Caroline Bay penguin count totals 50 birds

RIGHT AT HOME: Two little blue penguins nesting.
RIGHT AT HOME: Two little blue penguins nesting.

The first formal count of penguins at Caroline Bay has shown there is a sizeable population, with nearly 50 birds being counted.

In the past it was not known how many were there.

Department of Conservation (DOC) community relations ranger George Iles said it was the first count of its kind, but he believed the number of penguins nesting at the bay was growing. "Anecdotally, we think the population is growing, but we've never had any figures, so we don't know."

The survey, conducted between 9pm and 10pm on Wednesday, was attended by 30 people, including conservation group representatives and individuals, both adults and children.

Among them were Aurora Bourassa, 9, Caitlin Buckley, 12, and Tegan Buckley, 9, who sat patiently on their deck chairs for some penguins to make an appearance. By 9.30pm they had seen three.

Volunteers also discovered some new nest sites during the count.

DOC, Forest and Bird and the Timaru District Council were now working on ways to protect the birds, Mr Iles said. It was likely the survey would become an annual event because of the excitement and response from the public.

Council parks and recreation manager Bill Steans said two signs are likely to be placed along Marine Pde. The signs will feature an image of a penguin to warn drivers they are in the area.

He said it was too early to say what else the council would be doing.

"There's a number of options - it's very much I think, working in with the community next year and Department of Conservation, seeing where it will take us to. There seems to be quite an interest in it, which is good."

Forest and Bird secretary for Timaru, Margaret McPherson, said she hoped dog owners will keep their pets away from the birds.

"The birds have chosen to be there and they are doing well at the moment. It would be sad if people started to interfere with them."

Further south, in Oamaru, penguins have become a tourist attraction.

At peak season, the town has 130 breeding pairs of blue penguins. They are the town's largest tourist attraction, with more than 75,000 visitors a year.

The town's penguin colony is owned by the Local Government Authority, the Waitaki District Council, and managed by the Waitaki Development Board.

Mr Steans said he thought it was unlikely Timaru would establish anything similar.

"I don't know we will want to copy what Oamaru did."

The Timaru Herald