Sunday, 7 November 2010

Water, water everywhere...

Up early and gathered the troops and headed back down to the Stilt Ponds for the high tide.  Although there was some rain during the night it was a beautiful clear day, although still a cool breeze.  The godwit and knot were again roosting both on the shellbanks and the ponds, and we again searched the wrybill flock, finding the sharpie, curlew sands, and stints.  Luckily we had some real birders beside us, and Igor Debski found the semi-palmated sandpiper amongst the wrybill flock, and it showed really well for quite a while.  Nice to add that one to the trip list, thanks Igor!  At one stage there were about 5 Arctic skua chasing white-fronted terns out on the Firth, and one came right in near the shellbanks and put all the godwit and knot up.

We spent a bit more time there, seeing a flock of 27 Pacific golden plover fly and land in front of us, as well as all the other usual suspects.  We decided to head back to finish packing and then head across towards Whitianga where we were to spend the afternoon out on a boat.  Just south of Tairua I had to use emergency breaking skills to get fantastic views of another Australasian bittern – standing in the middle of a paddock right beside the road – very nice!

We again checked into the accommodation, then headed to the local bakery (Olivers) for lunch, where I almost walked out as they didn’t have any mussel will I survive without a mussel pie!?  Quickly found a sandwich that looked nice, so I coped.  We then boarded our boat – the Sapphire – with skipper Ian at the helm and headed out.  Clear blue skies, wind around 2 knots(!) and relatively flat seas...a gorgeous day to be on the water, but a little light on the breeze for the birds.  However, we soon started to see white-fronted terns, fluttering shearwaters, and a sinlge Arctic skua.  As we got out further diving petrels started to put in an appearance and then flesh-footed and Buller’s shearwaters.  We headed to a location just off the Mercury Islands and started chumming, but with almost no wind we weren’t too optimistic.  However, a large group of flesh-footed shearwaters decided to keep us company, and before long an immature black-browed albatross came in and squabbled with them.  It hadn’t been too long and the call went up for New Zealand storm-petrel!  A single bird came into the slick, did a couple of little circuits and then disappeared.  This is only the second record of this species off Whitianga since our original Jan 2003 sighting that sparked the whole rediscovery, so we were pretty happy.

Over the next few hours we moved around a bit, investigating a big school of kahawai that had accompanying Buller’s shearwaters, etc and chumming at several locations.  We started to pick up a few white-faced storm-petrels and as the breeze increased we added more species to the mix.  At least five white-capped albatross and a Salvin’s albatross came in to the boat, with at least 20 grey-faced petrel, at least 10 Cape petrels, five sooty shearwater, a single short-tailed shearwater, and a mix of about 10 Cook’s petrels and 3-4 Pycroft’s petrels.  The Pycroft’s were of course our target for the day, and although we saw a couple they really didn’t show well today, being rather stand-offish and low in numbers.  Oh well, that’s birding and we had more than enough other things to keep us interested.  Interestingly no black petrels seen.

We got back into port a little later than anticipated, and hurriedly headed for dinner.  Another great day!

Checking out the stilt ponds...perhaps the sharp-tailed sand is still here!

A stunning day in Mercury Bay

Letting those flesh-footed shearwaters know who is boss

White-capped albatross...most voted 'Bird of the Day'

Even a flesh-footed is worth a look

Bird of the day –
White-capped albatross x5, white-faced storm-petrel x1

Day total –
Seen = 63 + 1 heard (grey warbler); new for the trip = 6; total for the trip to date = 112

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