The Little Blue Penguin of New Zealand (Penguins & Albatross-Part Three)

Now talk about cute! The Little Blue Penguin, standing only about 10 inches tall, to me, is the cutest of the cute penguins. I saw these tiny birds at the Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony in New Zealand. They have black heads, white chests and indigo-blue tails, where their tails and their size give them their name. They are the smallest species of the world’s penguins.

At the Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony, I sat in bleachers, as if I was watching a sports game or a concert. I was outdoors, in the dark, with artificial lights overhead. Once the sun had set, the penguins would waddle up the beach, and travel beyond the bleachers to their nests for the evening.

Little Blue Penguin..too cute!

Once the Little Blue Penguins had settled in for the evening, I had an opportunity to listen to their sounds, which differed from the noises of the Yellow-Eyed Penguins I had heard during another penguin encounter. The sounds of the Little Blue Penguins were absolutely like nothing I have ever heard before, however. The best way I can describe it is like an orchestra of 1,000 whining and crying babies, in a very good way. It was music to the ears!

My final penguin experience was in Australia at the Phillip Island Nature Park. Here I watched a species of penguin that is only found in Southern Australia, known as the Little Penguins. Yes, again very cute, as these creatures measure only around 13 inches tall. Like the Little Blue Penguins of New Zealand, the Little Penguins wait until after sunset before they come marching ashore to their sand dune burrows.

The home of a Little Blue Penguin, with feathers from molting.

To watch this event, each of us on the beach at sunset was given night vision goggles. It was a great way to see these penguins go from the seas to their homes, as without the goggles, it would have been too dark to see them. I must say that this experience also felt like I was spying on the penguins, as did my experience in the trench-like tunnels at the Yellow-Eyed Penguin Conservation Reserve in Dunedin, New Zealand.

Well, this now concludes my birding experiences with albatross and penguins during my travels to New Zealand and Australia. Very soon, I will be doing a lot more birding, as I head off to the Galapagos Islands off the coast of Ecuador. Here I hope to see the Galapagos Penguins (the only penguin to live on the Equator), the Waved Albatross (the only albatross to live in the tropics), and many other birds, including the Blue-footed Booby (an apparently clumsy seabird found most notably in the Galapagos)!

Sweet Travels!

Yellow-Eyed Penguins in New Zealand (Penguins & Albatross-Part Two)

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.

Very cute!

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.

Waddle, waddle!

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.

Marching up!

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.

Sweet Travels!

Royal Albatross in New Zealand (Penguins & Albatross-Part One)

Two species of birds. In many ways, quite opposite. The smaller flightless bird with an aquatic life, very capable swimmers – the penguin. The very large bird with an aerial life, very capable flyers – the albatross. Some species of penguins are less than a foot in height. Some species of albatross have wingspans of over 12 feet. Most of us have probably seen “March of The Penguins,” or “Happy Feet,” and we might even think of cold Antarctica when we think of penguins. And some of us may have even heard of the legend that albatross are believed to carry the souls of lost or drowned sailors out at sea. But no matter which bird, they are both equally fascinating!

The Royal Albatross in Flight

My travels have not only been about meeting people, or learning about other cultures, or visiting museums and churches, or touring and walking through cities, or shopping. My travels are also about being outdoors, in nature, and observing wildlife. During my travels, I have had three experiences watching penguins, and one encounter viewing albatross. And neither of these have been in the cold Antarctic, nor out at sea. They have been in New Zealand and Australia.

The Breeding Grounds of the Royal Albatross Centre

At The Royal Albatross Centre in Dunedin, New Zealand, I took a guided tour of a colony of a species of albatross, the Royal Albatross, one of the largest seabirds in the world. Here I walked on paths that took me up close to the areas where these birds breed and feed. At the time of year that I was there, I was able to see adorable fluffy-looking albatross babies, and their parents taking care of them. Through binoculars in an observation center, I watched these beautiful creatures soaring above.

The Majestic Wingspan

I learned a lot of interesting facts about the majestic Royal Albatross during my tour. Not only is their wingspan nearly 12 feet in length, which is more than twice as tall as I am, they spend most of their lives in flight or at sea using these powerful wings. The birds amazingly travel up to 118,000 miles per year, at speeds of nearly 75 miles per hour. (I actually learned these statistics in meters and kilometers, but translated them to feet and miles for this blog.)

Fledgling and Parent

Due to the accountant in me, I had to figure out some of these stats as they relate to the planet Earth. The circumference of the Earth is about 25,000 miles. This means that the Royal Albatross can circumnavigate the Earth almost 5 times per year! Wow – the strength and stamina of their wings!

The Royal Albatross make for loving and committing couples. They mate for life. During the breeding season, they lay one egg, and once it is hatched, the parents take turns feeding and protecting their fledgling. After approximately a year, the baby albatross is ready to take flight. At this time, the parents leave the colony to take to the air and the seas. The male and female actually separate to fly around the world in opposite directions. (I’m not sure which one goes clockwise.) Yet after two years of traveling alone, they return to the same breeding ground, arriving within a couple days of one another to meet and breed once again. Talk about romantic!

Please read my next blog where I describe my penguin encounters.

Sweet Travels!

“Junk” Jewelry from my Travels

I’m not quite sure how this collection began. I’m not quite sure why it began. I’m not quite sure when and where it began. But somehow during my travels, I started to collect what I call “junk” jewelry. Actually, maybe it began because I wanted some small souvenirs from my travels that would fit in my backpack, without taking up a lot of space or weighing much. And, well, this stuff didn’t even need to fit in my backpack; instead I just wore it on a finger, a wrist, or around my neck.


Since I started this collection, I haven’t stopped, and now I try to buy some memory that I can wear from everywhere I travel. Sometimes it has been one piece of jewelry representing an entire country. Other times, I have collected something in each city that I was visiting during a particular trip. I must say that it actually has become quite fun to shop around for my perfect piece of “junk” jewelry.

When I look at my collection now, sometimes I wonder just what I was thinking when I bought something, as there were times when I must have picked the gaudiest item around. Like the big dark pink bracelet I bought in Venice, Italy – although, it does have its own appeal. Or the gold-wire-looped ring I bought in some other European city. On the other hand (no pun intended), I have also purchased other pieces that are actually really quite nice.


The most exquisite piece I bought was in Paris. Prior to my trip, my sister had shopped at a store, called Metal Pointus, that sells unique jewelry made out of metal. I purchased a bracelet that is truly a conversation piece. Ironically, my sister had purchased the matching ring years earlier, and when I returned home, she gave me her ring, so now I have a complete set! (Thanks, sis.)


I try to buy my jewelry mostly at local outdoor markets, flea markets, festivals or fairs, in order to get something locally made, individually made, and handcrafted by a local artist. One of my favorite pieces was purchased in Copenhagen at an outdoor Art Market. This bracelet was hand-made using stones and reed from the Amazon, and I love it! Truly a sample of art.


Here are some other “junk” jewelry stories: When I was living in Australia, I actually made my own matching pink bracelet and necklace set. I bought pieces made out of amber in the Baltic Sea. (Please read a previous blog about this.) I purchased a ring made out of wood, specifically Siberian Birch, which I bought at a local festival in my own neighborhood. The purple-beaded, bent-metal bracelet came from an outdoor market in Brussels, which is another piece that I consider a sample of art. Finally, the necklace with the red stones was given to me by a special stranger, while I was in Cappadocia, Turkey. (Again, please read a previous blog about this.)


All in all, whether I purchased some jewelry that was truly “junk,” whether it is something really nice to wear, whether I consider the piece to be a sample of art, or whether the piece is for sentimental value, I must say that collecting “junk” jewelry while I travel is a fun way to not only shop, but also a great way to experience the local flavor of a city, a country, a store or market, and a local artist.


Collecting “junk” jewelry is a great way to have a small souvenir that doesn’t even need to fit into a backpack, and brings back many memories each time I wear something.

Sweet Travels!