Sunday 28 April 2013

Close call at Stewart Island

Thank goodness. A ship ran aground yesterday on rocks just off Paterson Inlet on Stewart Island and holed its fuel tank, but it was only diesel and apparently evaporated or dispersed in the rough conditions without causing any damage to the environment. It happened in a marine reserve, and right by Ulva Island, which is a pest-free haven for a teeming population of birds of all sorts, including kiwi and saddlebacks but also lots of seabirds. Visitors to Stewart Island can take the water-taxi there for an independent mosey around, or go on a tour, as I did. Our captain was thrilled to spot a yellow-eyed penguin on the way, which he'd thought at first was the more common little blue one. He backed up the boat for a second look, to the confusion of the gathering mollymawks, or albatrosses, that were already skidding down to the water for their accustomed feed of fish-frames.
Though I dutifully took photos of the penguin, it's not one of the cuter varieties, I have to say (the little blue would have been more photogenic: it's something about those yellow eyes). I was much more taken by the mollymawks, sternly frowning though they seemed to be. They're so architectural, their colouring so delineated; and of course, so big, such long-distance fliers, automatically commanding respect. Though the splashy free-for-all that resulted when the fish bits were flung overboard was somewhat undignified.
As it happens, having just walked the Hump Ridge Track which is also very birdy, I didn't see any species on Ulva Island that I hadn't already come across, so it was a bit less of a novelty for me. Even the white heron that was getting the locals so excited back near Oban was a bit ho-hum, having been to their main breeding ground at Okarito on the West Coast and seen dozens nesting there. But I really did enjoy the unexpected encounter I had with a young white-tailed deer when I was out on a walk - yes, introduced pest species, spit, destroying the environment. But so pretty!

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