Friday, April 9, 2010

Oamaru and Penguins!

These are the two types of penguins that we saw this evening.

Mike and Gregory looking for Yellow-eyed Penguins from the hide above Bushy Beach

Yellow-eyed Penguin coming in at dusk on Bushy Beach in Oamaru

Gregory spots a moulting little blue penguin down at the wharf in Oamaru

About Little Blue Penguins (We weren't allowed to photograph the little blues that we saw at the viewing stand.)

~ For more penguin pictures see my blog entry about The Catlins and Curio Bay ~

We finally got to see penguins! We knew that Oamaru was the best place to see the little blue penguins and we were fortunate to see some rare yellow-eyed penguins as well. They come up the beach at dusk so we went to the hide (small building for viewing from high up on the cliffs above the beach where the penguins come in from their day of fishing) at Bushy Beach around 6 PM and got a glimpse of the yellow-eyes first. Though from our distance they looked like just a speck on the beach we were thrilled to see them. The wind was fierce and it was brisk but we braved the weather to see these special creatures. (Usually only 4-5 of the yellow-eyed penguins appears each night.)

On a tip from a local we went to the wharf to try to see the little blues (rather than paying to see them from the specially constructed viewing stands). When we arrived around 7:30 PM we were looking out to sea when Gregory crouched down and saw a penguin wedged between two rocks right near our feet. The penguin looked a bit sick but Mike and I knew from our previous visit that March is the season for moulting. This is when the penguins load up on fish and then come ashore for 2 weeks during which time they live on stored fat and lose all their feathers and put on new ones. They must not be disturbed during this critical time.

After waiting until about 8:15 PM and with still no sign of the penguins coming in from the sea, it was getting too dark, so we decided we’d go ahead and pay to see them in the well lit viewing stand. It was $20NZ/adult and $10NZ/child but the nice lady at the register let Gregory in for free. It was well worth it! We saw 49 little blues! They come up the rocks in small groupings and preen for a bit and then they scurry across a bit of road and under a wire fence before making their way across a grassy patch and into their burrows. They were quite noisy and it was such a thrill to watch and listen to them. With just a few left on the rocks preening, the viewing stands emptied out in a hurry, as it was bitterly cold! However, we were the last holdouts and closed down the place!

(Note: Since I’m writing this about a week after it happened I can say that we’ve seen Yellow-eyed penguins on two other occasions and once was up close and personal! Read about it in my post about The Catlins!)

I almost forgot to mention that Mike got pulled over by an officer on our way out to Bushy Beach. We were actually quite stunned that we were stopped and weren’t sure why. With license in hand the officer asked, “How long have you been in the country?” “A few weeks,” Mike replied. It turned out that Mike made what we call a “California stop” and had rolled through a stop sign. To tell you the truth I wasn’t paying that close of attention and Mike thought he had made a complete stop. We were let off with a warning and asked to please make a complete stop from here on!

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