Little Blue Penguins look to be settling in to Caroline Bay for the cold season

A little blue penguin spotted at Caroline Bay. The birds spending the winter in Timaru could be a first
JOHN BISSET/FAIRFAX NZ

A little blue penguin spotted at Caroline Bay. The birds spending the winter in Timaru could be a first

Caroline Bay is hosting a little blue penguin colony during winter which is thought to be a first for the South Canterbury area.

Oamaru-based penguin expert Philippa Agnew suspects ample food source and mild weather have lured the Little Blues to Timaru for the season.

The birds love company, she said, and if there have been more foraging around the bay, that could convince others to stay.

As Agnew spoke to the Timaru little blue penguin group on Tuesday night, the vocal birds screeched and trilled outside the Marine Parade building.

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Timaru Little Blue Penguin group representative Peter Bennett said the group formed two years ago because people were harassing the penguins, whose conservation status is declining.

The group's volunteers protect the penguins from tourists and visitors during the busy summer nights.

"Some people don't have respect for wildlife so we've got to make sure they're looked after," Bennett said.

During summer there was about 12 pairs of birds, and on the night of the heavy seas on May 25 there was five pairs of birds.

Agnew said heavy seas have a huge impact on the birds, which would leave the shore and stay away, returning weeks later.

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"The birds, being a visual predator, struggle in cloudy water."

Depending on the time of year, a storm can also impact on penguins breeding season.

Members of the Timaru group reported seeing two pairs of birds in the roped off area recently.

Bennett believed the roped area made the penguins feel safe.

"It gives them a bit of their own space ... It's the first time we might have them over winter ... that's exciting."

Timaru District Council installed a rope barrier around an area of rocks between the beach and Marine Parade in 2014, Department of Conservation community ranger George Iles said in an email.

"Visitors to the area are asked to stay off the rocks so that any disturbance to the penguins is reduced and the penguins can easily and safely access their nests in the boulder pile," Iles said.

The barrier gave visitors "a good view" of the penguins arriving ashore each night without putting the penguins under pressure.

Iles praised the volunteers work, saying in addition to protecting the birds, they answered tourists and visitors questions.

Agnew said the penguins at the two colonies in Oamaru were getting ready to lay eggs around the end of June.

Little Blue Penguins can 'double brood', meaning they can lay two sets of eggs per season.

Agnew's PHD looked at the foraging habits of the birds using a combination of GPS tracking transponders, and devices which can measure the depth the birds dive to.

 - Stuff

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