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Rockhoppers Like to Hop

Gentoo Penguins at Grave Cove, Falkland Islands
Gentoo Penguins at Grave Cove, Falkland Islands
This morning we didn't hear our alarm. Instead, we wake up to a shrill voice over the loud-speaker: ''The lecture will start in twenty minutes.'' We jump out of bed, quickly dress, and run to grab food. We enter the theatre, missing only the first five minutes of the lecture. A French woman named Marie-Paule lives in Grave Cove and talks about her life there.

Back in our room, we grab our gear and head out to the zodiacs, swiping our new ID cards before boarding. It's windy and the waves splash us as we head towards the coast. On land, we watch a magellanic penguin and some gentoos interact as they approach the water. Further from shore is a large gentoo rookery with some hungry predatory birds hovering overhead. There are many chicks amongst the gentoo parents. Taking pictures is challenging as salt spray, rain, and wind harass our cameras. Eventually, we decide to walk down to the other rookery further inland in hopes that the weather conditions are better there.

The walk is fairly challenging as we fight winds and try to keep our balance on the squishy soil. Finally after ten minutes, we arrive at the other rookery. We are greeted by hundreds of gentoo penguins. They are busy ''crossing the street'' and going from one side of the rookery to the other. They don't seem to mind our presence. We watch while the gentoos feed their chicks and steal nesting material from each other. Amongst the gentoo and magellanic penguins, we see a lone king penguin. It looks out of place; even though king penguins are native to the Falklands. We stay until it is our time to return on the zodiac. Thankfully, our ride back is smooth.

Back on the cruise ship, we have some time before lunch so we go outside on deck six to watch the sea birds. The winds are so strong I feel like I can almost be blown away. I can hardly imagine what the winds will be like once we arrive in Antarctica!

We have a nice lunch and wait for our next landing at 2:30pm where we will see rockhopper penguins. For a minute we hold our breath, as they almost cancel the landing. The winds are strong and there are white caps. Fortunately, the winds die down making it safe to go onshore.

The zodiac ride to New Island is rough, but the waves only splash us a little getting us damp but not soaked. The sandy shore is deserted except for an old wooden boat. After a half mile stroll over spongy grass, we find our first rockhopper penguins! There is a huge rookery on a rock outcropping over the ocean. It's a beautiful cliff and the penguins make it even more amazing. There are albatross, some magellanic penguins, and many rockhoppers. We see a few chicks feeding. The mothers fuss when the tourists get too close. Albatross and rockhoppers continuously fight for space on the crowded cliff side, and the penguins usually win. The albatross like landing and taking off from the spectacular cliff. We see rockhoppers gathering twigs and rocks to bring to their nesting area. And the rockhoppers live up to their name as they literally hop from rock to rock. They jump all over and when they aren't hopping, they waddle with their backs hunched like elderly men. Our two favorite rockhoppers are a couple on a rock who are cleaning each other and look like they are kissing.

Suggesting that a couple of us may be pushing the timeframe, a naturalist jokes that we can't all take the last zodiac back to the cruise ship. We take the hint and make our way back to the zodiacs and are fortunate enough to see two dolphins surfacing right next to our zodiac. The zodiac driver plays with the dolphins by driving around. We end up getting soaked by the waves, but we don't mind as we are glad to have been so close to the dolphins.

Later on, the waves become quite bad due to an approaching low-pressure system. During the post-expedition briefing, we discuss the wildlife we saw. We learn that rockhoppers usually lay two eggs; one a few weeks after the other. The second egg is larger and more likely to produce offspring. So, once the second egg is produced the mother usually abandons the first egg. During the briefing the theatre continues to rock and then shake as the waves pick up. Back in the room, we see some sea lions playing in the whitecaps from our balcony.

The ship closes the level six restaurant due to the waves, so we go downstairs to level two. The waves violently crash against the windows. It looks impressive, but I start to feel ill. My husband feels fine, but all I can eat is apples, ginger ale, and some chicken broth. I didn't make it through the whole meal as I just wanted to lie down. Eventually I did get sick, like many others that evening.

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