Penguin Watch (formerly Penguin Census)

The blue penguin census has changed

Once a year for the past ten years, the West Coast Penguin Trust has been inviting you to take an early morning walk on the beach to count blue penguin tracks, but now you can record penguins or their tracks quickly and easily at any time of year through NatureWatch. We have set up a West Coast Penguin Trust project for reporting blue penguins or Fiordland crested penguins within NatureWatch, and you can add other bird or in fact any other interesting nature observations at any time on your computer, tablet or smart phone.

NatureWatch has been around for a few years and is ‘the online place for Kiwi nature watchers’.  NatureWatch logo and link

We’re asking you to record any penguin observations via our project in the NatureWatch app, which uses the globally recognised and accessible iNaturalist system.  It could be penguin tracks, a live penguin, or if you find a dead penguin, you could add that too, all of which will help our understanding of penguins on the West Coast.

It may take a few minutes to install and familiarise yourself with it, but then it’s a piece of cake to add your records including your photos. 

At home, create a login and then find West Coast Penguin Trust under ‘Projects’, and join our project.  Then, under ‘Observations’, start entering your record or records!  You just zoom into the map and click on the location of the observation and add details, comments and photos following the prompts.

iNaturalist logo and linkFor your mobile devices, scroll to the bottom of the NatureWatch webpage and get the Android or iphone app.  Then the same applies – create a login if you haven’t already, find and join our project, and then record your observation.  If your mobile device is GPS enabled, it will find your location, you can add a note and a photo and the few details for our project and move on to the next observation, perhaps more penguin tracks, as you walk along the beach. 

One option you are offered is to make the location public, obscured or private.  We suggest that you select the ‘Location is obscured’ option, so that observations are visible, but not in precise detail.

You can also look at our project to see where others have recorded observations.

There is plenty of help in the NatureWatch help section, so give it a go – have a play! 

Penguin activity leaving tracks across the beach seems to peak in October, so check for low tide times and enjoy a walk on your local beach, getting in touch with nature and penguins, and record the tracks in our NatureWatch project.  We look forward to seeing your reports any time during the year too. footprint photo

If you’re new to penguin footprints, we have put together some information here: Penguin and other footprints.  The key thing to look for is fairly straight lines of footprints heading from the dunes to the sea early morning.  The three toes make an angle of less than 90 degrees, nearer 70 degrees, whereas many other seabirds have their toes spread wider than a right angle. 

Lucy Waller finds penguin tracks, Sept 2016

Lucy Waller finds penguin tracks, Sept 2016

Please think safety before you venture out.  Walking on our wonderful beaches soon after sunrise is often a magical experience but there are a few safety messages.  Remember to watch out for the waves – never turn your back on them, and any seals – give them a wide berth of at least 10-15m if possible. Tell someone where you are going and when you expect to be back. 

And don’t forget, NatureWatch is for all nature observations, so you can add other encounters, perhaps oystercatchers, dotterels, shags, seals, skinks, or a curious fungus or seashell any time!  Have fun!



A bit of background

Fern Collings Davis points out penguin tracks

Fern Collings Davis points out penguin tracks

In previous years, over a few consecutive days in late winter or early spring, interested locals have walked the beaches of the West Coast counting penguin prints.  It is an informal approach to surveying, highly dependent on weather, but does help build a better picture of the scattered penguin populations along the West Coast.  Results also indicate trends over time.

The annual census, along with scientific studies, have led the Trust to believe that blue penguin numbers on the West Coast are declining, and currently number in the high hundreds, or low thousands.  Given the coastal area is approximately 500 kilometres long, this is a very low population density.  

The census has contributed much to our understanding of where penguins are nesting and the threats to their survival in those areas as well as giving more people a greater connection to their beach and the wildlife that lives there.  Positive actions have come out of the census too, including new dog signs up and down the coast as well as restoration projects.

Moving to the NatureWatch system allows more flexibility and more information to be recorded.  It taps into the global world of nature recording, with the opportunity to add photos, immediate location recording and results instantly available among other advantages. 

Previous Census Results

9-12 October 2015

11-15 September 2014

There was a lower take up on the penguin census this year, perhaps because it came just as that long dry spell of weather broke!  However, the results, which came in via online reporting for the first time this year, covered an impressive distance, from Ngakawau in north Buller down to Haast Beach. 

Again, it was challenging to compare this year’s results with previous years’ data, and there was the usual mix of counts being the same, being greater and being less than last year, with about the same number going up as going down. 

One notable reduction in numbers was seen in the area of the new fence, so we can now hope to see numbers increase in the three colonies there, as no, or at least fewer penguins are killed on the adjacent road. 

Many volunteers noted that erosion had increased over the past 6-12 months, although a couple of comments noted that erosion had stabilised more recently.  Coastal vegetation in some areas around Haast appeared to have been inundated and sea level rise was implicated by the respondent.

Thank you to all those who took part!  If you went out in September and found very few tracks, going out again later in the breeding season may reassure you that the penguins are still there, as they will be going out more regularly to feed chicks, particularly October to December.

 Census results 2013

 Census results 2012 

 Census results 2011

 Census 2010 PDF

 2009 Census – (PDF 1.5MB)

 2008 Census – (0.4MB PDF)