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Motuihe - a search for penguins

This post first appeared on on August 27th 2017.

Next year Kerry Lukies will be doing a Masters project through the University of Auckland on Little Blue penguins, comparing stress and foraging behaviour between inner- and outer-Hauraki Gulf sites. In August (a little early, perhaps) we went to Motuihe to look for active burrows for her study. As usual, Edin got distracted taking photos. Although not of penguins, unfortunately.

I spent last weekend on Motuihe looking for penguins. Because my own fieldwork with petrels isn't tiring enough, obviously. The great thing about helping out with other people's fieldwork is there's no stress involved, and I usually have free hands/time to take photos as well. And Motuihe is a wonderfully birdy pest-free island. It's been a long time since I've wandered around with the sole intention of taking bird photos.

But what I ended up most excited about was seeing these guys outside of captivity for the first time! Tuatara are legendary, ancient reptiles that are found only in New Zealand. While Kerry and I were out on night-walks looking for (and failing to see, although we heard a fair few) kiwi, we instead stumbled over a few Tuatara scuttling into their tree-hole homes. This one was drooling quite a bit....slugs for dinner maybe?

I might be biased, but I do love Whiteheads. They have a wonderful churring call and the habit of coming and checking you out if you whistle at them, if they aren't too busy feeding. Unfortunately they also hop around at a lightning-fast pace, so getting photographs of them can be tricky - this is my favourite!

Tīeke - North Island Saddlebacks are New Zealand's native Blackbird equivalent, ecological speaking. They fossick around in the leaf litter looking for tasty invertebrates, hopping along on long legs. It would be amazing to have them as common on the mainland as they are on pest-free islands, but they get hammered by introduced mammals like rats and stoats. It's always a pleasure to wake up to their song outside the window.

Our winter weather has been pretty abysmal, but last weekend was surprisingly nice. Despite the island being an utter mud-pit from the persistent rains, we fared pretty well. Apart from one large lightning-storm that rolled over, we had a glorious sunny weekend with a few small showers. I think I may have even flirted with sunburn for the first time in months.

Motuihe is an inner Hauraki Gulf island, near Waiheke and Rangitoto, but it feels like much further away when you're wrapped in a forest full of birds. It's one thing I really like about Auckland - our proximity to some really wonderful places that feel so far removed from the inner-city.

It was a great few days scrambling around the island looking for penguin burrows and checking up on the seabird attraction sites, listening in the dark for passing petrels. And even if I didn't take any really stunning photos, it was great just to have a camera in my hand again, and just feel the joy of making images, seeing birds, and being outside. Cheers to Chris and Kerry for a sweet little adventure!

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