Quarterly Reports

Quarterly Reports

Read about our work so far.


Quarter Four (Q4) Report 2020

The study of tawaki foraging behaviour in Milford Sound/Piopiotahi was concluded in late October, collecting data from 13 chick-rearing tawaki. While the results reflect observations made in previous years, the
comparison to data collected simultaneously in Doubtful Sound/Patea appears to reveal significant differences in behaviour, suggesting fjord specific-foraging strategies. Blood samples for stable isotope analysis were collected at both sites. During a visit to Doubtful Sound to collect these samples, one of two birds fitted with GPS dive loggers in September that could not be recaptured at the time, was encountered and the device recovered after 51 days. The establishment of a stoat trap line in Harrison Cove, Milford Sound proved to be highly valuable; a total of five stoats were eliminated and no sign of predation in the tawaki colony was evident. 35 tawaki chicks were PIT tagged in Milford and Doubtful Sounds. NZPI also participated in a comprehensive survey of Yellow-eyed penguins/hoiho on Stewart Island/Rakiura during which new tawaki colonies were mapped for the national database. In contrast to the population developments in Rakiura hoiho, tawaki on the island appear to experience high breeding success and are present in substantial numbers. This is also reflected in the latest IUCN red list listings published in December 2020, that find tawaki as one of 25 other animal species world-wide being down listed to a lower threat ranking – primarily owing to the species-review undertaken by NZPI. Little progress has been made in NZPI’s effort to get research permits for a long-term project on Erect-crested and Rockhopper penguins. The permitting process suffers from a lack of transparency and proceeds at a glacial pace jeopardizing vital research. The development of the New Zealand Penguin Database has progressed with significant improvements based on data recorded during the Tawaki Project and by community groups working with kororā on the West Coast and in Taranaki. Under direction of NZPI, both West Coast Penguin Trust (WCPT) and the Ngā Motu Marine Reserve Society (NMMRS) have started establishment of marked kororā populations. In both groups, members were trained to become L2 certified by the NZ banding office. In collaboration with NMMRS supporters, a prototype for an automatic transponder reading system is being developed, while the collaboration with SIRCET and Halfmoon Bay school on Stewart Island/Rakiura is ramping up with a growing number of kororā observations being reported from NZPI supplied trail cameras. Kororā tracking with WCPT provided valuable insights into behaviour and required recovery efforts; tracking data from 11 penguins were recorded.

Full Report

Quarter Three (Q3) Report 2020

Satellite tracking of the winter dispersal of tawaki has been concluded with the cessation of transmissions in mid-August; some birds travelled up to 13,000 km over the course of six months. GPS tracking of breeding tawaki commenced in Milford and Doubtful Sounds in September 2020. Field work conditions at both sites were difficult due to logistical constraints and unsettled weather preventing access to study sites. Nevertheless, GPS and dive data sets could be recorded from penguins from Doubtful Sound; work in Milford Sound is still ongoing. Six new tawaki colonies were mapped in Doubtful and Thompson Sounds.  The transponder gate in Harrison Cove suffered a malfunctioning component that needs replacement, so the unit has remained inoperable since July. Development of the New Zealand Penguin Database progressed substantially. We now have devised a data entry application for Android Smartphones that links recorded data to the NZPDB. The app runs on devices that NZPI will supply to community groups. The new system is currently being used by the Tawaki Project and the West Coast Penguin Trust before being rolled out to more community groups. Work with Little penguin community groups is progressing at pace. We have initiated a kororā survey project with the Halfmoon Bay school on Stewart Island/Rakiura using trail cameras maintained by the pupils.

Full Report

Quarter Two (Q2) Report 2020

Satellite tracking of the winter dispersal of tawaki is almost completed, with the data showing differences in the dispersal patterns of the three study groups. Adjustments have been made to the transponder gate in Harrison Cove post-storm event; in its first year of operation the gate recorded 718 passes by 17 individual tawaki. A manuscript of last year’s Erect-crested penguin census on the Bounty Islands has been submitted and a feature article detailing the expedition was published in Birds NZ Magazine. The permit application to continue Erect-crested penguin research in the Subantarctic is still being discussed within DOC. The Tawaki Project annual report has been published. The national kororā monitoring programme has taken a big stride forward with publication of the monitoring protocols and development of a prototype NZ Penguin Database. Tracking of kororā will continue this season in collaboration with the West Coast Penguin Trust. NZPI and Tawaki Project research recently featured in two brilliant short documentaries, and finally NZPI’s advisory group held their inaugural meeting.

Full Report

Quarter One (Q1) Report 2020

Eighteen satellite transmitters were deployed on post-moult tawaki as we track their winter dispersal for the second consecutive year. Dispersal of birds that were provisioned through the moult is being compared to natural moulters. The tracking data has been made available for public viewing and has been very well received and widely shared. An upgraded solar panel has been installed on the automated monitoring gate in Harrison Cove. Analysis of nest camera footage supports our findings from last year’s intensive monitoring period at Jackson Head- stoats were not present. NZPI gave input on the IUCN Red List species assessment of tawaki and erect-crested penguins. The permit application for research activities in the sub-Antarctic progressed following a pre-application meeting with DOC’s marine threats unit. The national little penguin/ kororā monitoring programme gained momentum with visits to eight community groups. We are now drafting universal monitoring protocols while developing a centralised monitoring database. Regional visits and information exchange also contributed towards a review of human impacts on kororā.

Full Report

Quarter Four (Q4) Report 2019

Phase 2 of the Tawaki Project got underway with GPS dive tracking of breeding birds from two sites in Milford Sound: camera logger deployments had to be postponed to the coming season as research permits were received too late and penguins entered the post-guard stage by the time field work started. Adjustments have been made to the automatic transponder gate in Harrison Cove to improve its functionality. In October, Thomas joined a DOC and NIWA expedition to the Bounty Islands to survey erect-crested penguins. Ground and drone surveys were conducted on Proclamation Island, with additional drone surveys of other Islands. Results indicated that the Bounty Island population has remained stable for at least the last two decades. The expedition also highlighted the efficacy of using drones to survey seabirds in NZ’s sub-Antarctic. In the wake of this expedition, we have submitted a revised proposal for penguin research activities in the sub-Antarctic. A trial kororā GPS tracking programme was initiated with the West Coast Penguin Trust and the national kororā monitoring programme moved forward through time on the ground with community groups.

Full Report

Quarter Three (Q3) Report 2019

The satellite tracking of tawaki over the winter months concluded in August 2019 with recovery of most of the penguins and some of the satellite transmitters. The Tawaki Project received its permits for the next 10 years and has started this year’s field work in Milford Sound. We conducted a recce trip to Doubtful Sound where we plan to expand the Tawaki Project work to in the coming years. An intensive monitoring period at Jackson Head found no evidence for stoats despite the severe mast year. NZPI in collaboration with DOC will conduct the first survey of Erect-crested penguins on the Bounty Islands in nearly two decades and assess working conditions for future research on the Antipodes Islands. Liaison with community groups engaging in Little penguin conservation continued and first field work training will commence in November on the West Coast. The 10th International Penguin Conference helped substantially with the outreach to community groups in NZ and to establish collaborations with international colleagues in the future.

Full Report

Quarter Two (Q2) Report 2019

The satellite tracking of tawaki during their winter dispersal has continued with great success, not only providing new insights into the species’ utilization of the Southern Ocean but also resulting in a new, less-intrusive device attachment. Permit applications for the next phase of the Tawaki Project, to examine the importance of fjords as refugia for tawaki, are being processed. Progress has been made to identify community groups working with Little penguins/kororā across NZ, a list of research projects has been complied and reported human impact incidents recorded.

Full Report

Quarter One (Q1) Report 2019

The first three months of the fledgling project tentatively named “NZ Penguin Conservation & Research” focussed largely on establishing a workplace framework, outreach to various community groups, liaison with DOC and other stakeholders regarding permitting issues, as well as research activities on Fiordland penguins/tawaki. All tasks within the “Establishment Phase” category have been completed

Full Report


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