Considering the strong El Niño weather pattern this year, officially declared by NIWA recently having forecast it for some time, we have been relieved to see a very different story play out at South Westland tawaki colonies this season compared to 2015 , when El Niño had disastrous effects and all chicks starved.   We hope the season continues in this positive way for 2023.

Sarah Kivi and Lucy Waller, our two rangers, took a monitoring excursion down to Haast to do a second check on the colonies at the beginning of this month.

The terrain at the two sites are quite different, with Jackson Head being a very exposed coastal, rocky area and Knight’s Point being sheltered and very much in the dense rain forest. Burrowscoping is not needed for tawaki in these areas as it is for little penguins in Charleston, as they tend to nest in rocky outcrops and under bushes and trees.


Jackson Head coat view


Sarah Kivi climbing up steep cliffs of Jackson Head to monitor the tawaki nests.


At Jackson Head, we monitored 16 active nests: 1 failed nest with a dead chick, 3 burrows with 2 large healthy looking chicks, 12 nests with 1 large, healthy looking chick.


A very different habitat for the tawaki of Knight’s Point.


At Knight’s Point, we monitored 13 active nests: 2 failed nests with abandoned eggs or empty that had had eggs, 1 nest with 1 egg and a sitting adult, 4 nests with 2 large, healthy looking chicks, 6 nests with 1 chick each.

Compared to the 2015 El Niño season, this El Niño season is shaping up quite differently, which shows us that each El Niño/La Niña that comes brings with it different outcomes for breeding success of seabirds.  As a species, tawaki usually only raise one chick, with the first-hatched much smaller and perhaps back-up chick not surviving past a few days.  Seeing two healthy chicks in nest groups is very encouraging and indicates abundant food supply.


Tawaki egg shell.


Sarah in a tawaki cave checking for chicks.


Tawaki sitting on chick.


Tawaki chick possibly started crèche stage when chicks gather together under the watchful eye of a couple of adults while other adults are at sea to forage. 


Tawaki adults and chicks.


Thanks Sarah Kivi for stepping back in as tawaki ranger this season and for being a great guide for Lucy and for all your hard work you have done for the Trust and Tawaki over the last past years. A thank you to Andre and Polly too, for all the monitoring and trapping efforts they have done and for guiding Sarah this year. Our rangers past and present work well together to guide each other around old and new sites to make sure we get the best possible outcome for our monitoring and research.