A Personal Perspective of Penguins in South Georgia

Posing for their close-ups, these are the penguins who live on the remote island of South Georgia in the South Atlantic. And while pictures of the inhabitants of Britain’s most outlying colony are common – these are possibly the most stunning ever taken. British photographer, Nick Garbutt, became very friendly with his subjects after travelling to witness the massive colony, made up of around a quarter of a million birds. In one image, taken in natural harbour Salisbury Plain, he can be seen directly in front of two king penguins.

In others, they troop to the shore and back to feed their hungry offsprint, while one pair put on a spectacular display of courtship – almost creating a mirror image of each other.The king penguins are shown to be intimate creatures, and greet each other by rubbing their stomachs together and arching their beautiful gold crested necks.

Garbutt, from Cumbria, took a three week voyage on a ship called the Vavilov.  He sailed from Ushuaia in Argentina’s Tierra del Fuego, to the Falklands and from there to the remote island. The voyage also took him to the Yalour Islands and Peterman Island off the Antarctic Peninsula.’There was curiosity on both sides,’ said Nick.

‘I also felt exhilaration from being surrounded by the sounds, smells and sight of such a large mass of birds. ‘It was a really immersive experience.’ Nick was able to take the amazingly intimate shots through careful observation and physical rigour. ‘Birds were constantly moving between the colony and the sea with different individuals and groups were going back and forth. ‘Often when one sets off, others seem to follow and they trudge the same paths as previous birds. ‘Every so often little lines of penguins form as they plod down to the water’s edge. I watched this for a while with several groups, then inched my way in on my belly towards the line they were walking. ‘I was able to approach to within a metre and the penguins just walked by.

‘Sometimes they’d be inquisitive and look at me and occasionally even look at their reflection in the wide-angle lens. ‘It was quite overwhelming to be surrounded by all these birds that were also so bold and confiding as subjects. Nick was also struck by the lonely beauty of the South Georgian landscape – an emerald wilderness thousands of miles away from motherland Britain. ‘The island wildness left me feeling insignificant,’ said Nick. ‘As if I was standing on the edge of existence.’ King Penguin colonies are present all year-round on South Georgia. During winter months the penguins have the beaches to themselves. From early spring, which falls in November, they share the beaches with huge colonies of elephant seals. There are several king penguin colonies on South Georgia. Salisbury Plain is second largest colony on the islands, with over 250,000 birds in total. South Georgia is a British Dependent Island administered from the Falklands.

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