Tuesday 8 February 2011

Go East (Coast) young man!

So this morning I looked out my window, and there was Cape Kidnappers.  To be honest I was not expecting that, and what’s more there were common dolphins leaping from the water...not a bad way to start the day!  Even better there was a clear blue sky and then a glassy sea with almost 10cm of swell (if that).  We were heading south down the east coast of the North Island, along a piece of coast renowned for being isolated and off the beaten track.

With the lack of wind and calm conditions I was surprised to see a few birds starting to float past the ship – flesh-footed and Buller’s shearwaters, and then within a short time the first albatrosses of the trip started to appear.  White-capped and Salvin’s albatrosses, then a Northern Royal albatross, a Buller’s albatross, and finally the biggest of them all a Wandering albatross.  Where were these birds coming from?  With almost no wind they were a real surprise.  But at the end of the day who cares where they were coming from, they were here for us to enjoy!

A little later at least two, possibly three ocean sunfish were seen very close to the ship (just south of 40° South), then more albatross, even cutting right in front of the bow with beautiful reflections on the water, even a flying fish, and then another small pod of common dolphins.  This time coming in from the landward side of the ship, perfectly lit and visible beneath the surface as they came in towards the bow.  The photographers were ecstatic, and with perfect light and smooth conditions you could see them below the surface before they lept from the water, allowing stunning photos!  We continued to see some excellent birds over the course of the morning, with the odd Cook’s petrel, white-faced storm-petrel, and even a black-winged petrel.

After lunch the birds continued.  Mid-afternoon I gave an overview of the conservation initiatives that have occurred in New Zealand to save the weird and wonderful wildlife that New Zealand has become known for.  Many of these conservation initiatives have been used in other parts of the world to save endangered species from their introduced enemies.

The rest of the afternoon was then spent relaxing and watching more albatross and other seabird species drift past the ship, or enjoying a cup of tea and some quiet time, before the recap and then dinner.  Apparently there were even more common dolphins beside the ship at dinner, but I managed to miss them...this ship does seem to be a cetacean magnet!  However, the day belonged to the albatross – five species, and fantastic views of them all!

Buller's albatross skims the calm surface beside the ship

Ocean sunfish

Short-beaked common dolphin leaps from the water

Leaping forth - showing its scars

This one had really been in the wars - note the very ragged dorsal fin

New Zealand wandering albatross also skims the surface with its wing

The same bird against the sky

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