King penguin

26/01/05 King penguin, Aptenodytes patagonicus, on Barrytown beach, West Coast

An immature King penguin was first discovered on Barrytown beach, on the West Coast of the South Island (just north of Greymouth), on 26 January 2005. Department of Conservation staff were alerted to the bird on 30 January, and photos of the bird were taken on 31 Jan and sent to Graeme Taylor, who alerted us. This is the third mainland New Zealand record, with two previous records being at Moeraki, Otago before 1930, and Timaru, Canterbury in 1991. Two birds have come ashore on Stewart Island, one before 1930 and the other in 1984, with birds having moulted ashore on several of the NZ sub-antarctic islands, and doing so regularly on Campbell Island.

The initial photos of the bird show that it had only recently come ashore, with the moult in the very early stages. The bird is almost certainly from Macquarie Island (Australia), where an estimated 70,000 plus breeding pairs reside.

Sav and Steve Wood ‘flew’ to the site on 2 Feb and found the bird happily standing on the beach. As Brent was guiding at the time (and had passed the beach without realising it was there on 29 Jan!) it was an excruciating three and a half day wait until he was able to get back to Barrytown. After dropping the birding clients off at Christchurch airport it was a quick trip through to the West Coast, with other seemingly inconsiderate road users unaware there was a King penguin waiting on the West Coast. Running down the beach through the thick fog objects loomed in the fog… tree stump……no another tree stump… that it….

Yes it is!

This is a ‘huge’ rarity – in more ways than one – and very relieved to see it. An amazing bird, and hopefully the coverage it has received on National news will not lead to too much human interference. Whilst Brent was there another two birders who had heard about the bird on the News arrived, as did another four non-birders, and another two were heading towards the bird a little later.

The pictures below show that the bird has a long way to go in its moult, having lost very few feathers yet.

However, on 05/02 the bird was not present on the beach, after it was seen being approached very closely by people the afternoon before. At least two very sad birders had a long trip back to Christchurch that day. The bird was however relocated again on 05/02, at another more public location further along the coast. It is hoped that the penguin may receive less attention there and complete its moult.