Our little penguin research continues this year as the team returned to Motuara Island in Marlborough (see the 2014 Te Papa penguin blogs for more about last year’s research). The penguins nesting at this site benefit from a predator free nesting habitat, shared with a number of land- and sea-birds. As one of the sites open to tourists, it’s visited each year by thousands of sightseers, who make the trek to the top of the island to see the views that Captain James Cook’s crew took in, as well as to see the local birdlife.
From Motuara to Taranaki – penguins swim up to 170km
During the incubation period in September and October 2015, Te Papa seabird researcher Tim Poupart deployed miniature GPS loggers on the nesting penguins. Their trips were a great surprise, with most birds travelling north of the Marborough area to the waters offshore from Taranaki. Taking between 5 and 15 days away from the nest during the incubation period, adult penguins alternate their shifts so that one birds stays to keep the eggs safe and warm, while the other is at sea feeding.
Many of the birds tracked went to similar locations to the one shown on the map below, while a few stayed near to Motuara Island during their trips at sea.
As the smallest of all penguins, little penguins need to protect themselves from predators, and are nocturnal in their habits. Most of the penguins arrive at the island between dusk and midnight. However, this strategy doesn’t always work, as we found out to our surprise! Two penguins were killed and eaten by a falcon during our study in October.
Shearwaters in residence
Aside from penguins at the site, there are other seabirds that we’ve encountered in our prospecting for penguins in their burrows. We use a burrowscope to reduce disturbance of birds in their nests, which allows us a quick visual inspection and to identify the species and their activities. This trip we found sooty shearwaters and fluttering shearwaters in residence. The sooty shearwater was seen in its nest on 5-6 October, along with its mate and a freshly laid egg.
El Nino effect
Our work is continuing until mid November 2015, when we hope to have tracked a sample of birds during the chick rearing phase. As this year has a strong El Nino weather pattern, we are expecting the penguins to have to work hard for their food, and they will probably travel further than the birds we tracked in 2014, when weather conditions were more favourable.
We’re very grateful to the wonderful community in Picton who help us out in lots of ways, including the hosts at Tombstone Backpackers, The Cougar Line, and Eko-Tours. The folks at DOC, both those working on Motuara Island and those at the Picton field centre, are a great help and source of information for our teams. Thank you all!