A quick glance at the chart to the left tracking the nightly blue penguin arrivals at the Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony shows that this is a very tumultuous month for penguin viewing here. The cause of this is the annual moult, when the penguins lose their feathers and a new set comes up in their place. During this two-week process the penguins are not fully waterproof so they cannot venture out into the ocean to feed, so prior to the commencement of their moult they pack on the kgs to allow them the capacity to survive without feeding for such a lengthy period. One imagines that the penguins are probably not in the jollyest of moods during this process, too, which might explain why you don’t hear the usual commotion in the colony among the penguins–they’re probably all staying in their nests and moping, with nothing to say to one another.
Even so, the viewing has been interesting the past several weeks. We have had a number of visitors whom we’ve escorted to the colony in recent weeks, and we have been treated to a number of spectacles, not the least of which being the surprise arrival of an Erect Crested Penguin one evening. Apparently some visitors caught sight of what they thought was a Yellow-Eyed Penguin and reported it to the staff, who summoned DOC to come by to check it out. DOC were as shocked as anyone to learn it was not a Yellow-Eyed by the far more unusual (for this area, anyway) Erect Crested, which normally makes its home in the subantarctic islands! This poor penguin got caught going into the moult a bit off the beaten path and made his way to our beach, where he almost surely would not have fared very well, so he was brought in, looked after to make sure he was OK, and then sent to an alternative location to serve out his moult.
In addition, even though the penguin numbers have been relatively small, they still come in in sufficient quantities to make the spectacle of their drying off and reapplying the waterproofing oil be very charming, and in fact the weather has been just beautiful (autumn is always a far more settled time of year in this part of NZ than summer, which can be very variable), and warm enough to go out in the evening in just shirt sleeves to watch the penguin display!