One of the highlights of our family trip to the South Island earlier this month was a visit to the windswept Taiaroa Head Nature Reserve at the end of the Otago Peninsula, overlooking the mouth of the Otago Harbour, in the shelter of which lies the city of Dunedin. Taiaroa Head, or Pukekura, was an important site for Māori and, later, European settlers. Some 10,000 seabirds reside there, including royal albatross, little penguins, Otago spotted shags (a.k.a. cormorants), red-billed gulls, and red spoonbills, and it’s also a breeding site for New Zealand fur seals (kekeno) and a resting spot for New Zealand sea lions (rāpoka). But very likely it’s best known (and world renowned) as the home of the only mainland colony of some 200 royal albatross (Diomedea epomorpha; toroa), which have the third-largest wingspan (up to 3.5 meters or nearly 11.5 feet) of any living birds, exceeded only by wandering albatross and white pelicans. We hiked up a steep path to the albatross observatory, in the hope of seeing an adult in flight, but only two chicks were in residence, a considerable distance away. I was able to get some fairly good detail of one of them with my 100-300 mm zoom lens, as well as of some of the spotted shag (Stictocarbo punctatus; parekareka) roosting on their chimney-like nests and many red-billed gulls (Larus novaehollandiae; tarapunga or akiaki). This was my third visit to Taiaroa Head; my first was in the mid 1990s and my second in 2003, but it was CD’s first. I am already looking forward to my next, and I hope to see some airborne adult albatross.
News flash: a live camera mounted there by the Department of Conservation caught this footage, just a week and a half ago, of one of the chicks (very likely the one in my first photo) learning to fly and building its muscles. Once it feels confident it will simply soar away over the ocean and may not rest again on dry land for a year or more!