Penguin Ponderings - Blog 8
Tuesday 20th November, 2012Sorry about the short break in communication, folks, but we've been having a super busy time down here. We feel like we've been on the go for 10 days rather than 5, but we've realised that's because every day is effectively two days: we get up at 4 am, and get back to the boat by late morning, which is one day, and then we have a busy afternoon and late evening which counts as our second day. And mealtimes are erratic so they're no guide to the passing of time! Most of us are short of sleep, and every time Evohe relocates many take the opportunity to nap for an hour or two.
Since Blog 7 we've counted yellow-eyed penguins on Ewing Island, Adams Island and Waterfall Inlet on main Auckland Island, and after two nights at the southern end of the islands we're now back in Ross Harbour at the north end. O and a few Gibson's wandering albatross chicks have been banded (I know that they're not penguins but they are equally magnificent seabirds, and I'll tell you more about them and other southern adventures in tomorrow's blog).
Ewing Island is a small island not far from Enderby Island, but it is quite different as it is covered in Olearia forest, rather than the rata forest that blankets everywhere else. Our penguin watching day on Ewing Island was straight-forward - Jo and Dave A. had scoped the island the previous day and marked all the landing sites with reflector tape so they were easy to find in the early morning dark. I had a spot on a little headland, from which I could see a small harbour on each side, and another headland that we thought might be a penguin highway. The wind was quite strong (but nothing compared to what the usual gale force wind conditions down here), and it rained steadily for about an hour, but fortunately I had my back to it, and I was well rugged-up. Judging by all the remains of small seabirds lying about my headland was a popular skua hang-out, and indeed two birds came and went all morning, happily settling themselves a metre or so away from me. All up I saw six yellow-eyed penguins, but only two went into the water during my official four hour watch. Three birds came down to a rock shelf about 4 metres above the water and hung out there for about an hour. They began with a refreshing dip in a freshwater pool, then spent their time displaying to one another, having a couple of small fights (flapping their flippers at each other), and engaging in a bit of mutual preening.
The grand result from Ewing Island was that between us all (which amounts to 40 hours of observations) we recorded 61 birds - which, amazingly, is exactly the same number recorded in the 1989 survey. The results from Matheson Bay and North Harbour, on the main Auckland Island which I wrote about in Blog 7, are not quite so reassuring - in 1989 they recorded 30 birds, whereas our intrepid commandos only counted 4. And in North Harbour we counted 49 yellow-eyed penguins, which compares to 72 counted in 2009, and 88 counted in 1989. What those differences mean it's hard to say - are we seeing a decline in yellow-eyed penguin numbers, or is is just random day-to-day variation in the numbers of penguins going out to sea each day. Regardless, we are following the same survey protocol as in 1989, and it's the best we can do in the time and people available. And the yellow-eyed penguin watchers we have on board are great - it's a motivated, hard-working team and we're having a really good time, especially since the weather continues to be astonishingly calm and pleasant for these parts of the world. That's all for now and I'll be back tomorrow with more yellow-eyed penguin tales from the southern end of the Auckland islands, along with a few albatross anecodotes.