Fieldwork week 1 day 3
Location: Owaka Head and Jack’s Bay, Catlins
Cereal and tea for breakfast. We left the accommodations at 8:45 and traveled by two yutes (trucks) near to the site from the day before, just few kilometers away. The road leading to this area follows an estuary to the breakwaters and turns right to follow the coast South. Lambs, lambs, lambs. Down a long dirt road and through 2 gates was a open gate where we parked the cars. Like I think I mentioned, much of NZ is hills and mud (called pastures occasionally 🤣). The yutes would not have made it over the deep wholes in the mud so we walked about 10 minutes up a bit a hill, through another gate, and down another hill, sending the sheep running in the opposite direction. The site, Owaka Head, had a mixture of grass, medium size trees with big root systems, and flax (along with other native plants like muehlenbeckia, a dense vine). We split up, and I headed into the middle section near a small stream that ran through the area. There was alot of crawling, occasionally standing or sliding. It was a relatively ok site. There was alot of potential nest sites that to me would have been great, but only one pair of penguins thought so. The landing site isn’t great and is really narrow, making it variably accessible. I seemed to be walking over areas I had been before and couldn’t seem to find interconnecting tunnels. Just dead ends. Apparently that was the theme of the day. After about an hour maybe a bit more, we made our way back up to the top of hill ( I forgot to mention that because most of the access points are on top of hills due to the strange NZ terrain, most sites will dramatically decend to sea level, creating cliffs/hills/valleys that we are searching for nests). Most people are a quick. I left mine in the yute so drank water instead. The wind became so strong and unrelenting at this point. Up, over, down, and across we trekked back to yutes. I had my lunch of two ham sandwiches and a banana on the way to our second site, just down the road at Jack’s Bay. The land was adjacent to a farmer’s paddock, so the team leader stopped into her house to ask if it was ok to traverse the paddock to the site. The wind was so strong at this point, when she got out of the yute, the door flung open and actually bent, having to be pried to shut it! After sending more sheep fleeing, we walked a short ways to a barbed fence. This enterance was the most intense, crazy, difficult thing up to this point. It was almost vertical for part of the way, slippery, covered in vines and stinging nettle, with loose rocks and small gaps to crawl or bum slide into. All I could think was “this is gonna suck coming back up”. We finally made it and started our search. There was a small rocky beach with access tunnels going up the slopes. I had a difficult time at this site finding a way in! Nettle was everywhere, tracks were really small, and I also didn’t want to go to a place someone else was searching. At one point Mel called me over and said she found a bit of poo to follow. Man was it is a bit! It was either a few penguins using this area as an entry point or one hanging out all day/night. The only problem was the cliff. I couldn’t figure out how these birds were getting up there! There was a large boulder jutting out of the cliff but the ledge was either straight above it off far to the left. I attempted to scale this and see where the track led but promptly on my initial hoist up, the big boulder became dislodged and crashed down, very near to Mel. I have up on that! Mel tried but the tracks eventually led to a dead end. To make a long, tiring, sweaty, and nuts story short, I followed a path like George of Jungle but instead of swinging from vine to vine I pulled, yanked, grabbed, swore at, and prayed to every vine. Along with the trees and my crazy muscles, I checked a small area of cliff to no success. At the site in total, 3 nests were found. Then the even harder part: we started back up the cliff the same way we came. It was a mixture of the same, grabbing, yanking, hoisting, slipping, twisting, bending, crawling, slidding, and trusting your whole weight to a tiny to tree branch. It was laborious and strategic work with the last bit being vertical with little to hold on to. I used my knees quite alot and some prayer, but I finally made it!
Our final site was just on the other side of the cliff on a long sandy beach. Well, in the dense bush on the outside of the sandy bush. Three sea lions said hello as we came to the area marked “keep out, penguins nesting area”. A hop over another fence led us to some more clearly marked paths. This site annoyed me for a single reason. There was so much poop and clear tracks but NO penguins. Well 1 nest, but I didn’t find it. At one point I got wrapped in vegetation and couldn’t find my way out of this dead end. I’ve thought, well I’m done for. Stuck forever. And exhausted. I persevered and freed myself only to slip some lengths away and end up strattaling a tree branch with my foot caught it a hole. I’m happy to say I made it out alive but water was much needed, as well as a shower.
All in all, knowing I could do it made the day successful. Although I could write much more, I’m exhausted and need to sleep. To Nugget Beach tomorrow!
You inspire me! Well done!
You are amazing! Your determination is admirable and I wouldn’t be surprised if those penguins are hiding behind a rock laughing, as we do while watching “March of the Penguins”