Conversations at Punta Tombo

Author Phillip Hoose and a Megellanic Penguin converse.

I suppose I need to tell you about the penguin.  It was a tough choice, posting a personal identification photo that doesn’t show my face.  I know:  it’s rude at worst, unhelpful at best.

I met the penguin in December 2009 at the Punta Tombo penguin rookery, in Patagonia.  Almost a million Magellanic Penguins converge upon this slice of the Argentine coast between September and March to breed and raise their young.

Human visitors to Punta Tombo are self-guided.  We shuffle along worn pathways bordered by wire netting, moving past bunker-like penguin excavations dug out of yellowish cobble.  The penguins peek out at you.  Some warming eggs, others sheltering downy young birds.  Frequent signs warn you to avoid the birds, who wander to and fro between their excations and the sea, from which they take food to nourish the babies.

Most penguins are easy to avoid.  All you have to do is stop and let them cross in front of you.  But not my photo companion.  This dear bird marched up to my feet and stopped, tilting its head until it had me in the crosshairs.   I retreated.  It advanced.  This went on until I glanced around nervously, jammed my hands in my pockets and bent down for a chat.   What a sweet bird!  I wished it a successful breeding season, and I believe it was likewise inclined to wish me well.  Megellanic Penguins are threatened in Argentina, giving way to oil spills and depleted fish stocks.  I can only hope my friend lives long and gets to parent lots of spirited little penguins!

It was impossible to take a photo that showed us both.   I chose the penguin, because I thought that’s what you’d want.  –Phil Hoose


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