Blue penguin census encouraging

Inger - census 10 Oct 2015 HokitikaMany of the regular participants were out again for the annual blue penguin census recently.  The number of penguin tracks heading out before dawn were up in all but one of the locations visited this year.

Beaches were walked early in the morning from Karamea to Haast and the findings this year are encouraging.  Trust Ranger, Reuben Lane, explained: “we are seeing some increase in penguin activity, but it is important to note that the number of tracks doesn’t equate to the number of penguins.  It is an indication of numbers and is a really useful tool to note where penguins are active.  The census is also a great opportunity for local people to discover or confirm this activity and enjoy their local beach.”

Sadly, a dead penguin was reported recently near Karamea, but occasional surveys since the first in 2006 have failed to find evidence of live penguins in the area.  Mr Lane, said “If local residents have better news to report, we’d love to hear it!”

He added “we’re pleased to see signs of penguin activity creeping up in the Granity, Ngakawau and Waimangaroa area.  We know penguins sometimes nest under homes, which can be seen as a privilege but it may be a little noisy occasionally!  We’d like to send our appreciation to those in Northern Buller who are valuing their penguin neighbours and keeping their dogs under control, ensuring the low numbers of penguins will continue to grow year on year.”

Further south, the number of penguin tracks north of Punakaiki, at Pahautane, where penguins are now protected by the new fence, was healthy this year, with 17 counted, heading back towards the highest number recorded here over the ten years of the census in 2009 of 21.  Mr Lane said “now that the colonies are safely fenced off from the adjacent highway, the Trust expects to see penguin activity increasing here each year.” 

For long beaches, as here at Barrytown, sometimes wheels help at census time! Photo: K Dash

For long beaches, as here at Barrytown, sometimes wheels help at census time! Photo: K Dash

At Barrytown, sign of penguin activity is also creeping up, with the number of tracks counted climbing steadily from eight in 2011 to 17 this year.

Penguin tracks show up well in sand or gravel, as here at Barrytown

Penguin tracks show up well in sand or gravel, as here at Barrytown.  Photo: K Dash

In the Grey District, beaches from Kororo to the Taramakau were scoured for penguin tracks and a total of 85 were counted, the highest number since 2010 when 87 were recorded, although it’s still a way off the 2009 total of 140 for this stretch of coastline. 

In northern Westland, between Kapitea Creek and the Arahura River, the number of blue penguin tracks was the highest since this section was first surveyed in 2009.  35 were counted that year with 42 this year.  The number of tracks counted in intervening years ranged from 31 in 2011 to just 11 in 2012. 

Trust Manager, Inger Perkins, said it was encouraging to see penguin activity picking up here.  “Erosion has been severe along this stretch of coast for a few years and penguins have been known to travel inland to find shelter, including fatal attempts at crossing the highway.”

Penguin tracks north of Hokitika

Penguin tracks north of Hokitika, near the rugby ground, 10 October 2015

Higher than usual numbers were recorded north of Hokitika.  “Although a blue penguin was mauled to death by a dog near the rugby ground recently, it is great to see indications that the colony is strong.  Talking to dog owners on the beach, they are aware of and value the penguin colony here”, Ms Perkins commented.

The outstanding result of this year’s census was near Okarito where a whopping 147 tracks were recorded.  The highest previous number was 124 in 2012 though the previous count in 2013 was 86.  Ian James, regular census participant there, is also pleased to report that he hasn’t found any dead penguins on the beach in the past couple of years, suggesting that juvenile survival in this colony may be stronger than in earlier years.

Numbers in the Haast region have always been low, but this was the lowest count so far with only one set of tracks seen.  It is not clear why numbers may have declined here and, again, if local residents have better news to report, they are invited to pass it on to the Trust.

Other comments and observations from surveyors included high numbers of both banded dotterels and variable oystercatchers along the Barrytown flats beach, and variable oyster catchers also recorded in the Northern Buller, Punakaiki, Awatuna/Arahura and Haast areas, and banded dotterels also seen around Paroa, Camerons, Arahura and Haast.

Rapid erosion near the Hokitika rugby ground proves challenging for blue penguins - 30 October 2015

Rapid erosion near the Hokitika rugby ground proves challenging for blue penguins – 30 October 2015

 For the first time in a few years, erosion and dune ‘cliffs’ were not the hot topic recorded by past census participants.  Some coastal erosion was noted at Granity, Camerons, Awatuna and near the Hokitika sewage ponds, where erosion has extended southwards rapidly in the past couple of weeks, but in other areas, where erosion had been a concern and access for penguins from the beach had been an issue, dune ‘cliffs’ appear to have smoothed out.
Ms Perkins concluded “up and down the coast, blue penguin activity appears to be increasing. I’d like to say a big thank you to the census participants and another big thank you to coastal communities who are increasingly aware of our vulnerable little penguin neighbours.”