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13 January, 2000

Hello everyone!

What a day today was! Charles Petit and I went out to Humble Island with Bill Fraser. Bill and I were visiting the island to photograph specific penguins that my students in El Paso, TX are going to adopt. There are a group of penguins that are outfitted with a transmitter. Each bird is being monitored for its foraging patterns. The transmitter relays a signal to a receiver and data logger. The birds are basically counted as absent or present at their colony. If they are absent, that means they are out feeding.

Bill has generously offered to allow my students in El Paso, TX, access to his data. With this data they will be able to determine the length of time individual penguins forage for food. They are very excited about getting "live data" from Antarctica! I will digitally send them each bird's picture along with other pertinent data.

It was quite interesting walking through the rookery....yes, it is smelly, but not too bad! At one point Bill captured a bird with a transmitter so I could get a picture of it. I must tell you there is a definite art to catching a penguin. The birds are very smart and can read your movements. You have to grab them by their feet! After a couple of misses, success! I had my first up close and personal encounter with a beautiful extraordianry animal. You want to watch out for the beak and flippers. The flippers are made of bone and they can inflict a lot of damage. We found about 8 of the transmitter birds. That will be a good number to monitor. We visited the telemetry shack. This houses the receiver and data logger as well as the antennae.

I saw so many interesting behaviors among the animals. The young chicks are beginning to form creshes. This is like a nursery of sorts where several chicks begin to huddle up together. I saw some chicks that were crushed to death by elephant seals as they barrel through the colony. The elephant seals seem to lay and wallow when they are not out feeding. Because of their enormous size,they lay anywhere they want. There is real concern about the amount of damage they can cause a penguin rookery.

Next to the rookery on Humble Island is a nesting site for giant petrels. What a treat! I was absolutely blown away by these wild birds. These are the same birds that I spoke of the other day...you know, the ones that projectile vomit! Today was unbelievable. I was able to witness Donna Patterson, who studies these magnificent birds, actually handle them. She has been able to habituate them over the last couple of years and they allow her to measure them, examine their chicks, and even attach transmitters to their back! Keep in mind that these are wild birds. I can only say that it was a very moving experience when she placed a petrel chick in my hands! She has such a way with these animals. Each one seemed to respond to her affectionately. She knows them so well that she has even given names to the more deserving ones. How does "Psycho", "Norman Bates" and "Hollywood Girl" grab you!?

Today definitely goes on my list for one of the best days ever. I have lots of pictures to share with you. And if observing the petrels wasn't enough, we went over to Torgersen Island to do some diet sampling of penguins. This is done by capturing a penguin (using a net) and checking for the amount of krill it has eaten by inducing vomiting. This may sound unpleasant, but it really isn't. The bird is then place in a bag, hung by a spring scale and weighed. Then it is released. Five birds in all were sampled. The krill is bagged from each bird, brought back to the lab and measured.

Until tomorrow....


Bill Fraser has just captured this penguin to show me the radio transmitter on its back.

This is the telemetry shack that monitors the feeding patterns of several birds.

Donna Patterson working with a giant petrel.

A petrel tends the nest while it's mate is off feeding.

Donna is removing a transmitter from this bird and will place it on another one.

This krill was taken for a diet sample from a penguin. Yummy!! It seems that penguins are very good indicators of krill populations.

I can't believe I am holding a giant petrel chick!

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