Vote now on Bird of the Year

Hoiho, the yellow-eyed penguin, is John Darby’s nomination for Forest and Bird’s, Bird of the Year.

It’s almost exactly a year since I wrote my first diary for the 2018-19 season and by then we had already hatched the first chicks on August 29, the second lot on October 7 and clutch three on October 18.

Our first clutch (three eggs) will hatch on nest five on or about Nov 1 and those on nest eight on November 15. Which is all by way of saying the season is very late this year and that I am not expecting great things. The lake reached a significant high of 278.5m in the first week of June which was followed by a steady decline by almost two metres by the beginning of October taking it just 49cm over its all-time low in 60 years of 276.22m recorded in September 1959.

Such a prolonged low lake level plays havoc with the food chain and the inshore ecosystems that produce so much of the food required for the fishery and in turn for the grebes.

I will take a short break from grebes to explain the illustration that supports this diary note. It is Hoiho, the yellow-eyed penguin (Megadyptes Antipodes, ‘big diver’ from the Antipodes). It’s the rarest of the world’s penguins, probably the third largest, has some of the most unusual behaviour for a penguin species, has a black belt in karate by way of its flippers. It has sharp hooked beak and claws to match. I have the scars to prove it!

I first started studying this bird over 40 years ago. A couple of years into my study I predicted that we would lose this species from the mainland if we did nothing. Just a few weeks ago, another scientist gave it maybe 20, more likely ten years.

So it’s up there right now because each year Forest and Bird run an annual competition for the “Bird of the Year”. Google that and it will tell you how to go about putting this species well and truly on the conservation map. And it should be up there, if for no more reason that the mainland population is mostly found in Otago and if you get everyone you know in Otago to vote for it, we must surely win. Voting opened on October 28 for two weeks only. 

I promise that next year we will go for having grebes up there.

John Darby   


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