Argentines call them “stupid birds” — pájaros bobos — possibly because these pinguinos waddle back to their humble nesting burrows every year along dusty Patagonian shores and never taste the high life or the steaks of Buenos Aires.
These are Magellanic penguins, a near-threatened species that lives mostly in Argentina along the Patagonian Sea. Richard, his mother, Jean, and I visited them in 1985 in the Peninsula Valdés wildlife preserve, far down the Argentine coast.
Map from Atlas of the Patagonian Sea. Species and Spaces by Falabella, V., Campagna, C., and Croxall, J. (Eds). 2009, Buenos Aires, Wildlife Conservation Society and BirdLife International.
At the time, the Argentine economy was so accustomed to hyperinflation that shopkeepers posted prices on their goods using odometer-like gadgets that could be adjusted many times a week. So we hired a taxi to drive us to the penguin rookery from the little Patagonian city of Trelew. (The taxi, visible in the background above, was a Ford Falcon — a car that gained notoriety as the vehicle of choice for thugs who abducted political dissidents.)
I admit that we behaved like boorish tourists, posing for photos with them without asking permission, skulking near their nests and disregarding their cultural sensitivities. But the little birds stood their ground calmly, and soon we drove off, as people do, leaving them alone with thousands of others of their species.
And also leaving hundreds of seals sunning on the beach nearby.