Friday 11 November 2011

Records breaking

Well what an unbelievable day!  Nobody ate a single pie today...not even Marvin!  No it wasn’t just unbelievable for that, we had an absolutely incredible day out on the water, and bagged a whole bunch of great birds as well.

We grabbed some lunch and then headed to the boat, the Aurora, skippered by Ty and Colin, and ably assisted by Matt.  We headed out just on 0830 and it was overcast and a little drizzly, but this didn’t dampen our spirits as we headed out to the Muttonbird Islands.  First call was Bench Island to try and find a few yellow-eyed penguins, which we managed pretty easily with two on the rocks not far off.  They gave nice views and we savoured the moment and then headed off, getting a couple of distant brown skua shortly after.  We however got great views of a couple of brown skua that came in to be thrown a few blue cod frames, before we headed off and around towards Wreck Reef.

This was our first chumming spot, and on the way the birds started to come in with albatross numbers increasing as blue cod frames were slowly fed (mostly, thanks Ty!! ;) over the side.  There were literally thousands of sooty shearwaters around and we had great views of these plus the odd common diving petrel and Cape petrel.  At Wreck Reef we chummed for a bit and numbers of albatross steadily increased, with most being white-capped and Salvin’s the odd Buller’s and a good number of Southern Royals of varying ages, showing varying amounts of white in the upperwing.  We also managed at least one, possibly two immature Campbell albatross which are always nice to see.

We then felt it was time to head south further towards Port Pegasus, stopping at a few spots along the way to see Fiordland crested penguins both swimming and feeding and up on the rocks, and checking all the tern flocks we could find.  The scenery was stunning, even in the sometimes drizzly conditions, and the wind rose a little, but was never too uncomfortable.

Near Port Pegasus we finally managed to find one Antarctic tern feeding with a group of white-fronteds, but it gave us the slip, as did a second bird found shortly after.  We never got great views, but enough to see the darker plumage and red bill.  There were however a lot of Fiordland crested penguins around, with rafts of up to 7 or so birds.

We then made a run out towards the Northern traps, where the wind had picked up and there was perhaps 1.5m swell, but still pretty comfortable.  As we neared the chumming location we suddenly started to see mottled petrels, and after a handful had passed decided to stop and chum for a bit.  We had a few more come past, and then decided to continue.  At the traps there were thousands of sooty shearwaters and small numbers of fairy prions, and a lot of albatrosses.  Same mix, although we had a nice adult Campbell albatross, but a lot of white-capped, Salvin’s and Southern Royals coming in for the chum.  The stars however were mottled petrels that just kept coming past singly, with probably close to 100 seen during the course of the day.  Fairy prions were carefully checked, but all seemed to be fairy until not long before we left when we suddenly had a couple of broad-billed come past giving great views.  Just prior to that a fantastic little grey-backed storm-petrel came in and spent a few minutes out on the slick feeding, allowing everyone to get onto it and see it – awesome!  With pretty much everything we had expected and more in the bag, and a long way to home, we decided to head back, staying out wide for quite a bit.  The result was a steady stream of mottled petrels and some really great views of perhaps 10 or more broad-billed prions.  Fairy prions were also still coming past, and I’m absolutely sure a couple of prions that came past were neither...perhaps Salvin’s prions, but too tricky to nail in the conditions and whilst moving...another day!
Clearly the day had been a hectic one and had taken its toll on all involved (some more than others), and whilst they snoozed a black-browed albatross snuck up the wake and had a brief look, being seen by just the wily Bruce and some of the others onboard, but not the main party.  We made it back into Halfmoon Bay just before 1800 in time for dinner and a relaxing few drinks.  What a spectacular day in an incredible part of New Zealand!  Even better is the fact that this is tied with my record for a 21-day trip list, and is dangerously close to Sav’s 165 record!

Bird of the day – Fiordland crested penguin x2, Antarctic tern x3
Day total – Seen = 38; new for the trip = 7; total for the trip to date = 161 (actually 162 inc bittern)

One of the many Fiordland crested penguins seen during the day

Southern Royal albatross underwing 
Southern Royal

...and landing

White-capped albatross and a sooty shearwater in the foreground

Grey-backed storm-petrel skipping along

Fairy prion zipping past

Broad-billed prion, one of several seen really well

Another fairy prion

Another broad-billed prion

It was a long day...

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