Eggs-raying to check for fertility
Ok, enough with the bad news. Here is something to celebrate: the Yellow-eyed penguins in our colonies had their eggs candled - or egg-rayed as some like to put it. We shine a light from a torch through the eggs in a black box to see if they are fertile. It is very close to hatching and we are able to predict now which eggs will not hatch. It turns out this season it is likely to be very few. The fertility rate was 91% - and that included the three eggs that were abandoned because the mothers failed to return to relieve their mates. We tucked them under other pairs who sit - uncomfortably but graciously - on three eggs until we can rearrange them so that no one ends up with more than 2 chicks and they are the same size and age. Bless them all and their fertility. Lets keep all fingers and toes crossed for successful hatching and surviving the first crucial 2 weeks.
Theft at the penguin colony
This is our donation box that is at the entrance to our Yellow-eyed penguin colony at Moeraki, North Otago. We just had a three day weekend with Labour Day on Monday and many, many people came to visit this colony. There is no charge and most people come and enjoy the place and its creatures and give nothing back. On Saturday our donation box was broken into and the money is gone. Fortunately they can't have got much as we had just emptied it on Friday - but here are people vandalising this place again. Last year we estimate we had 50,000 visitors and they left $7000 in donations - that is $0.15 per person - that is what people thought on average their experience here was worth. Some people leave $20 but that means most people donate nothing at all.
Tragedy has befallen our Yellow-eyed penguin colony: we lost a (likely) fertile egg and we believe it was stolen as this was the only nest directly accessible to visitors. Something similar happened last year as well and there is nothing we can do: the landowners tolerate 50,000 unsupervised visitors within close proximity of this penguin every year and visitors are here daily for 12 hours. The egg was there on Tuesday and on Friday it was gone (and no sign that it rolled out of the nest, the parents were experienced). Now the second egg is gone too - to a new home. We were not going to risk its life - the parents have the summer off. If only we could explain to them what happened and that they need to find somewhere safe to nest.
What we want to know is how is this ok? Where is the due care from those in charge of our endangered birds?
Who is missing?
We are still searching our colonies of Yellow-eyed penguins and checking the nests. We are not expecting to find new nests unless they are in weird places (hope springs eternal). Now we are trying to work out who is missing by identifying the penguins still alive. This is not easy because they tend to run away when you approach them unless they are sitting on a nest. We will persevere and hope to find them in a box so we can read their transponder number. So far we have found only non-breeding males - which is to be expected. One of our colonies had 8 sitting round during the day. Their hope springs eternal as well. Maybe next year.....
Not sure who these two in the picture are. They came home after fishing and sat in the evening sun. In the background you can see some of our 17 "girls" - our mobile mowing machines courtesy of our neighbour farmer! We love them and thank you!
It is the middle of October and the Yellow-eyed penguins will have finished laying eggs. We have been busy finding nests and identifying the adults. It is not looking good. We have lost many penguins through the winter and the ones that returned to breed had to find new mates. There has been much rearranging of pairing and a number of males (sex bias in the population - never enough females) will be sitting out the season either because their mate has not returned or their mate ran off with the neighbour who has lost their mate. We are heart-broken because we feel we have done everything in our power to look after these birds in our patch, and despite our best efforts so many have perished. (and no, they haven't emigrated to another colony - this is extremely rare and cannot account for what we have found this season). This species is in deep trouble and all resources have to be poured into looking after them or we loose Yellow-eyed penguins from South Island, New Zealand.
List of things to do when you are a Yellow-eyed penguin at the start of breeding season: "gone fishing - tick; got mate - tick; got eggs - tick; now must rush home and sit on them". This guy was all business coming across the beach and heading to his nest. His mate will be pleased to see him and it will be her turn to go fishing tomorrow after they spend the night together at the nest with him on the eggs. He will be keen to get started on the incubation.
If you look hard enough you can see that he has a black feather more or less in the middle of his chest - it is an individual marking that stays year after year. These black feather are rarer in Yellow-eyeds than in other species and can be used for id if they should loose their chip!