First albatross chick 2017 with ranger Lyndon Perriman
Image: Chris McCormack
This year 29 of the 33 nests dotted around the royal albatross colony at Pukekura are fertile. The other four nests have been provided with dummy egg to give the parents practice at nesting and to provide a back-up if a nest fails.
Manager of Operations Taiaroa Head, Hoani Langsbury says "the overcast and dull weather is perfect for nest hatching currently as summer heat during January and February can be a challenge for the nesting adults and young chicks as overheating and fly strike can cause mortality. DOC rangers work longer hours over this crucial time to ensure the best chances for successful hatching. Fly strike, where flies lay live maggots on hatching eggs or chicks, heat stress and infections are major risks and constant monitoring is essential".
The new Royal cam albatross chick is due to hatch around 29 January.
Hoani adds "fans have been avidly watching the Royal cam couple and waiting for the new chick to hatch. This year Otago Peninsula Trust plan to put more cameras on the 20 different species that breed at Pukekura/Taiaroa Head to help raise awareness of the conservation efforts here. This season we've had an issue with stoats on the colony which are proving very difficult to catch. We believe they have had an impact on the chicks of the endangered red-billed gull and have concerns over prey switching post red-billed gull fledging to other species breeding here, including the albatross. Alongside DOC rangers we've increased pressure on predators across the headland to try and mitigate the risk to young chicks".
145 albatross have been spotted this season since September with 14 birds returning for the first time. The first bird back for the 2016/17 season was ROB, who had had a tough time finding a replacement partner, however he has been spotted 'keeping company' with a female so may breed again soon. Over October/November 36 eggs were laid with two infertile eggs, three early embryo deaths, one broken egg and one late embryo death leaving the 29 fertile eggs. DOC rangers will spend the next month intensively working to ensure successful hatching, this includes checking the eggs and chicks, often a few times a day, to watch out for infection and maggots.
The 14 newly returning birds will not have touched land for over five years until their return to Pukekura/Taiaroa Head for breeding. This season they are seen displaying adolescent behaviours including partying, courting, display flying with the aim of finding a mate.
Otago Peninsula Trust General Manager Robyn McDonald says "this is a wonderful time to visit the colony as there are several nests within view of our exclusive viewing observatory on the nature reserve. The chicks are eagerly awaited by all our team who love the birds and to share with visitors the exhilaration of seeing awesome albatross".
"Of course there are concerns if it becomes a hot Summer and the effect it has on albatross chicks. Otago Peninsula Trust helps with care for the albatross on those very hot days by providing water for the nest irrigation system. All our water is trucked in, which costs us around $100,000 each year. We raise funds for water and support to ensure we are able to assist the Department of Conservation to keep albatross and chicks cool on blistering hot days through our tour operations, Givealittle page and visitor donations. Trust staff volunteer up to 80 hours through the year to help DOC Rangers with albatross care including weighing, supplementary feeding and pest control".