October 7, 2014 at 11:05 pm
I decided to expand our observation period. Hotte manned the lookout below Hilltop at 4pm. Plan was to relieve him sometime between 7 and 8pm, before Ursula would join me later.
While the weather had looked far better than what last night’s forecast told us (“hurricane force winds and heavy rain”), it started to get greyer by the minute in the afternoon. By the time the forecast was on just before sever, drizzle had set in which made me feel bad about Hotte out at the Head. The weather forecast was not promising. The storm and rain were just delayed and would hit tonight with around 160mm of rain being expected to fall until 6am tomorrow morning.
Nope, we would not be staying out on the Heads until the middle of the night this time.
I geared up and drove out to the Wharekai Te Kou Walk car park just after 7pm. I arrived at the lookout 20 minutes later. The rocks below the lookout were populated by seven penguins. I radioed Hotte that I would have a look up on the hill so as to not scare the penguins away trying to get to him.
Both out logger nests were still as empty as they had been last night. Beach recovery looks more and more like the only option for us at this stage of breeding. The fact that down there most penguins arrive in darkness and tend to disappear between the rocks does not help at all. During a thorough search of hilltop I noticed that not only most adult penguins had disappeared from their nests, but also that hardly any chick were anywhere in sight. I bet the crèches are somewhere deep in impenetrable kiekie.
Back down on the beach I radioed Hotte again. Apart from three penguin that finally had made it up the hill, nothing had happened with still several Tawaki loitering around on the rocks. The drizzle had turned to solid rain. By now it was dark and the Head a thoroughly unpleasant location to be. I decided to call it a day. However, I had to get over to Hotte to hand him a torch. I slowly snuck around a large rock and caught three penguin preening on the rocks.
One of them was carrying a logger!
“Logger bird! Logger bird!” I croaked into the radio, dropped my backpack and grabbed a penguin bag. When I turned around the penguins were gone! Where was our bird? I climbed around on the rocks and spotter a bird ducking into a crevasse underneath a rock. But, alas, this one had no logger. I kept searching.
I found our bird under another boulder. It was extremely hard to reach, but somehow I managed to grab hold of its legs and pull it out into the open. Just judging from the bird’s behaviour, its resistance and fighting I knew it was the JH13 female. I also knew that on this bird we had used an i-gotU which we had tried to waterproof by simply sealing its original casing with epoxy rather than casting the electronics completely in epoxy (as the JH06 logger and the three we still had at home).
Struggling with the bird in complete darkness and pouring rain made me wonder if all this effort would be rewarded. Sealing the device was a trade-off as at the time we did not know if the loggers would continue to work when cats in epoxy. But it also meant that if water penetrated the casing the electronics would almost certainly be dead.
I carried her over to Hotte where we relieved her of her excess baggage, weighed her and injected a transponder before releasing her. As a farewell gift she gave me a nasty bite. Well deserved, I reckon.
Examination of the logger confirmed my suspicion. It was the JH13 female. It was the “sealed” logger. And shaking the devices close to my ear produced a low slushing sound. Yes, the casing had leaked water. The logger was dead. Crap!
The way back over the rocks was difficult and treacherous. Our logger recovery had taken about half an hour, which meant that the tide was considerably higher. With the approaching storm whipping up waves we were nearly washed of the rocks on a few occasions, with Hotte having to survive a series of nasty falls. Battered and bruised be made it back to Neil’s Beach just after 10pm.
The thing that concerns me is that Hotte could not see the logger on the bird’s back despite having an infrared scope at hand. The devices are too small and too easy to overlook. This coupled with the fact the penguins seldom show you their back for more than a fraction of a second makes it really difficult to determine whether a penguin is carrying a logger or not. Who knows, maybe the logger birds had just walked past us in the previous nights without us noticing a lump on their backs.
That I encountered the bird was a matter of luck. It just happened to stand right in front of me with its back being dead straight in the centre of my head torch’s light beam. It seems that device recovery is more often than not left to chance. We will have to think about alternative ways of locating logger birds for recovery. Adding a radio transmitter to the logger might be a start. I will have to think about that.