Stay in Cotter

A little bit more than 10 days have passed since we left Port-aux-Français (PAF in short). Lately, Alain from the meteorological services, Max and I have spent time in Cape Cotter, north of the Courbet Peninsula, to work on macaroni penguins. To reach the site, we had to stop in Cataractes first, where there is a hut located in a beautiful setting – next to the coast, surrounded by snow-covered mountains, next to a nice little waterfall, and with a pretty view on surrounding islets. The transit between PAF and Cataractes is a bit long – it took us 8 and half hours to get there in the first place but only 5 and half hours for the return trip, but the one from Cataractes to Cape Cotter is easier and quicker (3-3,5 hours). Cape Cotter also is a nice site, next to Mont Campbell and several colonies of macaroni penguins. Actually, they were the reason of our stay there. They are curious animals, but also quite agressive. Males and females form pairs and build a nest made of a few small stones (sometimes stolen from their neighbor's nests!) and lay two eggs of which only one will turn into a viable chick. They defend their nest from their neighbors by biting and hitting with their flippers everything that comes near them – including us! When one individual of the pair, who had left momentarily, finds back the other, they sing to recognize each other, moving their head from the side to side, with their flippers spread open. It's quite funny to watch. The goal of our stay was to mark some nests and their birds to follow the changeovers of each pair. They take turn on the nest during the incubation and the chick rearing periods. After that, we went to the colony six times a day to check the positions of the birds – on the nest, incubating the egg, next to the incubating partner, or gone (most likely at sea). Before leaving, we indeed saw a few males departing the colony. They first go to sea to feed and rebuild their body reserves before coming back so their females can do so. Moreover, during our stay, we fitted some male and female macaroni penguins with different devices (GPS, ARGOS and data loggers) to study their movements at sea and thus their foraging strategy. From a practical side of view, we can't say that working with those birds is particularly easy since they move a lot. As far as weather goes, we had a bit of everything. The first few days were quite sunny, whereas during the last ones, we had some rain, snow and hail. Also the wind didn't stop blowing quite hard this whole time (yes, I know, what was I expecting??! It's Kerguelen...). And finally the everyday life and our little routine were quite pleasant. We thank Alain for his company, and for cooking and doing the dishes most of the time, as well as for his precious help in the field! The « ascent » to the top of Mount Campbell with the three of us was quite nice. And so were the moments we spent looking around to take photos. They were loads of cool photos to take: the gentoo penguins colonies where chicks started to get bigger, the nests of skuas where the birds incubating called their partners for protection if we got too close, the Kerguelen shags nearby coming back to the colony with long seaweeds to make their nests, the few king penguins molting, « lost » among macaroni penguins, the adult wandering albatrosses coming back to their nest to feed their chick, almost bigger than them, and the waves rushing through kelp blades (long seaweeds strongly attached to the substrate) and hitting rocks in a cloud of water... No more talking for now, but here are some photos for you to realize how beautiful this place is. 

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King penguins in front of a macaroni penguins' colony

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Macaroni penguins' colony in Cape Cotter

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Gentoo penguin and its chick in Cape Cotter

Kerguelen Cape Cotter mark nests field macaroni penguins

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