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January 27, 2012 — South Island
PART 2: The Penguin Place Conservation Reserve
Next on the agenda after a great morning viewing albatross and rare cormorants, we visited the Penguin Place Conservation Reserve. This is a private organization dedicated to helping the endemic and endangered Yellow-eyed Penguin (Megadyptes antipodes). It is just a few miles from the Royal Albatross Center and reservations are required for the small group tours that are offered.
After an orientation session informing us of the natural history and plight of the the Yellow-eyed Penguins, we were allowed to enter the trenches and viewing blinds to observe the penguins at close range. Unfortunately there were no adults in the trenches but there were a few young birds behind the glass. The adults were apparently out to sea in search of food.
We found better views of the young penguins in the shelters along the headland trail after leaving the trenches.
Along the headland trail was a pond with a beautiful pair of Paradise Shellducks a common endemic. This is an extreme example of sexual dimorphism, as well as the male being the less showy of the pair.
As we walked along the trail there were some unoccupied nesting shelters but as I passed very near to one, I noticed a face peering out at me. When I called the guide back to the box, she informed us that this was an unusual sighting. In fact they were not aware that the world’s smallest penguin, the Blue Penguin, was using one of the boxes! She more or less rushed us away from the box so as not to disturb the bird. While not endemic to New Zealand, this tiny penguin is only found in waters around Australia and New Zealand. Another lifer for us!
As we reached the ocean overlook, we watched as a single adult Yellow-eyed Penguin exited the sea and walked toward the grassy areas where the young were being raised. It was, no doubt, bringing dinner back to a waiting young penguin.
We were also fortunate to see a few New Zealand Sea Lions basking on the beach. New Zealand Sea Lions or Hooker’s Sea Lions (Phocarctos hookeri), are in decline and are considered the most threatened in the world. Another depressing fact that casts a pall on the excitement of viewing a new species.
On our drive back around the Otago Peninsula back to the ship (and it was kind of a hair-raising ride because the drive was longer than we remembered and the ship was getting ready to depart!), we saw large congregations of the common and beautiful Red-billed Gull.
Then we passed some beautiful Royal Spoonbills.
And finally there was the uncommon endemic a Variable Oystercatcher.
As the ship prepared to depart from the dock of Port Chalmers, we were treated to a bagpipe send-off serenade, apparently a tradition for all cruise ships leaving this port.
This, as it turned out, was our last stop in New Zealand thanks to a series of storms in the Tasmin Sea which were to prevent us from sailing around the tip of South Island to the Fjorlands. We were very disappointed with this turn of events and had to sail all the way back up the east coast of South Island through the Cook Strait and then back down to Tasmania. In doing so we were shipbound for three days with 45 foot swells and 90 mph winds. The Diamond Princess handled it well.
One last look at Taiaroa Head and the Royal Albatrosses as we departed Port Chalmers and headed out to the stormy sea.Birds, Mammals, Marine Life, Nature, New Zealand, Rare Birds, Wanderings