A night with some noisy petrels

Westland petrel field work Kerry-Jane Wilson 27 March 2015Tired and sore after an energetic night with the Westland petrels last night, Trust Chair, Kerry-Jayne Wilson, filed a report.

“Sue Waugh from Te Papa is continuing her study of the demography (births, deaths and marriages) of the petrels. This month she is catching the early birds, those first to arrive back from their annual South American sojourn, to see who has already returned, then recording their body condition and band numbers.

“Later in the season we will find out if these early birds were the successful breeders. The birds we caught were all in good condition. We caught birds from dusk as they began coming ashore until 11pm, and after a few hours trying to sleep while the birds continued their caterwauling cries all night, began again at 5am, working until the last birds departed for the sea at dawn.”

(Here’s a sound file of the sound the petrels make: Westland petrel at breeding colony – it would have been a noisy night!)

Westland petrels are generally nocturnal on land, returning to their breeding colonies under mostly coastal broadleaf forest at dusk.  They can be seen congregating in groups or ‘rafting’ in preparation to land along the coast adjacent to the sole breeding area near Punakaiki.  Most birds leave before dawn, which is why Kerry-Jayne and Sue had to spend the night in the forest, not for the first and not for the last time as the petrel research continues.

Their conservation status is At Risk – Naturally Uncommon and they are made vulnerable by the fact that they only breed in one location in the world.  The threats they face are many, including, on land, introduced predators, trampling of burrows, storm events, visitor disturbance, attraction to lights, power lines and vehicles, and at sea fisheries bycatch, climate change, plastics, other contaminants and biotoxins.  The Trust hopes to tease out the key issues and possible solutions through a review of all relevant published and un-published research going back a few decades, by the end of the year. 

Kerry-Jayne Wilson and a Westland petrel