Robin Long at Port Pegasus

Tawaki Ranger, Robin Long, went searching for Fiordland crested penguins a couple of months ago and reports on her adventure.

Our plan was to survey for Fiordland crested penguins or tawaki along a remote stretch of the Stewart Island coast by kayak.

As for last year, I was assisted by Simon Litchwark and we were very fortunate to hitch a ride down to Port Pegasus on August 28th with Aurora Charters, and back again on September 8th. While we were down there we got around in a double sit on top kayak kindly lent to us by a friend of Simon, Phil Bradfield.

Two of the days were too windy to go out paddling but aside from that we managed to make things work in spite of it being quite wet and windy and not always very pleasant. In total we paddled 165km over the eight days and managed to cover most of the Port, which I didn’t think we’d manage given how windy it was when first got there.

Simon Litchwark and full kayak Port Pegasus
Simon Litchwark and full kayak – Port Pegasus

We found a total of 54 nests. Almost all of these were in caves along the sea cliffs, much like we found along the northern coast of Stewart Island last year. We found none in the inner, more sheltered, parts of the port but as we got closer to the open sea we found them in most of the occupiable caves. Unfortunately we were limited by the swell making it increasingly difficult to land and search the caves as we went further out, but we were able to check the backs of Noble and Anchorage Islands on one especially calm day.

Whale checking us out
Whale checking us out

The 54 nests were distributed as follows: 27 on Noble Island; 2 on Anchorage Island; 5 on Pearl Island (probably more but the sea was too rough for us to search the outer coast); 2 on the headland north of North Pegasus Hunters Hut; 14 on the mainland south of South Passage; 4 in Small Craft Retreat. None in any of the inner coastline which is why we didn’t prioritize the time to search Sylvan Cove but focused on the outer parts instead.

Map of Port Pegasus, South East corner, Stewart Island
Map of Port Pegasus, South East corner, Stewart Island

The results of this survey support our hypothesis from last year that there are a significant number of tawaki breeding around Stewart Island, but their preference for rough coastlines is going to make most of the population impossible to survey. Explorer, Tara Mulvaney, kayaked around Stewart Island a couple of years ago and said she saw probably several hundred scattered the whole way around the coast.

We also saw a bunch of Yellow-eyed Penguin trails in the more sheltered areas, got chased by sea lions in Small Craft Retreat and met a curious southern right whale at the base of Bald Cone who swam in circles and back and forth under our kayak for at least half an hour!

As you can read, Robin volunteers a lot of her time and goes to great efforts to help learn more about and protect these beautiful birds, the tawaki. If you feel you would like to donate some funds to help with future surveys and projects, please do get in touch with us. Many thanks.

Seal checking out the kayak
Seal checking out the kayak
Simon Litchwark checking penguin habitat
Simon Litchwark waiting for me checking penguin habitat