Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Penguins on rise despite dog attacks

Hokitika brothers Luke Garside, 11, and Adam Garside, 9
MARCH OF THE PENGUINS: Hokitika brothers Luke Garside, 11, and Adam Garside, 9, spot penguin tracks during the West Coast Blue Penguin Trust’s annual census.

Nesting blue penguins seem to be winning the battle against the erosion that is damaging many West Coast beaches.

Early results from the annual West Coast Blue Penguin Trust's five-day census, which finished yesterday, indicated rising numbers of the world's smallest penguin were coming ashore to breed.
Trust co-ordinator Inger Perkins said results looked promising this year, with many areas showing increased numbers of penguins compared with last year.

That was despite the extra challenges they faced, thanks to the sea washing away some of their beachside habitat and forming impenetrable steep sandy cliffs on many beaches.

She said volunteers had been scouring the region's beaches to count penguin footsteps in a bid to work out how many birds crossed the sand to reach their nests.

Trust volunteer Ian James, who did penguin counts at the West Coast's largest penguin colonies around Okarito, said beaches in that area were mostly building up, rather than eroding, thanks to the vast supply of gravels from nearby glacial-fed rivers.

"However, we do get steep banks that can hinder penguin access temporarily, but the birds seem to move elsewhere up or down the beach. They cope as they have done for the millennia."

Trust ranger Reuben Lane said the blue penguins' breeding was well under way by now, with birds coming ashore to mate and lay eggs in burrows around the West Coast.

Penguin couples shared incubating duties, typically one sitting on the nest while its partner fed at sea, before swapping after several days under the cover of dawn and dusk, hence their footprints on the beaches.

However, preliminary census results also had some sobering news about one of the penguins' arch enemies.

"While many areas are indicating an increase in penguin numbers, only one set of prints was found in the Cape Foulwind colony, which was the site of the massacre of 15 penguins by a dog or dogs last June," Perkins said.

She said a penguin startled a Hokitika resident early one morning by wandering down Revell St near the beach.

"Goodness knows where it's nesting, but I hope it makes it. There are so many loose dogs."
The trust had completed a blue penguin census annually for the past five years and used the information to assist their survival.

While blue penguins nested on many beaches around New Zealand, their population on the West Coast was estimated to number only in the high hundreds.


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