Happy World Penguin Day!

Image: Emperor penguin adults watch over a very young chick near Snow Hill Island, Antarctica. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 200 mm, f/8.0, 1/2500 sec, ISO 400, hand-held.

Happy World Penguin Day!

This holiday celebrates an amazing bird, of which there are 17 species in the Southern Hemisphere. I have friends who are on a life-long mission to visit all 17 species in person. After having visited the Emperor penguin colony, I can understand their passion and this goal. The holiday brings about awareness to the importance of penguins to the world’s ecosystem and encourages that each person take a little time today to learn a little more about a penguin species.

The holiday was originally created by the American research station in Antarctica (McMurdo Station) to signal the beginning of the northern migration of the Adelie penguin to get better access to food during the winter months (that are soon coming in the Southern Hemisphere). Please enjoy this day!

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

Emperor Penguins -The Beauty in the Reality

Image: Emperor penguins after unseasonably warm weather, Snow Hill Island, Antarctica. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 200 mm, f/8.0, 1/2500 sec, ISO 400, hand-held.

When photographers venture out to capture images of the beauty of nature, we typically look for pristine views that grab our attention, and we edit out the pieces that detract from the overall art. This happens with both landscapes and wildlife, although it can be harder to get a nice pleasing background in wildlife photography because the animals move. :-). That’s when knowledge of animal behavior becomes important for predicting movement and being able to set up with a clean nice background.

Image: Emperor penguins after unseasonably warm weather, Snow Hill Island, Antarctica. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 200 mm, f/8.0, 1/2500 sec, ISO 400, hand-held.

All of the penguin images I’ve posted so far on this blog and on my website have been with the above concept in mind–clean, non-distracting backgrounds so the viewer could focus on the beauty of the penguins. I set up those shots on purpose so that I would have images that could be considered fine art. This was not the case for all of my photos at the colony. At times, I changed my mindset and focus so that my images documented the full scene before me.

Image: Emperor penguins after unseasonably warm weather, Snow Hill Island, Antarctica. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 200 mm, f/8.0, 1/2500 sec, ISO 400, hand-held.

I wanted to show what it looked like on the sea ice when temperatures climbed to abnormally hot 50+ degrees Fahrenheit. The ice started melting too fast, leaving areas with standing water on top of the sea ice.

Image: Emperor penguins after unseasonably warm weather, Snow Hill Island, Antarctica. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 270 mm, f/8.0, 1/2500 sec, ISO 400, hand-held.

The heat in combination with the lack of blizzards and fresh snow left the colony looking raw with penguin and gull feces.

Image: Emperor penguins after unseasonably warm weather, Snow Hill Island, Antarctica. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 390 mm, f/8.0, 1/2500 sec, ISO 400, hand-held.

This area of sea ice was their home and their colony. The colony didn’t move much from this area so the result was some very dirty sections of the colony. The heat led to many penguins lying on the sea ice not just to move from one location to another but to cool down in the unseasonably warm spring temperatures. At one point, even I had to join them lying down on the sea ice after I shed my parka and another down jacket!

Image: Emperor penguins after unseasonably warm weather, Snow Hill Island, Antarctica. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 480 mm, f/8.0, 1/2500 sec, ISO 400, hand-held.

The benefit of taking images for documentary purposes is that we can learn about all aspects of the colony and animal behavior. Sliding on the sea ice gave the penguins the stains on their bellies. We could tell which penguins spent time with others based on the extent of their stains.

Image: Emperor penguins after unseasonably warm weather, Snow Hill Island, Antarctica. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 200 mm, f/8.0, 1/2500 sec, ISO 400, hand-held.

At first glance, these images might repel you, especially when you understand the reason for the stains, but there is beauty even in the dirty, ugly scenes. The image below is one of my favorites as it represents to me the difficulty of life and the tough days that we have to trudge through and just keep going.

Image: Emperor penguins after unseasonably warm weather, Snow Hill Island, Antarctica. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 260 mm, f/8.0, 1/1000 sec, ISO 400, hand-held.

Togetherness and reliance on each other were other features of the colony that became apparent after studying and photographing these animals for 28 hours over 3 days.

Image: Emperor penguins after unseasonably warm weather, Snow Hill Island, Antarctica. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 330 mm, f/8.0, 1/2500 sec, ISO 400, hand-held.

I learned a lot in those hours, not just about wildlife photography. These animals don’t know what is happening in the world or how the climate is changing but they continue to push on, adapting to what nature gives them.

Image: Emperor penguins after unseasonably warm weather, Snow Hill Island, Antarctica. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 200 mm, f/8.0, 1/2500 sec, ISO 400, hand-held.

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

Emperor Penguin Pals

Image: Two adult Emperor penguins walking across sea ice, Snow Hill Island, Antarctica. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 440 mm, f/8.0, 1/2500 sec, ISO 400, hand-held.

As I return back to processing images from Antarctica, I wanted to share several images that demonstrate the peaceful nature of these Emperor penguins. We saw so many of the adult penguins spending time with each other in pairs. I was told that typically all the males or all the females were at sea depending on the time of year, so I assume that most of these interactions were from the same gender. We were not able to distinguish if the majority of the adults were males or females at the colony during the 3 days we visited, but we enjoyed the bonds nonetheless.

Image: Two adult Emperor penguins on sea ice, Snow Hill Island, Antarctica. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 200 mm, f/8.0, 1/1600 sec, ISO 400, hand-held.

Like humans who spend a lot of time together, the adult Emperors seemed to mirror each other’s behavior for a variety of activities. If one penguin was preening, the buddy nearby also got involved in preening.

Image: Two adult Emperor penguins preening on sea ice, Snow Hill Island, Antarctica. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 500 mm, f/8.0, 1/1000 sec, ISO 400, hand-held.

Occasionally, one of the penguins stood guard and watched, but it was typically for a short period of time before both were performing similar behaviors again.

Image: Two adult Emperor penguins on sea ice, Snow Hill Island, Antarctica. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 320 mm, f/8.0, 1/2500 sec, ISO 400, hand-held.

They often played “follow-the-leader” with one of the adults leading the way and the second following along dutifully.

Image: Two adult Emperor penguins walking on sea ice, Snow Hill Island, Antarctica. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 220 mm, f/8.0, 1/1250 sec, ISO 400, hand-held.

Sometimes the lagging penguin found it easier and faster to slide on its belly to catch up with the leader.

Image: Two adult Emperor penguins crossing sea ice, Snow Hill Island, Antarctica. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 210 mm, f/8.0, 1/2500 sec, ISO 400, hand-held.

In the case below, the penguin on the left was beginning to go into a belly slide down the iceberg with its companion watching carefully before deciding to join.

Image: Two adult Emperor penguins on an iceberg, Snow Hill Island, Antarctica. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 500 mm, f/8.0, 1/2000 sec, ISO 400, hand-held.

We often saw both of the penguins on their bellies as they crossed over the sea ice. It was fascinating to see their flippers and feet become in sync as they propelled themselves forward.

Image: Two adult Emperor penguins sliding on sea ice, Snow Hill Island, Antarctica. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 200 mm, f/8.0, 1/2000 sec, ISO 400, hand-held.

Even when they took a rest, they matched their behavior to the one next to them, and I was able to capture this head-on.

Image: Two adult Emperor penguins resting on sea ice, Snow Hill Island, Antarctica. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 500 mm, f/8.0, 1/2000 sec, ISO 400, hand-held.

There was even symmetry when they were looking in different directions as their bodies mirrored each other.

Image: Two adult Emperor penguins sliding on sea ice, Snow Hill Island, Antarctica. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 360 mm, f/8.0, 1/2000 sec, ISO 400, hand-held.

Their behavior and stance also balanced well with the surrounding landscape as I caught these two in front of a beautiful light-blue iceberg.

Image: Two adult Emperor penguins on an iceberg, Snow Hill Island, Antarctica. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 390 mm, f/8.0, 1/2500 sec, ISO 400, hand-held.

No matter the scenario, the peace was evident.

Image: Two adult Emperor penguins on an iceberg, Snow Hill Island, Antarctica. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 220 mm, f/8.0, 1/2000 sec, ISO 400, hand-held.

I will continue with the Antarctic journey and share more posts in the coming weeks. Stay tuned!

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