January 29, 2018 at 6:38 pm
By now, the majority of tawaki have returned to the New Zealand mainland to go through their annual moult. Many of the birds return to their breeding colonies to hang out with their partners while they patiently wait for last year’s feathers to be replaced with a flash new plumage.
However, many young birds and non-breeders that don’t have a partner or nest site to return to, make landfall wherever it suits them best.
For example, last year of the five penguins we managed to track throughout their pre-moult journey, only three came back to Gorge River. The other two decided to enjoy a change of scenery and went through their moult in Dusky and Sutherland Sound, respectively.
Admittedly, that’s still very fiordlandish. So how about this guy who was spotted by Alyssa Sutton at Birdlings Flat on the southern end of Bank Peninsula, Christchurch?
At a first glance, it appears that the bird may have taken the wrong turn and ended up on the wrong side of New Zealand’s South Island. In fact, in the past, tawaki found moulting on Banks Peninsula have been picked up by well-meaning people who then shipped the birds over to the West Coast by road because the penguins “clearly did not belong here”.
But who are we to judge where tawaki belong? These birds can travel 6,000 kilometres in 8-10 weeks, so that a tawaki could circumnavigate all of New Zealand in half that time. Tawaki moulting along the Otago coast line is perfectly normal; they are even trying to breed there (http://bit.ly/2DXC6kE). And the Banks Peninsula is not that much further.
The ocean around the southern half of New Zealand’s South Island is dominated by the Southland current which flows down the West Coast, around Stewart Island and then up the Southland and Otago coast towards the Banks Peninsula. It is a very productive area that many seabird species forage in. As such it makes a lot of sense for tawaki outside of the breeding season to make the most of these productive waters.
So if you encounter tawaki anywhere on the South Island’s coasts at this time of the year… it’s where they belong. And unless the birds are severely injured or look terribly thin with the breastbone sticking out (e.g. http://bit.ly/2DKGbFO) – they don’t need our help.
January 26, 2018 at 5:47 pm
In exactly one month, we’ll be packing our gear for another short trip to Whenua Hou/Codfish Island. David Houston and Thomas Mattern will be flying to the island to find tawaki volunteers that have just finished or are about to finish their moult.
After having tracked the penguins during their journey before the moult last year (check out our blog post about this: http://www.tawaki-project.org/…/the-tawaki-pre-moult-journ…/), we now want to reveal another big secret about the penguins. Where they spend the austral winter and prepare for the next breeding season.
The satellite tags will transmit the penguins’ position in real-time and we should receive data on each bird’s whereabouts up to six or seven times a day. So even if the birds manage to preen off the devices on their journey, we still get data until they get rid of their device. Which, by the way, would be totally uncool as the transmitters are not cheap at all (A million thanks to the Antarctic Research Trust for providing us with devices!)
We have 12 devices available which we hope to deploy in equal numbers at our three study sites, Jackson Head, Milford Sound and Whenua Hou.
January 11, 2018 at 4:25 pm
Here we are, then. 2018, which will mark the fifth season of the Tawaki Project.
We have been quiet these past few weeks. The reason for that is that we were ‘out at sea’ with other projects. Of course, so were the penguins. Between mid-November and mid-December, the adult tawaki saw their chicks fledge and then headed off on their pre-moult journeys. Since then, the birds are absent from the mainland.
Well, until yesterday. We received word that the first tawaki have returned from their pre-moult journey.
Where the penguins go over the Holidays was a mystery. That is, until we managed to deploy satellite transmitters on birds from Gorge River at the end of the 2016 breeding season. The devices allowed us track the penguins all the way through until late February and March 2017. Some of the devices fell off pretty early on, other birds lost the trackers half way through their trips. But overall we managed to record more than 3000 positions from 17 penguins.
So, where do tawaki go at this time of the year?
Well, surprisingly they go a considerable distance. In early January, about half of the birds are somewhere in the middle of sub-Antarctic waters west of Macquarie Island. The others have reached South Tasman Rise, an area of shallow waters (well, relatively shallow at 400 m deep) about 800 km south of Tasmania.
To get there, the penguins travel between 1,500 and 2,500 km away from their breeding colony covering distances of 4,500 to 6,500 km. This is more than twice the distance their cousin-species Rockhopper and Macaroni penguins travel during their pre-moult trips.
There you are, another record broken by tawaki. They turn out to be true super-penguins!