Sunday, February 19, 2012

Punta Tombo and Winston’s own penguin encounter.

This is the largest Magellanic penguin breeding colony in the world and by far the most visited. Visitors arrive at an upper parking lot and after a trip to the visitors’ center are driven in vans down to the colony. Over a million penguins come here every year to have their offspring. By now, their babies are leaving the nest but still not feeding themselves. We were able to watch as one or another of the parents leave the nest and walk to the ocean. For some of them, this is a long walk. After feeding, they return to feed their young. There are penguins everywhere and while we were told to stay on the designated trails and walkways, penguins have the right-of-way. There is just no way to avoid them. They are curious and check us out as they go about whatever business penguins have. The babies are beginning to molt and shed their baby fuzz and are adorable. Because the reserve’s plan is not to interfere with the colony and allow it to grow as naturally as possible, we see the remains of penguins that have perished and have become carrion for the other wildlife here. We also assume that is why there are foxes and other predators in the area both on land and at sea. But an astounding number survive as was evident by the penguins in burrows, in the ocean and walking back and forth. We now have over a hundred photos of penguins to sort through. Back at the motorhome, Winston is waiting for us. He is definitely not allowed to go where there are penguins but we walk him before we leave and get a boisterous greeting when we return, give him another walk and a treat for being so good. From here to travel south there are two options. The sensible one is to take the paved road back to route 3 and then to Camarones on another paved road. The other is to drive the gravel road for about 160 kilometers (100 miles), following the ocean. Sensible out the window, we chose to take the ocean road. Our plan is to get to the next town of Cabo Raso tonight and then on to Camarones tomorrow. We figure the drive will take us between 4 and 5 hours because of road conditions. In the entire drive we passed a total of 2 cars. One between Punta Tombo and Cabo Raso and the other the next day on the way to Camarones. There are a couple of sheep ranches (estancias) but that is all. But the drive along the deserted coast is beautiful. We feel like the only people in the world. Cabo Raso is not a town but a hamlet with a couple of homes. Each had a camping sign in front but we drove a little past the houses to a point that went down to the water. It seemed perfect for the night and nothing around that could get Winston in trouble. As we were setting up to barbeque, a car pulled up with four children in it. That’s right, children. The oldest of about 13 was driving. He also spoke quite good English. He told us we needed to pay. 20 pesos per person and 20 for the motorhome. 60 pesos, about $12.00. Winston was not mentioned. “Is this private property and do you own it?” Tom asked. “Yes”, the boy told us. “Everyone who comes here has to pay. I’ll go get the register.” Off he went. Tom and I talked. These people have so little and we decide to pay. When he returned with the other three we saw the register asking for names and vehicle make and model. We saw quite a large number of Mercedes listed and presumed our German friends must pass through here also. All had paid. Tom gave them our money and then gave them a pin each. They were very pleased and proud of their new acquisitions. We had a quiet, uninterrupted night. The next morning I took Winston to the beach. Imagine my surprise. There was one lone, solitary penguin standing by the water. I scrambled back up the cliff for the camera. When I got back, Winston had stopped unsure of what it was. The penguin busied itself by grooming, at first ignoring him. As the dog edged closer to it, he suddenly stopped grooming and watched him. Winston got closer and the penguin turned, put out its neck and snarled at him. Winston backed up and obviously decided that an approach from the rear was in order. However this put him in the water and I got nervous thinking that the penguin seeing its escape route into the water was cut off might attack him. I called Winston to come but he was so engrossed in the penguin that it took a few more snarls and after it chased him, he finally backed off, trotted past me and went to the safety of the motorhome. Round one to the penguin. I stayed and as I took a couple more photos I noticed the penguin looked different from the ones we had seen. It’s a little bigger and the markings were not quite the same. I will try to remember to send a photo to a couple of birding friends and ask their opinion. After that, it was back on the road. As we bounced and grinded our way to Camarones, we laughed over Winston’s encounter and reaction to the penguin.

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