We were up early and away from the accommodations and heading to a spot to look for Australasian bittern. It was a brisk morning, but with clear blue sky, so as we approached the Whangamarino wetlands area a thick fog hung over the area. We parked up and started scanning, not being able to see very far at all, but within 10 minutes or so the fog slowly eroded away and we had a clear view of the wetland area. There were a lot of birds around – Australasian shovelor, Pacific black duck, grey teal, swamp harriers, etc…but try as we might we just couldn’t spot a bittern. We did briefly hear one boom, but after an hour or so, that was the only trace of a bittern we could find. Never mind, we will give it a go at a couple of other sites.
We headed off across to the Coromandel Peninsula, with sun shining and a beautiful day ahead. The scenery heading up and over the Coromandel range was pretty nice as we wound our way through native forest. We had a quick coffee stop at Tairua, and then headed on through to Whitianga, where we grabbed some lunch and checked into the accommodation.
We then headed down to the Marina to climb aboard Sapphire with our skipper Ian. Walking down the marina to the boat we had two short-tail stingrays gliding through the water, a nice find, and then boarding we headed out through the channel towards the open ocean. The wind had dropped to about 5-10 knots and although there was a little residual swell from the last few days it was looking great. Strangely, there were very few birds in the inshore section, with almost no white-fronted terns or penguins. But as we started to get out a little further we encountered schools of kahawai working on the surface, and some of these had fluttering shearwaters feeding with them, and then we started to pick up good numbers of common diving-petrels. We passed a rock stack, and noticed a New Zealand fur seal, so went around for another look. There were a lot of red-billed gulls getting ready to nest on the rock, and all of a sudden a small dark shorebird got up and flew, calling as it did so – wandering tattler! This species is pretty rare in New Zealand, so we did a couple more circuits, glimpsing the bird in flight a couple more times, but it seemed pretty flighty, so in the end we headed off on our way out to deeper water.
We got into deeper water and found a spot and started chumming. With little wind we slowly started to attract a few birds, including about 6-7 Salvin’s albatross, several white-capped albatross, and a small group of flesh-footed shearwaters. A single black petrel came in, and Buller’s shearwaters passed close by. Gradually numbers of white-faced storm-petrels grew as they fed over the slick. A couple of ‘cookilaria’ type petrels flew in relatively close giving good views, and they definite Pycroft’s petrels, then a couple more. In all we probably saw about 7-8 ‘cookilaria’ petrels and they all seemed to be Pycrofts! Excellent! We also had about 3-4 Northern giant petrels come in, a single grey-faced petrel made several nice close passes, and then a white-rumped storm-petrel appeared on the slick. We headed down towards it and realised it was Wilson’s, clearly on its way south still. So too were a number of sooty shearwaters which passed the boat, and a number of little shearwaters made passes, never coming really close.
We also had a hungry blue shark come in and swim around the boat, eventually taking off with our chum when we weren’t watching. A nice distraction though. As the sun started to get low we decided to head in towards home. On the way there were literally thousands of common diving-petrels as we went, and more work ups of fluttering shearwaters, white-fronted terns and gannets, with more white-faced storm-petrels.
We arrived back on dry land, seeing a reef egret fly past as we arrived at the Marina, and then headed for a pizza and pasta dinner in town. Another great day!
Day total – Seen = 61 + 2 heard (Shining-bronze cuckoo, grey warbler); new for the trip = 6; total for the trip to date = 112