RICHARD AND LIAN ELLEN sat together on a ledge just outside their shared shelter. They sat just far enough apart f so that their bodies would not accidentally touch. Both had their knees tucked up and arms around their legs, their backs against a rock.
Before them, the weak, early morning sunshine brightened patches of the landscape at the whim of clouds, blinking in and out the vibrant oranges, reds and yellows of the autumnal vegetation covering the slopes that cascaded into the bay. Among white ice floes, aquamarine icebergs reared high out of the grey, choppy seas, displaying an endless variety of shapes. Rosa foraged along the shoreline, ignoring seabirds which swooped her with loud, protesting cries, avoiding young male fur seals, which made short, threatening lunges at her, and carefully stepping among the juvenile penguins, which provided Richard and Ellen with endless entertainment as they ran and pirouetted about, flapping their wings and braying for no apparent reason. Nearby, a group of adult penguins huddled together with their backs to the wind, inactive and looking miserable, feathers moulting off their backs to drift in a mess around them.
Every now and then, an adult penguin leapt out of the water and paused briefly, wings flapping furiously, before beginning a dogged trudge up the stony beach. The newly landed adults rarely progressed far before several excited chicks rushed up to them, demanding to be fed. Mostly, the adult would break into a run, only finally regurgitating food to the remaining determined chicks.
Twice in the past hour, a group of newly fledged penguins had gathered at the water’s edge. For a while, they had jittered about, chattering to one another as they plucked up the courage to take their first swim; then, as one, they had swarmed into the chop.
Several leopard seals patrolled offshore, rearing their heads high at regular intervals. Meals were easy pickings for the leopard seals with so many chicks taking their first swim. Richard and Ellen saw more than one penguin being repeatedly thrown high into the air and pulped before disappearing forever into the seal’s maw. A satiated leopard seal lay basking on an ice floe, sharing it with two crabeater seals and a cluster of fearless adult penguins.
At the far end of the beach, a solnis family was tearing apart a freshly killed bird; a lalloon hovered nearby to scavenge their leavings.
Richard contemplated this scene of beauty, life and death. Summer was drawing to a close. The animals were readying themselves for winter or to leave the Antarctic region for warmer climes.
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