September 4, 2017 at 2:00 pm
Boy, it was a long, cold winter and an even longer wait until – finally! – field work is again upon us. Tawaki have completed their winter migration and are back in their breeding colonies. In fact, breeding is well under way with hatching set to get into full swin in the next week or two. We know this, because we have just completed a first nest search trip to Jackson Head.
We marked close to 30 nest for monitoring over the next 12 weeks to determine the fate of eggs and chicks, record breeding success and track adult penguins on their foraging trips to find food for their offspring. The good news is that, so far, there were no obvious signs of stoat predation.
As for the timing of the penguins… they seem to run like clockwork this year. We mainly found females incubating eggs, which means the birds have entered the final stage of the egg incubation phase. After laying both adults hang around the eggs for a while before the females leave on 1-2 week long foraging trips. After that it’s the males turn to go on a longer trip and return when chick hatch. From what we saw, this is going to happen in the next week or two.
It was particularly good to see, that the ‘apartment building’ is once again fully occupied by tawaki. Last year, the area was completely devoid of nests. Because of stoats stealing eggs and chicks prior to our arrival as we later learned from camera trap footage. Maybe the Jackson Head tawaki will have a bit of an advantage this season though, as the Department of Conservation this year has installed two traplines along the peninsula in an effort to control stoat numbers. We will see if that helps!
It was good to be back out in the field after a long winter of reports, analyses, grant applications and other desktop work that is not good for your back (and belly circumference). Nothing beats being out in the bush with the penguins on a warm, sunny, early spring day. Let’s hope we have many dry days like this one in the next weeks. We will move into our research domiciles at Neils Beach and Milford Sound in a couple of weeks when field work will start in earnest!