September 25, 2014 at 10:31 pm
Given that we have only one device left, there was no time to waste. We wrapped the i-gotU up in cellophane, stuck in a couple of condoms and sealed it up with Tesa-tape. By now the procedure is more of a routine than it is the weirdest thing I’ve done for science so far. Sure, that getting a device for deployment involves getting your hands smothered in lubricant while you try to tie a knot into an “extra strong” condom is still pretty strange. But, hey, for data we scientist would do everything.
We headed out to the heads in late afternoon. Since we had last worked with a penguin from the eastern end of our study site, it was time again to choose one of the few candidates we have from Popi’s Plaza.
The weather today was pretty grey with occasional showers making sure that we would get soaked to the bones. But that wasn’t really what was worrying me. The problem in this kind of weather is that the tape won’t stick if it gets wet. So going to Popi’s Plaza for a deployment had the added value of attaching a logger under cover of the forest.
I hiked up to the Plaza around 6pm. All three burrow nests were single dads with their chicks; no female had returned just yet.
We tried it again just before 8pm. There certainly was going on a lot more now with penguin cries echoing from the bush. While finding our way through the kiekie we stirred up some birds loitering around in the undergrowth. We carefully went past JH09, where our previous logger bird had yet to return. Just above me, I saw a penguin scramble up the hill, presumably not so happy about our presence. When we made it to the Plaza we found one of our potential candidate nests occupied by two adult penguins!
Just as we started the get our gear out of our backpacks, it started to rain. Even here in the forest we could not avoid getting wet. But the logger had to go out today; I was not prepared to unwrap the device from it condom-casing tonight to reprogram it for a deployment tomorrow.
The deployment itself went reasonably smoothly. Hotte held the bird tight on his lap, and the penguin did not struggle or wriggle as much as yesterday’s. The tape did not stick that well, but that was much less a problem of the rain than it was the tape being cold. However, once the logger was firmly wrapped into tape and sealed nicely with rubber glue, it actually looked quite good to me. We waited 5 more minutes until the rubber glue hat set then I took the penguin, carried it up to its nest and released into the burrow. What then happened caught me by surprise.
The female with the logger tried to slip into the burrow, but the male guarding the chick started to attack her violently! What was wrong with this guy? Next thing I knew was that the female scrambled past me down the hill in a frantic escape from its vicious mate!
Or was it the mate? In all my years in penguin science I have never seen such a reaction between mates. I suddenly had a very bad feeling about this. What if the bird we had just attached a logger to was in fact a different bird that had just tried to hide in the burrow in response to our arrival? And what if the bright lights of our head torches had distracted the male attending the chick long enough to let a stranger enter the burrow?
Well, I guess we will find out. If it was the female belonging to this nest, she will return the next days. Before we left the Plaza I readjusted the trust camera monitoring the area for predators. We will come back tomorrow and check the footage.