Saturday, March 20, 2010

Penguin Colony in Punta Tombo, Argentina

It is claimed that this is the biggest pinguinera (penguin colony) in the world with estimates as high as 500,000 Magellanic Penguins. It is located south of Puerto Madryn and easily accessible from Trelew via Route 3. There is a new asphalted road but still does not go all the way to the pinguinera.
As one walks into the rookery, the landscape looks like a battlefield full of artillery impact holes from WW I. These are penguins nests made in the brownish soil. The extent of the rookery is immense and penguins are everywhere. These birds walk long distances from the beach to get to their nests. They start arriving in September and leave by late March after the young have grown.

This a national park and it is very well organized with game wardens every where keeping and eye in the visitors. There is a restaurant by the entrance to the park. All is requested is to stay inside the roped trails and to “look but don’t touch”. These trails transect the rookery and when walking, penguins will cross the trail oblivious to the observers.

At times, a penguin will walk and stop in from of you to take a close view of the intruder, there is no fear, and then it will walk away. You can closely watch these cute birds, they can really get in your face is you seat on the trail.

The young penguin above is molting and the adult plumage is beginning to grow, at the end of the process it will look like the adult below. You may be able to discern the end of the bill that ends in sharp beak while the lower mandible ends flat creating a very efficient tool for feeding.
Adults feed the begging chicks by regurgitating the sumptuous meals of squids and fish. Some times there are spills but these do not go to waste, there are always skuas and gulls near by to pick the morsels.

The nests are everywhere and some are empty and others with young penguins or sleeping adults. These nests are shared with other animals, one that is common but I was not able to get a good image is the cuis, a small rodent, need to go back. There are also hairy armadillos, guanacos as well as gulls, hawks, skuas and a variety of smaller birds.


There is a continuous cacophony of noise, particularly among the chicks begging for food or adults quarreling. When calling, they stand erect with the bill pointing towards the sky while flipping their wings. These are territorial birds and fights are resolved by who can call the loudest but at times, short chases take place.


Lots of the chicks were molting and loosing their birthday suits, kind of a brownish color down. The young are also very promiscuous and seem to associate with other young ones for adventures and explorations. These are left alone while the parents are out fishing.


There is a beach that is the major access to the colony to the sea and the shoreline is full of thousands of penguins. Some arriving from their fishing trips, upon hitting the shore, they hurried up the hill searching for their dear ones. In the way to their nests they are accosted by chicks looking for a meal; no luck, these birds go straight to their siblings. It is entertaining to see the young penguins learning to swim under the close eye of a parent, once in the water they are dive and swim just as Esther Williams in a white& black bathing suit. Punta Tombo is one of those places where nature and human are peacefully getting along.

6 comments:

SAPhotographs (Joan) said...

The noise from these places can be overwhelming. :) When I see them molting like that I always wonder if it itches? :)

Wonderful post Jose.

jeannette said...

Great close-ups Jose. And the next to last penguin shot is a strong statement!

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Tim Rucci said...

Interesting stuff, Jose. It's really nice that you are able to get up so close and observe the birds, as well as take pictures. Must have been an awesome place.

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