In this newsletter: Census News | Penguinville is Back | Kerry-Jayne's Antarctic Expedition | GPS Tracking Trial a Success | Education Project Update | scroll down to read these articles and more
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December Newsletter

The West Coast Blue Penguin Trust quarterly newsletter summer edition 2013
Leon Dalziel recording data at Motokiekie Rocks.
Caelan Nichol helps record penguin prints at Siberia Bay near Westport.

Census News

Census results suggest Blue Penguin numbers are declining

Blue penguin numbers seem to be declining on the West Coast according to the results of the eighth annual survey.  Where the same stretches of beach have been surveyed in both 2012 and 2013, penguin tracks counted were down from 397 to 338 this year. Weeks of stormy weather led to a worse than average season for penguins in 2011, and a lower penguin count in that year.

A total of 52 volunteers enjoyed an early morning walk on beaches from Haast to Karamea in September, looking for penguin footprints and taking note of any other points of interest. The results provide information about the scattered penguin populations on the West Coast, and some of the threats they face.

Erosion is one of the main factors effecting nesting habitat for penguins. On-going sea erosion was a problem for nesting birds in the Salt Water lagoon area, said volunteer Bill Johnson.  In the Nine Mile Beach area near Rapahoe, erosion has been so bad penguins have moved from their traditional spot and are now nesting among rocks further along the bay.

Roaming dogs are also a problem for penguins. Barrytown volunteers Kevin and Brenda Kaye said unsupervised dogs were seen wandering about near penguin burrows. In the Buller area one of the worst problems faced by penguins are roaming dogs, with sightings frequently reported by volunteers.  

Highway deaths remain the single largest threat to blue penguins on the West Coast however. There were three road deaths on the Coast Road during census week reported by local volunteer Fiona McDonald of Fox River, bringing the known total number of penguin road deaths in the past five years to over 100 in this location alone. 

The census provides the Trust with valuable information, which, although unscientific, contributes to the overall picture of the blue penguin population. The information compliments the Trust’s detailed colony monitoring taking place in Charleston and Punakaiki, as well as monitoring being done by DOC. It also offers an enjoyable opportunity for people to get to know their beach and share their experience with others. The Trust would like to thank all those who took part in the 2013 census. A summary of the results can be found here.

Penguinville is back

The West Coast Blue Penguin Trust is planning a bigger and better Penguinville experience during the Driftwood and Sand Festival 20-26th of January 2014. Come along during the last week of the Summer holidays and check out all the fun penguin activities we will have on offer.

Planned activities include:

  • Beach games and stories; enjoy fun penguin themed games and stories with Zoe Watson
  • Flags and Bags; print a penguin onto a flag or your very own reusable shopping bag.
  • Recycled Penguin; make a penguin storage container out of an old fizzy bottle.
  • Adopt a penguin; paint your own plaster penguin and take him home.
  • Beach art; paint a penguin onto driftwood and stones, make a mobile, create a penguin from a mussel shell.
  • Penguin Cookie Munch-a-thon; decorate a penguin shaped cookie with your favourites (allergies catered for)
  • Colouring Competition; kids can colour in our penguin family and display it at Penguin HQ
  • The Penguin Walk; we will be creating a public art installation over the week to raise awareness of Blue Penguins. A tribe of paper mache penguins that will "walk" around town (see story below).
  • Junior Penguin Ranger; fill out your Penguin Passport by completing tasks during the week and you can become a Junior Penguin Ranger and receive your official badge.
You just can't beat a week on the beach! See you all there...

Below: left Abby Ritchie, and right Georgia Ritchie, at Driftwood and Sand 2013  

Kerry-Jayne joins Antarctic Expedition

On 27 November Trust chairperson Kerry-Jayne headed south as the ornithologist on the Australasian Antarctic Expedition (AAE 2013-14). 100 years ago the great Australian scientist, Sir Douglas Mawson, led the original Australasian Antarctic Expedition, taking south a group of scientists from Australia and New Zealand, and establishing bases on Macquarie Island and Commonwealth Bay. AAE 2013-14 commemorates the endeavours of two then very young nations who did more research and explored more of Antarctica than any other early expedition.

AAE 2013-14 is organised by Australians Chris Turney and Chris Fogwill who have selected a multi-discipinary team of enthusiastic scientists who not only will conduct research but will share their findings and experiences with lay people. Checkout the The Spirit of Mawson expedition website, and follow them on their voyage south via Chris Turneys blog or join the google hangouts where at predetermined times the team will be live on the internet from the field (details on the website's get involved menu). Kerry-Jayne will be posting her own blog on our facebook page.
The expedition left Bluff on 27 November for the Auckland, Campbell and Snares Islands returning to Bluff 7 December. They then depart Bluff 8 December for Macquarie Island then Commonwealth Bay in Antarctica with an ETA back in Bluff on 4 January. They will have Xmas somewhere near Commonwealth Bay and new year on the stormy Southern Ocean.

Trust and DOC to partner Tawaki conservation

The West Coast Blue Penguin Trust has always wanted to expand its work to include other West Coast seabirds in particular Tawaki (Fiordland Crested Penguin), and that looks likely to happen next year. It is currently working with DOC to develop a multi-party partnership focused on Tawaki conservation.

Tawaki comes ashore at 12 Mile

Local residents at 12 Mile were surprised to discover that a Tawaki (Fiordland Crested Penguin) had taken up residence in the area. This very shy penguin was believed to be hiding in sheds and under bachs for about a week before anyone noticed it, said Trust member Leon Dalziel.

The Tawaki is not only rare, but it is also unusual to see one this far north. It would have been welcome to stay, but it was captured and moved to a safer location by DOC staff.

Above:  The Tawaki (Fiordland Crested Penguin) quite at home in a resident's shed.

The fate of Penguin P36408

In the Spring of 2005 when our blue penguin studies were just beginning Kerry-Jayne banded 15 nesting adult penguins; six at Charleston, one at Fox River, six at Punakaiki and two at Camerons (Greymouth). At least one of the Charleston birds still breeds in the same nestbox as it did in 2005.

P36408 (its band number) was nesting in a cave near Trumans Beach, Punakaiki when banded on 15 September 2005. It was found dead by Barry O'Dea behind his house at Tauranga Bay on 13 January 2013, seven years and four months after it was banded. Blue penguins first breed when two or three years old so P36408 was at least nine years old when it died.  It had recently completed its annual moult, but the cause of death is unknown.
We do not currently band blue penguins, says Kerry-Jayne. "Flipper bands do interfere with the penguins'  swimming and we currently consider the cost to the bird does not warrant the information we expect to obtain by banding".

Surfers for penguins

The majority of dog owners are aware that we share the beach with penguins and keep their dogs under control, but what do you do if you want to go for a surf and don’t want to leave your dog in a hot car?

Unfortunately, one or two surfers have been giving their dogs the freedom to roam while they enjoy the freedom of the waves, but, tragically, that appears to have led to the death of at least one penguin at Tauranga Bay recently.
The Trust knows surfers love the coast and the coastal environment – it’s part and parcel of surfing and indeed environmental campaigns have been led by surfers.  Now penguins need the support of surfers. Surfers with dogs can help by keeping their dogs on a leash at the beach or leaving them at home.
If you know surfers with dogs, please pass this message on.

Crested Grebe census

A national crested grebe census is being planned for Saturday 25 January 2014, ten years after the last national survey.  The census is a volunteer project and organisers are again seeking the assistance of any interested people to help count about 100 South island lakes, all on the same day. They are also keen to hear of any recent Crested Grebe sightings on the West Coast. Contact:  Rosalie Snoyink by email  or phone 03 3182 632 or Leslie Jensen by email or phone 03 312 5995.

Please report any dead penguins

It’s always sad to report or hear about a dead penguin, but by reporting any you see, we can build our understanding of threats and particular hotspots.
Together with DOC, the Trust maintains a mortality database.  This has been instrumental in identifying the most dangerous sections of SH6 for little blue penguins and highlighting the issue of loose dogs.

If you’re unfortunate enough to see a dead penguin, or indeed any dead rare seabird, the basic information we need are where and when it was found and the cause of death if you can tell with some degree of certainty.  If you can tell whether it’s a juvenile or adult, that will help, and please add any other comments you think could help or be of interest.

Please phone the information through to your local DOC office and/or email it to the Trust

Autopsies and DNA sampling are also adding to the Trust’s knowledge about penguins.  If the penguin is fairly fresh and you’re willing to collect it, if it’s convenient and safe to do so it would be a great help if you could either deliver it to the nearest DOC office or keep it in a freezer until it can be collected.  Using a couple of plastic bags and clearly labelling it with the contents, where and when you found it plus your name will be ideal. More information will be on our website soon.

Thank you to our sponsors

And grateful thanks also to:
  • Kea Tours
  • Hokitika’s Shining Star
  • Birds Ferry Lodge
  • Rimu Lodge
  • Breakers
We appreciate your support!

Penguin art at Driftwood and Sand 2014

Don't be surprised if you see Blue Penguins wandering around the streets of Hokitika in January. They will look something like this (above) except they will be blue. They will be part of an art installation planned for the Driftwood and Sand Festival that runs from 20th to 26th of January 2014.
A longer than average fishing trip for a blue penguin; over 90ks

First GPS tracking trial a success

In a first for the West Coast, the West Coast Blue Penguin Trust has undertaken a pilot programme to see where little blue penguins go to find food. The study will use Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) tracking technology to monitor the penguins as they head out into the Tasman Sea to find food for their chicks.

Eight tiny GPS units were attached to blue penguins at Charleston in October and their foraging journeys can now be recorded.

Reuben Lane, the WCBPT ranger who led the study, went to the research facility at Penguin Place on Phillip Island in Victoria, Australia earlier this year to learn the skills needed to use the GPS units. Smaller than a matchbox and weighing only a few grams, the GPS receivers are attached to adult, breeding penguins with special waterproof tape, so the penguins’ ability to swim won't be affected.

The pilot study is the start of what will be a three-year programme. It is the first of its kind undertaken by the West Coast Blue Penguin Trust and it’s the first time blue penguins have been tracked on the West Coast. The goal is to build a more complete picture of penguin foraging patterns over time.

Breeding pairs take turns to go out fishing and will typically head out to a known food source, where they will fish for about 24 to 48 hours, and sometimes longer if needed. One of the first penguins at Charleston to go out with its GPS receiver didn’t return for four days. Another travelled nearly 30 kms off the coast, swimming a surprising 90 kms in total over one day.

Penguins will eat mainly small fish and squid, however the weather as well as water temperature may make their preferred food more difficult to find at certain times of the year.

“We would like to find out if penguins are targeting specific locations, and if their food supply is limiting a population recovery”, says Reuben.

The data will eventually be compiled and analysed to gain a better understanding of what penguins need to thrive.

Trust to visit Buller Bay

In February, the Trust will be out on its now annual roadshow to meet the local community and share information about penguins and other seabirds.

On Sunday 23rd February all those interested are invited along to find out what the Trust is doing at a Supporters Meeting and afternoon tea at the Ngakawau Hall at 2 pm.


At 5pm, the Trust’s Ranger, Reuben Lane, will give a demonstration and advice about trapping predators.  The range of tools and techniques is gruesomely fascinating and if you are keen to protect native birds, you’ll find his advice indispensible.

At 6.00pm, the Trust will present illustrated talks on little blue penguins and other seabirds and we’d love all comers to stay for nibbles with Trustees and staff afterwards.
On Monday 24th February, Zoe Watson and Reuben will share some penguin activities and fun with the Granity School children.  Zoe is Enviroschools coordinator for the West Coast and, on behalf of the Trust, is currently developing an education resource for primary school age children based on little blue penguins and other seabirds found on the West Coast.
Ranger Reuben Lane presents a workshop about trapping predators; gruesomely fascinating.
Above: Students from Room 6 at Kaniere School trialling the inquiry based model led by Zoe.

Education Project update

by Zoe Watson

Kia ora koutou. The research and consultation stage of the Little Blue Penguin Education Resource has been exciting and fruitful. Ideas for content have been gathered from teachers & principals, Environmental Educators, kids, community groups and WCBPT members.

The resource will be based on an inquiry-based model that encourages students and other users to design, plan and take action for Little Blues to work towards long-term goals.

As part of my Enviroschools work I travel to schools from Karamea to Haast and many of these schools have been involved in educating their tamariki about korora (Little Blue Penguins). I've gained some valuable ideas and insight into how to best meet the diverse range of needs of West Coast students and schools and to ensure that the resource is accessible and utilised by a wide audience.
I look forward to fleshing out and shaping the resource over the summer.
Nga mihi. Zoe Watson
Pub Charity has generously provided funding to get the Education Resource project off the ground.  The first phase of research, funded by them, is now complete and we’re moving into stage 2 to design and develop the content for the resource.  This stage has been funded by the Lotteries Environment and Heritage Fund.  The final stage of the project, to produce the resource and deliver to the first 20 schools and youth groups on the West Coast is being sponsored by Holcim of Westport.

The Trust is enormously grateful for this wonderful support, without which the education project would have remained a dream.

Please make a donation
The Trust is appealing to its wonderful supporters to give a small regular donation as an Annual Supporter. Regular donations are enormously valuable to the Trust, whether small or large. The suggested donation is $25, but any amount will be very welcome.
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