The Yellow-eyed Penguin (Megadyptes antipodes) or Hoiho is amongst the world’s rarest penguins, a highly endangered spoecies with only a few thousand individuals left. Even so, there are some good opportunities for seeing these interesting birds in the southern parts of New Zealand, for example at Nugget Point in the Catlins or on the Otago Peninsula.
A couple of years ago we took a tour which seemed to be well run, not disturb the birds much at all, and yet get us quite close to them. The result was some stunning images, despite the low light:
We approached the main beach where these birds come ashore in early evening. Before we saw any birds, however, a large New Zealand sea lion flopped up the beach, rolled around in the light coloured sand until he was completely covered, then shuffled off amongst the dune grasses. The sea lion would be hoping his camouflage would enable him to have yellow-eyed penguin for dinner, explained our guide.
Not long afterwards, we saw a bird walk up out of the surf. It seemed completely unconcerned about the possibility of encountering a sea lion. The Hoiho are very solitary birds, preferring to nest out of visual range of others rather than in large colonies, so this picture is very typical of their behaviour:
A few days later we joined another tour in the same general area, and were able to watch some members of what appeared to be quite a thriving population at that spot. It was very strictly controlled indeed, with the tour operators refusing to allow any human contact with the birds nesting on their land. The ban even extended to DoC scientists and university researchers, I imagine much to their annoyance. My wife spotted this little fellow, who took quite a while to ascend the fairly steep sand slope up to his nest, pausing often for a rest.
Incidently, this was the same tour where we saw the fur seals pictured in my earlier post.