Thursday, September 15, 2011

Flea Bay Penguin Wrestling

The other day we were asked by Alan Clark, a professor from the US, to help out on his penguin research project near Christchurch, at a place called Flea Bay. We jumped at this opportunity, as Sandra has never seen a Blue Penguin up close, and I wanted to see Flea Bay, a renowned penguin colony. The Blue Penguin, Eudyptula minor, is variably named the Little Penguin, the Blue Penguin, the Little Blue Penguin, the Fairy Penguin, and the White-flippered Penguin. The species occurs along the coasts of New Zealand and South Australia.

The name White-flippered Penguin specifically refers to the albosignata race, which is deemed a distinct species by some authors, is endangered, and occurs only along the east coast of the South Island, from Christchurch to the Otago Peninsula near Dunedin. Flea bay has the largest colony of White-flippered Penguins in the world! Now maybe you can see why I was keen to go down there.

Alan's project involved catching, weighing, measuring, plucking feathers for DNA anaylsis, and photographing the flippers. His research aims to assess the links between morphology, plumage colouration, and genetic structure. We were only there for one day, but the sun shone and we were able to open up boxes in which the penguins lay their eggs. Fortunately for us, the pairs were home in their boxes, which meant we could get to them easily and didn't have to chase them in the dark or swim out to net them! In all we processed 35 birds, which was all Alan's permit allowed for. They bite, they bash you with their flippers, and they kick, but I bear them no ill will - I'd do the same if someone turned on the lights, woke me up, grabbed me by the back of the neck, and pulled out some of my feathers!!!

Me with a Blue Penguin

We also spied this much larger bird, the Yellow-eyed Penguin, as it just climbed out of the water onto the rocks.

Yellow-eyed Penguin (Sandra's photo)

Flea bay, as seen from the road in.

Snow had fallen on the hill-tops by the time we left the bay. In the background is Akaroa Harbour, site of the oldest colonial settlement on the South Island, and the only french settlement in New Zealand.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

'course you don't get bloody wafers with it!

Sandra and I were lucky enough to go out on a pelagic trip off the famous Kaikoura Peninsula, on the east coast of the South Island north of Christchurch. There, no more than a few kilometres offshore, the Kaikoura canyon drops down to over 1,000m deep The steep shelf results in an nutrient rich upwelling of cold antarctic water. The area is mostly known as a whale watching site, but where the whales feed, so do the fish and the seabirds. Albatross Encounters has been operating pelagic trips for many years now, and at times see upwards of 12 albatross species in one trip, more than anywhere else on earth!

We went out for only 2.5 hours this weekend, and were treated to some amazing views of these magical ocean wanderers.

Black-browed Albatross (Thalassarche melanophrys)

Gibson's Albatross (Diomedea gibsoni)

And now for something completely different...

Northern Royal Albatross (Diomedea sanfordi)

Salvin's Albatross (Thalassarche salvini)

White-capped Albatross (Thalassarche steadi)

Northern Giant Petrel (Macronectes halli)

Hutton's Shearwater (Puffinus huttoni)

Cape Petrel (Daption capense)

Spotted Shags (Phalacrocorax punctatus)

New Zealand Fur Seals

Sunday, September 4, 2011

The decline of Africa's vultures

Africa's vultures are in a precipitous decline. If there is a lesson to be learned from south Asia, we must stop the decline before the vultures disappear completely.