipper with a band on it?
No. You click all left flippers. And when you find a left flipper with a band we're gonna read the band number.
Okay. So how do I make sure I don't count the same bird twice?
Well, you try not to, on average, I mean that's why we've got three of us doing this because you're going to have a count, I'm going to have a count, she's going to have a count, we're going to be going around the same birds, so we should all see approximately the same number of birds and if we got a banded bird we should all see that banded bird.
We go around the same colony?
Ya, we're going to go around these bushes. Not a colony in this case, just these birds that are trying to stay out of the wind and out of the sand.
But if I see the same, if I click on the same left flipper that you're clicking on we're not getting an accurate count.
We're not getting an independent count, but we're going to take our averages. So you should have a count and I'll have a count and we should see the same bands cause we're going in the same place.
They go counting.
Talks off mic at first, comes in at 1:55:08
We're just gonna, you're gonna click only left flippers that you see.
So if you see a left flipper, click?
No, she said only in this area, though
She said I could start over here.
Any area is fine because we haven't banded over here since 84. There should be very few banded birds. I know from going to islands, and going through and clicking left flippers, that on average I had to click 7000 left flippers to find one banded birds. And in all the cases where we found banded birds, like in East Latova and East Lalionis, those birds were banded here as juveniles. So presumably they were here moulting as juveniles but they did not hatch at Punta Tombo. I don't know where these juveniles have come from that are here, but last year we banded, again, 60 juveniles, but we also banded 500 chicks and those chicks are now these juveniles. So I would think that we will find some. I know that on the other side we've already found two juveniles and those were chicks that we banded last year and they're back. And we're trying to look at how closely associated with their areas are they. So we need to go to places where we haven't banded any chicks, which is here and there are lots of juveniles so that they've come back now and so I don't expect that we will find any, but we might find some and it will give us some idea of how far they're straying from where they've actually hatched.
Ambi. Strong wind while group is walking around and counting. Voices are off mic.
Flawn says preceding was ambi of wind.
FX. Penguin call
Chris and Dee off mic
Well, the problem with both the fox kills here and the cat kills is they grab them from behind. They grab them behind the head, so, on the back of the neck so there's really not much they can do cause they're really caught unaware. And of course then once they get them by the back of the neck like that they can kill them pretty easily.
Break their necks.
But they wouldn't approach, say, one of these burrows cause the fox would get picked.
Oh ya. Penguins can actually do quite a bit of damage. There've been gulls that have tried to get the eggs and in one case a gull in one of our nest kind of went in and it had its wings behind it a little bit and it got caught in the, um, bush and the penguin ended up killing it, just bit it and then flipper hit it and eventually the gull died. So, penguins can be pretty dangerous. But, of course, if they're caught behind the head like that they can't peck at a fox or a cat and so that's it.
I think its, as one ornithologist once put it, he said it's the birds bill it's where it meets the world.
Yep, that's generally true, but for penguins they've got another formidable weapon and that's these flippers. They have such strong flippers it's like being karate hit. And in fact there's a report of a fellow trying to band an Emperor penguin who had two ribs broken by an Emperor penguin hitting him. So they're pretty strong.
Now which the dorsal, the arm?
Ya, the arm, the wing.
The wing not the, not the¿
The flipper, not his feet, no the flippers are what really hit you. If you get hit by those flippers you'll know it. You can get black and blue. They're strong. Penguins are about 10 pounds of muscle.
Ambi. Gulls, ocean
Chris says you can't click this penguin, only live ones count.