Really good book about a wildlife photographer’s trip to Antarctica to film emperor penguins during harsh winter conditions. This is when the penguins breed and raise their chicks on the sea ice. The author describes first his own background- his interest in nature from a young age, how how he became involved in filmmaking and got the invitation to go to the Antarctic research station. His descriptions of what it was like living on the station for eleven months reminded me a lot of Ice Bound. McCrae faced a lot of the same struggles dealing with the long separation from his family (he’d just gotten married and his first son was born while he was on this trip!), the feeling of isolation and confinement, the very very cold weather conditions, even the boredom with food when supplies started to run low and meals became monotonous. But he also tells how his team and other people at the station kept their spirits up (one of his perks was learning to ride a unicycle he’d brought along).
Mostly though, the book is about his work filming the penguins. First finding the best way to approach the colony, dealing with the cold- both enduring its assault on their bodies and how it affected their gear, and timing their trips out onto the ice to capture key moments in the penguin’s breeding cycle. He was keen to see how the penguins courted and mated, to witness an egg being born, to see the moment a female returning from the sea- where she’d been feeding while the male brooded the egg- saw her own chick for the first time. My favorite parts, as always, were reading about the animal behavior and interactions, especially the unexpected incidents, though of course not all were pleasant. He witnessed an adult penguin kidnapping another’s chick- behavior that had never been seen before. He went out to the colony during a severe storm to film how the male penguins huddled to survive the cold. He saw a bunch of penguins get trapped in a gully when a crack opened in the ice, and after observing a long time, tried to help them escape. Not all chicks or even adults survived the conditions, and when he left he worried constantly about the warming temperatures- if the sea ice melted too soon, the chicks wouldn’t have adult feathers that enabled them to survive in the freezing waters. A reminder that even in a region so far distant from most of us, human activities have an impact.
I’d really like to see the film he produced. Especially after reading so much about it!
Borrowed from the public library.