Snow Hill Island, Antarctica

Photo: Jenny Varley (IMG_1340) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Photo: Jenny Varley (IMG_1340) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Emperor penguins are hatching in Antarctica right now. For about three months, males have been incubating the greenish eggs by carefully balancing them atop their feet. They’ve stood in the cold, while their mates marched across the snow-covered land to return to the sea to feed. When the females come back, they call out to their partners and regurgitate food for their newly hatched chicks. You’d love to be in Antarctica to see this.

But winter is not the time of year to travel to Antarctica. The temperatures are well below freezing. The strong winds never stop. While the sun won’t rise again until October. So the penguins are born in relative, though bitter cold, peace.

You can still see the chicks before they turn into full-grown adults though. By November, the little gray chicks will start growing their juvenile plumage. They’ll no longer have to huddle together for warmth and protection. Plus their parents no longer make the long treks to feed them. The colony will move closer to the coast to spend the summer by the water. You’ll be able to see the tall black adults as your massive ship approaches the shore.

Snow Hill Island, off the east coast of the Antarctic Peninsula, is one of the best spots to see emperor penguins, the largest of all the penguins. The island is part of Graham Land, the closest area of Antarctica to South America. Its land is almost totally covered with snow. While its southwestern tip is designated an Important Bird Area, since about 4,000 pairs of emperor penguins breed there.

You’ll explore the island that was first discovered by a British expedition in 1843. You’ll see the Nordenskiöld House, a wooden house where Swedish explorers spent two long years at the beginning of the 20th century. And you’ll learn about the penguins and how to behave around the rookery. But the highlight, of course, is getting close to the penguins. They’re vocal, smelly, fascinating . . . and completely worth the wait.

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