Motuara Little Penguin research – edition 2

Work continues at Motuara Island on the little penguin foraging behaviour. The nesting penguins are mainly on chicks at this stage of the breeding cycle, although some birds have re-nested and are now incubating new eggs. Caroline Bost, the French intern working with Te Papa this summer, has been stationed out on Motuara Island in Marlborough Sounds for most of the last 3 weeks, and with a series of volunteers has completed several GPS deployments on the birds. As they’re mainly nocturnal, this requires switching the body-clock to night-time activity, and birds come ashore to visit their nests after dusk and leave to go back to sea before dawn. We’ve had a tremendous level of support from all the Picton folks who have provided Quarantine for the fieldworks (DOC), accommodation and free transport (Tombstone Backpackers), and help getting our fieldies to and from the site (Dolphin Watch and the Cougar Line).

As with any new tracking study, some surprises were in-store for us about the variability of foraging activity and the distance travelled by birds. The track of an chick-rearing stage bird shown below shows the detailed data gathered by GPS loggers, with the many twists and turns of the penguins’ track visible along the path it took. This bird stayed mainly within Queen Charlotte Sound.

 

This Little Penguin is incubating eggs with its mate and carried out a foraging trip from Motuara Island mainly with in Queen Charlotte Sound. Image GoogleEarth, Copyright Te Papa.

This Little Penguin is rearing chicks with its mate and carried out a foraging trip from Motuara Island mainly with in Queen Charlotte Sound. Image GoogleEarth, Copyright Te Papa.

However, we continue to be amazed at how far the little penguins are going during incubation. Below is a track of a bird with eggs at its nests. While the partner looked after the eggs, this bird went right up to the north of Golden Bay to feed.

This Little Penguin from Motuara Island carried out a very far-ranging track from its nests where its partner was incubating eggs. This bird went the furthest yet recorded for the study birds at Motuara Island.

This Little Penguin from Motuara Island carried out a very far-ranging track from its nests where its partner was incubating eggs. This bird went the furthest yet recorded for the study birds at Motuara Island.

We have another few days of work at Motuara Island to get back all the loggers put out, and then we’ll be starting back looking at the behaviour of birds in Wellington Harbour again.

Little penguin information – NZ Birds Online

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