It's hard not to like penguins. Flightless, of course, their comical waddling gait on land belies their great agility and speed in the water. A chance to see them up close and in the wild is always something I'll jump at, so I was glad for the opportunity to visit this penguin colony at Otway. Otway "feels" inland but is connected to the sea and the Fitzroy Channel.
Situated off the road connecting Torres del Paine and Punta Arenas in Patagonian Chile, Seno Otway is home to a large but seasonal colony of penguins. During the peak season, from October through March, there are up to 150,00 Magellanic penguins that mate and reside in the area. They nest, lay eggs in October, and in December - January you can expect to see chicks about. We visited in February and most of the penguins had migrated away from Otway. Still, a few molting laggards were left and we had a nice opportunity to study and photograph these.
The site includes a nature walk near a beach. Some elevated observation platforms are part of the loop walk, providing good views of the terrain. It was windy, as is all Patagonia, but pretty. The walk takes you to an observation area near the beach, where there is a blind constructed allowing viewing of the penguins. We were able to get quite close to the birds.
These are Magellanic penguins (sometimes called "Jackass penguins" because they "bray"), characterized by 2 black bands on their neck. They can be found in a variety of habitats including woodlands, sand dunes, grassy hills and open beach. Their diet consists mainly of small fish and marine crustaceans, and their chief enemy is the Southern Sea Lion which hunts them as food. Seabirds can threaten chicks and eat penguin eggs.
Tours are offered at the site in four languages, and there is a tiny cafe and gift shop open during the peak season. The best time to visit is between 9 and 10 am and 5 and 7 pm, when the majority of penguin activity takes place (the crowds of visitors are thinner during the morning, although we visited in the afternoon and it wasn't that busy).