Adult Emperors Up Close

Image: Adult Emperor penguin, Snow Hill Island, Antarctica. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 500 mm, f/8.0, 1/1250 sec, ISO 400, hand-held.

The scene at the emperor penguin colony was one of beauty but also one of chaos for a photographer. The scenes were stunning, but it was hard to capture artistic and visually-balanced compositions with thousands of birds moving around. After capturing some of the landscape shots with the penguins as shown in my previous post here, I switched to capturing images of the penguins up close. Initially, it was difficult to isolate some of birds and have an appealing background at the same time, but patience paid off. As the penguins got accustomed to us sitting and watching, they began to move around the colony at relative ease. For this post, I am focusing only on the adult Emperor penguins.

Image: Adult Emperor penguin stretching, Snow Hill Island, Antarctica. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 360 mm, f/8.0, 1/1250 sec, ISO 400, hand-held.

The male and females are indistinguishable in terms of their plumage and size so we did not know which gender of bird was caring for the chicks at this time. Both males and females weight 49-99 lbs depending on the season and reach a height of 3.5-4 feet. The majority of the penguins we saw were on the shorter side of that scale. The activity level of the penguins varied greatly in the colony. Some adults slept peacefully, either lying on the ice to cool down during their nap or nodding off vertically, using their body as a cushion.

Image: Adult Emperor penguin sleeping, Snow Hill Island, Antarctica. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 500 mm, f/8.0, 1/1250 sec, ISO 400, hand-held.

Other adults spent time preening and scratching during the daylight. They contorted their bodies in many configurations to reach all aspects of their bodies. Not only did this give me a view of all their body parts, but it also allowed me to capture images of the various curves and lines in their coloration.

Image: Adult Emperor penguin scratching, Snow Hill Island, Antarctica. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 500 mm, f/8.0, 1/1600 sec, ISO 400, hand-held.

A few times, I even got lucky enough to capture an image inside their beaks to demonstrate the rearward-facing barbs on the roof of their mouths. These barbs assist them when swallowing the slippery fish they eat.

Image: Adult Emperor penguin scratching, Snow Hill Island, Antarctica. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 340 mm, f/8.0, 1/2000 sec, ISO 400, hand-held.

Occasionally after a preening session, the adults shook their bodies and ruffled up their feathers. I happened to be taking some photos of an adult penguin’s feet at that time and caught the resulting ruffle at its feet. As you can see in the image below, there are extra skin folds at the bottom of the torso that help to shelter the egg and chick from the harsh Antarctic winters.

Image: Adult Emperor penguin feet after ruffling feathers, Snow Hill Island, Antarctica. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 440 mm, f/8.0, 1/2000 sec, ISO 400, hand-held.

The patterns in their feathers gave them a look of vibrant elegance. Although we saw some birds with dirty stomachs from sliding on the ice, the majority of them were clean with contrasting black and creamy white pattern on their backsides and flippers.

Image: Adult Emperor penguin preening, Snow Hill Island, Antarctica. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 500 mm, f/8.0, 1/1250 sec, ISO 400, hand-held.

The coloration of the feathers on their chest was mesmerizing as the creamy white shimmered in the sunlight. I tried to capture this sparkle in the image below but did not do nearly the justice it deserves.

Image: Adult Emperor penguin chest, Snow Hill Island, Antarctica. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 200 mm, f/8.0, 1/2500 sec, ISO 400, hand-held.

It was often hard to capture the faces of the adults clearly because their eye was so black and matched the feathers on their heads. Occasionally I could capture the white of their eyes if the light hit their face at the correct moment when their head was turned.

Image: Adult Emperor penguin resting, Snow Hill Island, Antarctica. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 400 mm, f/8.0, 1/2500 sec, ISO 400, hand-held.

One of the more emotional positions of the adults happened when they made their soulful call, as they often bowed their head in almost a reverent gesture.

Image: Adult Emperor penguin bowing and calling, Snow Hill Island, Antarctica. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 500 mm, f/8.0, 1/2500 sec, ISO 400, hand-held.

To hear a little bit of that call and to see how the penguins move in their colony, please click on the video below.

As I process more images, I will continue to post to show more about their behavior and their interactions with their chicks.

You can view these images individually and more not posted here in my portfolio located here.

Author: Amy Novotny

Amy Novotny is a physical therapist, marathon/ultra runner and nature photographer. She treats patients for a variety of conditions but specializes in chronic pain and calming an overactive nervous system using special diaphragmatic breathing. She has used this technique to help her qualify and run in four Boston marathons! She enjoys the outdoors and can often be found running and hiking on trails in throughout Arizona. She attempts to capture the beauty of nature with her photography both locally in Arizona and also throughout the United States. She is becoming more interested in wildlife photography and attempting to capture the emotion of animal interactions. In her spare time, Amy volunteers as a photo guide for the Arizona Highways PhotoScapes nonprofit and shares her joy of nature with others. Please feel free to contact her regarding her photography, physical therapy or running.

16 thoughts on “Adult Emperors Up Close”

  1. oh my gosh, Amy. These photos are extraordinary. They appear to be so close to you that you appear to be having an everyday conversation
    Also, I love your calendar! The pictures are stunning. Made me wish we had more months, so there would be more pics.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.