OK, I’ll admit now that I like birding. I consider myself a very, very amateur birder, as I don’t really have a good eye for spotting birds, or knowing exactly what birds I am looking at, or what all their names are. But with the help of more experienced birders, I have seen quite a few interesting sights. For example, while in the Everglades in Florida, I saw the only native flock of Flamingos in the mainland United States, one of the more rare species of birds that I have encountered. Very pink!
Penguin Crossing Sign at the Yellow-Eyed Penguin Conservation Reserve in New Zealand
I have also observed large flocks of birds, especially during migrations. In my own state of Washington, I have seen thousands of Snow Geese, and thousands of Shore Birds, such as the Western Sandpiper. Amazing to see so many birds in one place at one time! I have also witnessed some fascinating bird behavior, including a Peregrine Falcon diving down to catch a Swallow in mid-air, and a Merlin harassing that flock of Shore Birds.
But, I will also confess that I just plain find some birds cute. Yes, cute! The penguin is one of them! So, during my trips to New Zealand and Australia, I made it a point to go to a few places where I could watch these adorable creatures.
My first penguin experiences were in New Zealand, one in Dunedin at the Yellow-Eyed Penguin Conservation Reserve, and the other in Oamaru at the Bushey Beach Yellow-Eyed Penguin Colony. The Yellow-Eyed Penguins look like they are going to a formal Halloween gathering, with their black and white tuxedos, their bright yellow “mask” that surrounds their head and pale yellow eyes, and their pink shoes, I mean pink webbed feet. They are an endangered species of penguin, found only in southern New Zealand and outlying islands, and measure just over two feet tall.
Around twilight, the penguins come marching up (no pun intended; well, yes, I did intend the pun) from the seas, after being out all day swimming and fishing. They land on the sandy beaches and waddle their way into their nests for the night in order to feed their chicks. At the Conservation Reserve, there were camouflaged trench-like tunnels in order for us observers to watch this behavior without disturbing the penguins. I felt like I was spying on them, and they never even knew I was there.
Once the penguins reached their homes, I listened to the sounds they made. Absolutely amazing sounds that I had never heard before; a sort-of high-pitched trill that they make when they are greeting their mates in their nest for the night. A kind-of “welcome home, honey. How was your day?,” I suppose.
During my time at the Conservation Reserve, I also witnessed the molting of some penguin feathers, which is a process in which all feathers of a penguin are totally replaced. Very proudly, the penguins stand or lay in one spot as the feathers fall off and create a pile surrounding them. It was as if they had a pillow fight, and all the feathers broke out of the pillows and landed on the ground. Very cute indeed!
While I would say that these penguin experiences weren’t necessarily rare, nor were there thousands of penguins to observe at once, I will say that their waddling behaviors, the sounds that they made, and the experience of seeing the end results of their pillow fights, made for some great birding!
Please read my next blog where I continue to describe more penguin encounters.