All the latest news from the West Coast Blue Penguin Trust

Census 2013

 
We need your help please! The annual West Coast blue penguin census will take place between August 22 and 26 and we need as much help as possible.
The census is an opportunity to get out to re-discover your local beach and find out whether penguins are active there, and if so, how many.  For the past few years, supporters up and down the coast have been getting up early to walk the beaches and count penguin tracks in the sand. 
It provides vital information for the Trust about penguins’ population and location throughout the West Coast. Trends and changes help to inform the Trust for improved management of blue penguin habitat.
Most importantly, the information contributes to submissions on matters such as regional plans and resource consent applications as well as advocacy work with local authorities and developers.
If you can take part, please look at our website www.bluepenguin.org.nz for more details and then email info@bluepenguin.org.nz, to let us know which stretch of beach, short or long, that you intend to survey.
Fingers crossed for some stunning morning views – like this one from last year’s census, just north of Hokitika.

Trustpower Award Winners!

Celebration time! The West Coast Blue Penguin Trust has just been named the winner of the Heritage and Environment category of the 2013 Trustpower Grey District Community Awards.

What an awesome achievement and great recognition for the hard work from all our volunteers and supporters for the conservation and promotion of blue penguins plus other coastal birds on the West Coast. 

Hundreds of hours of work have been put in this year on projects such as developing the dog-proof fencing project, improving dog owner awareness, and research, including the annual census. A huge thanks and congratulations to everyone involved!
 
Not only is the recognition well deserved, the prize of $500 will also help the Trust develop further and find new ways to involve even more volunteers in the conservation of penguins, seabirds and their habitat.

Trustee, Kim McPherson and Coordinator, Inger Perkins, received the award on behalf of the Trust from Trustpower’s Graeme Purches and Mayor Tony Kokshoorn. Photo: Sarah van Looy.
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Snippets


Next Trust meeting and Don Neale's sea stack talk

The next meeting of Trust Supporters is on Wednesday, September 4th at 10am, at DOC Hokitika.
Everyone is welcome - the meetings are usually finished by 12 and are always followed by some yummy snacks.  
After this meeting, the entertaining and hugely knowledgeable Don Neale will present an illustrated lunchtime talk, called â€œStacks of Value – the coastal rock stacks and islands of the West Coast Te Tai o Poutini.”
Wall Island. Photo: Alexandra Perkins

Annual Supporters

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, and help reduce reliance on other funding that is not guaranteed.  The suggested donation is $25, but any amount will be very welcome. Go here to donate by direct credit or credit card. http://www.bluepenguin.org.nz/donate/


Penguin Autopsies suggest Aussie Secret 

Trust ranger Reuben Lane has now performed autopsies on 58 dead penguins and is sending samples from the birds for further analysis to an Otago University PhD student.
 
Preliminary analysis on the DNA sequencing has revealed an interesting link to our feathered friends across the Tasman. Early tests suggest that 2 of the penguins killed by dogs or cars have DNA closely related to Australian birds, says Reuben. “These may be Aussie birds turning up here.”
 
Watch this space as more hidden stories about our West Coast penguin population are discovered through their DNA.
 Please bear with us while we get the hang of this newsletter software!  We hope you enjoy all the stories and updates below. Feedback always welcome.  

Breeding season has officially started!


That exciting time of the year has arrived. Blue penguins have started to come ashore for nesting in colonies along the West Coast, despite rough weather and seas.


“Early penguins have started laying eggs and others have paired up and are in burrows ready to lay,” Blue Penguin Trust ranger Reuben Lane says.  He says the Trust hopes for a better penguin breeding season this year, as the last one was poor. 

Paroa-based Trust volunteer Bill Johnson has noticed older penguins have started nesting already and he is expecting the first chicks to hatch by the end of August. â€œTough old birds can handle rough seas to come in to nest,” he says.

At this time of the breeding season, penguins are quite vocal much of the night, with pair bonding and mating displays.
 
So, if you hear weird squawking from the bush over the next month, it could be the resident penguin breeding pairs getting excited.
 
Once the eggs are laid, a process that happens often over several days, both parent birds take incubation shifts of 3-5 days.  Chicks hatch after 6 weeks of tender care by the penguin parents. 

Photo above: Two penguins in a nesting box at Cape Foulwind. The birds in this box have successfully raised chicks the last 2 seasons. (Reuben Lane)

Trust chair Kerry-Jane Wilson invited to join historic Antarctic Expedition

 
Our very own Blue Penguin Trust chairwoman and seabird expert Kerry-Jayne Wilson, above, has been invited to join scientists from New Zealand and Australia on the 2013-14 Australasian Antarctic Expedition.
 
The expedition, dubbed the Spirit of Mawson, leaves from Hobart in November 2013 to mark the centenary of the famous Antarctic scientific explorations by Sir Douglas Mawson. It will retrace his historic steps throughout the southern ocean and Antarctica.
 
Wilson is the only New Zealand scientist chosen to join both legs of the expedition to the sub-Antarctic islands and Antarctica, and has a unique link to Mawson. Sir Robert Falla, a New Zealand scientist on Mawson’s second historic Antarctic expedition in 1929, mentored her as a budding ornithologist while she studied ecology at the University of Canterbury. Last year, the Charleston-based scientist was the recipient of the Robert Falla memorial award.
 
The Spirit of Mawson expedition includes a focus on seabirds, which are Wilson’s speciality. She has participated in 5 previous expeditions between New Zealand and Antarctica with a focus on bird life. "It means long periods of sitting out in the cold with nothing happening and short periods of absolute excitement. I love doing that sort of work.”
 
The expedition will repeat century-old population counts and distribution of many seabird species, including Yellow-Eyed Penguins and Antarctic Petrels, to discover how things have changed. Land colonies will be counted and Wilson will also undertake two counts of seabirds per hour while at sea.
 
The expedition will discover and communicate changes taking place in this remote and pristine environment, which will be streamed live via Google plus, Twitter updates and the Intrepid Science YouTube channel.
 
Climate change is on the agenda and the expedition will off-set its own carbon footprint by planting a stand of kauri trees at Matakohe, in the North Island.
 
School students can win a berth on the Spirit of Mawson for a nominated teacher, among other prizes, through a Doodle for Google competition, which must be entered by 23 August.

Lives well-lived

 

Les Wright

Les, who tragically died while tramping in the Pureora Forest in mid May, was a friend of the Blue Penguin Trust and was vastly knowledgeable about West Coast natural history. He was involved with conservation from his home near Punakaiki for much of his life and will be sorely missed as a great natural historian.
 

Charlie Teasdale

The Blue Penguin Trust would like to acknowledge the passing of volunteer Charlie Teasdale on May 19th. He worked closely with the Trust and the Paroa-Taramakau Coastal Area Trust to protect blue penguins and their habitat. He worked hard weed-busting and building dog-proof fencing, a legacy that will protect the survival of blue penguins in the future. 

Penguin and Seabird Education Resource Update 


The development of an education resource for teachers and youth leaders of primary school age children has progressed since the last newsletter.
Although generous support from Holcim and the Lottery Grants Board had already been committed, a small gap in funding remained and Pub Charity have filled the gap so that the project could get underway.  The Trust extends its grateful thanks to all three.
Environmental educator, Zoe Watson, has been researching material for the new resource over the past couple of months, including connecting up with the Oamaru penguin colony and the Yellow Eyed Penguin Trust.
 â€œIt’s great to have the project underway.  It has been in the wings for years and in more detailed preparation for nearly a year.  The new resource will be available for teachers, home schoolers and parents, as well as scout, guide and holiday programme leaders in 2014,” Trust Coordinator, Inger Perkins, says.

 

Zoe leading penguin activities during Driftwood and Sand 2013.

GPS Tracking Devices almost ready for first West Coast trial

The Trust has recently purchased 6 new GPS tracking devices, which will provide valuable information about the foraging habits of penguins while at sea.

Five years of excellent research by the Trust has built up a wealth of information about West Coast penguins while on land and these new tracking devices will add specific GPS data about their lives at sea.
Trust ranger Reuben Lane first learnt how to use the devices on Phillips Island, Australia, in May this year and expects that the first live trial using this technology on West Coast penguins will be in a few weeks’ time.
"The trackers will be set in resin and each attached to the back of a penguin for one day with specialized duct tape, which will not damage feathers,” he says. â€œAt about $70 each, this is the first time that this technology is affordable for the Trust.”
To ensure the safety of penguins, only birds that are going out fishing daily will be used in the initial trial. Penguins that are feeding young chicks typically go on daily fishing trips and they will be the first volunteers to have their movements at sea tracked. First chicks will hatch in early September.
A map showing exactly where the penguins have been fishing will be produced. If the maps show zigzagging in one spot, it indicates fishing, which is a positive sign. â€œThis will help us understand what penguins are fishing for, where they are going at sea and even predict bad breeding seasons,” Reuben says.
This information will also allow the Trust to have a more informed stance during discussions about marine reserves and fishing quotas on the West Coast.
Extra technology can be added to the devices later, such as a depth recorder. Further clues to what exactly the penguins are eating will hopefully be gleaned through the GPS tracking maps of fishing being overlaid with sea temperature data. The best fishing for the penguins is in temperatures of 16.2 – 16.4 degrees Celsius.
Another long-term goal is to link the penguin’s fishing to the sea conditions. Calmer seas result in warmer water on the surface, which means large schools of fish and much easier fishing for the penguins.

Watch this space for the first GPS tracks on West Coast penguins and keep an eye on our facebook page for news from Reuben as the trial and the breeding season get underway in a few weeks.

Project manager Eric de Boer and designer Janet Bathgate with some of the new signage.


New Cape Foulwind panels installed

 
The Cape Foulwind walkway has been vastly improved with the installation of new interpretative panels about penguins and other seabirds this month, as part of the ongoing Cape Foulwind Project.
 
The Blue Penguin Trust has contributed the stunning bird panels, which includes information about penguins, sooty shearwaters and Wall Island, Trust chair Kerry-Jayne Wilson says.
 
The contribution has come about through the extensive input of Kerry-Jayne as part of the Trust’s wider Cape Foulwind project, funded by Solid Energy.
 
Westport-based project manager Eric de Boer (DOC) says he is thrilled with the updated look of the Cape.
 
He says the view of Wall Island is also greatly improved and work on the new viewing platform will be completed by the end of August. A new set of spotting binoculars may also be installed.
 
So, put a trip to Cape Foulwind in your diaries for an updated experience of this fascinating collection of coastal wildlife!

Doggone


The inaugural Dog’s Breakfast took place on a wet and wild June 16th, with only a few hardy dog owners taking up the Blue Penguin Trust’s invitation for doggy nibbles kindly provided by Hokitika Vets, and a scones and cake morning tea beside Hokitika Beach, hosted by the SPCA, Hokitika..

It is the Trust’s latest endeavour to gently educate dog owners on how dogs and penguins can successfully share the beach.

This message is especially vital with the start of the penguin breeding season upon us. Penguins are particularly vulnerable at the moment from dog attack, Trust ranger Reuben Lane says.

“They are often out of their burrows and are quite vocal much of the night for pair bonding displays.”

Penguins are incubating eggs and feeding chicks in their coastal burrows over the next few weeks. Dog owners need to be particularly careful to keep dogs under control while on coastal walks during this important but risky time for the penguins.

Dog owners need to be encouraged to keep dogs secure on their property and especially keep them on a lead if out for night-time toilet walks near the beach.

Trust volunteer Bill Johnson recently dealt with 4 nesting boxes rooted completely out of the ground by dogs in the Paroa area.

During a dusk visit to the Camerons colony, 2 large dogs were spotted roaming in the vicinity of the nesting boxes. DOC was notified and action taken to prevent the on-going threat.

Severe erosion has also damaged the dog-proof fencing at Camerons, making this penguin colony even more vulnerable. However, plans are in place to fix this in the near future.

West Coast Seabird leaflet is a hit

 
The Trust has developed an impressive new seabird leaflet, which introduces tourists and locals to the wide variety of seabirds they may spot on the West Coast.
 
The leaflet’s author, Kerry-Jayne Wilson, has included expert information about a huge range of birds that people may see on or near our coastline, including penguins, gulls, shags, terns and prions.
 
The leaflets have proved popular, according to Hokitika I-site manager Lisa De Rooy, who has already handed out lots of the leaflets to visitors.
“People really want to see a penguin!” she said.
 
The leaflets are also available on the Trust’s website: www.bluepenguin.org.nz or email info@bluepenguin.org.nz for a copy or a bundle to share with friends and guests.

Coastal erosion threatens West Coast penguin habitat


We’ve all seen the extreme coastal erosion up and down the West Coast and one worrying result is the blue penguins' habitat reduction and obstruction of the birds’ access to their burrows during the current breeding season. 

West Coast Blue Penguin Trust chairwoman and seabird expert Kerry-Jayne Wilson says she has seen severe erosion on many sandy beaches on the West Coast, which has created up to a 3 metre cliff face in places. â€œThat restricts the places the little blue penguins can come ashore because many areas have become too hard for them to climb.” 

Department of Conservation Hokitika-based marine scientist Don Neale says erosion and the rockwork to control it have increased on the West Coast. â€œThe often scrubby areas penguins like to nest in are now being eroded and all that they are left with is the farmland behind,” he says.
 
“There are currently quite a few efforts to beat back the sea and some of these responses could also increase the challenges for penguins.”
 Blue Penguin Trust coordinator Inger Perkins is concerned the changes put the blue penguins’ safety at risk. â€œPenguins need to look harder for a way up to their burrows and will be out on the beach longer. This makes them more vulnerable to attack from stray dogs.”

A dog-proof fence, seen below, has also been swept away by the river at Camerons and some dogs have recently damaged a number of penguin nesting boxes, says Bill Johnson, a volunteer for the Guardians of Paroa-Taramakau Coast Area.



Trust ranger Reuben Lane says erosion is a natural phenomenon but makes it hard or impossible for little blue penguins to access burrows in some areas. While the birds are able to be fairly flexible in their choice of burrow sites, the amount of coastal development means they have fewer suitable places to nest, he says.
 
“The only thing I think we can do to help is to continue dune restoration work, with no more paddocks going right to the sea, and most importantly, help restore and protect wetlands, swamps, and creek mouths, which stabilise access points and give shelter.’

2013 NZ Coastal Society Conference


The 2013 New Zealand Coastal Society Conference “The Coast: Rough around the edges” will be hosted in Hokitika, November 19-22.

The conference aims to look at the sustainable management of the coastline, with a range of keynote speakers, including Trust chair Kerry-Jane Wilson, and fieldtrips. Themes will include coastal ecology, coastal conservation, and communities and our coasts.
 
Early bird registration by September 20. For more details, check the website: http://www.coastalsociety.org.nz/conference2013/index.cfm

Farewells
 
It is with sadness that we farewell Robyn Janes who left for the fair shores of Motueka in July. Her enthusiasm for anything involving penguins in her role, first as Coordinator and then as media liaison for the Trust, greatly increased public awareness of the Trust and of the issues surrounding penguins on the West Coast.  She was also instrumental in gaining sponsorship from Solid Energy for the Trust’s Cape Foulwind project. We wish her all the best for her up-coming dive into parenthood.

We also thank Trustee Ian Davidson-Watts for his contributions to the Trust. He has recently returned to the UK and his technical knowledge and commitment to the Trust given over the past few years will be missed.

Here he is showing scouts how to use a night vision scope to view penguins.

Day in the life............. 

I found the perfect burrow last week and even met up with my friend from last year. Guess what, we have eggs to keep an eye on now! The neighbourhood is pretty noisy at night, it's hard to concentrate on keeping our eggs warm. Thankfully I'll get a break in a few days so I can head out for some herring while the sea is calm.
Thanks to our sponsors below and Kea Tours, Hokitika’s Shining Star, Birds Ferry Lodge, Rimu Lodge, and Breakers for their support.

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