The Cabo Virgenes Penguin Rookery (Pinguinera)

Santa Cruz, Argentina

Cabo Virgenes is situated in the very southeastern corner of mainland South America. The border with Chile is at the eastern end of the Straits of Magellan. This is the Cabo Virgenes lighthouse, several kilometers north of the straits. Between the lighthouse and the straits is a large penguin rookery that recently became a recognized sanctuary. I first visited this area in 1997 when the sanctuary was just getting started. Visitors were free to walk wherever they wanted amongst the 500,000 nesting Magellenic penguins. When I returned in 2001, a fenced path ran through the area, limiting access. Several rangers were stationed at the visitor's center. They provide excellent guided tours through the sanctuary.

 

Sitting next to the border, on the Chilean side, (I was standing in Argentina when I took this.) is the Punta Dungeness lighthouse that overlooks the eastern portion of the Straits of Magellan. In 1997, I drove along the entire north shore of the straits along Chilean oil company roads.

 

Walking through a penguin rookery is always fun. The birds are not afraid of people so they can be approached to within a couple of meters. They become quite aggressive if approached closer than that. This is one of thousands of chicks that was in residence in 2001. A few months after this, they all swim northward on a long journey to the coast of Uruguay.

 

Most people are surprised to learn that these penguins are burrowing birds. The excavate under the low vegetation to build their nests. This nest was right next to the path as can be seen by the diagonal fence wire across the photo.

 

Curious but wary...

 

These birds are pretty gregarious and like to hang out in large groups.

 

Just another day at the beach.

 

Visitors are no longer allowed to walk along the beach at the sanctuary. From the dunes we saw thousands of birds hunting in the surf. We also saw a sea lion stalking the hunters.

 

I wonder what these two were doing off in the bushes by themselves?

 

The fenced trail through the rookery is basic but effective. A few birds still burrow on the trail. Both times that I visited the area it was very windy. Members of our group made a significant monetary donation for continuing improvements to the rookery.