Saturday 14 November 2015

Out on the water, with Encounter Kaikoura

We were up and out the door, and headed out to the end of the Peninsula to check out the seal colony.  The weather had improved a little and it was possible to see a fair bit of snow on the mountains, although the tops were still hidden in cloud.  The air temperature was pretty cold, and there was still a pretty good breeze, and looking out to sea…well it was best to look at the mountains!

We spotted a few things from the seal colony, a couple of turnstone, variable oystercatcher, and of course plenty of seals.  We then headed up and across to South Bay, and headed for the boat.  Boarding, we were all treated to a slightly novel (well for most of us) deployment technique, of getting on the boat while it was still on a trailer, and then being reversed down the boat ramp into the water.  And we were off!  The wind had dropped a little and the seas were not actually too bad, so we headed out towards the sea mount off the coast.  We soon had birds following us, but kept going, momentarily slowing to see the Hutton’s shearwaters that were streaming past.  Good views of them before heading on out.  We ended up chumming at two locations off the coast, with a similar assemblage of birds coming in, and excellent views of all of them.  We had five species of albatross, with Northern Royal making a brief pass, several very young Southern Royals, and then about 10 or so NZ wandering albatross coming in and feeding at various times.  There were also plenty of Salvin’s and a few white-capped.  There were lots of Northern giant petrels squabbling over the chum, as usual these guys put on a great show, and of course the dainty little Cape petrels fed around the edges, being wary to not get too close to the snapping bills of the giant petrels.  There was a fairly steady stream of short-tailed and sooty shearwaters passing by, with a few short-tailed shearwaters coming in for a look at the chum, and diving down to get scraps.  Nice to see the clear size difference between these birds together and up close.  Rather surprisingly Hutton’s shearwaters kept going past us, and the odd one even did several circuits around the chum, although never landed to feed.  A single grey-faced petrel also made several very nice passes, and there were lots of Westland petrels too look at, with several white-chinned petrels for direct comparison, sometimes sitting side by side.

Before too long, it was time to head back in to shore, but we had had an excellent sampling of the Kaikoura birds, and more to do in the afternoon.  Gary skilfully drove the boat back up onto the trailer and the trip came to an end.  We jumped back in the van and headed back to the Encounter Kaikoura base, where we checked in for our various activities for the afternoon.  Four of us planned to head back out on the Albatross trip in the afternoon, and three decided dolphin swimming was for them, it was going to be a busy afternoon!

The three swimmers quickly scoffed their lunch and then headed through to get changed etc, whilst the rest of us went and grabbed some lunch.  We ate our lunch in the sunshine, trying to avoid the cold wind, and scanned local patches for cirl buntings, to no avail.  Then it was time to head back down to South Bay where we met Gary and the rest of the group heading out for the afternoon.  The conditions had definitely eased, with less swell and chop, and the wind had dropped away.  So conditions were actually quite nice, with beaut sunshine.  As usual, before we were hardly out of the harbour we were being followed by giant and Cape petrels, and then passed a few Hutton’s shearwaters on the way.

We headed out to roughly where we had been in the morning, and again had excellent numbers of birds around us.  We again got five species of albatross, as in the morning, giving excellent up close views, and despite big numbers of Northern giant petrels, we didn’t see a Southern.  It was great to be photographing things in different light, with the sun shining, and so the shutters were clicking.  One of the highlights, although non-avian, was a mating pod of dusky dolphins that came past, rolling around the boat and doing their mating leaps high in the air, a real sight to see.  Again, time seems to fly on the water and it was time to head back in.  Meanwhile the dolphin swimmers were having an awesome time in the water with lots of playful dusky dolphins, and despite their apprehension about the cold water, with wetsuits on they hardly noticed it once in the water – there was far too much to look at!

So an excellent day all around, topped off with a superb dinner at Tuti’s, and then a spot of owling with excellent views of a little owl, which even called for us.

Day total – Seen = 41; new for the trip = 7; total for the trip to date = 139

Looking out to sea from the end of the Peninsula

Seal pups playing in the rock pools

Grey-faced petrel coming past the boat

Salvin's albatross low over the water

Northern giant petrel in flight

Westland petrel in flight

Young Southern Royal albatross passing

Salvin's albatross coming at the boat

Hutton's shearwater coming past the boat

Short-tailed shearwater coming in

Young Northern Royal albatross amongst the gaggle of giant petrels

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