Saturday 13 November 2010

Albatross and blue cod

Kaikoura really is a very special place, and to be honest is probably one of my favourite places in the country.  We were up and headed out towards the Seal Colony on the Peninsula, where we wanted to check for cirl bunting and wandering tattler, but also get a good look at NZ fur seal again and check for shorebirds along the shore.  The light was gorgeous on the seaward Kaikouras, with a stunning clear blue sky.  There were a few seals on the rocks near the main carpark, and we found a good number of ruddy turnstone, variable oystercatcher, and several banded dotterel, but no wandering tattler.  There were a lot of yellowhammers along the roadside, but no characteristic cirl bunting song.  Heading slowly back along the road towards town we made a few stops, and found bellbird and starling alike feeding on flax flowers, but still no bunting.
Nevermind, it was time to check in for the Albatross Encounter trip, and we then hopped across the peninsula to South Bay to get onboard the board.  We had Gary as skipper, one of the best in the business, and we headed out on a relatively glassy sea, but still a bit of northerly roll.  Not far out we came across a huge raft of several thousand Hutton’s shearwater which were feeding and gave excellent views.  These birds can often be a little difficult to get close to, but Gary expertly got the boat into place for some great views.  We then carried on out into deeper water (you don’t have to go far!), and saw a fishing boat near where we wanted to be so headed for that.  With such light winds the best thing to do was to find where the birds were and start there.  The fishing boat had a few birds around it, and within seconds we had several massive New Zealand wandering albatross right beside the boat, with Westland petrel, Salvin’s albatross, and Northern giant petrel coming in, plus good numbers of Cape petrels.  The birds are so close at this spot that it is just hard to describe, but having several birds with wing spans just over 3m around the back of the boat is an awesome experience.

We then decided to head out into slightly deeper water to see if we could find some of the other suspects.  Ranging over several different spots and providing chum (fish livers) at each we were able to add Northern Royal albatross, white-capped albatross, Buller’s shearwater, and white-chinned petrel to the list.  The wind was so light that it didn’t bring in clouds of birds, but we had all the species we could have expected, and had fantastic views of them.  We decided to check out one last spot in closer to the shore, in the hope that the Antarctic fulmar Gary had seen yesterday would be hanging around, but unfortunately we were not able to find it.  We did however encounter a massive pod of dusky dolphins, with a lot of mothers and relatively new calves.  We were running out of time and headed along the shoreline back towards base, keeping an eye out for Hector’s dolphins, but no luck.

We arrived back into port and then had a great lunch at the Encounter Cafe – great food thanks guys!  After lunch it was free time, an opportunity to take a break, check email, get some washing done, etc.  Several chose to walk the Peninsula Walkway, and I managed to catch up with good friends Jo and Alex.

Fish and chips were the order of the day for dinner, with lovely blue cod being the fish.  From the sounds of it this was some of the best fish these guys have ever had, and so sound’s like Hine’s did a fantastic job.  We then headed out for another search for little owl, but came up with bare posts and song thrushes...oh well!

A beaut morning on the Kaikoura Peninsula

A New Zealand wandering albatross comes in towards the boat

Looking out to sea at the Seal Colony

A raft of Hutton's shearwaters seen from the pelagic

Hutton's shearwaters in flight

Two New Zealand wandering albatrosses get acquainted

North giant petrel cruising past for a look

Westland petrel on the wing

Bird of the day –
Wandering albatross x2, Northern Royal albatross x1, Hutton’s shearwater x1,Banded dotterel chick x2

Day total –
Seen = 43 + 1 heard (grey warbler); new for the trip = 4; total for the trip to date = 140

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