Monday 11 November 2019

Hi ho hoiho!

Never mind the nasty murder trials currently being conducted at each end of the country, or the lurid sunsets in the South Island caused by the smoke from the terrifying NSW fires, or even the ever deeper depths to which overseas politics is sinking - the big news this week is that the hoiho has been voted Bird of the Year!
BOTY has become a big event in the NZ news cycle since it was first begun 14 years ago. There have been scams and scandals, memes and hacks, poster campaigns and celebrity endorsements (Stephen Fry, Bill Bailey), plus a lot of fun; and each year it has become bigger and bigger, so that this year there were 43,460 votes. There is some suspicion about the 300+ votes received from Russia, with dark mutterings that perhaps they were trying to swing the vote towards the bar-tailed godwit, which migrates between here and there. Australia (684), the UK (682) and the US (563) were even more prolific voters, but no-one is accusing them - yet - of an attempted hack.
The hoiho, or yellow-eyed penguin, by just pipping the kakapo, has broken the run of k-birds (kokako, kea, kereru) which I had rather hoped myself to continue by voting for the kaka, since one of the flock that lives in our valley has become a regular visitor to our deck, muscling in on the nectar feeder I keep topped up for the tui.
Sadly the votes for the hoiho hugely outnumber the total population of the bird itself which, at 225 pairs, is in serious trouble - usual story, warming oceans, commercial fishing, human disturbance. So it was no wonder that the pilot of the boat that was taking me from Oban to the Ulva Island bird sanctuary was astonished and delighted to spot one swimming nearby, and circled back for a closer look. I saw some others on that Southland trip too, at Curio Bay in the Catlins, coming ashore to hop along over a fossilised forest back to their nests.
It's always cute and special to see a penguin, even when you've been to Antarctica and seen 15 different species in colonies pushing 100,000 (that's a lot of noise and smell). I hope the hoiho manages to cling on. It would be so sad if, in the end, the only place to see it was on our $5 note.

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