It’s time that I featured some of our other dwarvish neighbours – the gentoo penguins. There are a few small gentoo breeding colonies dotted around the base, which (apart from the eye-watering stench) can be brilliant places to sit and watch these little birds go about their daily lives. This mainly consists of squabbling and goading each other. The highlight in any gentoo’s day is when a fellow bird decides to leave the colony to go fishing, because this gives all of the others carte blanche to peck at its head and flippers as it waddles frantically past. Of course, the long walk to the sea suddenly seems less appealing when it is the neighbours mauling you.
Second highest in the gentoo’s favourite things to do is collecting objects. They covet anything that is solid and can be easily lifted by beak, be it a nicely shaped pebble or a departed seal’s rib. Even now, when the nesting season is nearly over, the birds will wander around in search of a choice rock to add to their mound. To the observer, a gentoo’s nest is an unappealingly muddy pile of stones and bones, but its owner would argue otherwise – it has taken weeks of careful maintenance to get it looking that way, and what does it matter if a stray rib pokes you in the bum every time you sit down?
We have kept a close eye on the progress of the gentoo chicks. The tiny, grey balls of fluff that only occasionally peek out from under their parents’ brood patch have now become stocky youngsters, nearly as tall as their parents, though still with the tell-tale downy coat. Each adult couple does its best to raise a pair of chicks, so by this stage the youngsters’ demand for fish and krill is enormous. However, soon will come the happy day when the chicks take their first waddle down to the beach and dip a toe in the water.