13 January, 2000
We are beginning to get a good routine here at Cape Bird. The hut is very comfortable, especially with the small group staying here. At present there are five of us. Brent and Leigh are graduate students working with Springtails, the only insect in this area. Kerry and Tony are the penguin wranglers that I am helping.
The hut is kind of a combination double wide trailer and mountain ski touring hut . There are two bunk rooms, a dinning/living area and a science lab. There is even a shower, though you have to hike a bit down the hill to get water from the glacier melt water stream. The Cape Bird hut is run by the Kiwis. I am the only American here, so I am taking a lot of flack about "yanks" from these blokes. I think I'm even starting to talk like them, mate.
Karry has spent the last ten field seasons here working with Adelies. She really knows and understands them well, and is always willing too explain the finer points of penguin biology to me. The Adelies themselves are incredibly interesting. Each day I see new behaviors in the birds. Their body language is very expressive. Each action has meaning which I am beginning to understand. They are quick to let us know if they disapprove of something we are doing. Oftentimes they are very inquisitive and walk right up to us, crane their neck around and look us over. The parents even bring their chicks right in next to us. If I lay on the beach, a small group will come over to examine the strange new animal with bright colors.
Adelies are a great animal to work with; they don't seem to mind us in the middle of their colony and they can be caught for radio tagging with a minimum of disturbance. All of the other birds I have ever worked with would never let you get so close to their nest without serious distress. Penguins, however, have no natural land predator. Nothing on land threatens them so they have no reason to fear humans (unless they have learned recently). This makes it possible to learn a great deal about their biology with a minimum of effort. Penguins, and parcticularly Adelie penguins, are the only bird species I can think of where there are large numbers of flightless birds that can be studied. This allows for lots of data to be compiled and hence a more accurate picture of the animalís life and ecology to be developed. The adelie colony is a perfect natural laboratory.
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