A visit to the colony enables everyone to walk around the natural habitat of these animals framed by the sea while they continue with their routine, getting ready for the coming of their offspring.
It was not until the rubble road deposited us in the access to Punta Tombo Provincial Reserve
that we became aware of the magnitude of the penguin colony dwelling in it. These birds spend several months a year at their small addresses on the Argentinian Atlantic coast.
Calculating how many specimens gather up at this venue is like winning the lottery. Once inside, we accepted the invitation made by the rangers to take part in a guided tour. We were eager to learn about the customs of these birds and to get deep into the constant murmur we could already hear.
Some penguins were taking short slow steps as they wobbled here and there. Others seemed to rush after a bus. Funny and active, couples arrive on these shores to occupy their nests, mate and wait for the birth of their young forty days later.
The colony occupies a length of three kilometers on the seashore. The soil is rocky and covered by sand, clay and gravel. They dig the caves themselves in the areas where the soil is sandier.
Ever since a few years ago, the tour around the area is to follow a circuit along an interpretation trail. A wooden footbridge displays the movements of these animals from a close distance. Visitors may see how the couples remain on the eggs in order to maintain their temperature or feed their young.
“What do they eat?” a curious kid asked as his black eyes opened wide expecting the answer. “Small anchovy, mollusk and shrimp they search for in the sea.”
As we walked by the nest area, our guide told us about their habits, courtship behavior and fights among the males to defend their territory or the chosen female. These good swimmers arrive at this spot every year in September and they do not leave until next March -when their offspring start to feed on their own-, heading for warmer waters in southern Brazil.
The venue used to be part of an estancia
. Its owners gave it away in order to preserve the largest continental colony of Magellanic penguins. It lodges almost two million specimens.
On several occasions, our children tried to break free from our hands so as to reach the penguins and try to touch them. Not only is this forgotten but also highly inadvisable. Penguins are harmless but they can defend themselves with their strong sharp bill if either they or their young feel threatened.
“The male is usually 70 centimeters tall and weighs from 4 to 5 kilos. The females are smaller. They both boast a particular plumage that resembles a tuxedo.” The Magellanic Penguin Interpretation Center offers a recreational and informative approach in charge of qualified staff.
Other sea birds also share this sea refuge. Kelp gulls and dolphin gulls, king cormorants steamerducks and several other species are part of this big family that welcomes more and more visitors every year.
As we observed how the penguins carefully cleaned their plumage, a strong call resembled a farewell from our hosts. We left the reserve behind with the feeling of having witnessed a unique natural event.
Duration: 3 hours
Opening hours: The Reserve is open from September to March. The rest of the year, the habitat is preserved by the park rangers in order to protect and safeguard the fauna.
How to get here: Leave the city along National Route 25 and turn into Provincial Route 1. Travel 120km to the provincial reserve.
Bear in mind: The Penguins’ Vigil: starting in mid September, a television broadcast lets viewers appreciate the arrival of these birds at the reserve for 72 hours. Recommendations: It is advisable to wear a hat, sun screen, and moisturizing creams. As the soil is uneven, appropriate footwear should be worn. Pack mineral water. Please put all garbage in the corresponding bins or take it with you as you leave. Do not expose your camera to a possible peck.