News from Taiaroa Head/Pukekura

Department of Conservation —  25/03/2014

By Lyndon Perriman, Head Ranger at Taiaroa Head/Pukekura

Perfect weather for young albatross chicks

Summer in Dunedin didn’t seem to stay around for long this year, but I wasn’t complaining. Unlike most years, where fly strike leads to the loss of young albatross chicks, we had such mild weather over the hatching period that no fly strike occurred.

Last season we had 26 chicks fledge. We are hopeful that the 24 chicks on the headland this season will all fledge, making a nice round 50 fledglings in two years.

Seven years abroad: Pukekura’s 500th royal albatross returns

After seven years abroad, the 500th royal albatross chick to have hatched at Taiaroa Head/Pukekura, has finally returned home.

Toroa, the 500th royal albatross chick.

Toroa, the 500th royal albatross chick to have hatched at Pukekura

Toroa, and two other chicks, had transmitters attached to their back feathers when they fledged in 2007.

All three survived their long journey at sea for the first year, after which the transmitters stopped sending back signals. It has been a long wait to see if any of these birds would return.

Map of albatross flight path from New Zealand to Chile.

Map of albatross flight path from New Zealand to Chile.

Toroa, the grandson of ‘Grandma’—the colony’s oldest bird (over 60 years old when last seen in 1989)—arrived home to find his own parents breeding again.

The image below shows Toroa with a two-month old sibling. This chick is on its nest close to where Toroa himself was raised.

Toroa sitting in the background with his two-month-old sibling in the foreground

Toroa sitting in the background with his two-month-old sibling in the foreground

Toroa has been hanging around this same area not because of any bond with his sibling or his parent (there is no interaction between parents and returned chicks), but because he, like most males, will nest fairly close to the site where he was raised as a chick. Nest sites tend to be closer to the male hatch site than to the females hatch site.

Scurvy explosion

Cook’s scurvy grass (Lepidium oleraceum) has had a population explosion here at Taiaroa Head/Pukekura.

Cook's scurvy grass has had a population explosion

Cook’s scurvy grass has had a population explosion

Just three plants of this threatened species (once abundant and used by Captain Cook to help reduce the effects of scurvy) were on Pukekura last year.

Now, nestled in among the 2000 pairs of red-billed gulls (that produced plenty of quality fertilizer), this species numbers over 40 large healthy plants.

The ice plant in the background of the image above is South African, and was probably introduced onto the headland to help hide the stone and concrete gun emplacements used during the Russian Scare of the late 1880’s.

Interestingly, the ice plant can not tolerate the excreta from gulls and dies back, whereas gull excreta doesn’t affect the native ice plant found in the same area.

Planting for penguins

The Pukekura Trust little penguin colony at Pilots Beach has recently benefited from Air New Zealand Environmental Trust funding.

This allowed several hundred new natives to be planted—mostly by school children—throughout the reserve.

Small native plants nestled in the grass on a hillside. Sea in the background.

New natives have been planted throughout the reserve

You can see part of the little penguin viewing platform in the image above. Here, at dusk, as many as 300 little penguins waddle in from the sea.