Photo shows the outer harbour beyond the breakwater (foreground) from Saraoni's spreaders. Penguins are nesting in the cracks between the large rocks that make up the breakwater. The nearest and loudest pair is nesting under the flax bush at bottom right.
We are back behind the Tutukaka marina breakwater and so are the penguins.
These are (little) blues and are a little smaller than the Galapagos penguins we saw last year in Isabela. In fact, they are the world's smallest penguins. The pairs share the incubating and chick caring, once eggs are laid a little later in the year. They make a hell of a noise just before dawn, a sort of braying, donkey like noise. Once they start up, it's hard to sleep. The closest pair to us is using a large clump of flax just metres from our bow. There are 5 other pairs at last count along the line of rocks towards the fuel wharf.
The penguins normally head out of the main harbour offshore to do their feeding just before dawn and return on dusk, but for some reason or other, only one penguin is jumping into the water each morning out of the whole colony at the moment. The others seem to be staying in their rocky holes all day and night. Perhaps they are moulting, which takes 2 - 3 weeks every year, but that normally finishes much earlier - around Feb or March, so we don't know what is going on! Perhaps they are too busy on Facebook? Nigel, Whangarei DOC's bird guy, speculated that they may be busy "cementing their relationships", whatever that means!
For all the usual imported predator reasons, plus human disturbance, road kill etc. there are not many of NZ's 3 species of penguins nesting successfully on the mainland. Most of them are now only nesting on predator free offshore islands. It looks as if the Tutukaka penguins nest here because of the structure of the breakwater. Dogs and feral cats can't get at them and ad hoc local predator control keeps the stoats away. The famous Oamaru (SI) penguins, where visitors can see up to 200 little blues arriving in the evening, took to nesting in an abandoned quarry. Perhaps because the income from visitors goes towards controlling potential predators, that particular colony is doing ok.
In the winter season, there are far fewer boats moving in and out of the marina, so the local wildlife has it more to themselves. The bottom of the food chain are the large schools of sprats and pilchards, which are kai for just about everything around here. The feeding frenzy starts just before dawn, with trevally and other predators chasing the little bait fish. Then, as the sun comes up, pied shags and black cormorants, gannets, terns, white faced herons and kingfishers take over.
At night, normally just after sunset or just before dawn, we can hear kiwi calling: a male and a female in the bush above the marina and several others from the Te Maika area across the harbour. A female kiwi was making her harsh call in the bush just above the marina office half an hour after dawn this morning. One wonders just how many kiwis (the human variety) have ever heard or seen a wild kiwi. More common are the morepork owls (ruru). About half a dozen call all around from the bush: they seem to spend more time yakking to each other than hunting!
The other obvious creatures here are the rays: short tailed and long tailed rays wander around inside the shallow shores, looking for crabs and molluscs and occasionally eagle rays or bottle nosed dolphins find their way into the marina.
We are getting the boat bedded down for the winter before we take off and checking everything we need to do when we have more time when we get back. We have also managed to resurrect our sailing dinghy, the rig of which has survived 10 years in the Kaitaia backblocks with the cows jumping all over it.
Tutukaka has 9 small beaches of its own, separated by rocky headlands and Philip Island in the middle. They're just right for a sail and a sundowner, although by 6 it's already dark and too chilly to hang around!
Kukutuwhao Island (Lighthouse Island) at the end of the Tutukaka DOC reserve
Tutukaka harbour from the lighthouse on Kukutuwhao Island