Sunday, December 7, 2014

Penguin numbers nearly doubled


Timaru's penguin population has nearly doubled in the past year.

Timaru Penguin Group members and Department of Conservation staff did a head count of the little blues around Timaru's coastline on Thursday evening in the rain. Last year 42 adult birds and 11 chicks were counted; this year there was a total of 90. DOC partnership ranger George Iles said due to the bad weather it was difficult to determine which ones were chicks.

The adult penguins are raising their young at present and alternating with their partners to go fishing out at sea. One parent remains with their young. "Our methods changed slightly with counting taking place later in the evening," Iles said.

Group co-ordinator Peter Bennett said the 18 volunteers in raincoats carrying umbrellas covered six specific areas where they were known to nest. "They are pretty promising increases. We are up on last year." Most of the people who viewed the birds were respectful, he said. "It's only about 5 per cent who think they want to join the penguins." And Timaru's little blue penguins are getting rave reviews from visitors.

For a German couple travelling around New Zealand, watching the penguins come ashore at Caroline Bay on Saturday evening was the ultimate highlight of their trip. Silvia Kroner and fiance Oliver Pauldrach spent hours observing the penguins as they toddled up the foreshore to their nests among the rocks. "It was brilliant, it was amazing," Kroner said. The couple stayed till 12.30am, long after other members of the public had left the area. "It's been an absolute highlight," she said.

They had one week left of their 12-month holiday in the country and said out of all the wonderful attractions and activities they had experienced, their time in Timaru was the best. They found out about the penguins being there only after a chance meeting with other tourists while whitewater rafting in Queenstown.

Kroner and Pauldrach then went to the information and visitor centre in Te Anau to find out more but were told only Oamaru had penguins. Fortunately, the couple did not give up and rang Timaru's Wanderers' Backpackers where they were planning to stay. They got the lowdown from the backpackers' owner, Greg Adams, who also happens to be co-founder of the Timaru Penguin Group, which has worked hard to protect and raise awareness of the little birds.

Bennett said the group had so far distributed promotional material to motorcamps and information centres in Timaru, Geraldine and Temuka, as well as a restaurant in Timaru. The next stage was to give them to motels in the districts and then perhaps consider out of town. "Timaru was the first place we wanted to cover," he said.


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