The Great Annual Blue Penguin Count 2017

Getting smart about the annual count with the NatureWatch app 

 and put spring in your step: Thursday 5th- Wednesday 11th October!

Are there penguins on your local beach?  We’d love you to find out and let us know!  

An early morning walk this spring will help you rediscover the beauty of your local coastline, discover whether penguins are using the beach and help us build a clearer picture of where blue penguins are on the West Coast.  

To make it easy for you, useful for us and accurate, we’re asking you to record any penguin observations – probably mostly penguin tracks but perhaps a live penguin or penguin sounds – using NatureWatch during this week, when blue penguins are likely to be busy feeding chicks.

NatureWatch has been around for a few years, is ‘the online place for Kiwi nature watchers’, and you can add any nature observation at any time. NatureWatch logo and link

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 if you wish.

At home, create a login and then find The Great Annual Blue Penguin Count under ‘Projects’, and join our project.

Link to the Great Blue Penguin Count 2017 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 or find the iNaturalist app in your app store.  Then the same applies – create a login if you haven’t already, find and join our project, and then record your observation.  Enable GPS so that the app finds your location, then you can add a note,a photo if you wish 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! 

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)