16 August 2012

Luxury beachfront accommodation for penguins

Chris Hishon (front) and
Richard Heyward with their
purpose-built nest boxes for
the Fiordland penguin.
Credit: Real Journeys
NEW ZEALAND - The proactive and DIY attitude of two Real Journeys staff, combined with support from the Leslie Hutchins Conservation Foundation, has led to the creation of luxury beachfront accommodation for rare Fiordland penguins at Milford Sound’s Harrison Cove.

Chris Hishon, skipper of the overnight Milford Sound cruise boat, the Milford Mariner, and nature guide Richard Heyward have constructed purpose-built nest boxes for the penguins in a bid to provide them with a safe breeding haven, particularly for their susceptible chicks.

The two men's ongoing concern with protecting the species started about five years ago, when Heyward began a stoat-trapping programme in prime Fiordland penguin sites around Milford Sound.

“The programme was undertaken to protect the breeding pairs and their very vulnerable chicks. Due to the success of the trapping penguin chick survival rates have increased and there has been a marked growth in the number of penguins returning each year to Milford Sound to breed,” said Heyward.

In addition to stoat trapping they have spearheaded a possum-trapping operation over the past two years at Harrison Cove.

“Possum numbers had got so high foliage was being stripped from some plant species, preventing rejuvenation and leaving penguin nesting sites significantly more exposed to the elements,” said Hishon.

“In the last two years Real Journeys’ crew have trapped around 100 possums in the Harrison Cove area where the Milford Mariner moors overnight. While this means improved protection for the surrounding vegetation it is also indicative of the large possum population in the Milford Sound area.”

During their trapping forays ashore Heyward and Hishon became aware that there was a shortage of good natural nesting habitat to support the growing Fiordland penguin population.

“To some extent the birds were being forced to nest in exposed places and we felt that if the nesting success rate was to continue the penguins needed more sheltered habitat in Harrison Cove," said Heyward.

The Department of Conservation gave them consent to construct nesting boxes and the Leslie Hutchins Conservation Foundation provided funding for the building materials.

“With the approval and funding in hand we got cracking in my garage and built six spacious tantalised plywood nesting boxes complete with individual verandas," said Hishon.

“The boxes were then transported by Real Journeys’ coach to Milford Sound and taken to Harrison Cove by cruise boat. Richard and I had a great time installing the new beachfront units around the outskirts of the coastal breeding area.

"We made them look as natural as possible, from a penguin’s perspective, camouflaging them with vegetation and rocks.”

With the project complete, all Real Journeys Milford Sound staff, but no one more than Heyward and Hishon, are waiting in anticipation to discover whether the Fiordland penguins approve of their new luxury waterfront accommodation.

“The birds will start to return to Milford Sound in the next few weeks for the breeding season and understandably we are anxious to see if the additional breeding habitat in Harrison Cove meets with the satisfaction of the penguins.

"If it does then ultimately it will lead to a boost in numbers of this important and very rare species.”

Luxury Milford Sound beachfront penguin accommodation, 15 August 2012, Real Journeys

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