October 24, 2014 at 7:59 pm
A week with the family in Dunedin and here I am again, back in Haast. Today the Japanese film crew around Ida-san returns for the second stint of Tawaki filming at Jackson Head.
Well, that was the plan anyhow. I got a late start in Dunedin so no time for a lunch break as I had to make it across the Haast Pass and the Diana Falls before 6pm. And while I made it, my Japanese companions did not.
Not long after I checked in at the Heritage Hotel, my phone rang. The receptionist told me that the rest of the crew will be spending their night in Makarora until the road has opened again.
Oh well, no Tawaki briefing tonight then.
October 15, 2014 at 4:46 pm
Just a quick note jotted down before we head across the Alps and back to Dunedin.
This morning we finished the second half of the camera run. Now the devices have to operate for a bit more than a week without our care. I will return for a second stint of filming with the Japanese film crew in the last week of October. But I am sure that the batteries will last until then.
While it was rather gray when we finished our camera maintance, it has turned into a glorious blue-sky-and-sunshine day. Perfect house cleaning weather. Now, I will spare you the details of what we all cleaned. Suffice to say that it took us all day and now we have to rush back to Haast to make it past the Diana Falls slip before they close the road on us!
October 14, 2014 at 10:51 pm
My alarm clock went off at a humane 7am this morning. But it did not take me long to convince myself that it was quite alright to have another wee snooze before getting up. Outside it was bucketing down.
And it kept on doing for most of the morning. So rather than assuming a lookout in the hide tent, Hotte and I busied ourselves with getting the house cleaned up, for today was the last full day of this year’s field work for the Tawaki Project.
After lunch the rain had turned into occasional drizzle showers so we had no further excuses but geared up and headed out to the Heads.
The plan for today was simple. Hotte would keep an eye on the coast while I did the first half of the camera run. Since we had to replace batteries in most of the cameras, this would keep me busy for quite a while.
The forest was dripping wet and particularly getting up to the Hilltop area was treacherous to say the least. I struggled with batteries that would not come out of the trail cams and cursed the flimsy straps with which I had to tie the cameras to rocks, trees or any other, less suitable form of vegetation. It all took longer than I thought.
Back at the apartment block I carefully approached the camera just in case our logger female was at home. But she wasn’t. That was okay. I was expecting her to return from a foraging trip today anyhow and Hotte kept a close eye on who arrived and whether they were carrying any additional freight. He would have called me over the radio if anything happened.
After a couple of hours I finally ran out of batteries and SD cards; today’s camera run was done.The penguins checking out the guy fiddling with the cameras were certainly glad when I decided to call it a day up here in the nesting area.
I headed down the rope to the rocky shore. However, rather than going back to the hide, I decided to crawl into a cave-like overhang – it was drizzling again – and get the small laptop from my pack and have a look at the beach camera as well as the logger nest camera data.
No trace of the logger bird on any of last night’s trail camera images sitting at the Creek beach access. As predicted. I started to flick through the nest camera data.
The radio crackled inside my bum bag.
“Umm. I…err… I think the logger bird has just returned.”
Hotte did not seem too certain about that. I fiddled with the bum back to get the radio out when a more assertive Hotte proclaimed “It’s our bird! It’s our bird!”
“I’ll be with you shortly!” I replied. “Just don’t let it go anywhere!”
I crammed the laptop back into the backpack and crawled out of the cave in record time and started to boulder hop round the point towards the penguin landing.
“It’s on the move!” Hotte shouted into the radio.
“I’m coming! If I don’t make you go after it!” I wheezed while negotiating the rocks. When I reached the penguin landing area I started to hunch and move carefully from rock to rock. I did not want to send any of the penguins off in a flight.
“She’s almost up at in the creek!”
I peeked around the infamous rock where I had managed to get the logger off the other Tawaki yesterday. No penguins in sight. I climbed further uphill turned left – and there she was. Standing on a rock looking at me as if she wanted to say “Oh great, that guy again.” She certainly expressed her thoughts on me when I picked her up and she started pecking my hands and arm.
Less than five minutes later I released her up at the creek – with another successful GPS logger recovery accomplished! We packed up and headed out shortly after the penguin had made her way up into the Kiekie.
It was a rather weird feeling to get into the car and drive back home to Neil’s Beach in daylight. The past 3 weeks we had always returned long after dark.
But best of all… the i-gotU had recorded more than 2000 GPS fixes in the past four days, representing two and a half foraging tracks. The penguin had performed quite some journeys in search for food, swimming up nearly 40 km away from Jackson Head and covering more than 100km of distance in a bit over 38 hours. This is certainly one of the wider foraging ranges I have observed in chick rearing penguins.
Interesting to see how the foraging ranges apparently change from very short in the two to three weeks after the chicks have hatched (i.e. the chick-guard stage) to rather long when the chicks are old enough to be left alone (post-guard stage). More interestingly still with the tracking data we have now is the observation I made on the rocky shore and in the nesting areas in the past few days.
One of the things I have been doing the past weeks – and never have delved into on this blog – is collecting penguin scat samples for DNA analysis to determine their prey composition. In other words – I have seen lots of shit. And during the chick-guard stage, the penguin poo looked quite different from what it does now. Back then, the stuff was mostly grey, almost silvery and had quite a strong smell to it which I knew from other penguin species. I am fairly certain that oily fish like sprat or anchovy were the penguins’ main diet. In the last week or so, penguin poo has turned to all kinds of shades of green. While my initial reaction was that the poo was from male penguins heading out after a prolonged period of starving while caring for the nest), I have observed female penguins returning form a foraging trip and offloading the green cargo as well. So the green colour is more likely coming from whatever prey they are eating at the moment rather than a result of bile going through an empty system.
So despite all the set-backs in the first weeks – be it from a lack of devices to start with, drowning of i-gotUs or our general inexperience to successfully recover devices on penguins that are able to disappear between rocks without a trace – despite all that we go home with exciting new information on Tawaki!
October 13, 2014 at 11:45 pm
I headed out at 9am and made my way up to the tent below the apartment building. I knew that Hongo-san had used a deer stalkers tent to film penguin up close. And I knew that it had worked perfectly. I could not imagine that Hongo-san would carry out the tent if he knew that he would use it again when they return to continue filming in late October. So it must have been packed away in the director’s tent.
And it was. I grabbed it and a couple battery driven of insect repellent vaporisers as well as a can of spray on insect repellent and headed down to the beach.
A deer stalkers hide tent is nothing more than a small teepee shaped tent, just big enough to put a chair in. It has viewing stripes on the sides and two entrances at front and back that can be opened just wide enough for a rifle barrel to stick out – or binoculars. I pitched the tent close to the overhang where the bird had spotted me yesterday. A folding chair and the installation of the vaporisers completed my mission.
I made myself comfortable in the chair, zipped up the front door and started scanning the ocean for penguins while occasionally going through our trail camera data on my wee notebook.
Today was a hazy but surprisingly warm day. A constant trickle of penguin returned to Jackson Head all through the morning and past lunch time. Several hundred meters our at sea I saw that the sooty shearwaters had returned, probably heading South for their breeding grounds on the Snares. I spotted a whale fluke and a blow, probably a Southern right whale. Then the sun came out and a large pod of Dusky dolphins started playing out there, jumping high out of the water and splashing and frolicking about.
They could not distract me from my quest, though.
The sea was exceptionally calm. Hardly a ripple on the ocean. I could see penguins long before they landed. They would hang around at the surface about 100-200m offshore just where they crayfishermen had set their pots. Some of the birds were having a bath, swimming on their backs, preening their bellies.
None of them had a logger though.
The notebook on my lap I reviewed the time lapse footage from the Creek beach access. The camera placement combined with the motion sensor activated seems perfect. And, at 1.30am in the morning… there she was, standing right in front of the camera.
Actually it looks as if she is holding the device into the lens while cheekily looking over her shoulder as if to say “You want this? Huh? You want this?”
Next I looked through the images of the nest camera (I had grabbed the SD card from the camera while I was up getting the hide tent). She arrived just after 2am at her nest, where her chick had assumed its post only half an hour before. Until 5.30am she fed and preened the chick and headed off again, presumably back out at sea. Unfortunately, our beach camera ran out of juice around 5.45am so that we probably missed her when she left the Heads.
Since she had spent around three days out at sea, I doubted we’d see her today. But we still had another penguins to wait for, the male.
Hotte relieved me around 1pm assumed his new post inside the stalker’s tent hide.
I headed back to Neil’s Beach where I started to clean up things in the house. Plan is to leave the day after tomorrow.
I went back to the beach just before 6pm. It had turned into a misty day. Hotte headed back to the car and I watched for penguins with loggers on their backs.
I did not sit for long, when a logger bird jumped out of the water onto the rocks!
I called Hotte on the radio but he was already at the track entrance. Probably too far away to help me get that bird. And get this bird I would!
It was not the female. One look at the impressive honker and I knew I had the male Tawaki in front of me. Just like the female yesterday seemed a bit wearier than the penguins around him. He kept on looking in every possible direction, but the stalker tent seemed to be doing the trick.
In a group of three birds, the penguin started to march uphill and disappeared behind a large rock. A minute later two birds re-emerged on the other side of the rock. None of them had a logger.
“So, you like to play games, huh? Well, I can wait.”
Under no circumstances would I leave the tent until the logger bird was way up the rocks so that retreat into the water would not be an option any longer. At least that was the plan.
The two other penguins started preening themselves. Extensively. A seemingly endless process of readjusting every single feather in their plumage bending their necks in the most impossible ways in the process.
Where was the logger bird? Was it still behind that rock! If only I could see…
Then finally the two preening queens started moving and disappeared up in the creek. Our logger bird still made no move.
“Okay. If you want it this way, you can have it!” I mumbled and climbed out of the stalker’s tent. I carefully climbed over the rocks down to where I thought the logger bird must be, spring balance and weighing bag in hand. Oh so slowly I peeked around the rock behind which the bird had disappeared 20 minutes ago and found… nothing.
The bird wasn’t there! How on earth could he have disappeared! Not again!
I searched every crevasse, every nook and cranny in the rocks. Nothing. He must have gone back to sea.
Angry that I had let him win another round I retreated into the tent. I was fuming! How on earth are we supposed to recapture logger birds in this terrain? We can only capture then if we see them. But if we see them it seems the penguins see us as well. And after the handling procedure to attach the loggers, they are apparently not very keen to go through with this a second time.
While I was still cursing and swearing, a penguin with a logger attached to its back just hopped out of the water together with another loggerless penguins.
I waited. Exactly the same game as before, two penguins disappear behind a rock, but only one bird shows up at the other end.
I waited. The other penguin preened.
I waited. The other penguin headed up the hill and disappeared in the creek.
I waited. I kept a close eye on the water this time. I was absolutely sure that the penguin had not gone back into the water. More penguins arrived, headed halfway up the beach, preened and disappeared.
“Okay, okay! You win!” Once again I grabbed spring balance and weighing bag and climbed down to the rock where the logger bird had disappeared. Only this time, he was still there when I arrived!
The penguin hunched underneath a rock and when approached, he scurried further down a gap between the rocks. By the time I was on my knees he had disappeared again.
I circled the rocks under which the penguin must have been hiding. And then I spotted a foot and a flipper poking out of a 10 cm wide crack. I crawled towards it and was greeted by a hiss and a peck when I tried to feel my way towards the penguin. Could I pull it out of there? No, not really, the gap was too narrow even for a small bird like a Tawaki. The penguin would fight during any extraction attempt, not to mention what he would do to my fingers while I tried to so. No, no chance I would get him out.
1:0 for the penguin.
However, I did not give up that easily. I took off my right leather glove and offered it to the penguin with my left. He took a bite and tried to pull it into the crevasse but of course I did not let got. While he was busy with our little tug-o-war I gently grabbed his tail and pulled his lower back closer towards the through the gap. There was the logger!
With one hand I started to peel off the tape which was harder than I thought. It was almost impossible. Then an astonishing thing happened.
The penguin stopped pulling the glove. In fact, it was as if he knew what I was trying to do because he turned slightly so that the device on his back was now poking through the gap! I could actually use both my hands to remove the logger. I could not believe it when I held the device in my hands.
“There you go, wasn’t that bad, was it?” I muttered when I retreated from the rock.
It was a solid draw. The penguin managed to avoid being handled and weighed a second time, but I still got the logger back. I retreated to the tent and needed the next half hour to cam my nerves. I hadn’t even noticed how pumped up I got during the logger recovery. And I am sure that our logger bird would have needed just as long to recover from this as I did.
When I left the tent just after 9pm, I checked the rock with the night vision scope. The penguin was gone. He once again disappeared without me noticing it. However, I did not blame him for this and wished him best of luck for the rest of the breeding season.
“There you go, wasn’t that bad, was it?” I muttered when I retreated from the rock.
It was a solid draw. The penguin managed to avoid being handled and weighed a second time, but I still got the logger back. I retreated to the tent and needed the next half hour to calm my nerves. I hadn’t even noticed how pumped up I got during the logger recovery. And I am sure that our logger bird would have needed just as long to recover from this as I did.
When I left the tent just after 9pm, I checked the rock with the night vision scope. The penguin was gone. He once again had disappeared without me noticing it. However, I did not blame him for this and wished him best of luck for the rest of the breeding season.
October 12, 2014 at 11:48 pm
Let me spell it out. This was the most frustrating day of all!
A logger bird returned, unfortunately in too many ways. Because first it returned to Jackson Head, but then it spotted me – or rather my head poking out from behind a rock – and then it decided to return to the ocean.
And it did this twice!
Around 6pm I spotted a bird with an obvious lump its back in the white water close to the rocks just below the Creek beach access. I followed its movement with my binoculars. The bird landed fashioning a data loggers on its lower back. It moved very carefully and observant. While other penguins that had landed seemed to go about their daily business as per usual, the logger bird appeared weary. As if it knew we were waiting.
It twisted its head very way and then it made eye contact with me, turned around and jumped back into the water.
The sinking feeling of defeat! How on earth could the penguin have spotted me? I mean, I tried to stay hidden as much as possible, but of course if I want to see something, I have to stick my head out. At least a bit.
I calmed my nerves by retreating further up the rocks and crouched under an overhanging rock. With the binoculars I scanned the water surface. Yes, there it was! The logger bird was still out there and it would make another attempt to come ashore. All was not lost. In the distance more and more penguins appeared on the rocky shore. Yes, she would come back.
I remained squeezed underneath the overhang, tried not to move despite ferocious attacks by sandflies and peered through the binoculars. 15 minutes passed, 30 minutes. And I lost sight of the logger bird.
All of a sudden she was below us (I was fairly confident it was the female) out on the rocks with another Tawaki. Again, she looked in every possible direction while her companion (no logger) comfortably settled on a rock and started to preen itself extensively.
I did not move. I did not lower my binoculars. Heck, I don’t think I even breathed.
And what did she do? Make eye contact and – zoom! – off she went back into the ocean. And this time she did not re-emerge. She was gone for good and would not return tonight.
I was flabbergasted. How on earth did she know I was there? For all I knew I was just another rock wedged under another overhanging rock. I had paid for my patience with about 500 new sandfly bites which would remind me about this defeat for the next week or so.
By now darkness had set in. And just to make matters worse, it started to rain. In the rain, the night vision scope turned out to be utterly useless in these conditions as the rain drops would reflect the infrared light to create a blinding spectacle of sparks in the view finder. Spotting a penguin let alone one with a tiny data logger attached to its back was impossible. And actually, same applied for our head torches.
No point hanging out here any longer. We had to accept defeat. The penguin won this round. Well played, well played.
However, we now know that we are waiting at just the right spot for our penguins. No doubt about that. And we still have another joker up our sleeves.
I will play it first thing tomorrow morning!
October 11, 2014 at 9:52 pm
Nothing happened, just like yesterday. Another day out on the rocks, waiting and looking for any sign of logger birds. We have now shifted our focus on the creek beach access where we expect our last two logger birds to return at some stage.
I am starting to give up hope that we will see the Hilltop female again. Either we are waiting at the wrong access point or she is returning at such odd hours that we keep o missing her. The trail camera we have placed at the Hilltop beach access does not help much either as the penguins do not stay long enough in frame for the 1 minute time lapse setting (the shortest available) can reliably record every bird that heads up the hill.
Perhaps the logger has fallen off already which of course makes detecting our female impossible; the attached device is the only way we can identify our bird.
So here we are, hoping to have more luck with our last two logger birds. But our luck must still be on its way as we did not see anything of those birds either.
Ursula will head back to Dunedin first thing tomorrow morning. So it will be up to Hotte and me to get our birds back in the next few days.
October 10, 2014 at 10:57 pm
We got out just after 3am this morning. Yes, it was a beautiful moonlit night. But it was also bloody cold out on the rock we were marooned on until the tide finally allowed us to head out to the car. I was zombified after 10 hours out on the rocks without anything to eat other than a couple of muesli bars. Boy, was I glad to finally jump into the truck and head home where our beds were waiting for us.
What else is left to say about this day? We spent another long day and evening out below the Hilltop beach access waiting for our logger bird to return which again did not happen. Ursula and Hotte took turns while I spent the entire time out watching, waiting and hoping that our bird might return. By now the device’s batteries are surely exhausted so there is really no point for the bird to keep on carrying the device any longer. All she has to do is turn up and we’ll relieve her of her excess baggage.
But, alas, she prefers to elude us.
While we waited at Hilltop beach we also kept an eye on the Creek beach access. Who knows, perhaps one of the bird we fitted loggers on last night would show up tonight. I wasn’t sure what we would do in that case. Get the logger off after one day (as this might be our only chance to get the device back)? Or leave the bird in peace and hope to see him or her again on one of the following days (to maximize the data outcome of the deployment)?
Well, that problem also solved itself as neither of the other two logger birds showed up.
October 9, 2014 at 11:51 pm
The last week of this season’s field work is upon us. And we decided to deploy two more i-gotUs. Best time would be sometime in the middle of the night when presumably the majority of birds had returned to their nests, most of which are deserted during the day. That way we could combine waiting and looking out for our Hilltop logger bird in the afternoon and evening with the logger deployments.
The wait and look-out it quickly summarised – we did not see our bird and consequently get the logger back. I really start to wonder whether we are looking at the right spot for her. This is a problem we need to tackle a bit better next year. How we are going to do that… well, I’m still working on it.
However, by know we know that the creek access below the apartment block and arena areas is one of the busiest access routes which I would consider a good indication that this is the only access to the aforementioned areas. Based on this assumption we decided to deploy our loggers at the apartment block. Apart from the fact that the nests are reasonably accessible there, it would be pretty cool if we could provide Ida-san with some first-hand information on what the penguins they have been filming were up to out at sea.
But first I decided that we have a quick look up on Hilltop to see whether our logger bird might have returned to their nest without us noticing it. The climb up to the breeding area high above the sea was quite serene with a full moon rising into a starry clear sky. The view from our logger bird’s nest overlooking the Tasman Sea was spectacular. Unfortunately our bird must have been less interested in the fine views. She wasn’t there. Neither were her partner or chick.
We headed over to the apartment block. There was quite some noise, which was a good sign. Ursula peeked over the rocky ledge in front of the apartment and whispered “There are males and females with the chicks. Looking good.”
We had two loggers that were programmed to start recording at 4am tomorrow morning. We decided to fit the devices to a female and a male. If we managed to get data from both deployments we’d also have an indication if we can expect sex differences in foraging behaviour. Considering that females are principally the sole suppliers of food for their chick (at this stage anyhow) this could almost be expected. The males had fasted for more than four weeks during incubation and chick-guard, so there would be quite some catching up to do for them.
Ursula swiftly moved in and out and returned with a female on her arm that wasn’t too impressed with what was happening. She fought furiously packing at Ursula and trying to slap her with her flippers. And all that for less than 15 inconvenient minutes that involved weighing her (2900 grams, good weight compared to the other females we’ve handled which were all around 2500 grams) and attaching the epoxied i-gotUs.
When I attached the loggers to the bird’s back feathers I realised how small the GPS loggers actually were. There was hardly enough room to wrap three stripes of tape around them. So I made extra sure that every millimetre of tape stuck really well to the device. I don’t want to lose another one because it falls off. I also decided not to use rubber glue to seal the tape after the logger was neatly attached to the penguin’s lower back. The rubber glue helps to extend the period the device is going to stay on the bird. But considering the problems we have recapturing our Hilltop bird I think I’d rather have the device fall off in one or two weeks’ time than having the bird swim around with it for a month or so. And since we’ll have to recover the devices in the next week anyhow, there is no point for a rubber glue seal.
Once the attachment procedure was over, I crawled up to the nest sites, deployed a nest camera and grabbed what looked like the female’s neighbour, a male penguin. Boy, did he give me a beating! I mean, he had all the right to do so, but did he have to latch onto me with his beak and twist? He gave me a really good bruise that I can still feel while I’m sitting here writing this.
While I weighed the adult, Ursula released the female into her nest. The bird did not take any chances and fled into the cave where several chicks huddled together guarded by a bunch of adults that looked like they would much rather huddle up with the chicks than form a protective wall of penguins around them.
Attaching the device to the male went just as smoothly as with the female. While I was busy with wrapping the logger up with tape, I muttered to Ursula “You know what? I think this guy might actually be the mate of the female we just equipped.”
Ursula released the male penguin and we quickly retreated down to the film crew’s tent. Ursula checked her watch.
“It’s going to be a close call with the tide.”
It was already going on midnight. With high tide being just before 1am it would be difficult to climb around some of the bluffs to get back to the track to the car park. That we had a full moon would not help either.
We pushed through the kiekie and started the steep climb down the ropes to the beach. I was just about to lower myself down the last bit of rope when I heard a bark below me. I looked down and in the light of my head torch I spotted a female fur seal sitting just where I would come down. There was what looked like goo on the rocks next to her. She looked up at me turned to run away, but thought about it a second time and turned around and crept back towards the goo.
What was that? I focussed on the goo and only now noticed that the brown stains around it was blood. And half hidden beneath another rock I saw the small, wet behind of a much smaller fur seal. Or rather – a sea lion baby and the goo was the placenta! The female fur seal had just given birth to a pup!
“Oh shit, we gotta find another way! There is a new born fur seal down here. We don’t want to scare mum away.” I called up to Ursula.
We sidled along the muddy slip that was difficult enough to tackle with a rope. Here we had nothing to hold on to. I don’t know how but we made it down to the rocks about 50m to the right of the fur seal. We gave her a wide berth by climbing past her as far down the rocks as the tide would allow us.
Yes, the tide. By the time we had made our way around past the creek penguin access point the waves were almost crashing up to where the vegetation began. It did not look good for us getting out before tomorrow morning.
We did not. We managed to get to the first bluff. And that’s where we are now, sitting on the rocks, waiting for the tide to go down which is probably another two or three hours. Well, at least it’s not raining. In fact, I’m not sure if one could pick a better night to be bluffed by the tide that this one. And amazing full moon hangs above us turning the sea off Jackson Head into a silvery glittering expanse.
October 8, 2014 at 10:38 pm
I took a day off. My shoulder and my knee seem to have suffered from the logger bird recovery yesterday. So today I took it slow and sent out Hotte and Ursula to sit and wait for our remaining logger bird.
At 6pm a particularly nasty rain set in and I started to feel really bad for the two. The rain stopped briefly at 7pm but returned with a vengeance at a 7.15pm. And I did not stop until night fall.
The two of them returned around 9.30pm. Without logger. Only a few birds returned while they were crouching behind their rocks in the rain. Perhaps penguins don’t fancy rain?
I guess Ursula and Hotte would not blame them.
As a small compensation for their suffering, the rain stopped after they returned to Neil’s Beach and through a few holes in the fast moving clouds we could see the full moon as it turned brownish-red just before midnight when it passed through the earth’s shadow in a full lunar eclipse.
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.