(Artist Terri Nelson and I have gotten an NSF grant to observe a fascinating little-known bird, the Snowy Sheathbill, at Palmer Station, Antarctica.
Mysteriously, the NSF sent one of us down before the other. Terri arrives in January, and we'll both be here until mid-March. )
As the ship from Punta Arenas drew in to Palmer Station, a sheathbill took to the air. Before I set foot on land, I knew the bird we'd come to see actually... exists. Reassuring.
Snowy Sheathbills (Chionis alba) live very far south. They're the only land bird that breeds in Antarctica, on the Antarctic Peninsula. They also go to various islands and to the tip of South America, where Darwin saw one and marveled.
Two: the sheathbill diet. They are scavengers. Carrion is one of the daintier things they eat. The people at Palmer Station, knowing we had come to Antarctica specifically to observe sheathbills, tried to break it to me gently that they are often called shitchickens. I knew about their eating habits already. But this is not something everyone likes to discuss.
Change the subject! What shall we talk about?