Birder's Guide

JAN 2019

Birder's Guide is the American Birding Association's newest publication. Each issue focuses on a key subject, providing tips from experienced birders on a wide variety of topics like Travel, Listing & Taxonomy, Gear, and Conservation & Community.

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Page 27 of 67

resolved into resting Chinstrap Penguins when we eventually slid past. Even then the penguins looked as dainty as ants. Perspective is incredibly difficult to judge without familiar references: On land, I once confidently identified a Gen - too Penguin from a great distance, only to discover that my "penguin" was a tiny scrap of plastic in the snow 20 feet away. Nothing can quite prepare you for that first glimpse of the continent. Whether it's a gleaming trace of white on the ho - rizon or a brooding, glaciated slope ma- terializing through soupy fog, Antarctica suddenly gets real when it comes into view. The discovery can feel momentous. Mainland Antarctica was probably not seen by human eyes until 1820, less than 200 years ago, and it retains a timeless sense of minimalistic beauty. Even today, nobody owns it. By international treaty, the whole continent is a wilderness dedi - cated to science and conservation, with no military exercises or extractive activi- ties permitted. A few nations maintain research stations—you could even visit one, depending on the trip—but for the most part, this place still looks like it did when the first explorers saw it. Perhaps you'll drop anchor near one of the South Shetland Islands for an ex- cursion—these islands are as Antarctic as Manhattan Island is North American. With relatively accessible terrain and close proximity to rich marine feeding grounds, this is a good area to introduce yourself to Antarctica's most famous and charming inhabitants. Everybody loves penguins. Early sailors thought penguins might be fish, or a strange type of reptile, and I'm still asked with alarming frequency whether penguins are classified as mam- mals. But these birds need no formal introduction. They're already dressed like stars at a gala, with the celebrity de- meanor to match. With penguins, it can be hard to tell exactly who's watching who. Accord- ing to the International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators, which sets guidelines for tourist visits to Antarc- tica, people may not approach within five meters of a penguin to avoid un- necessary disturbance—a buffer that is sternly enforced by expedition guides, should your enthusiasm carry too far. The curious birds don't know these rules, though, and if you stand quietly they will often meander over for a clos- er look. I've had penguins lean against the toe of my boot, lovingly preen the cuff of my ski pants, probe the straps of my backpack, and fall asleep between my feet. As long as they set the tempo, the birds have no fear; but take one step in their direction and they are apt to freak out. Pushing the limits does no good for anyone—in this case, it's defi- n Southern Rockhopper Penguins congregate on beaches of the Falkland Islands. Photo © Noah Strycker 26 Birder's Guide to Travel | January 2019 Birding Antarctica

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