September 19, 2017 at 5:30 pm
We can’t say that the weather isn’t on our side – when not deploying GPS loggers, that is. Another stunner of a spring day and according to the weather man, the West Coast is the warmest place in New Zealand today.
We decided to have a look at Jackson Head’s eastern side. So far, we have been working on the western shores of the peninsula, where the coast faces the open sea. The eastern shores look at Jackson Bay and the alpine ranges on the horizon. It is on this side that almost 40 years ago John Warham from Canterbury University did the first comprehensive study of tawaki breeding behaviour. I’m not sure if anyone has visited those penguin colonies since.
Low tide was conveniently just after lunchtime so that we could walk round the foreshore to look for these penguin colonies. We had no idea where they were located, but penguin calls told us where we had to dive into the bush to find them. I was particularly curious to see if the colonies on this side of Jackson Head also show signs of predator impacts. If anything, I would think that this part of the peninsula is easier to access for stoats and possums.
The vegetation proved to be even nastier than on the western slopes. Besides kiekie that tries to slice open every exposed part of skin with its blade like leaves, the bush is thick with supplejack vines, perfect to get entangled in, unless you’re penguin size of course.
The first small tawaki colony comprised of just four nests that are tucked away in the roots of an old fallen tree. When I say four nests, I actually mean to active nests and two nests that might have been active. In one nest a single male penguin guarded an empty hollow, and one floor up, a pair of tawaki huddled around another empty nest bowl. As neither eggs or chicks were in sight this could mean that they were non-breeders – or that the nest contents were taken by predators. I suspect it’s more the latter.
The further we got towards the point of Jackson Head, signs of undisturbed breeding became more prominent. Eggs that rolled out of nests, dead chicks that rolled out of the nests and died which is normal in crested penguins where usually only the first-born chick survives. And as morbid as that may sound… this is good because it means that no possum or stoat has been around to scavenge – or kill chicks. So it seems, that predators may indeed be a problem for the penguins over on this side as well. But there are tawaki sub-colonies that are not – yet – affected by it.
As the sun started to set on the other side of Jackson Head we made our way back to Jackson Bay. Bottlenose dolphins zoomed past and tawaki started to show up to get back to their nests.