Photographing the rarest penguins on the planet

A former forensic photographer, Kelly Lynch has captured crime scenes and car accidents.

“What I found was that most of the scenes were silent and documentary,” she said.

“That was fine, but I like being outdoors and I love wildlife. I did that in my spare time.”

She was particularly fond of birds and saw them in their natural environment. The freelance writer and photographer from Auckland met her first yellow-eyed penguin, or Hoiho, on a trip to the Catlins over a decade ago.

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“I thought they were a very special bird and very adorable, with their pink feet and the yellow ribbon around their heads,” she said.

“I thought I’d take a few photos of them and kept getting drawn back to this area – it’s such a beautiful area. So I made it my project to keep coming back and photographing them. “

This project resulted in Golden Eyes, a new book containing a collection of photos of Hoiho on the southeast coast of the South Island that Lynch has taken over the past 10 years.

Kelly Lynch has published a book containing her photos of yellow-eyed penguins / Hoiho.

Kelly Lynch / Delivered

Kelly Lynch has published a book containing her photos of yellow-eyed penguins / Hoiho.

A telephoto lens was used to take photos of skins and obscured locations, while photos of penguin chicks were taken during a special penguin counting expedition with the Department of Conservation.

While the Hoiho is considered one of the rarest species of penguin in the world, Lynch said she had no problem finding them.

“You come just before sunset. They say they could come anytime after the late afternoon so you have to be pretty patient, ”she said.

Some days she could wait in hiding for up to five hours.

“But it’s beautiful – it’s a peaceful thing. People come and go and I’m still there. I just enjoy the landscape and the environment. “

Lynch said some of her special experiences were bringing the penguins, who tend to be lifelong partners, together with their friends.

Lynch said it has become less common to see Hoiho in groups.

Kelly Lynch / Delivered

Lynch said it has become less common to see Hoiho in groups.

“Sometimes you come ashore, clean up, go to the nest, come back and wait for your partner to come ashore.

“Then you see them band together and go home together. It is a beautiful thing to see. “

However, with Hoiho numbers declining rapidly – there were only 225 breeding pairs on mainland New Zealand in 2018/19 – seeing them in groups has become extremely rare, Lynch said.

“It’s more that you’d see one and then maybe half an hour later another.”

Lynch hoped the book would help raise awareness of the endangered creatures who won the Bird of the Year competition last year.

“I’m always surprised when I say I’m going to photograph the yellow-eyed penguins. People don’t know much about her. Hopefully it gives them more publicity. “

Where can you see Hoiho in the wild?

Yellow-eyed penguins are very shy and won’t come ashore when people are around, says Lynch. Avoid going to beaches where they nest and instead go to a hideout or observation deck so that you are not in their room and still can watch them from a safe distance.

Make sure to stick to skins or observation decks when looking for Hoiho in the wild.

Kelly Lynch / Delivered

Make sure to stick to skins or observation decks when looking for Hoiho in the wild.

The best places are all on the Lower South Island:

Bushy beach, Oamaru

Nugget Point, Catlins

Curio Bay, Catlins

Tips for spotting horses

With the right equipment and a lot of patience, you shouldn’t have any trouble seeing them, says Lynch.

– Bring warm clothes. The penguins are getting closer to sunset, so it can get pretty chilly.

– Don’t let the weather put you off – penguins go out to sea regardless of the conditions.

– Bring decent binoculars. The skins are so far away that the penguins have room to get to their nests.

Golden Eyes – The Yellow-Eyed Penguin / Hoiho (Bateman Books, $ 19.99) is out October 9.

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