Many Penguins Nesting & Other Dunedin Scenes
Looking at the opening shot from Dunedin’s lovely town center, called The Octagon for clear reasons, I am reminded how lovely blue skies can be. As you will see in subsequent posts from Doubtful Sound and here in Christchurch where we’ve been now for two days, this semi-clear day in Dunedin earlier this week was, roughly, the last bit of blue sky and sunshine we’ve had. Ah, for the sunny blue skies of our Cook Strait crossing!
That said, the Northern Royal Albatross, perhaps the most iconic fauna of Dunedin’s gorgeous if wet Otago Peninsula, only flies when it’s windy and seems to prefer the wet to the dry. Thus we were able to really enjoy seeing quite a few of the adolescents on the wing during out time around Taiaroa Head at the tip of said peninsula. Below is one shot of such a bird in flight, but no still image, not even something on film, could really capture the remarkable grace and perfection – for their evolved purpose of circumnavigating Antarctica in the roaring 40’s 80% of their time – of these creatures of the air. Their wings are multiply hinged, so that they unfold in sequence to reach a much greater length than you might think, if you saw one nesting on the ground as we did from the hilltop perch whence we first viewed them.
On the same remarkable day we saw all the yellow-eyed penguins, some of them up rather close and personal. They’re (one of?) the most endangered penguin species in the world. And, a correction to those whose imaginations have been over-stimulated by Happy Feet etc., most of the 18 extant penguin species are NOT ice-dwellers, but nest on beaches and, yes as seen here, in coastal-adjacent grasslands. What makes the yellow-eyed ones so rare? They’re the only anti-social penguin species. They won’t nest in sight of other penguins! So when Euros showed up here and started cutting down the coastal trees and scrub, these guys’ nesting habitat was greatly reduced. They also won’t nest if they see humans around – they’re very habit-driven creatures and do not like the size of humans. So on this working sheep farm, the owner a few decades ago decided to start tunneling down under camouflage nets that he’d erected to hide himself. These underground paths lead to what are now basically viewing blinds scattered over the acres of headland where the yellows come back now every year to nest and lay their one egg and hope it hatches and rears well. If you look closely in in the shot that should be more or less at the end of this block of text, you’ll see gray ball of fluff which is a several-week-old chick, the only one who’s hatched on this patch this year of about a dozen or so nesting pairs. Yellows are something like the third-tallest species of penguin. We also saw some little blues, aka fairy penguins (yay!), in the water, but they’re too small to capture well. (If you’re curious, there’s this from my last visit in Dunedin: https://somuchworldsolittletime.files.wordpress.com/2009/03/littlebluepenguin.jpg) — these guys are more numerous but they’re truly a bite-sized morsel for many an airborne or seaborne predator, so they try to camouflage well from both below and above and thus are hard to capture well on film. Because we so rarely get to see truly wild and natural penguins in their own habitat, I went a bit shutter-crazy, but to spare those of you without so much interest, I’ve tucked most of the penguin shots into a small thumbnail gallery below; the penguin-lovers among you can click on the individual shots to see them in fuller size; there’s another shot of the chick w/parent in there as well.
Anyhoo: I hope you enjoy these wildlife shots. Despite its Scottish weather, I find Dunedin – this time as last – a surprisingly appealing and magnetic town that I can somehow imagine living in. Who knows, maybe some day. Especially if I meet the right reason, as it were… Cheers and happy new year, one and all.
…a northern royal albatross in flight, above; and a fur seal at rest below. There were tons of fur seals and even a few adorable, squeaky little pups hidden in the rocks and among their protective elders, but I didn’t get many good shots of the seals, either here or later in Fiordland where we again saw quite a few in the water and hauled out on land. They’re show-offs in the water, when a boat goes by, I can tell you that for sure. 🙂
In the shot above, you’re looking down from the Octagon toward the train station in Dunedin, a grand building erected during Dunedin’s reign as wealthiest town in NZ (late 1800s or so, due to gold finds around inner Otago region) which they claim is now the most-photographed building in NZ. Having not photographed it last visit, I figured I’d do so in my usual off-angle way this time around :p)