Thursday, July 30, 2015

Why Dunedin is the best place to spot albatross and penguins

Take your camera, the telephoto lenses and head to Dunedin, where colonies of albatross and penguins make for spectacular views. 

Nishiraj A. Baruah July 30, 2015
Dunedin is known for the bird made famous by The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, the albatross.
Birder, are you? If you have done with the birds of India, how about a trip to Dunedin, a city that is now often called the wildlife capital of New Zealand. The most famous of its birds are penguins and albatross, which are found on the Otago Peninsula, very close to the city.

Albatross cityOtago Peninsula is the place to see the bird made famous by the poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel T. Coleridge, in which the mariner, who shoots an albatross, is obliged to carry the burden of the bird hung around his neck as a punishment for and reminder of his ill deed. 'Like an albatross round his neck' is an often used line.

Well, this is where you will catch a glimpse of the bird. With its unique megafauna, Otago Peninsula has long been top of any birder's bucket list. Heading the tally is the northern royal albatross colony at Taiaroa Head, the only mainland albatross colony in the world and easily accessible to visitors.
This is truly an albatross city, where birds pair up, breed, produce young and leave on their grand circumnavigations of the Southern Ocean, only to return and repeat the whole cycle.

The colony resembles a busy airport, and there is always something to see as these giants of the sky lumber into the air or lower their landing gear for touchdown. When a north-easterly is blowing, watch out at the sea cliffs below the visitor centre for a sight of a great white shape sweeping past as it glides along the approach path to the nesting grounds on 3-metre fixed wings. To get to the viewing site, visitors walk through a chaotic breeding colony of red-billed gulls.

Yellow-eyed penguin

The yellow-eyed penguin returns to its nest site after climbing the grassy slopes at Katigi Point, Moeraki.

 Penguins at Pilot's BeachNext come the penguins. At the base of Taiaroa Head, at Pilots Beach, is a burgeoning colony of little blue penguins; in the evenings, guided tours allow visitors to see hundreds of these charismatic seabirds swarming ashore under special lights.

Otago Peninsula's other avian superstar is the yellow-eyed penguin, which nests on bushy headlands on the ocean-facing side of the peninsula and is best seen in the late afternoon when the adult birds begin to come ashore after a day out fishing at sea.

You can take a tour run by tourism operators like Penguin Place, or visit beaches like Sandfly Bay or Boulder Beach and be rewarded with encounters with New Zealand sea lions as well as returning yellow-eyes. Nothing comes closer to the spirit of the peninsula than trudging back from Boulder Beach at dusk, with the haunting calls of penguins echoing across the dunes.

There are more birds in the Dunedin area, but more of it later.


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