South Georgia - Penguins - Airmail Postcard Rate
The island of South Georgia is located in a unique position; right in the path of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current. This current is a continuous cold, oceanic flow, moving from west to east, around the Antarctic continent, driven by strong westerly winds. As it rounds the Antarctic Peninsula the current is channelled by the Drake Passage and Scotia Ridge (an oceanic mountain range linking the Antarctic Peninsula and Cape Horn), straight into South Georgia. Acting like a food conveyor belt, the current delivers a constant supply of cold, nutrient rich water, laden with Antarctic krill to the waters surrounding the island. As a result South Georgia is teeming with marine life, including a total breeding population of over 6 million penguins!
Penguins are exceedingly charismatic, flightless birds, and are wide ranging in the cooler climes of the southern hemisphere. The greatest concentrations of penguins are to be found in the Antarctic and Subantarctic, and almost every subantarctic island is a breeding site for at least one penguin species. Extremely well adapted to their pelagic lives, penguins are excellent divers and fast, agile swimmers, on account of their streamlined bodies and powerful wings or flippers for propulsion. They are truly formidable predators.
Although most at home in the sea, penguins are still dependant on land for breeding and moulting. Out of the water they have a clumsier persona with a waddling gait due to their short legs, and often very full stomachs. Despite this, many species have to travel several kilometres inland, sometimes up steep hills and rugged terrain, to their colonies. In the colonies, penguins employ elaborate social behaviours during courtship, defence of their territories, and in order to distinguish their partners and chicks from a buzzing crowd of potentially many thousands of other individuals.
Four species of penguin regularly breed on South Georgia:
King Penguin (Aptenodytes patagonicus)
The second largest of all penguins, the king penguin is a striking bird; with bright orange flashes around its head and beak, it truly deserves its regal name. King penguins are excellent divers reaching depths of up to 300m during their week-long foraging trips, hunting for fish and occasionally squid.
King penguins are an abundant species, with an estimated population of two million breeding pairs, thought to be increasing. South Georgia is an important breeding location for the king penguin, being home to nearly 25% of the world population. There are numerous king penguin colonies on South Georgia ranging in size from a few tens of pairs, to many thousands; St Andrews Bay is home to the largest colony exceeding 150,000 pairs, while at Salisbury Plain, the second largest colony, there are thought to be over 60,000 pairs.
Macaroni Penguin (Eudyptes chrysolophus)
Due to their distinctive yellow tufts, these penguins were named after the peculiar 'Macaroni coiffure' hairstyles of 18th century Dandies. Feeding predominantly on Antarctic krill, the macaronis spend their winters at sea, only returning to land in the spring to breed and later moult.
With an estimated 18 million individuals, .the macaroni is the most abundant of all the penguins, although the population is thought to be in decline. South Georgia is home to the majority of the world's macaroni penguins, with a population of 2.5 million pairs, which is also declining. Highly gregarious, macaroni penguins form colonies of many thousands, often situated on South Georgia's most exposed reaches. This, combined with the macaroni's powerful voice, constant bickering, and the pungent aroma of spilt food and guano, makes visiting a colony a rich sensory extravaganza!
Chinstrap Penguin (Pygoscelis antarctica)
Named after the characteristic black 'strap' that runs under their beaks, the chinstrap penguins are unmistakeable. Unlike the other penguins, chinstraps often forage at night while their crustacean prey is closer to the surface and so easier to reach.
This species generally occupies the more southerly subantarctic islands; with the majority of the population, around 5 million pairs, breeding on the South Sandwich Islands. At the northern limit of their range, a small chinstrap population of approximately 12,000 pairs breeds on South Georgia. Here the only breeding colonies are in the Cooper Bay region, on the south eastern tip of the island, but in autumn occasional moulting chinstraps can be seen on more northerly beaches.
Gentoo Penguin (Pygoscelis papua)
Gentoo penguins are the third largest penguin species, and also boast the largest tails of all! They are generalist predators, feeding on a mixture of crustaceans and fish. Gentoos are very dependent on land, returning to the beach each night. As a result they must forage coastally, rarely venturing more than 12 miles offshore, making them very vulnerable to local variations in food availability.
The gentoo is one of the least abundant Antarctic penguins, with only 300,000 pairs worldwide. South Georgia is home to the majority of the worlds gentoos; approximately one third of the global population. They are found in small colonies around the island, nesting either on the beaches, or considerable distances inland in the tussock grass on elevated headlands and hilltops; while walking around the coast you will often bump into a gentoo colony where you would least expect it!
Text by - Jonathan Ashburner (Zoological Field Assistant - British Antarctic Survey)
The current Airmail Postcard rate is 60p, the set has a face value of £2.40 and the special mini sheet containing two sets with decorative border has a face value of £4.80.
Layout: Bee Art & Design
Printer: BDT International
Process: Stochastic lithography
Perforation: 13.75 per 2cms
Stamp size: 30.56 x 38mm
Sheet Layout: 10
Sheetlet (2 sets) size: 160 x 170mm
Release date: 25 October 2010
Production Co-ordination: Creative Direction (Worldwide) Ltd
King Penguin: Paula O'Sullivan Macaroni Penguin: George Lemann Chinstrap Penguin: Jonathan Ashburner Gentoo Penguin: Tony Hall
Sheetlet border: George Lemann
FDC: Jonathan Ashburner
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