Jeff Clarke Ecology

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In Pursuit of Prions part 5

In Pursuit of Prions (Part 5) - Otago

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As we sailed towards Dunedin past the Otago peninsula nesting colonies of Stewart Island Shags could be seen on the headland. Shortly after Docking we joined the Monarch Wildlife Cruises and headed for a rendezvous with New Zealand Fur Seals. We were soon enjoying their rather pungent presence, with bulls, yearlings and mothers with new pups all present. As a big bonus were were also entertained by a female Hooker's Sea Lion that was patrolling the edges of the seal colony. The fur seals I'm sure were less enamoured of her presence as she was almost certainly there to predate a seal pup.

We moved around the headland to view the Northern Royal Albatrosses which nest on this headland. Several birds were sitting and a few could be seen displaying, though the views were somewhat distant. The Royal Spoonbill colony was a little easier to observe; the birds crowned with an elegant head-dress and rather startling yellow 'eyebrows'.

Out off the headland masses of Spotted Shags were fishing communally and there small nesting groups also dotted the headland ledges.

Later in the day we joined an excursion to see Yellow-eyed Penguins at a private farm 'Nature's Wonders'. Whilst awaiting our trip in the cross-country Argo vehicles we enjoyed a first class view of a Swamp Harrier and a pod of Dusky Dolphins down in the bay. Rather disappointingly almost every bird I could hear or see was an introduced European species, including Goldfinch, Greenfinch and Skylark.The Acclimatisation Societies of the 19th and 20th Centuries have a lot to answer for.

The access to the penguins is carefully controlled to minimise the disturbance of this threatened endemic species. We had an beak-to-nose view of a nesting Yellow-eyed Penguin through a tiny slot in the hide but we also had splendid views of a couple of adults on the sandy dune slope commuting to and from the sea with their bandit mask of yellow making them distinctive from any other penguin species. Just before our return we were also given access to view a nesting Little Blue Penguin. It was all too brief but very enjoyable.

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