Cape Crozier was the location of the largest Adelie colony that we would visit this season, with about half a million penguins! We went to Cape Crozier with the plan that we would be going there for 3 day trips (which ended up getting scratched). We could have stayed there in the hut, but it was being closed up for the season, and it would have been easier just to fly in every day. The weather there is notoriously swift to change from good to bad, and there was a large chance that we would have to stay there anyways for an indeterminate amount of time (which I would have been just fine with!). But, just like the rest of the season, the weather cooperated perfectly, and we got in and out as planned.
The hut itself was very small, but comfortable, with 4 bunks and a kitchen with a stove, heater, and some leftover liquor. Another plan from weeks earlier was to come stay here for a few days, but the BBC crew was using the hut and there would have been no room for us, unless we camped somewhere on the rocky slopes.
The Adelie colony was about an hour’s hike from the hut, over the other side of the mountain. Walking down the snow fields you had to be really careful not to slip on icey patches… or else you wouldn’t be able to stop yourself! Not to mention, walking on the steep slopes of volcanic scree was ankle-twisting. But finally, we crested the ridge and found ourselves looking down on the 5th largest Adelie colony in the world. With over 150,000 nests (breeding pairs) + chicks, the number topped out around half a million individual penguins. It was a sight to see (and you could smell them from quite a ways off, as well – that now-familiar musty penguin guano smell).
Once we reached the colony, everyone split up to do their separate tasks, and so I began to look for eggshells to collect for Dr. Emslie. Unfortunately, due to the nature of Cape Crozier and its frequent strong winds, I was very unsuccessful in finding any eggshells! I searched all the gulleys and eroded sides of the colony, but no luck whatsoever :(. But I did, of course, see lots more interesting penguin behavior, and some very cute chicks molting in strange patterns.
Dr. Emslie was interested in sampling the colony, but decided against it in the end as he realized how young the colony was – around 500 years old. So the plan was changed, and we ended up with just that one day in Cape Crozier (at least for the penguin portion – Dr. Smykla came back for more plant samples).
As I wandered around the colony searching for eggshells, I found other interesting things…
When pickings for the skuas are really good, then they will be super wasteful and eat only the bellies of the chicks.
Having made my way down to the beach, I noticed how crowded it was! I had to be very careful walking in between the penguins because some of them got aggressive (growling like a cat!)