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.
October 6, 2014 at 11:34 pm
We woke up to blue skies and sunshine. A welcome change to yesterday’s downpour. However, it blows a howling south-westerly which throws enormous seas at Neil’s Beach – and no doubt at Jackson Head. With high tide being smack-bang in the middle of the morning, there’s nothing for us to do until later in the afternoon. That’s fine as we’ll have to try to get our logger birds back this afternoon and evening.
So a bit of recreation was in order. Recreation which allowed us to stock up on our bread supplies and to check emails for a change. Since Haast alone has very little else to offer, we decided to take a wee trip to Monro Beach some 80 km North of here and have a look at the dramatic scenery of huge waves crashing over the rock stacks.
The actual sights far surpassed my expectations. The surf not only crashed over the rock stacks, it all but drowned them. All that illuminated by sunlight in front of a backdrop of dark grey clouds over the horizon… it was the perfect motif for an impressionistic painting.
How the penguins would fare in these conditions was beyond me. And just looking at the horizon I could see that even way out there the waves were breaking creating truly nasty conditions. If I were a penguin, I would not bother with staying at the surface longer than necessary. A breather and I would head back down into depths where the water was less behaving like a washing machine.
Of course, that idea might have some relevance for our logger data. The shorter the penguins stay at the surface, the less likely it is for the logger to store a fix. And the longer it takes the logger to calculate its position, the more likely it is going to fall back into cold mode. And in cold mode, the logger would need two minutes or more to determine its position. No chance that the penguins would stay that long at the surface in these conditions.
In other words, I was beginning to wonder if our i-gotUs would be able to collect any data in stormy seas such as these ones. So while we had plans to deploy our remaining three loggers tonight, just looking at the seas made me realise that it would not only be unfair for the penguins (who wants to carry a backpack through this mess?) but also pointless if we would expect the devices to not function correctly. So we’ll wait until it’s calmer again.
A purchase of several loafs of bread and checked emails later, we were back at Neil’s Beach with Ursula and I gearing up for a long night out at the Hilltop penguins’ main beach access while Hotte remained in the house to hold to fort. High tide was still three hours away and the waves hitting Jackson Head were pretty rough but we had no problems making our way to our designated lookout.
At first not a lot happened. So I took the chance to hike up to the Hilltop and have a look at our logger nests and get the SD cards from the cameras that monitored both nests with 1 minute time lapse imagery. JH06 was… empty. No adult, no chick. Oh dear. JH13? Also empty. Oh no. Had we picked exactly the last night of the guard-stage to deploy our loggers?
I headed back down the hill and joined Ursula. We spread out over the rocks to cover more potential access points. It got darker but the nearly full moon illuminated the rocky shore in a way that we could see penguins coming up without the help of our infrared scope or our LED head torches. We sat and waited and shivered until midnight. We spotted around 20 penguins none of which carried a logger on their backs. We were cold and tired and disappointed. And we decided to head back.
We arrived back at Neil’s Beach just after 1am. Before jumping in the shower I had to take a look at the camera data.
At JH06 it seemed as if the female with the logger vanished from the nest shortly after we had released her. She then reappears just after 3am to head downhill her mate in tow just 5 minutes later. The male later returned and spent the first half of the day yesterday with the chick at the nest. The chick then disappears downhill – and has not returned to the nest since. The male popped into the nest off and on, but never hung around for long.
The second logger bird at nest JH13 on the other hand, stayed at the nest with mate and chick all night obviously not having the whole logger attachment procedure too hard – she slept through most of the night. At 5.23am both our logger bird and her mate left the nest and chick behind. At 7.56am the chick disappears from the nest after having been busy wandering around for the past couple of hours. Since then the nest was left empty with the exceptions of a few short visits by an adult tawaki which I’m not sure was any of the original nest occupants.
It seems we deployed both loggers on birds that have entered post-guard stage. This means that we will have very little chance to recover the devices at the nest sites. The chicks can wander around and crèche up with other chicks somewhere in the kiekie. Although it is believed that chicks generally return to their nest at night to wait for their parents to return and feed them, our camera data suggests otherwise.
Before we deploy any more loggers we need to establish how likely it is to get the devices back at this stage of breeding. Could be that our new batch of loggers have arrived too late. Sending another small curse about the non-delivery of our GPS dive loggers in time for the fieldwork, I fell asleep.
October 5, 2014 at 5:40 pm
I hate it when the weather forecast is right about heavy rain. But they hit the nail on the head when they predicted 200-250mm for the West Coast on the news yesterday. It does not rain, it pours. Rain lashes the windows and drums on the roof of our Neil’s Beach retreat. It does not look as if we’re going to do anything out on the Heads today. We’re boxed in left to pursue rare moments of boredom or, alternatively, continue analysing our Bushnell time lapse data which isn’t that much more exciting either.
Talking about boxed in… Hotte finished casting the remaining three i-gotUs in epoxy. Once they’re dry and sanded into a more hydrodynamic shape they are good to go on three more candidates.
Just not in this weather.
October 4, 2014 at 11:59 pm
A beautiful bit ice-cold day on the West Coast today. In a way the weather was a perfect match for our final attempt to recover our logger bird.
We went in this morning to check the two track cameras observing the penguin landing and the logger nest. As on the previous days the nest was empty. However, when I looked at the camera data after we returned to Neil’s Beach in the afternoon it dawned on me that we had to accept defeat.
Our logger bird had returned to its nest in the night of the 2 September. And unfortunately it looked as if our logger was about to fall off, dangling only on the last couple of trips of tape. The bird left again in the early hours of yesterday and returned again to its nest about two hours before I arrived for my midnight stroll to the Plaza. Obviously the bird had buggered off again before I arrived. However, more importantly, the time lapse footage showed that the penguin had returned without logger. A few ruffled feathers on its back were the final indication that the penguin had been wearing a data logger for a short while.
Why the logger fell off so quickly is a bit of a worry. Usually the attachment method with tape and rubber glue holds for two to three weeks. I guess the cold and wet conditions when we fitted the device all contributed to the fact that the tape did not stick that well. With the bird fleeing the scene probably heading straight into the ocean certainly would not have helped the tape to warm up and stick better to the penguin’s plumage. In the end I guess the device slipped clean off.
However, it’s a real comfort to know my initial worries that we might have caused the female to abandon her mate and chick proved to be unfounded. She did what a good mother does – return to feed her chick. Which means that we have now handled a total of four Fiordland penguins without obvious long-term negative effect for the birds and their offspring. Considering that this was a major concern when we applied for research funding, this is good news.
And now that we have five more i-gotUs available, it makes it a bit easier to accept that we have lost a device.
We used the later afternoon and evening to prepare two i-gotUs for deployment. Rather than taking any chances again by wrapping our devices into condoms to waterproof them, we used epoxy resin to water proof the device casings. In fact, we removed the electronics from one device completely and cast it in Epoxy which we poured in a moult I had fashioned out of Dukit polymer clay. Unfortunately the moult did not survive when we tried to get the GPS logger out, but at least now we have a device which is completely sealed off from any water penetration.
Then we waited. To ensure that we would encounter females for logger deployment, we decided to wait until 10pm before we headed out to the Head. Which Ursula and I did while Hotte held the Fort.
Beneath a clear starry sky, we arrived at the bottom of our rope ascent shortly after 11pm. I decided to give the Plaza penguins a bit of a break and instead pay a visit to our birds up at Hilltop. This also meant that we had a considerable climb to complete. In darkness no mean feat.
We were lucky. We fitted the first device to the female of our camera nest JH06. And we encountered a second female a few metres above that nest and deployed our last i-gotU of the day. Well, actually, by the time we realised the second bird, the new day was three quarters of an hour old already. We made it back to Neil’s Beach just before 2am.
So here we are, moving on with logger deployments #5 and #6.
October 3, 2014 at 9:21 pm
The logger bird fooled us. Or perhaps its mate fooled us. I guess both of them fooled us good.
We headed out to the Head after breakfast to finish the camera run we’d started yesterday. One of the sites we changed SD cards was out at Popi’s Plaza, where image data hopefully gives us new intel on the fate of our logger bird.
Overnight a southerly had arrived bringing with it not only icy temperatures straight out of Antarctica but also quite impressive seas. Even though we scrambled along the rocks just around low tide, some waves crashed precariously close to where we were walking. It took me all the way to the penguin sites to get warm.
So in essence it was a quick-in-quick-out job. We were back in Neil’s Beach in the early afternoon where we spent the rest of the day keeping the fire going and reviewing our camera images.
First of all, I had a look at our beach camera which faces the rock the penguin use to get up into the bush after they landed. The angle of the camera is perfect with lots of upward traffic recorded between 5pm and 10pm on the two nights we had the device out. Interestingly, the majority of the penguins left between 4am and 5am, so about two hours before sunrise. More and more Fiordland penguins remind me of Little penguins with their nocturnal commuting habits.
However, most importantly no trace of our logger bird on any of the images. That is, on those images where we could actually see the penguin quite clearly. Last night, however, when it was raining hard, penguins appeared like ghostly, blurred figures. However, I was fairly confident that our logger bird did not go up there.
In the evening Ursula arrived with five desperately need new i-gotU loggers. Finally we can continue the main purpose of our study – to track Tawaki. A bit of good news after several days of disappointments.
I was ready to go to bed when I remembered that I hadn’t had a look at our logger bird nest’s camera footage. Quickly I clicked through the images… until my jaw dropped to the floor in disbelief.
The logger bird returned to its nest late on 30 September! Just shortly before midnight! It appears in the frame, has a frantic greeting concerto with its mate and enters its nest site to feed its chick which also had returned to celebrate the occasion.
To think that we spent 5 hours at the beach waiting for the bird to return only to give up after the steady trickle of birds emerging from the sea and heading up the hill stopped around 9pm. We were cold and frustrated and gave up that night. Yet two hours after our departure she returned.
So she was pretty successfully at making us belief she was someone else, an unrelated bird we accidentally fitted logger to. And her mate was even more convincing having tete-a-tetes with other penguins while his mate was out searching for food for their chick.
All the image data I had reviewed, all the theories and explanations I came up with. All out of the window. Everything is as it should be, really. No trace of the logger bird the following two nights. But a bird without a logger spent a few hours with our male again. Could it be that he has a couple of concubines?
More importantly, if the logger bird had not returned the last two nights, it seemed more than likely that it would be back tonight. So I geared up, grabbed the basic tools and headed out to the heads for a quick midnight stroll to the Plaza.
It took me less than half an hour from Neil’s Beach to the logger nest. And lo and behold… a lone male penguin occupied the nest with the chick snoozing in a mini-crèche in the neighbouring burrow. Doh!
October 1, 2014 at 7:15 pm
Yes, the weather is packing in. It started with clouds slowly creeping up on us from the South. And towards the end of our camera run taking us to all our Jackson Head West sites drizzle set in.
We got the SD cards from most our cameras and removed the Bushnell from JH07 which had failed a few days ago. A sad father was sitting on a now empty nest. I could not find the carcass of the chick anywhere. Maybe a possum did a bit of a clean-up job? But then again, penguin chicks – dead or alive – have the habit of vanishing from one day to the next.
I re-set the camera to take pictures at 1 minute intervals looking up towards the penguins’ entry point into the bush down at our logger site. Let’s see if that sheds some light on the whereabouts of our non-breeding (D’oh!!!!) logger bird.
When the rain set in late afternoon we were back at Neil’s Beach.