National Geographic : 1956 Mar
396 Shearing Sheds Dominate Goose Green Settlement on Island-specked Choiseul Sound There was no way of knowing why this particular route was chosen; certainly it was not the quickest or the easiest. At least a mile long, it led across small ravines, up eroded peat embankments, and through patches of diddle-dee. No penguin ever ven tured from the path to find a better way. All merely accepted the ancestral trail, however inconvenient, and made the best of it. For these heavy-bodied, short-legged crea tures, practice never seemed to make perfect. Even though the birds had made the trip many times, every obstacle-rock, ditch, or steep incline-seemed to require much delib eration before it could be passed, just as if they had never been confronted with it before. After an hour or more of plodding, the birds arrived at the colony. Here nests were so close together that two penguins sitting on neighboring ones could almost peck each other if they stretched their necks to full length. Each returning gentoo, showing no hesitation, headed for its own nest, often in the very midst of the aggregation. This in evitably meant running the gantlet-rushing and dodging between nesting birds while re ceiving angry jabs from strong beaks. Once the wanderer reached home there fol lowed a noisy ceremony as the arriving bird and its mate, together again after many hours, greeted each other by bowing, hissing, and trumpeting lustily (page 412). Eventually the mate, which had been incubating their two eggs, was relieved of responsibilities and made its way, usually early the following morning, over the long trail to the sea. Idle Gentoos Turn to Thievery In the colony were many birds waiting to spell their mates on the nest. These loafers whiled away the time stealing nesting mate rial from under inattentive neighbors. Of course the whole performance of stealing for a completed nest was a waste of time, but you can't tell a penguin that! We saw a gentoo snatch some twigs from beneath a dozing nest sitter and bustle back to its own nest where, dropping the loot before its mate, it hissed quietly as if searching for a compliment. Again and again the thief repeated the performance, until by chance the victim of this criminal act woke up and protested with hard blows from beak and flippers. The gentoos accepted our presence without fear. Unless we made hurried movements in their direction, they went soberly about their affairs, which were never wanting in variation and comedy (page 411).