Five days on Motuara Island

SI saddleback med res c Kerry-Jayne Nov 2015Kerry-Jayne Wilson, Trust Chair, has just returned home and sent this report “after five delightful days with penguins on Motuara Island in the outer reaches of Queen Charlotte Sound”.

It was on this island in 1770 that Captain Cook raised the British flag, claimed the South Island for Britain and named the sound after the King’s Consort.  Ship Cove, one of Cook’s favourite New Zealand retreats is about 5km from Motuara Island.

I was there to help Tim Poupart, a French student working with Te Papa to deploy GPS loggers on blue penguins, a project aligned with a similar study undertaken by our West Coast Penguin Trust.  During the day Tim would check on his 40 study nests, later we would attach loggers to any adult penguins ready to head off on a foraging trip.  After dark we would wait near penguin burrows, sometimes till midnight or later, for loggered birds to return after they had made two feeding trips out to sea.

Motuara Island is now free of all introduced mammals and, with rats gone and the forest recovering from grazing 100 years ago, bird life is thriving. As well as the penguins, sooty shearwaters and fluttering shearwaters breed in burrows on the island.  At this time of year the sootys are completing nest preparation and about to depart on their two week pre-egg exodus.  There were a few pairs within earshot of the hut, so during the night we were serenaded by their loud, enthusiastic, tuneless songs.  We heard fluttering shearwaters each night and occasionally saw one ashore. 

Of the landbirds, most common are South Island robins; the hut pair joined us each mealtime and it was a challenge to defend our food from these eager foragers.  Also common are South Island saddlebacks, yellow-crowned parakeets, bellbirds and kereru with the resident falcons putting in an appearance each day. 

In 1964 the saddlebacks were literally weeks from extinction when rats invaded the only island on which they then survived.  A few were captured and released on small predator free islands and since then, as one island population has built up, birds have been transferred to seed new predator-free islands so now they occur on about 20 different islands.

Motuara is an open sanctuary and several boat operators in Picton include a visit to Motuara Island in their sightseeing or nature tours, allowing time enough ashore to walk in Cook’s footsteps and see saddlebacks, robins, parakeets and penguins.

Thanks to Dr Sue Waugh (Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa) for the opportunity to visit Motuara and the E-Ko Tours in Picton for their support of the research.


Photos of yellow-crowned parakeet and South Island saddleback by Kerry-Jayne.

SI saddleback med res Yellow crowned parakeet, Motuara Island, Nov 2015, Kerry-Jayne Wilson