Wednesday 4 November 2015

Rock and roll and stormy-petrels

Well when you wake up to pouring rain at 0430, that is a guides nightmare, especially the night before a key pelagic trip.  Getting up to rain still falling and pretty breezy conditions isn’t any better, but we headed off to get lunch and then off to the boat.  With most of the rain having stopped, but a stiff breeze still going, we spotted some buff-banded rails on the way to the wharf, and then boarded the boat.

We headed out through the channel and then out past Kawau Island.  Not bad conditions in these enclosed waters, and several little penguins showed themselves well.  But as we neared the open sea it was pretty clear this was going to be a little lumpy, and breaking out into the open water, a little spray started to fly!  We all gathered in the cabin, and headed out to the west of Little Barrier Island, bracing ourselves as the boat bucked and slammed on some of the waves.  As we were headed out, you could see the wind suddenly shift, and from a NW it turned suddenly to a SW.  And it didn’t take long for the chop and swells to shift as well, so the ride got a little more comfortable…only problem was knowing that on the way back in, that swell was again going to be against us.

We started to see lots of white-faced storm-petrels, common diving-petrels, and a few Cook’s petrels and Buller’s shearwaters.  Birds zipped past us in the high winds, but we pressed on, attracting a small pod of common dolphins who surfed in our wake for a little while.

We kept punching along, and finally got to a spot we felt would work in our favour, without putting us too far out from the calm harbour from which we had come.  Everyone was putting on a brave face, even in the face of some rather green complexions, and the cameras were out as we set the sea-anchor.  Brett our awesome skipper was chumming like mad before long, and streams of birds were coming in.  We literally had hundreds of Cook’s petrels descend on us, as numbers of flesh-footed and Buller’s shearwaters increased, and then a few black-petrels.  White-faced storm-petrels were also catching the scent of the chum and were feeding well around the slick, and after perhaps 35 minutes our first NZ storm-petrel came gliding over the waves – yes!  The birds kept coming, the the chum kept flying, and everyone was treated to outstanding views of all of the expected species.  An Arctic skua even came in and chased a couple of red-billed gulls around quickly, and then several – perhaps at least 5 – white-capped and a single Salvin’s albatross came in, with at least three northern giant petrels.  A single sooty shearwater capped things off, flying through briefly.  Awesome views of everything, and as the wind slowly increased and the waves started to build, we decided that discretion was the better part of valour, and headed for home.

Punching back into the sea, we spotted many of the same birds, and at one point decided to slow so we could get good views of hundreds of common diving-petrels feeding on something near the surface, with hundreds of white-faced storm-petrels.

Getting back into the shelter of Kawau, people started to liven up, and lunches came out as a small pod of bottlenosed dolphins came and bow rode and played around us.  We scanned the shoreline for weka, and in one of the sheltered bays spotted three birds which gave great views.  By this time there was a little sunshine, and it was pretty darn pleasant to hang out and see what we could spot.  We then decided to head back into Sandspit, where we had more excellent views of buff-banded rail, even a pair briefly copulating, before then looking for kookaburra unsuccessfully, and getting back to the Motel nice and early, with an early dinner and an early night!

Day total – Seen = 51; new for the trip = 17; total for the trip to date = 80

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