Cape Royds Daily Journal

Nov 4, 2022. Our penguin team has returned to Antarctica. It will take a week of finding,  sorting,  cleaning, organizing and packing our field equipment before we can move into the penguin colony at Cape Royds.  We will post a daily picture and story so you can follow along.  Go HERE to see the stories from previous years.




Every day is a new adventure in the Adélie Penguin breeding colony at Cape Royds, Ross Island, Antarcitca. Our colony has about 2000 breeding pairs of Adélie Penguins and there are two of us who live in a tent about a quarter mile from the nesting sites. Dr. David Ainley is a world authority on Adélie Penguins and the principal investigator (PI) for the research team that monitors several colonies on the island. Jean Pennycook is an educator, who shares Dr. Ainley’s work with the world. They live in a tent for 2.5 months every season learning about these remarkable birds.

Along the way to work each day they pass Shackelton’s hut built in 1908 which is now a world heritage site. Besides Adélie Penguins, Emperor Penguins, seals, whales, skuas and snow petrels come to Cape Royds. In the background, Mt Erebus, one of three volcanos on Ross Island and the only active one, provide a scenic backdrop to the penguin colony. Follow along the daily stories as the season progresses.

Drone over penguins

Jan 2023

Earlier this season our team launched 3 of these gliders into the ocean. They move through the waer near where the penguins are eating to measure the ‘prey scape’ (where and how much food is out there for the penguins) along with other ocean variables. The NB Palmer (Jan 18th) will be picking the gliders up to retrieve the data in a few days.

Drone over penguins

Jan 15, 2023

Our time at Cape Royds is over and we have moved back to McMurdo. The blue building is the center of the station – galley – store – and some sleeping rooms. The large brown buildings are dorms, the red roof is our medical clinic, the green building, the electrical shop.

Drone over penguins

Jan 15, 2023

Think of the volume of supplies needed to maintain the station (800 people in the summer) This is only part of the cargo lines in the area. There is an office which knows where EVERYTHING is, and can find what we need very quickly.

Penguins on nests

Jan 16, 2023

The brown ‘pad’ is made of ice coverd with crushed stone and is floating on the water. The white is frozen ocean surrounding this ‘ice pier’.  The pier needs to be made every year so supply ships can dock and off-load food and equipment for the station.

Mt Eerebus

Jan 16, 2023

The Nathanel B. Palmer, one of two US research vessels in Antarctica. It came along side the ice pier on Jan 15th. Some research projects are complete and scientists are getting off, others are waiting to get on. The Palmer will continue to cruise around Antarctica doing resarch on the oceans, ice, and the animals.

Drone over penguins

Jan 11, 2023

This is Chief from nest #06661 and is just over 3 weeks old as well. See the white feathers on his chin and black ones starting near his beak. He  is begining to molt into his adult feathers.

Drone over penguins

Jan 12, 2023

Another chick in our colony who is a month old. You can clearly see the adult feathers beginging to grow on his belly. He will be well on his way to fledging before winter comes.

Penguins on nests

Jan 13, 2023

In 2 more weeks, 200 of our chicks will be wearing bands like this one. We may not see them again for 3-5  years.

Drone over penguins

Jan 7, 2023

Penguins will finish raising their chicks, then find someplace to sit for about 3 weeks while all their feathers are replaced by new ones (molt). During the molt they will not be able to go into the water to find food. They will be very hungry when the molt is complete. 

Drone over penguins

Jan 8, 2023

A  Skua and her chick. These birds lay 2 eggs but I only see one chick. Skuas will eat other Skua’s eggs, so perhaps it was taken.

Penguins on nests

Jan 9, 2023

Look back at Nov 28-29  stories. We again are flying the drone over Cape Royds to help count the chicks. Here is one of the pictures.  How many adults and how many chicks do you see?

Mt Eerebus

Jan 10, 2023

This year our chicks are well fed and growing fast. This is Peyton from Nest 78997. He is just over 3 weeks old, and is almost the size of his parents.

Drone over penguins

Jan 3, 2023

This week we are putting video loggers and data loggers on the penguins. This will let us actually SEE what the penguins are eating and tell us where they go for food, how deep they dive and how many dives it takes to get enough food.  Click on the date to see a close up of the data logger.

Drone over penguins

Jan 4, 2023

Minke whales are around. These fantastic creatures are krill eaters so compete with the penguins for food. Lucky, here in McMurdo sound, there is enough for everone.

Penguins on nests

Jan 5, 2023

The Orca are here too.  The do not bother the penguins but go deep for the Antarctic Toothfish, which has been hiding under the sea ice all winter. Here they are swimming in formation, we don’t alwasys see that.

Mt Eerebus

Jan 6, 2023

Compare this photo to  Dec 2, 2022.  Since then the penguin has been out in the sun 24/7, swum hundreds of miles in the cold water,  and perhaps rolled around on some ice.  The feathers are wearing down, the blue tips are gone, they appear brown.  They are not as protective and will need to be replaced.

Drone over penguins

Dec 27, 2022

Most of the Emperor Penguins have completed their chick rearing responsibilities. They are no longer at their colony (Cape Crozier), but out in the ocean feeding. Time to gain some weight before molting.  Here are a group at the ice edge.

Drone over penguins

Dec 28, 2022

We flew over the sea ice. Everytime we do it, the patterns are different. I liked this one and wonder how it is made.
Penguins on nests

Dec 30, 2022

These Weddell seals are about 10 miles from open ocean and living on the sea ice attached to land. Here they are safe from Orca cannot reach them here. The seals find an ice crack and create a breathing hole, which must be kept open, so they can get into the water and get food. Click on the date to see a close up.
Mt Eerebus

Jan 2, 2023

The US Coast Guard has arrived. It will break a channel through the sea ice so our supply ships can safely reach McMurdo. A container ship and a fuel tanker will use the channel once it is free of ice. Click on the date to see a close up of this great vessel.
Drone over penguins

Dec 21, 2022

Antarctica is a dangerous place. This Weddell seal has been attacted. Perhpas a Leopard seal, an Orca or maybe another Weddell seal, we do not know. She left a bloody trail on the ice as she came here to recoop. The next day she was gone. Click on the date to see a close-up of the blood.

Drone over penguins

Dec 22, 2022

Tracks on the ice.Many Antarctic animals rest on the ice between finding food in the ocean. See if you can match the animal with the track. Adelie penguin, Emperor penguin or Weddell seal. 

Penguins on nests

Dec 23, 2022

Most of the eggs have hatched, but new chicks arrive each day. Part of the job is to record what  the chicks are being fed. Pink =krill, White = fish. In this case a 1 day old chick had trouble swallowing the whole mouth full. It was easy for me to see it was krill.

Mt Eerebus

Dec 24, 2022

These are some great ice caves that occured just off the end of our Cape.  The ice above the cave is held fast to a rock cliff, the frozen ocean is at the base.  How could this have formed?  How would you test your idea?

Drone over penguins

Dec 17, 2022

Notice how streamline the penguin’s body is in the water. It is the same as birds flying in the air. They do not paddle with their feet like ducks.  The feathers are held tight against their body to keep them warm and dry in the freezing (-1.6oC) water.

Drone over penguins

Dec 18, 2022

When the penguins come out of the water, they need to jump onto the land or ice. In this case almost 4 ft.  They go deep and swim very fast straight up to make the leap, like a rocket. Click on the date to see another picture.

Penguins on nests

Dec 19, 2022

Our penguin parents are making frequent trips to get food for their chicks.  Ice floes provided resting places. These penguins are clean so they are making their way back to the colony.



Mt Eerebus

Dec 20, 2022

This is what the penguins see when they are under the ice floes. The ice appears green because algae grows there, which is eaten by small zooplankton, which is eaten by krill, which is eaten by penguins. Part of the Antarctic food web.

Drone over penguins

Dec 9, 2022

At 7am this morning the penguins had to walk .75 miles over ice to get to open water. At 3pm and a strong wind, they only have 5 ft to walk. To see this change click on the date. Things happen quickly in Antarctica.

Drone over penguins

Dec 13, 2022

Our first chicks of the year.  Here you see chick #1 peeking over the second egg which is just begining to hatch. Look closely to see the hole.  This is a magical time in the colony.

Penguins on nests

Dec 14, 2022

The Skua is on her nest, but this egg has rolled out.  It is a mystery why she has not tried to put it back. Can you think of a reason? It is very cold here and the egg will not survive very long.


Mt Eerebus

Dec 15, 2022

Skua in flight.  You can see how long and strong their wings are. These are powerful flyers. Compare this to birds in your area.

Drone over penguins

Dec 2, 2022

From afar Adelie penguins are black and white. Look closer at these ‘black’ feathers and see they are tiped in blue.

Drone over penguins

Dec 3, 2022

A common question. How many rocks are in a penguin’s nest? Here is an empty nest. Estimate how many you think there are. Click on the date of this story to see the answer. Yes I counted them.

Penguins on nests

Dec 4, 2022

This is how we get supplies at Camp Cape Royds.  A helicopter will bring a sling of equipment, food, or other materials for us.  Mt Erebus is in the background.


Mt Eerebus

Dec 5, 2022

Flying birds have hollow and round bones, between 200-400 feathers and they fold their wings when resting. Penguin wing bones are flat and solid, feathers are very small and in the thousands (see if you can count them) and the wing does not fold.
Drone over penguins

Nov 28, 2022

Counting the population of penguins at all the colonies used to take many people  and several days.  Now we use a drone. So much easier and faster.

Drone over penguins

Nov 29, 2022

The drone flies over the entire colony taking pictures every second. A program stitches the pictures together, produces one large photo and map of the colony, and then counts the penguins.

Penguins on nests

Nov 30, 2022

Here is breeding group 10N at Cape Royds today.  Click on the year to see the same group on almost the same day in 2019, 2018, and 2009,  Count the birds on nests to see how things have changed over 13 years.


Mt Eerebus

Dec 1, 2022

The only tool an Adelie penguin has is the beak. Nests may have hundreds of rocks, which need to be brought one by one to the site.
Penguin color anomaly<br />

Nov 24, 2022

An interesting color anomaly due to a genetic mutation. It does not hinder this birds ability to survive, but makes him stand out in the crowd.

Cape Bird, Ross Island, Antarctica

Nov 25, 2022

For the holiday weekend we visit Cape Bird, another penguin colony on Ross Island. This colony is much larger and has a magnificent glacier near by.

Cape Bird penguin colony

Nov 26, 2022

At Cape Bird the penguins build their nests on ridges. Think of a reason why this is a good life strategy for these birds.  Answer will come later.  

Skua with egg.

Nov 27, 2022

Skuas do not make a nest like the penguins. Instead, use their feet to scrape a small depression in the ground. This is one of two eggs she will probably lay.

Antarctica moonscape

Nov 20, 2022

The area around Cape Royds looks more like a moonscape than anywhere else on Earth. Absolutely no land plants grow here. No wonder the penguins have to use rocks for their nests. 

Penguin with skua attack

Nov 21, 2022

The penguin on the nest has an egg. Three Skuas have ganged up to get it, and it won’t take long. Nests at the edge of colonies are  very vulnerable.

Skua regurgitated pellet

Nov 22, 2022

Similar to Owls, Skuas swallow their food whole then regurgitate what they can not digest, in a pellet. In this case you can see the penguin feathers.

Adelie penguin

Nov 23, 2022

Adelie penguin’s beak and toe nails are much stronger than other birds. They need to be able to carry rocks to their nests, and walk miles over slick ice and slippery rocks.  These are sturdy birds.

Cape Royds ASPA

Nov 16, 2022

Cape Royds Adelie  breeding colony is an Antarctic Specially Protected Area (ASPA) which requires a permt to enter. This helps protect the birds and fragile ecosystem.

Skua on watch for pengun eggs

Nov 17, 2022

Skuas are everywhere and watching for a chance to grab an egg.  The penguins are quiet now, but  will react if the Skua flies close to them.

South Polar Skua

Nov 18, 2022

A close up view of a South Polar Skua. They are a top predator here in Antarctica, very cagey, smart and adaptable to changes in their habitat. 

Mt Eerebus

Nov 19, 2022

Mt Erebus, in the background, is an active volcano. The team from Iris/PASSCAL at New Mexico Tech have installed siesmic and infrasound sensors near Cape Royds to learn more about the activity of the volcano.

penguin nest with rocks

Nov 12, 2022

This is a well built Adelie penguin nest, but so far no female has accepted it. Let’s see how long it takes for one to arrive.

Skua with a penguin egg

Nov 13, 2022

The Skuas are back. Now that penguins have eggs the Skuas are here to eat them. Sas to see so many  penguin eggs go to these predators, but that is nature.

penguin flag

Nov 14, 2022

 A flag made by the students at Saint Columban School in Garden Grove, CA is flying in our penguin colony. If you would like to send us your flag go HERE form information,

lost penguin nest

Nov 15, 2022

The well built nest from Nov 12th  is gone and so are the rocks. No female decided to join him, he left and others took the rocks.

Mack-wheeled Truck

Nov 8, 2022

There are no paved roads in McMurdo. Many of the vehicles have these ‘tracks’ which are are easier to drive over ice and snow.

Antarctic helicopter

Nov 9, 2022

The USAP progam uses helicopters to move people  from camp to camp. Ones like these will be taking us out to Cape Royds tomorrow.

Camp Cape Royds, Antarctica

Nov 10, 2022

Camp Cape Royds. This will be our home for the next 2.5 months.  You can see Mt Erebus in the background, our solar panel on the left and the sleep tent in the back.

Adelie penguin pair

Nov 11, 2022

Adelie penguins  have come ashore to find mates, build nests and lay eggs.  This pair was busy bringing rocks to their nest site.

Nov 4, 2022

Today we left Christchurch, New Zealand on a C-17. It is a 5 hour flight to the ice and McMurdo Research Station. It is no frills flying, we are just cargo.

Nov 5, 2022

We land on the Ross Ice shelf, a floating glacier over the ocean.

Penguin to-do list

Nov 6, 2022

There is always lots to accomplish before we can head to our field camp.  Briefings, sorting equipment, packing food, and so much more. Here is our To-Do list which everyone must check off before we can leave.  It took us 6 days.

Berg Field Center

Nov 7, 2022

Part of the work involves gathering, sorting, cleaning and packing all the equipment we will need. Here is the store room where we select the items we will take with us.