This blog was written by Caroline Bost, Te Papa Intern on the little penguin project, with help from volunteers Blandine Jurie and Yukiko Shimada for text and images:
Here is a bit of news about our first fieldwork week on Motuara Island. Motuara Island is an island located in the Queen Charlotte Sound (New Zealand), at the top of the South Island; in front of the Ship Cove. It’s a nature reserve, with a high diversity of native birds, both naturally occurring and trans-located. A lot of scientists come in this island to study several species of birds. Lots of native birds are breeding on Motuara: robins, saddlebacks, fluttering shearwater and little blue penguins. . And sometimes, if you are lucky, you can see kiwis! (at this point we can’t see them but are quiet sure to hear at least one around our tent !!).
To get there we took a small boat from Picton, on the way to Motuara it’s possible to see a large part of Marlborough Sounds wildlife: dolphins, Australasian gannets, new Zealand fur seals, king shag, white fronted terns, little shag and little penguin swimming around the boat …
After packing all our food and all the equipment necessary to this study –with the help of the Picton DOC- we took a tourist boat to reach the island. We arrived on Tuesday 28th of October. Here the team for the first couple of days: (Blandine Jurie, Caroline Bost and Patrick Chevalier).
The objective of our expedition, led by Caroline Bost (Te Papa intern) and Dr Susan Waugh (Te Papa’s Senior Curator, Sciences) is to compare the behaviour of the blue penguins of the Wellington Harbour and the ones of Motuara Island. Most of the monitored penguins are breeding in nest boxes. Part of our work is to monitor the nest boxes every day to observe the activity of adult penguins, to see when they leave the island to go to sea, and how often they feed their chicks.
The first afternoon we tried to find all the blue penguins’ nest boxes. Caroline recorded about 10 nests for the study. So the first night we went to all the boxes and worked on 3 penguins. They were very easy to work with. The scientific data we recorded were the same for each penguin: weight, bill size, blood sample. Caroline also fixes a logger on the selected penguins. The loggers will help her to know where the penguins go to find some food for themselves and for their chicks.
The second day –Wednesday 29th – we explored the island trying to find more nest suitable for the study. And the night we worked with 3 other penguins – among them, the partner of one logged the night before.
The third night –Thursday 30th – we didn’t manage to catch other partners but we found the way that the penguins use up from the beach reached the nest.
At the moment we know that one of the penguin, with two small chicks went about 80 km north of Motuara Island (see image above). When it came back to feed the chick it had put on 150g of weight.For the 5 others that are being tracked, Caroline needs to get back the logger to see what they did.
At the moment we deploy loggers on penguins incubating (staying on the egg for 5 to 7 days) or feeding small chicks. Little penguin are not synchronised breeders (i.e. they lay their eggs over an extended period, so that within one population not all chicks hatch at the same time) so that at the moment we have some penguin still incubating, some on small chicks and also some on big chicks. We also observed the first at sea departure of a just-fledged juvenile. Chicks normally stay in the nest with at least one adult for 2 weeks. After this “guard period” the chicks are left alone during the day. Both adult are needed to catch enough fish to feed the chicks. At least one adult comes back to the nest every night to feed the chicks and spend the night ashore.
At the top of the island you get a point of view on all the queen charlotte sounds when nice weather.
So that’s how our days and night look: Because penguin are mostly active during the night we also try to become nocturnal and spend most of the evening on the way between the beach and nest-boxes. We try to catch penguin with logger on the way back between sea and nest to avoid disturbance of the nest/partner/chicks and also to get the information about the gain of weight during the at-sea trip. During the day we sleep, prepare the loggers and also check the boxes for possible departure/arrival during early morning for example. We also enjoy the nice weather with swimming in the water off the beach.
We are really happy, because we found some very funny flatmates: two robins. They are really curious and tried to eat all our toasts as you can see on the photo:
After a quick pause in Picton to recharge loggers and buy fresh food we are heading back to Motuara for at least 12 days. Our goal for the coming days is to retrieve all the previously deployed loggers and try to deploy some others on adults feeding small and medium-sized chicks.