Surprised I am alive
Thursday was a big day. I had two meetings with other penguin people to discuss a range of topics, including my proposed PhD research. Then it gets good. Another PhD student Mel asked me if I wanted to help with some field work to deploy GPS units on some birds. Of course! Penguins! We drove in a university field work truck out to the peninsula. The little grey marker on the first picture is the location we went to on the peninsula. Same in the second picture, it is the exact beach we went to. It has a name but the one thing I have a really hard time with here is the Maori (aboriginal) name pronunciation. I cannot say it, read it, or hear it right! I’m working on it.
It was about a 35-45 minute drive from the university. When we got there, we met a ranger from the Yellow-Eyed Penguin Trust who was here to assist. Thank goodness he was there. Here is what happened:
See that hill in the back. First climbed up one like it, with cows grazing at the top and huge rabbit burrows dug into it. It was quite slippery. We then walked down. I slipped and got covered with mud. But that was just the beginning. We then hiked down, hoped a barbed-wire fence, and welcome to the jungle. Up and down and around there was dense vegetation included flax, high sea grass, some larger trees, a couple of flowering plants- it was extremely difficult to navigate. And there was mud. Everywhere. And it was wet. Up to this point, I had fallen on my butt three times so far. No cares were given any longer about keeping my stuff clean/dry. There was just no way, I was in no way prepared for this. My pants were already soaked through, but I was wearing thermals, three layers, and a raincoat so at least I was warm. And actually, mud is very insulating! We spotted a few penguins returning from a foraging trip that we wanted to wrangle, but we also had to check some nests to see if any had returned already. Following Mel’s direction, I tramped (it’s called tramping instead of hiking in NZ) through the forest. Very slowly. I got a tad lost, then found, then lost. I was ready to quit at this point, but that was not really an option in the middle of a jungle. I came to a point on the cliff that if I slid at all I would die. The vegetation was my lifesaver, and I grasped onto it like it was cemented into the Earth. I went down the cliff, up the hill, under and over stuff, and I fell twice more. We (not me) got two penguins, which I guarded at our “base camp”, a flat part with grass. I won’t go into too much detail, but we keep them still with their wings and feet tucked into a weigh bag. What BEAUTIFUL birds. Their eyes are huge, with the yellow feathers surrounding their heads astonishing. And so unique! We got another bird, and the next part was fun. Mel put trackers on them as I measured and cut the tape. It was really neat because this technique was the same we used on the African penguins in South Africa. We were able to get two more birds and fasten trackers on them as well.
By this time it was dark and head lamps were required. All I could think about was the climb out. In the dark. The mud even worse now that it was misting- there was a layer of fine water on EVERYTHING. Not to mention the 75 degree incline up the cliff. At one point I pretty much had to be dragged up, because I could not get my footing. I felt like a failure. No time to think about that though! After crawling on my hands and knees or sliding on my butt, we had to climb back up the hill we came down. And then down the humongous hill where I proceeded to fall 6 more times. With about a gazillion saves and mini heart attacks. It took three times as long to get to the birds then work with them. I was so tired and wet and sore. My blood pressure was probably sky high, my heart beating a million miles a second. When we FINALLY made it to the truck, the elation I felt was incredible. I did not have to be airlifted out! But hey, I did get to hold a YEP though!