Thursday 17 February 2011

Spectacular, Spectacular!

So as everyone knows, Milford Sound is one of New Zealand’s most spectacular scenery.  Well especially when the sun shines...and especially when it does so for 4 four days!  We have had an absolutely awesome few days in Dusky, Doubtful and Milford Sounds, with some pretty spectacular weather.  Not to mention some great wildlife.

Heading up the coast towards Milford the other day we had some excellent encounters with mottled petrels, six species of albatross, Westland and white-chinned petrels, and just south of Milford Sound three different grey-backed storm-petrels.  Within the Fiords we had encounters with bottle-nosed dolphins, NZ fur seals and managed a few Fiordland crested penguins around the place as well.

Our turnover day was in Milford Sound, with disembarkation in the morning of the 15th Feb, and then embarkation by a new group of passengers mid-afternoon on the same day.  A few hours to tidy up paperwork, get some work done, and then it was all go again.  On the way out of Milford and heading down the coast a little way on 15 Feb, we had a single soft-plumaged petrel right beside the ship, which gave fantastic views.  We have then spent the last two days within Doubtful and Dusky Sound, sampling the beautiful scenery and again catching up with the local wildlife, before today heading southwards from Fiordland.  Our main target was to get to Stewart Island for a full day there tomorrow, but with fantastic conditions we decided to swing by the Solanders to take a look.  These small volcanic islands have nesting Buller’s albatross, as well as a small Australasian gannet colony, and of course a bunch of other species such as mottled petrels, prions, etc.  On the way massive flocks of sooty shearwaters were a real spectacle with Southern Royal, NZ wandering, Salvin’s, white-capped, and Buller’s albatross as well.  A good number of mottled and Cook’s petrels, with a smattering of white-chinned petrels were also seen.  We circumnavigated the Solanders a couple of times, and had great views of the albatross breeding up amongst the tussocks and forested slopes of the islands.  As we then headed north-east towards Stewart Island the sunshine continued, with the sea state being unbelievably calm for this part of the world.  Albatrosses continued and we even had a couple of Northern and a single Southern giant petrel.  BUT, the biggest surprise was the number of grey-backed storm-petrels!  We had at least 7 birds to the north-east of the island, with a couple earlier in the day before getting to the islands.  The main concentration was around S 46 deg 35.804’; E 167 deg 02.683’.  This was roughly 7-8 nautical miles north-east of the island, and makes me seriously wonder if they are breeding on the Solanders?  No reason why they couldn’t be up in the tussocks there.

So we are now pretty close to Stewart Island, and sounds like we will be tucked up in Patterson Inlet pretty shortly, with a great day on Ulva and in Oban tomorrow.  Can’t wait!

More photos to come, but this is one from today...

White-capped albatross off the Solander Islands in stunning light

Additional photos...

'Double rainbow!' - if you've seen the utube vid you'll laugh - at Stirling Falls in Milford Sound

Milford Sound on a glorious day

Mitre Peak backlit in the afternoon

Reflecting on life...

A smooth Thompson Sound

Beech and falls

Bull kelp

Acheron Passage in Dusky Sound

From Cascade Cove looking towards Long Island

Looking back towards Cascade Cove

Looking into Bowen Channel from Anchor Island in Dusky Sound

Sooty shearwaters littering the horizon

The Solanders (Little Solander on the right)

Buller's albatross over the ship

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