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.
December 3, 2016 at 4:08 pm
So much for ‘once chicks fledge they will not touch try land again for almost a year’. This tawaki chick from Rollers Beach, Stewart Island, obviously had different plans. After its first splash in the big blue, it found itself a nice little rock not far from the cave it hatched in. It then spent the better half of a day perched there preening extensively and enjoying the life in fresh air (as opposed to the ammonia contaminated, dank gas not really qualified to be called ‘air’ inside said cave).
Ultimately, however, high tide forced the young one to get wet again… and start the adventure of its first year at sea.
June 11, 2016 at 4:44 pm
The moderate earthquake that hit Fiordland last week is reminder that tawaki have chosen a particularly precarious stretch of coast to breed. The species’ entire breeding distribution follows one of New Zealand major geological boundaries, the Alpine Fault.
Here the Pacific Plate meets the Indo-Australian Plate, two of the earth’s major tectonic plates. Or more specifically, the Pacific Plate moves over its counterpart, pushing it downwards while lifting itself up – forming the Southern Alps in the process. It’s a pretty lively zone where earthquakes are a common occurrence. So tawaki live in a pretty shaky region.
That wouldn’t be half so bad, if they would breed in earthquake proof burrows. But a lot of them don’t. Many tawaki establish their nests under rocks or boulders, sometimes along the course of old landslips which in itself is a reminder of the violent forces of earthquakes. As researcher, it is a pain to find your way through this jumble of rocks because not every stone you step on is as stable as it seems. Even larger boulders may give way and start to roll when you try to climb over them. Obviously, that is the last thing you want as there might be tawaki breeding under that very same rock.
What does this mean for tawaki when there is an earthquake?
Well, first of all, as stated before earthquakes are a common occurrence along the Alpine Fault. So we can probably assume that a lot of the rocks the penguins have decided to breed under have been shaken into place already and are unlikely to be moved by another wee quake.
However… there is a very big earthquake waiting to happen. The Alpine Fault has ruptured four times in the past 9 centuries, which is about one big earthquake every 225 years. And the last rupture dates back to 1717 – almost 300 years ago. So the next big one is overdue. In fact, geologist estimate the next rupture of the Alpine Fault to occur in the next 50 years. And it will create a massive earthquake of magnitude 8 or more, at least as violent as the 2015 Nepal earthquake. If not more so. To put that into perspective, the devastating earthquake that hit Christchurch in February 2011 was of magnitude 6.3.
The predicted epicenter is about half way between Jackson Head and Harrison Cove. Actually the isoseismals (blue lines in the graph above) forecasting the spatial distribution of seismic activity, neatly cover the core breeding areas of West Coast and Fiordland tawaki. So penguins occupying this stretch of coast will be in for a wild ride indeed. And it is safe to assume that the rocks under which tawaki are breeding will move once more when that happens.
If the quake hits during the breeding season tawaki might indeed be in trouble. In this case, a lot of penguins attending their nests may be crushed by shifting rocks or buried under the rubble of landslides. With such a big earthquake, tsunamis are probably to be expected as well so that birds not breeding under rocks may get washed away. So it could be quite bad. But tawaki would have to very unlucky for that to happen.
How likely is it that tawaki will be at home during quake?
Tawaki spend most of their lives at sea. So the timing of the quake would have to be spot on and coincide with the penguins’ breeding season (August to November) or moulting (February), the only periods of the year the birds spend substantial time on land. This means that the penguins are only in the region for four months every year. That’s only a 1:3 chance of tawaki witnessing the quake first-hand. It’s more likely that they come back from their migration to find their breeding site layout altered substantially.
If it happens during the breeding season, will it be enough to wipe them out completely?
Highly unlikely, as there will be a lot of non-breeders and juveniles as well as foraging parents at sea and therefore likely spared from quake-related misfortune. And at sea, those birds can handle all kinds of turmoil…
March 17, 2016 at 1:44 pm
Last night word reached us that Inger Perkins from the West Coast Penguin Trust made a disturbing discovery while analysing footage from a trail camera deployed last season at Jackson Head.
Using motion triggered trail cameras the trust investigates the impact of terrestrial predators on tawaki at Jackson Head and Gorge River. We are closely collaborating with the trust and maintain the cameras while we’re in the field.
At Gorge River, trust cameras have already recorded how penguin chicks fall prey to stoats, which in New Zealand have wreaked havoc with all kinds of birdlife in the past century. At Jackson Head, however, it is mainly possums that tend to visit penguin nests apparently without causing them any grief.
And as such, analysing the video data has been an enjoyable affair that provided some neat insights into the family life of tawaki. That is, until Inger stumbled across said disturbing footage which raised the question whether Bigfoot or the Yeti might be roaming New Zealand’s West Coast:
(Actually, it’s just a very cheerful Klemens Pütz triggering one of the cameras after checking on one of our GPS logger birds.)
September 15, 2015 at 6:15 pm
First full day in the Jackson Head bush. As can be expected at the West Coast it turned out to be rather wet. And of course our timing walking in was impeccable at almost high tide, making clambering along the rocks a fun thing to do.
Once we reached the tawaki breeding sites we checked most of last season’s nests and observed quite a few changes. A bit of nest site shuffling seems to have occurred. Some nest sites remain empty this season, while new nests have been established in spots that had no users last year. Especially the apartment building, the site where most of the documentary filming happened last year, looked rather empty with a mere 4 nests where we had 9 last year.
Speaking of the apartment building. It was quite nice to see our old friend again, the male tawaki from the balcony nest. Last year he turned out to be a rather inquisitive chap ready to defend his chicks if somebody poked their nose to closely into the nest. Because of the nice natural lighting in the nest, he also became the star of the documentary.
But overall nest numbers appear down compared with last year. The El Niño effect, perhaps? Also breeding seems more advanced when compared to last season. All nests we looked at had chicks in them, a few of them have already failed. In fact, in one nest I noticed a rather large chick by itself indicating that some birds have already gone into the post-guard stage.
Oh, and I spotted a penguin with quite a bit of its left flipper missing. We’ll call him Jamie Lannister. Just goes to show how tough these birds are and can indeed survive grueling injuries without human intervention.
After four hours of bush bashing we made it back to our base at Neils Beach. All pretty tired. The many weeks of desk work certainly take their toll. We hope to deploy the first dive loggers today. If only the weather improves a bit (no rain please).
September 13, 2015 at 1:39 pm
Season 2 of the Tawaki Project is finally underway. After purchasing field supplies in Dunedin last night, we headed over to Milford Sound last night.
First thing this morning we headed down to the tourist wharf to meet up with Andrea Faris of Southern Discoveries. Those guys really go out of their way to help us pull off our field work in Milford Sound. They will help us with all the logistics involved in Milford Sound. So we should not have problems getting to Harrison Cove whenever we need.
Southern Discoveries operate the underwater observatory in Harrison Cove which not only allows people to take a look at what’s going on under the surface of Milford Sound. It will also serve as our research base for the first two weeks in October.
So everything looks really good except for the fact that we had no idea how many tawaki are actually breeding in Harrison Cove. And of course, this being Fiordland, there was a bit of a question mark behind the fact whether we could actually do our tracking work in the rugged and densely overgrown terrain.
A wee recce trip was in order before we arrive in full force in October. We met Andrea just before 9am and hopped on board of one of the Southern Discoveries vessels and headed over to Harrison cove, a 15 minutes ride from the wharf.
The observatory is pretty cool. It’s a pretty large floating structure that not only features the submarine viewing facilities but also sports a sea kayaking shed with an automatic launch. Andrea pointed out that we could always use sea kayaks to go independently over to the penguin colony.
“Of course, we can always give you a ride in one of our boats”, Andrea said.
Did I mention that Southern Discoveries a bloody marvelous? So if you ever go to visit Milford Sound and you wonder which company to go on a cruise with…
Hotte and I jumped into an aluminum dinghy and Andrea shuttled us over to the far end of the cove where we hopped onto the shingly beach. While we checked our radio communication with Andrea the first tawaki dropped by to say hello to us. The bird emerged from the crystal clear water and preened on the rocks not far from where we stood. Certainly a good start to our recce.
We geared up and dived head first into the dense bush. Lichens dangling from low branches, mosses growing on windfall and lots of green surrounded us. And before long we heard tawaki calling from somewhere to the right of us. Hotte and I fanned out (as much as a two person team can fan out) following obvious penguin tracks.
Not more than 50 metres in we came across the first nest. Sheltered underneath a fallen tree trunk a male tawaki the bird was incubating two eggs. It did not stir when I peeked into its nest, although I’m sure he wasn’t too comfortable with my presence either. I retreated quickly.
Getting a GPS position of the nest proved to be a lot harder than I would have imagined. Because of the steep fiord walls rising steeply to 1000 metres on either side of the fiord, the GPS did not have that much sky to look for satellites. That might also be a problem for our GPS loggers. Good thing though, once latched on to some sats the accuracy was in the 10m range which is not at all bad considering the dense vegetation.
Over the course of the next 1½ hours Hotte and I found 10 nest and installed four time lapse cameras to record nest attendance patterns. Half of the nests had birds still incubating eggs, the others sitting on very small chicks. Hatching is underway. Which is a bit of a worry.
The Fiordland tawaki are believed to lay eggs about a week or two later than the birds from the West Coast. That might mean that we have to hurry up once we’re Jackson Head, at least if we want to get data from birds during the chick guard stage.
We made our way back to the shore. There are likely more nests in the Harrison Cove bush which we’ll find once I’m back with Ursula and the fabulous Dave Houston in October. Hotte will hold the fort with Klemens Pütz taking over the scientific lead at Jackson Head then. So we will work simultaneously at two sites. A first for all of us, I believe.
Hotte and I will be heading from Milford Sound to Neils Beach today – an epic journey indeed. Tomorrow I’ll head back to Queenstown to pick up Ursula from the airport as well as albatross expert Junishi Sugishita who will help us out in the first few days before Klemens arrives next Friday.
Busy times ahead of us.
November 16, 2014 at 9:36 pm
I wanted to get a reasonably early start out at Jackson Head today. I was really keen to have a lookout for fledging chicks on the shore for a few hours, just to see if I would be able to observe a similar “family outing” that Sam had observed yesterday.
I got to the Head just after 9am, some 7 hours after the film crew had left the Hotel. When I approached the study site, I could see Haruki-san with his camera perched on one of the rocks below the base. He was pointing his lens up towards the creek and I could only assume that another fledgling was in the process of making his way to the water for his big splash.
And indeed, there the bird was. It looked positively unsure where to go and what to do. And unlike the fledgling yesterday which seemed to have been guided out to the sea by some adult tawaki that may or may not have been its parents, this one was all by itself.
The young penguin scratched his bottom. Then it flapped its wing. It turned around, looked up the hill, turned once more, looking down at the sea… and decided to scratch its bottom some more.
Once more I found Sam slouched down in his folding chair between the rocks at the Base, trying to catch up on some sleep. He was wearing his mosquito net hat to keep the Sandflies at bay. As an Australian resident I would have expected a cork hat, these hats with wine corks dangling from the brim, but then again he’s Sam, not Bruce…
I made my way up to the apartment building and found Ida-san snoring inside the director’s tent while Hongo-san patiently waited behind his camera without any sign of fatigue. After a quick peek at the happenings in the cave of the apartment building (one adult tawaki and six mostly moulted chicks being bored stiff) I meant to head over to my observation tent for a few hours of waiting. But instead Ida-san stirred and crawled out of his tent, his eyes red and bleary.
“Thomas-san. This afternoon I would like to use multi-copter. Is that okay?”
A while ago, when we were still having beers at night, Ida-san had talked about his adventures with flying drones to get aerial footage. The crew has two of the quad-copters with them, each equipped with GoPros mounted with gimbals (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gimbal) to the base. When I asked why two units, Ida-san casually replied “Oh. In case we lose one.”
“When we were filming bower birds in Papua New Guinea a few months ago, I lost one. I flew it over the trees and then it just disappeared. Never found it.”
So, there’s an expensive multi-copter with an even more expensive gimbal and a GoPro lying around the Papuan jungle somewhere. I’ll keep my eyes peeled next time I’m up there (if ever).
Ida-san indicated that he would like to work with the drone around lunch time. Apart from the fact that it was my responsibility to oversee such activities I was far too curious not to witness that attempt. But first, I was to meet with Paul Elwell-Sutton from the West Coast Penguin Trust around 1 pm to pick up the trust’s trail cameras. But I was sure Paul would be curious to observe this novel style of film making.
Ida-san and I agreed to give it a go around 2 pm.
Now I am spending some time in the tent hide. So far two tawaki went past me; none had an extra package on its back.
Paul, Sam (whom we met down at the beach) and I made it to the apartment block just after 2 pm. Down on the beach not a lot was happening. In fact, we had sneaked past Haruki-san who lay spread-eagled on a rock having a bit of a nap in the shade of his camera tripod. At the apartment block itself, also nothing happened. Although I have to admit I was amazed to find Hongo-san sitting patiently in exactly the same position I had left him more than two hours ago.
Ida-san wanted to go up the hill and find a bit of a clearing. The wind had picked up and he wanted to give his drone-flying skills a bit of a refresher. So we climbed up to Hilltop which by now seems pretty deserted. Hardly any signs of chicks or breeding adults; they must all moved on down the hill in anticipation of fledging.
Doesn’t look good for our logger recovery.
The drone flight attempts turned out to be pretty average. Ids-san seldom managed to keep the drone up in the air for more than a few seconds before a wind gush pushed it into the vegetation which sent it crashing down to the ground. Remarkably robust these drones!
Ida-san gave up after ten minutes remarking: “Too windy. Tomorrow.”
Considering it’s our last day tomorrow we better hope it’s not as windy.
Paul headed back to town, Ida-san & Sam joined the rest of the team to call it a day. And I resumed the watch in the tent hide.
It’s getting darker outside as I am writing this. Outside a lonely tawaki is sitting in the kiekie not quite sure what to make of the tent hide flapping in the breeze. It’s one of three more logger-less penguins I have seen this afternoon. I think I’ll head back to town once this fella has decided to move on.
November 15, 2014 at 8:08 pm
I know I keep repeating myself, but I hate when the weather forecast is right. For today they forecasted torrential rainfall. And in the afternoon we got it. Big time.
I arrived at Jackson Head around lunchtime and met Sam at our base on the rocks just beyond the penguin highway up to the Apartment Block. He was excited about something and he told me what it was.
The first chick had fledged at 10.30am this morning; and Sam was the only one to witness it. But not only that, what he witnessed was bloody interesting too. Because he saw the chick leave the shore together with a pair of adults, a male and a female. Moreover the male and the female seemed to be encouraging the chick to take the dip.
“Looked like mother and father”, Sam said as he got out his little Canon camera. He had taken photos as well as videos of the scene. And when I saw what he had recorded I could not deny the fact that he might as well be right.
The male would sometime peck the chick, but in a rather gentle, non-aggressive way like haven’t seen it before. And all the time the three birds stayed together. Then the chick took a false step and toppled of the rock. The female craned her neck looking down to the chick as if she was concerned like I have seen it before in Snares penguins when an egg or chick rolled out of the nest bowl. The chick eventually got back onto the rock and was washed off by a wave. It swam at the surface towards the horizon. The male and female jumped in after it and eventually joined the chick maybe fifty metres from the shore. According to Sam, they then swam out together, always at the surface until they disappeared far out at sea.
“Do you think they teach chick to forage?” Sam asked me.
“If it was indeed mum and dad, why not?” was my reply. The thought was pretty damn cool.
In penguins parental care generally ends with fledging. The chicks have to take the big dip alone. Except for Gentoo penguins, where it has been observed that the parents join their offspring on the first big outing.
And to be honest, in a way it makes sense for the parents to try everything they can to help their chick get along in the ocean. Like all crested penguins Tawaki only raise one chick per season. So it’s the one shot they have per year. Since crested penguins tend to start breeding at around five or so years, they might be able to produce nine, ten chicks in their lifetime. And not all of them will survive to become breeders. So every push, every tip parents can give their young will improve its chance of survival – and the perpetuation of the parent’s genes in future generations.
We really should have a look at this phenomenon next year.
I headed up to the Apartment block where really nothing was happening. The cave was crammed full of penguins. Six chicks ranging from fluffy downy ones to big ones fully moulted into their fancy blue and white feather suit were in there. On top of that I counted six adult Tawaki. All seemed to be waiting for something to happen.
What I also noticed was that they did not seem to care much about my presence when I peeked into the cave. A few weeks ago penguins would have started to clamber up the rocks to get to the far end of the cave, away from the horrible creature that was shining a light at them. Today they just looked at me not moving. I guess the constant presence of a camera man in the past two months helped them to get used to our presence. In fact, one of the chicks could not contain its curiosity and inched closer to me and my camera.
The film crew packed up just after lunch and headed back to Haast, red-eyed and positively looking like Zombies. The early morning hours of filming certainly take their toll. I on the other hand had slept until seven and was ready to assume my post in the tent hide.
By 4pm a rain had set in that made yesterday’s rainfall indeed look like drizzle. It was like Jackson Head was put under a waterfall. Of course, the bruised and battered tent hide was not rally built for this kind of weather so that after a short while through hundreds of tiny holes in the canvas it started to rain inside the tent. Paired with the fact that it was cold I was in for a very miserable afternoon.
At around 3pm a lonely Tawaki made its way up the path. When she spotted the tent she stopped in her tracks and started to inspect the strange object just next to the route she intended to follow.
After about 10 minutes of looking she suddenly fell asleep, right there and then. With eyes closed she stood in front of my tent occasionally scratching herself behind an ear with her foot, shaking her body sending water drops flying in all directions or flapping her wings briefly.
After an hour she woke up, shook her head, eyed the tent and was on her way.
By now I had to make a decision: weather it out and stay until 10pm or pack up and leave now. Because it was only two hours until high tide. I surrendered to the weather, packed my stuff and left.
It felt like a defeat even though I think it was a sensible thing to do. Several hours in this weather, wet, cold and without anything else to do but sit and wait was a recipe for hypothermia. But of course tonight could be the night that the logger bird finally shows up. Or not.
At the end of the day it was the right decision. Because for what could be the final time, I had dinner with the Japanese film crew at the hotel bar. Two more days and we’re out of here, off to Dunedin.
November 14, 2014 at 11:37 pm
Boy, it’s cold today. I am sitting in my tent hide – this time with a small camping chair and not one but two Vapor repellent doodaddies that magnificently keep the sandflies away. But it is cold.
They have forecasted a change in the weather which will bring rain towards the evening and will develop into heavy rain all day tomorrow. I hope they are wrong about this.
Ida-san has changed his strategy. His team now operates in shifts, with Haruki-san, Ida-san and Sam covering the morning shift from 2am to 11am while Hongo-san and I will keep watch – each at his own spot – from 11am until 11pm.
What Ida-san and his team are hoping to film is the actual process of fledging. Half of the chicks at the apartment block have shed their down and look like fully functional penguins now. Granted, their plumage has a blue-grey hue to it, their crests are little more than a faint line of pale, yellow feathers over their eyes and their bills are black. But they seem to match their parents in size and built. So theoretically they could go.
Unfortunately, they don’t seem to feel the inkling to do so just yet. Which adds to Ida-san’s worries as he needs, to use his own words (translated by Sam), “fledging, otherwise no story”. However, they’ve been quite lucky so far, and I am sure that it will work out for them in the end. Who knows, the chicks might fledge any minute.
So while Hongo-san waits for the chicks of the apartment block to make their move. I sit and wait for the logger bird from JH06. And I am worried too.
Not so much that the birds might not return (or rather continue to elude me); that’s a possibility I have accepted three weeks ago. No, what I am worried about is what happens if I actually see the bird going past my tent. Because sitting in here and waiting is one thing. But getting out quickly to capture the penguin before she has disappeared under a kiekie thicket is a whole different thing. Yesterday, for example when trying to get into the tent I nearly skewered my left thigh on a rotten piece of wood that sticks out of the slope at just the right angle. And getting into the tent is the easy bit.
I actually tried it out earlier. It takes me a whopping 15 seconds to open the zipper of the tent flap, wriggle my way out of the tangle of canvas and strings, avoid the piece of wood (no, I could not break it off, I tried, believe me) and get out onto the penguin path. I probably have to use the stealthy approach of slowly and quietly opening the zipper, carefully exiting the tent and then sneaking after the unsuspecting Tawaki.
Will that work? I honestly don’t know. I guess, no, I hope we will see.
6.30pm: Another six and a half hours gone without anything in particular happening. Three penguins have gone up the hill, none with anything attached to its back.
About an hour ago I spotted two Tawaki a bit downhill from my tent hide climbing onto the trunk of a large tree that arches at a precarious angle from the slope. While it is probably the first tree to fall in the event of an earthquake it is also privileged to be climbed by Tawaki.
Sitting perched on the tree for a while, the two reminded me of my time on the Snares where non-breeding penguins would also scale leaning trees, some of them three or more metres above the ground. Better still, in the 1970s John Warham actually found a Tawaki nest in a tree 10 metres in the air. And here at Jackson Head no less. Maybe we’re looking in the wrong places when we search for Tawaki nests? (As if Stewart Island hadn’t answered this question already…)
Well, another 3 and a half hours to go.
Traffic certainly picked up when it started to get dark in the forest. Had there been just the odd penguins for most of the day, now the counter started ticking up to a grand total of 14 penguins. None of which carried a GPS logger.
Just before 10pm Hongo-san had enough. I had enough as well. And since it started to rain we decided to pack up and leave an hour early (we were supposed to stay until 11pm). By the time I teamed up with Hongo-san just below the Apartment block, the rain reached a strength that “I-don’t-mind-the-rain-but-I-hate-bloody-drizzle” Morgan would have approved of.
By the time we were down on the rocks and started this evening’s boulder hopping exercise, it “rained strings” as they say in Germany. Only thath here they strings lashed at us horizontally.
And to make matters worse, the batteries of my head torch died on me. No problem, I though and got out the spare batteries. These were flat also. Nevermind, I thought, and I rummaged through my bum bag to get the spare head torch out. Of course, Murphy’s Law had to have a go at me, because the batteries in my spare torch were also spent. So in the dying light of two head torches I had to find my way across the rocks (Hongo-san only had AA batteries when I needed AAA. Thanks, Murphy.)
That I made it back to the car and hotel without any broken limbs is a minor miracle.
November 13, 2014 at 11:23 pm
I am back inside an old friend, the stalker’s tent hide we used to recover the last two loggers. Surely, the camouflage tepee is a good omen, a talisman of luck. It is not quite as comfy as I don’t have the chair nor the room for one. I’m sitting on a flat stone looking out of the half opened flap of the tent downhill onto the forest path.
It is almost 3pm so I have spent the last 3 hours in here already. In all that time one Tawaki has come past my hide-out, a shy female inching her way down towards the coast past the tent without a logger on her back.
The sun is out today, but it is quite windy and the sides of the tent shake quite a bit.
And without anything happening outside I’m rather bored. I pour myself another cuppa from my thermos flask and raise the cup.
“Here’s to a successful logger recovery today!”
If I only I could believe that though. I’ve got the feeling that today will turn out to be very, very quiet day. Because when I came out just before lunchtime I hardly saw any penguins. All in all I counted four birds, three of which were youngsters hanging out under a rock together, when in the past weeks there were always 10 to 20 penguins at any time of the day.
When I met Sam at the base on top of the rocks, he told me that it has been super-quiet all day, including the early morning hours. Yesterday he spotted in his own words “soooo many pengins going out” (Sam always calls them “pengins”) but today “maybe two, three”.
It seems all the birds have left yesterday probably falling for the irresistible call of food wafting as a scent down with the wind from somewhere out at sea. Then again, the wind is blowing from the South whereas logger data so far suggest that the birds tend forage to the North.
But who knows, maybe the birds also have heard the weather forecast which predicts pretty rotten weather from tomorrow on so they might all return tonight. It’s certainly a thought that helps me keeping my faith that there is a chance to get the last logger back.
And there’s another ray of light on the horizon. While sitting here in the tent I finally had the time to go through the data of the camera we have operating at JH06. And just as Haruki-san said, on 27 October there she is, logger bird at the nest reunited with husband and child.
The chick returned to the nest almost every night since then if only for half an hour. And on five days there were adult penguins with the chick. The last family gathering occurred two days ago around the time when I was heading back to the car park. So I’ve missed her by a heartbeat! D’oh!
But, and here’s the aforementioned ray of light, she did not return to the nest last night while the male and the chick showed up even this morning. On top of that there is a hungry chick begging what looks like its father for food but he just shakes his head as if to say “Wait till you mother returns.” And I have a hunch that chick and father belong to the logger bird. So she will return soon.
Today, I hope.
Two hours and three penguins going uphill and one going downhill later I am still waiting for the logger lady. At the moment, a rather plump female has made herself comfortable about 5m below my tent hide. She takes short naps, preens or scratches herself behind her ear with her short legs or, from time to time, trumpets a lonely solo. Surely if she were a breeder she’d show more determination to go up the hill. So even though I haven’t seen her backside yet I am more than sure that this is not the bird I am looking for.
An hour ago, however, a female waddled by with the determination of a breeder. She was rather wary of the tent but she nevertheless carried on up the hill. The amazing thing about her was that a large chunk was missing from her left flipper. Right in the centre of the flipper an oval gape extended all the way to the bone. It is an old injury healed and all. I wonder how she sustained it, or to rephrase that, what creature had literally taken a bite out of her. In terms of size, shark et al seem out of the question. This brings back the old placeholder the Barracouta.
But what would a Barracouta do with a penguin? Firstly, I don’t see how a fish of the size of a Barracouta could kill a penguins – so why try? Of course, Barracouta could hunt in groups and it could be a team effort to dispatch a penguin. This, secondly, raises the question why penguins sport mostly single “Barracouta” injuries. Something doesn’t seem to fit with the Barracouta theory…
Well, it’s 8pm and the number of penguins that have gone past my hide out in six hours is meagre. 4 penguins have gone up since 2pm. That’s three more than yesterday, so I shouldn’t complain. Problem is that one of them is fast asleep just outside my tent hide – and I need to go to the loo. Granted, if I set foot outside the tent the poor fellow will get the fright of his life. So I’ll just stay where I am for the time being. Maybe if another penguin shows up he will move too.
I have spent the last couple of hour reading Lloyd Davis’s “Professor Penguin”. The book is kind of the scientific memoirs of my former supervisor. It’s a great read for anyone interested in penguins. Lloyd has gone to great lengths to cover the many interesting aspects of penguin biology and weave in his field work experiences. He has met, worked with and was influenced by a great many researchers, ranging from the Elvises to Justin Biebers of penguin science. He features biographies of the researchers he considers most influential for him and just reading these short bios of people I have met and know personally is quite enlighening. Just goes to show that even if you think you know a person you have merely scratched the surface.
But the weirdest thing is to read about all those researchers and their work – catching a glimpse of penguin science as an outsider, so to speak – and then I look up realizing that I am sitting in a tent hide waiting for a penguin with a GPS logger to return while outside four Tawaki carefully tiptoe uphill.
What a privilege.
I left the forest a few minutes short of 10pm. All in all 16 penguins made their way up to the Hilltop area today. None of them bore a GPS logger. But despite having sat in the bloody tent hide for more than 10 hours today, I felt good.