Penguins and Other Sundry Thoughts - Blog 10
Friday 23rd November, 2012Early morning starts (today we were awake at 2.30 am!), and four hours of sitting still in the cold and rain each morning for sometimes no reward don't sound like a recipe for a good time - but despite all of that the yellow-eyed penguin team have been having a great time. I decided to ask the volunteer team members what their memorable moments were, and there was no shortage of anecodotes.
Alan enjoyed the rare opportunity to see yellow-eyed penguins at close quarters. Under normal circumstance yellow-eyed penguins are very wary when people are around, and it doesn't take much to send them running back into the bush or rushing back out to sea, but we were sitting quietly and unobtrusively, and the penguins were surprisingly at ease with us. One morning two penguins spent half an hour sitting about two metres away from Alan, 'winking' at him and just hanging out, giving him some wonderful opportunities to take photos that he says will be on next year's calendar to remind him of the subantarctic.
Marcy immediately commented on the juvenile penguin that spent an entire morning count lounging around close by, and was at one point overtaken by a fit of sneezing - she thought it was very cute. She also enjoyed the spectacular basaltic columns along the shore of Enderby Island that are home to a colony of Auckland Island shags, which are in breeding colours at the moment and looking particularly gorgeous.
For many of the team, the yellow-eyed penguins were just one part of a much bigger experience. Katie had read lots about the history and shipwrecks before she came down, and she loved the opportunity to see historic relics such as the finger posts point the way to castaway depots for ship-wrecked sailors, and the Second World War coast-watchers depots. She was blown away by the rata forest as she had never seen it before, and her only regret is that she isn't here later in summer to see the rata in flower.
Al was sold on coming on the trip when he discovered it was the perfect trifecta of yachting, the subantarctic and conservation, and he has not been disappointed. While he has thoroughly enjoyed the yellow-eyed penguins - particularly the cliff-diving penguin that fearlessly jumped off a 3-metre cliff into the sea below - he was completely captivated by the white-capped albatrosses at South-west Cape, nesting on spectacular cliffs high above Victoria Passage, a feeling that was shared by everyone.
After intense communal living on the yacht, Rachel also had the most remote experience of her life, when she was put ashore on an isolated point of Enderby Island in the pitch black. As dawn broke her surroundings - which had until then been just an unknown world of rustlings and strange sounds - slowly revealed themselves as bushes and birds, and also a sealion, whose presence unsettled her slightly for much of the morning (but not as much as some more boisterous sealions unsettled some other trip members).
A highlight for Sharon was the Auckland Island snipe that was flushed out of long grass during an early morning torch-lit walk out to a penguin count site this morning - she was struck by its small size and it's kiwi-like shape. And of course, as a dotterel fan, she was delighted to see the Auckland Island banded dotterels on Enderby Island, which are common in the open tussock and megaherb fields.
Another common comment from the everyone in the team has been about the weather - we have been incredibly lucky, and although there has been a brisk 30 knot wind for much of the afternoon it is forecast to drop by the time we pull anchor and set sail for the mainland later tonight.