In Business! - Blog 7
Friday 16th November, 2012Well folk, we're finally in the business of counting penguins! And that involves getting up earlier than the earliest birds - yesterday the crew had us on the go at 1.30 am, motoring around the north side of Enderby Island. By 4 am the first five penguin watchers were doing their best commando impersonation over the side of the yacht in the pitch dark into the waiting dinghy. They were off into Mathiesson Bay to position themselves strategically around the edges in prime penguin watching spots. That, at least, was the cunning plan. The sheer bluffs around most of the bay (invisible until the dinghy nosed up to them) quickly put paid to that idea, and the penguin commandos ended up settling in the dark into the three available sites, waiting for the official start time of 5 am.
Evohe, meanwhile, headed further along the coast of the main island to North Harbour, dropping anchor about half-way up the harbour in 20 metres of water. Loaded with three penguin commandos the dinghy headed further up the harbour to serve as a floating spy base, while two of us remained on board the mothership, using her as our strategic lookout point. It was still pretty dark by 5.30 am, and moderately gloomy when I saw our first penguin - or rather our first four penguins - just before 6 am. The next three hours were spent scanning our stretch of shore with binoculars, trying to catch the fast penguins before they bolted out of the bush and straight into the water, and attempting to keep track of the slow penguins who loitered amongst the dark black rocks, blending in and sometime disappearing from sight.
I saw 12 penguins, most in a rush-hour between 6 and 7 am, but they were too far away for me to tell if they were adult or juvenile birds. Marcy, on duty on the other side of Evohe saw a dolphin, convinced herself for a brief while that the white belly of a shag was that of a penguin (an illusion that was shattered when it flew away), and finally logged her first penguin just four minutes before the survey ended at 9 am.
The dinghy team were in yellow-eyed penguin heaven, counting nearly 40 birds between them. Many of their birds were taking their time, with one group of hanging about together for several hours before they finally took to the water en masse.
Back in Mathiesson Bay the pickings were a little leaner with just five birds, one per person, but that was not surprising really given how much of the harbour was ringed with unpassable bluffs, and that enthusiastic sealions were making access difficult on the one small beach.
So what did the team make of their first morning's work? Despite the light but persistently wetting rain for about half of the time, the chill of sitting in one place for four hours, and some slight queasiness from using binoculars in a rocking dinghy the verdict was unanimously great. Sharon declared it the best wildlife experience of her life (until she remembered just how much she loves New Zealand dotterels!). The mysterious whales sighted on the way back round to Sandy Bay in seas that can only be described as glassy added to the day's quota of enjoyment - we'll be pulling the whale chart out soon to try and identify the slow square-nosed whales with the tiny dorsal fins, but before then there's another island to recce and mark with strategic reflector tape, so that our next landing in the dark isn't quite such a mission into the unknown!