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The Penguin Diaries - 34 of 36

Thursday, 6 February 2003  
"The chinstrap colonies are in their prime sloppy, mucky condition..."

Greetings from lovely King George Island! It's been a fun week. I'm in the process of boiling some water for a shower, copying a CD for our Brazilian friends, & baking my mom's special carrot cake for a Hungarian friend's birthday, so I figured I'd squeeze in a quick update. Today we were out hiking for 7 hrs in the mist, checking on skuas and censusing seals & chinstrap penguin chicks. The chinstrap colonies are in their prime sloppy, mucky condition after a night of rain & the chicks are filthy little fuzz-balls. They are in their least endearing phase of life & in 2 wks they'll have to fend for themselves. Meanwhile, the gentoo penguin chicks are at their cutest - floppy, curious, clean fluffy little birds running around in packs, experimenting with water, & chasing down their parents for food. They haven't started swimming yet, but in a couple of weeks, they'll fill the "pond" in our front yard with their splashing antics before they head out into the great sea. Our little Adelie penguin chicks don't have it quite so good. The adults have mostly left for the Weddell sea to fatten up for the winter & now the chicks must follow. They are hilarious to watch, but tragic. They have not a clue about what they are doing, so when they get hungry after a day or two w/o mom or dad, they wander towards the sea & gather in groups squawking & calling to each other. Eventually they get up enough courage to jump in, and off they all go, squawking & calling at the top of their lungs, completely astounded by the whole concept of swimming, easy targets for the lurking leopard seals. It's comical to watch & listen to these crazy youngsters...only 2 months old & off on their own to figure out the world. They won't make it back here for at least 2 yrs & only about 10% will survive. Kind of a rough start in life. Every now & then a group of these Adelie "fledgers" will come running past our hut, confused & squawking. The "pond" out front perplexes them. They won't cross the bridge & they don't quite know what to make of this mini-sea. One got separated & spent the night out alone. By morning, a pair of skua's did him in. Poor lil' guy. Safety in numbers is the name of the game. In other news, many fur seals are arriving on the island to hang out. Very few skua & gull chicks survived this yr. It's been a rough one for finding food. We've had a great, social week. My b-day was excellent - hours of dancing with 25 Brazilian & Argentine visitors. We're headed over to the Brazilian base across the bay tomorrow for their 19th Anniversary Party. It should be a big one w/guests from the Polish, Peruvian, Argentine, Chinese & Korean bases - lots of dancing & drinking, no doubt. There are 45 Brazilians at Ferraz Base. It sounds like an interesting place. The morning of my b-day, Stacey & Wayne made us an eggs benedict breakfast which we enjoyed out in the sun on our front porch. Laura made spanikopita, fish, salad, pumpkin pie & vanilla ice cream. We ate my Kahlua Chocolate B-day Cake a day early - oops! Last night we got a surprise visit from a Chilean Navy ship (Leucoton). 16 guys came ashore for a 45 min visit/tour of our camp & coffee/beer. 14 of them have invited Stacey to visit them in Chile. She's a popular gal down here! Life continues to be unbelievably fun at Copa. It will be hard to leave at the end of Feb. It sounds like it's starting to snow again up north. Ski, play, have fun, & don't go starting a war. Take care.

Love, Iris

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