First, thanks to Tom and the office staff here at the holiday park for the correction on the blue bird with the red forehead and beak we saw yesterday. It is a Pukeko which is a swamp hen and VERY common, which is good because we like them.
We are in Dunedin which is on the east coast of the South Island. Dunedin has a huge Scottish heritage which can be seen in the architecture and the street names! We wandered through the City Center which includes the Octagon. Below is the Town Hall and St Paul’s Cathedral. One of the first public art galleries is in the Octagon. They were celebrating their 125th anniversary with an exhibit called Beloved, which features their most beloved pieces in their collection. Pieces are being rotated in and out of the exhibit to allow for all the favorite pieces to be seen. I enjoyed a small sketch of Rembrandt laughing and another of a girl blowing the fuzz off a dandelion. Below was not part of the exhibit, but is permanent;y is the main lobby. This is “Cones” by the Christchurch artist, Neil Dawson. From there we did a little grocery shopping and then headed out to explore to Otago Peninsula. This finger goes out from Dunedin into the Pacific and the coral shelf lies just 12 kilometers from the shore. The sea is rich with plankton which attracts and enormous amount of wildlife. While there are seals and whales that move through this region, wildlife in New Zealand is mostly birds. Here is the spotted shag that is roosting among a number of kin facing the ocean and his view up to the point of the peninsula.Just on the other side of the point toward the Otago Harbor there is the Stewart Island Shag that migrates here to breed before flying back to Stewart Island to live. Those mounds are their nests. Between the two shag colonies, there is a colony of Northern Royal Albatross. This is the only place in the world where the Albatross breed on a mainland. It is assumed that they mistake the peninsula for an island. The other part is this head of the peninsula has always been a strategic area for humans – be they Maori or European. The humans have carved a number of flat area into the side of the head for creating forts. These flat regions are perfect for nesting and the Albatross did not come here until 1920. This time of year, the Albatross are incubating the eggs. There are 80 Albatross in this colony and presently there are 17 fertile eggs. The Albatross only mates every 2 years. Once these chicks hatch, grow and fledge. They will leave here and not touch land again for 4-6 years! That’s why their landing for the first time back is so comical. They are out of practice! Remember the Disney movie the Rescuers. The albatross wing span is up to 3 meters (9’6”) long and it can fly up to 120 kph (75 mph). It mostly glides on those large wings. Here you can see how it compares to Stewart Island Shag (Blue), the black backed gull (yellow), red billed gull (orange) and the sparrow (white). Of course there is also the typical human beneath all of that! That evening we took a tour at the Penguin Place which for all intents and purposes is a working Romney sheep farm. The owner saw that a number of yellow crested penguins were attempting to live there and he has created a space for them. In fact the sheep and penguins share some of the same space. Of the 18 types of penguins out there, this is the most endangered and the most anti-social. There are only 3000 of these that are known and 700 of these live on the South Island. They only come as high as your knee. They are antisocial mostly because there is generally no need for being in numbers. It is not the Antarctic cold where they need each other for warmth. It is also New Zealand where they did not have predators to worry about. Of course now they deal with the stoats, cats, possums and rats, so the numbers are fading. Here are two that are just coming from the surf. Generally they go out to sea and come in alone. This is not usual to see them together like this. These two were not a breeding pair and at one point they did go their separate ways. The penguins head up through the bush to their homes. If they are breeding, they are taking the meal back to the chicks. It is a regurgitated meal of fish and squid. If they are delayed by fleeing from predators or humans, there is less for the chick. We were only able to be there because the penguin place has built a set of tunnels and hides throughout this portion of the farm. The penguins also need shade. They are made for the cold ocean water and coming on land in the summer sun is exhausting. The Penguin Place have built huts that give shade and privacy for the families. It also makes it easier to monitor their survival. This is just a temporary solution as they have starting planting of trees in the last 20 years and continue to recreate the bush. In the meantime, these two 4 weeks old chicks are waiting for dinner. For more pics, check out:http://picasaweb.google.com/jjpeavey2/20091229JRP?feat=directlink