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The Penguins of New Zealand

August 26, 2009

Birds, and Haley’s Comet spurred the decision to go to New Zealand in April 1986. Two carousels into the project of scanning my slides from this excellent voyage, I realized that I would have to chronicle my adventures in topical installments. Penguins most deservedly are the heroes of the first installment, because seeing them in the wild remains the most thrilling sight I have ever seen.

It was pure serendipity that we met this fellow, a juvenile Yellow-eyed penguin, whose prime directive was to molt on the beach. Young penguins molt standing still for several days, unless they are snatched by seals or sea lions. The little guy was still there the next morning. He let us approach, but more from biological imperative to fulfill his molting mission than from any tameness.

It was pure serendipity that we met this fellow, a juvenile Yellow-eyed penguin, whose prime directive was to molt on the beach. Young penguins molt standing still for several days, unless they are snatched by seals or sea lions. The little guy was still there the next morning. He let us approach, but more from biological imperative to fulfill his molting mission than from any tameness.

Needless to say, I was crazy about him.

Needless to say, I was crazy about him.

A Dane named Axel, whom Providence placed in our path, and who had a friend getting a PhD in wildlife biology, told us about Farmer McRouther's beach, which penguins were known to frequent. We found Farmer McRouther, and received the key to the gate to camp on the bluff above the beach where, he was quite sure, we would likely see penguins. This proved to be another sighting of a lifetime. At sunset, at least twenty Yellow-eyed penguins emerged from the surf, and began trooping up the steep, steep sandy bluff in a zigzag route, to the woods where they would feed their young and sleep for the night. At sunrise we got up see the penguins walk, not belly slide, back down to the surf, and return for a day of krill fishing at sea. They would masticate the food and feed it to their young in the evening. One fellow flipped his flippers and shook his tail and retreated from the cold ocean surf several times before diving in.

A Dane named Axel, whom Providence placed in our path, and who had a friend getting a PhD in wildlife biology, told us about Farmer McRouther's beach, which penguins were known to frequent. We found Farmer McRouther, and received the key to the gate to camp on the bluff above the beach where, he was quite sure, we would likely see penguins. This proved to be another sighting of a lifetime. At sunset, at least twenty Yellow-eyed penguins emerged from the surf, and began trooping up the steep, steep sandy bluff in a zigzag route, to the woods where they would feed their young and sleep for the night. At sunrise we got up see the penguins walk, not belly slide, back down to the surf, and return for a day of krill fishing at sea. They would masticate the food and feed it to their young in the evening. One fellow flipped his flippers and shook his tail and retreated from the cold ocean surf several times before diving in.

I had read that Little-blue penguins lived in rock cliffs at beaches, but didn't know which beaches, and New Zealand has a lot of beaches. Very happily, it turned out that we were there all along. Not far from the penguin beach near Farmer McRouther's land, I noticed a rock cliff, and wondered whether perchance any Little-blue penguins might be at home. It was a fairly wild hunch, and I had to climb up the sandstone a ways while carrying my camera. But God rewards even crazily optimistic tourists sometimes, for there was indeed a Little-blue penguin within hailing distance of my lens. A little while later, I checked a rock overhang close to the ground, and met another Little-blue penguin.

I had read that Little-blue penguins lived in rock cliffs at beaches, but didn't know which beaches, and New Zealand has a lot of beaches. Very happily, it turned out that we were there all along. Not far from the penguin beach near Farmer McRouther's land, I noticed a rock cliff, and wondered whether perchance any Little-blue penguins might be at home. It was a fairly wild hunch, and I had to climb up the sandstone a ways while carrying my camera. But God rewards even crazily optimistic tourists sometimes, for there was indeed a Little-blue penguin within hailing distance of my lens. A little while later, I checked a rock overhang close to the ground, and met another Little-blue penguin.

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4 Comments
  1. August 26, 2009 4:01 pm

    Wow, Lauren! I love this post.

    (Your folder in my google reader is getting full of ‘starred items’ :-)

  2. August 27, 2009 6:18 am

    Pshaw… you’re a star item yourself.

  3. Laura permalink
    August 27, 2009 4:06 pm

    What a charmer that little guy is!! He has his head slightly cocked for the portrait and everything. I love it.

  4. August 27, 2009 6:43 pm

    I know, Laura; one would almost think he was working as an undercover molter for the New Zealand Chamber of Commerce.

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