(click on a photo to enlarge)
January 27, 2012 — PART 1: Port Chalmers, South Island
Another port, another rental car, a beautiful morning. Little did we know this would be our last good weather day for quite some time.
We much prefer going off on our own as opposed to taking tours offered by cruise ships and today was no exception. Our itinerary consisted of two main stops on the Otago Peninsula — the Royal Albatross Center at Taiaroa Head and the Penguin Place Conservation Reserve. Both of these places were within easy driving distance from the dock at Port Chalmers which is the port for Dunedin, New Zealand’s third largest city.
The Royal Albatross Center is located on Taiaroa Head, a bluff looking out over Blueskin Bay and the South Pacific Ocean. It is the only mainland landmass where one can find nesting albatross. The first Royal Albatross nest was found here in 1920 but it wasn’t until 8 years later that an egg successfully hatched. In the 1950’s dedicated protection of the area was begun and since that time, it has become a continuously successful nesting colony thanks to intensive management to control both predators and human disturbance. To minimize disturbance, the colony is accessibly only in small guided tours up to an observatory where both nests and birds can be observed. For photographers, this is not the ideal situation since all photos have to be taken from behind window glass. Nevertheless, we were glad to have such close access to this amazing species.
After listening to a presentation about the Royal Albatross (wingspan up to 9.5 feet!), we walked up the hill to the observation building. From the windows we could see some of the nesting Royals as well as flying adults.
A few interesting facts about the Royal Albatross:
In September adult albatross begin arriving and re-establish their pair bonds (they mate for life unless tragedy strikes). By November nests are constructed and a single egg is laid. During December and January parents share incubation duties over the 11 weeks it takes for the egg to hatch which could be as early as the end of January. The non-incubating mate flies out to sea to feed. Their preferred food is squid. Most chicks hatch in February. It takes about 3 days for the chick to emerge from the shell!
In March parents share “guard duty,” taking turns feeding or sitting on the chick for the first 30 – 40 days. April brings the parents more freedom as they can now leave the chick alone in the nest and return every 2 – 4 days to feed them. Rearing continues through July. By September the chicks are fledged. They fly out to sea and following the pattern of all albatross species, they are at sea for 4-6 years before they return to land to breed. The parents spend a year at sea before they return to land to breed.
Along the bluffs of Taiaroa Head were some cormorant colonies one of which was the endemic and endangered Bronze or Stewart Island Shag (Phalacrocorax chalconotus). Generations of birds have built up pillar-shaped nests. We could observe the colony through the Royal Albatross Center windows and later that day as we sailed by. Stewart Island Shags only nest on South Island from the upper Otago Peninsula to the Fjordlands and the offshore Stewart Island. They are very sensitive to human disturbance and were not having a particularly good year at Taiaroa. Also on the bluffs in another area was a nesting colony of Spotted Shag (Phalacrocorax punctatus).
Next adventure: The “Penguin Place Conservation Center.”Published by Arlene Ripley on July 22nd, 2012 Tagged Nature