|Penetrating the depths while photographing penguins|
Z or Dead
One of the enjoyable aspects of the UAV project is that we must fly the instruments over the sea ice. It happens that we do this at a location which is close to a colony of many thousands of penguins. We don't actually fly over the birds, of course, but once we've drained every battery we can't fly the plane any more and might as well head onto the sea ice to see the Emperors.
The access to the ice is simple, one covered crevasse to cross at the edge of the shelf and a steep but walkable slope to thump down. We tie onto a rope just in case but don't expect to need it. The penguins first notice us as we set up the anchors, and a few leave the closest group to investigate. We quickly head down to the ice, our boots passing through the soft surface of the slope and bed down in the older, harder snow just below, like walking down a spongy staircase flowing with a thick layer of mist.
The penguins are spread out, with groups formed for two miles or so along the cliffs. In the distance the odd bird can be seen walking on its own. A steady traffic of adults and chicks crosses from clump to clump. The chicks are large enough to live out by themselves but still need to be fed by their parents as they cannot enter the ocean until they've shed their downy feathers and replaced them with the shinier swimming feathers of the adults.
The chicks and adults are incredibly friendly. They eye you up as you approach, and get a bit bothered if you walk too close, but if I set myself down at the edge of a cluster and wait for half an hour the more curious will waddle or slide over and eye me up before nonchalantly turning their backs and walking off again.
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