On this day, we began our "ecotourism" excursions. One of the first things that becomes obvious, if you didn't know it before, is that New Zealand has no native land mammals. The land mammals that are there have been imported by people, beginning with the Maori some 800 years ago. Europeans continued this tradition.
However, the country is loaded with very interesting and often unique native birds. Dunedin is located at the base of the Otago Peninsula, which is home to a number of bird colonies. Craig was itching to get us out to see Little Blue Penguins, the Royal Albatross colony and the Yellow Eyed Penguin colony. So off we went. . .
The Royal Albatross, is a large seabird from the albatross family. At an average wingspan of almost 3 m (10 ft), a length of 123 cm (49 in) and a weight of 8.5 kg (18.8 lbs), it is the second largest albatross , behind the Wandering Albatross.
[from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Southern_Royal_Albatross ]
The Royal Albatross Colony at Taiaroa Head, on the tip of the Otago Peninsula, New Zealand, is the only mainland breeding colony for any albatross species found in the southern hemisphere.
Beneath the peaceful nature reserve lie the tunnels of Fort Taiaroa, established over 100 years ago to counter the anticipated threat of invasion from Tsarist Russia. Visitors here are very fortunate to be able to view the only working-order Armstrong Disappearing Gun (1886) of its type left in the world.
[from http://www.albatross.org.nz/ ]
Apparently, the albatross colony did not exist prior to the installation of the "disappearing gun." This altered the landscape in such a way that it became atractive to the birds and they started to nest there.
These birds are very impressive.
Albatross flying with seagull. This gives an idea of the real size as these two were pretty close together and you know how big a seagull is.
These penguins only live in New Zealand and they are rare, having a total population of about 4000-5000. They originally nested in the coastal forest, but their distribution is now restricted to forest remnants and coastal shrubs after extensive logging during the last 150 years.
Some Yellow-eyed Penguin
Height: 60-70 cm
Weight: 5-6 kg
Distance travelled to feed:
up to 30 km/day
Known to dive up to 100 m deep
Also of note is the fact that this colony is located on a private farm. The owners have taken on the responsibility of reforesting the land and encouraging the penguin colony to thrive. Naturally this costs money, so they operate the tours and the proceeds are used to fund the project (besides, given its popularity, I imagine the income from "ecotourism" is probably a significant part of the farm's income!). Another website.
This is all part of the reserve area. The penguins go fishing off this beach and make their way up the sand, over the dunes, into the grassy area, and up along the surrounding hills. I was told they make nests up to 1/2 km away from the water. Considering the size of these guys and their short little legs, and the fact that they go fishing every day - that's quite amazing!
Here are a couple of penguins swimming on top of a little pond. From a distance they look like ducks so we were surprised when we realized they were actually penguins. I guess we are so used to seeing pix of them swimming under water, we didn't consider that they would just loaf around on top of the water too.
These two are already quite a way up from the beach and they just kept climbing up the hill to their nesting boxes. Putting one foot in front of the other is how they did it!
This is where we could walk at the reserve (the tour was guided, so our movements were quite controlled). In some places they erected blinds so the penguins could not see us. The blinds allowed the birds to be relatively undisturbed and allowed us to get up quite close. The green cylinders are protecting newly planted trees from rabbits.
In the centre of this pix you can see a couple of triangular shapes - these are the nesting boxes. Apparently yellow-eyed penguins would normally nest in the bush, but since the trees were all cut down, there isn't any. The area is being replanted (green cylinders), but until the forest is restored, the nesting boxes have been provided as a proxy.
New Zealand Fur Seal. If they are hungry, these guys might consider a penquin lunch.
The Pukeko, or New Zealand Swamp Hen, is a member of the rail family, and is similar to other species found all over the world. It is one of the few New Zealand native birds to have flourished since the arrival of man, and can be found in almost any grassland area, especially in swampy locations. Groups will often be seen foraging for food in road-side areas.
With their bright blue plumage and red beaks, they easily stand out against the New Zealand greenery, particularly when their white tail feathers begin flashing in alarm. Just why they have struck a chord with the Kiwi psyche is hard to say, but you'll find their images on all manner of art and craft works. Ask any visitor to New Zealand what bird they remember most, and they will more than likely answer, "The Pukeko!"