October 4, 2014 at 11:59 pm
A beautiful bit ice-cold day on the West Coast today. In a way the weather was a perfect match for our final attempt to recover our logger bird.
We went in this morning to check the two track cameras observing the penguin landing and the logger nest. As on the previous days the nest was empty. However, when I looked at the camera data after we returned to Neil’s Beach in the afternoon it dawned on me that we had to accept defeat.
Our logger bird had returned to its nest in the night of the 2 September. And unfortunately it looked as if our logger was about to fall off, dangling only on the last couple of trips of tape. The bird left again in the early hours of yesterday and returned again to its nest about two hours before I arrived for my midnight stroll to the Plaza. Obviously the bird had buggered off again before I arrived. However, more importantly, the time lapse footage showed that the penguin had returned without logger. A few ruffled feathers on its back were the final indication that the penguin had been wearing a data logger for a short while.
Why the logger fell off so quickly is a bit of a worry. Usually the attachment method with tape and rubber glue holds for two to three weeks. I guess the cold and wet conditions when we fitted the device all contributed to the fact that the tape did not stick that well. With the bird fleeing the scene probably heading straight into the ocean certainly would not have helped the tape to warm up and stick better to the penguin’s plumage. In the end I guess the device slipped clean off.
However, it’s a real comfort to know my initial worries that we might have caused the female to abandon her mate and chick proved to be unfounded. She did what a good mother does – return to feed her chick. Which means that we have now handled a total of four Fiordland penguins without obvious long-term negative effect for the birds and their offspring. Considering that this was a major concern when we applied for research funding, this is good news.
And now that we have five more i-gotUs available, it makes it a bit easier to accept that we have lost a device.
We used the later afternoon and evening to prepare two i-gotUs for deployment. Rather than taking any chances again by wrapping our devices into condoms to waterproof them, we used epoxy resin to water proof the device casings. In fact, we removed the electronics from one device completely and cast it in Epoxy which we poured in a moult I had fashioned out of Dukit polymer clay. Unfortunately the moult did not survive when we tried to get the GPS logger out, but at least now we have a device which is completely sealed off from any water penetration.
Then we waited. To ensure that we would encounter females for logger deployment, we decided to wait until 10pm before we headed out to the Head. Which Ursula and I did while Hotte held the Fort.
Beneath a clear starry sky, we arrived at the bottom of our rope ascent shortly after 11pm. I decided to give the Plaza penguins a bit of a break and instead pay a visit to our birds up at Hilltop. This also meant that we had a considerable climb to complete. In darkness no mean feat.
We were lucky. We fitted the first device to the female of our camera nest JH06. And we encountered a second female a few metres above that nest and deployed our last i-gotU of the day. Well, actually, by the time we realised the second bird, the new day was three quarters of an hour old already. We made it back to Neil’s Beach just before 2am.
So here we are, moving on with logger deployments #5 and #6.