Return of albatross encouraging

Five years ago, royal northern albatross White-lime-yellow's future hung in the balance, but its return to the Taiaroa Head colony this week means it will help fill in the gaps in researchers' knowledge about where the birds go when foraging at sea.

White-lime-yellow's efforts at leaving the colony for the first time in a stormy northeasterly in 2007 went awry and it ended up in the surf at Victory Beach, waterlogged and unable to take off.

Department of Conservation ranger Colin Facer was called to the rescue, waded into the surf, plucked the bird out and carried it back up Victory Beach to his car and drove it back to Taiaroa Head.

"It was touch and go there."

Back at the colony, Mr Facer and Doc ranger Lyndon Perriman put it in a pen with a small paddling pool to enable it to waterproof its feathers again.

"It found its own way out, taking off a day or so later."

When albatross fledge, they were not expected to return for four to five years so they did not know whether it had survived.

Having White-lime-yellow return was a real boost, they said.

"If Colin hadn't saved it, it would have died, so it is really nice to know [it survived]," Mr Perriman said.

Its arrival meant it joined other adolescent birds being tagged by University of Otago student Junichi Sugishita as part of his PhD project.

Mr Sugishita is investigating adult albatross' foraging activities from Taiaroa Head during breeding season and their interaction with commercial fishing vessels.

For the past few months he, with the help of Mr Perriman, has been trialling different ways of gathering the information - some with more success than others.

He was tagging adult birds with radio transmitters to find out how far they went to forage for food, and adolescent birds were tagged with 40g solar-powered GPS tags developed by the university's physics department. Up to 40 birds are to be tagged.

The data was sent back through the cellphone network to the physics department and translated into positions on a computer-generated map.

So far, data sent back had shown the albatross were travelling both south and north for distances up to 70km a day - past the continental shelf to the open ocean. It was hoped the tags would stay on the birds for more than nine months, Mr Sugishita said.

"We want to see if adolescent birds have different feeding areas to the others."

The data gathered from both would then be cross-referenced with data from fishing vessel locations to see if their foraging areas were the same as fishing areas.

A temperature recorder was also being attached to the birds to enable him to judge when they were in the water and most likely feeding or flying.

Attempts to weigh the birds as they came in to feed their chicks were proving more difficult, as they discovered the birds would try anything to avoid the weighing platforms no matter how camouflaged, he said.

rebecca.fox@odt.co.nz