Sunday 17 February 2019

Day six - wobbly seas and Pterodromas

Up before the sun, and headed back down to the Stilt Ponds for a look.  The tides were not quite right, with high tide having been before first light.  But there was still a lot of birds gathered in front of the hides.  We checked out the Stilt Ponds first and found four sharp-tailed sandpipers in nice light feeding in shallow water, and also a curlew sandpiper.  So really nice views of things we had seen yesterday but not nearly so well!  Lots of wrybill in attendance and also a lot of banded dotterel including some still showing good amounts of breeding plumage.
We spent time scanning through the birds, which is always fun, and getting nice looks of the wrybill, seeing the characteristic bent beak.  We then moved slightly and continued to scan more flocks of shorebirds, finding the Pacific golden plover, and checking amongst the godwit and red knot.  Distant black-billed gulls, lots more wrybill, but nothing new, so we headed back to the accommodation to pack the van and get underway.
On the road, we made a quick stop at another shorebird spot, seeing a pheasant on the way, and then finding more banded dotterel, black-winged stilt, and a couple of wrybill.  Also better views of Royal spoonbill and some grey teal, plus a couple more sharp-tailed sandpipers.  Carrying on we got up and over the Coromandel Range and then had a coffee break in Tairua, before heading northwards to Whitianga.  Bakery stop for lunch, which we ate in our Motel rooms, readying ourselves for our afternoon pelagic.  The forecast had not been great, with pretty breezy conditions, but it had certainly dropped off now, and although there was the odd little shower of rain, it looked a lot better than it could have been out towards the coast.
We headed down to the Marina, gathered up, and then headed to the boat, where we were met by our skipper Dawson.  After our briefing we made our way out of the Marina and out into Mercury Bay.  A reef egret was the first thing to get us looking, and then pied cormorants.  As the swell started to pick up we each found a spot on the boat and hunkered down.  It was a little bumpy, but not bad, and we spotted a couple of Parasitic jaegers on the way.  Further out, Buller’s and fluttering shearwaters started to make an appearance, and as we got to our location, a few Pterodroma petrels started to zip past.  Dawson set about getting the chum ready and before long we had a nice slick going. The birds were straight in to us, with Buller’s shearwaters, black petrel, and then flesh-footed shears coming in to feed.  White-faced storm-petrel were not far behind, and then a few fluttering shearwaters, as Cook’s petrels made a near constant stream of 1-2 birds past the stern of the boat. Nice short gaps between each bird, and nice and close, which doesn’t always happen.  Each one was studied as it came past, but it was a near constant stream of Cook’s, showing the longer bills, less bulky body-shaped and more flappy flight.  About an hour into it a NZ storm-petrel showed up, heading up into the slick after a brief appearance, but as is normal the bird reappeared several minutes later as it swung around the bow and back past the stern nice and close for everyone to get onto it!  Awesome! We had good numbers of birds over the slick, lots of white-faced storm-petrels (maybe 25+) and 5+ black petrels, and then the stream of Pterodromas seemed to dry up.  Hmmm…about 15 minutes later they reappeared, but this time they were shorter billed, often darker naped, and had a bulkier chest and short neck…Pycroft’s!  And just like that, the stream of near constant Cook’s petrels changed to Pycroft’s. We had excellent views of 15+ birds as they came past the stern, and everyone was able to see multiple birds, including lighter and darker plumaged birds.  We had several more NZ storm-petrels come in, with two visible for much of the rest of the time.  We also had a brief appearance by a mako shark in the slick, before it disappeared into the depths.
About 1710, the chum had run out, and it was time to start heading back in.  We had a few more likely Pycroft’s come past as we started the journey back in, with more Buller’s and fluttering shearwaters, and closer to home another Parasitic jaeger.
Back on land the legs stopped wobbling so much, and we headed for a tasty pizza meal, checklist time, and then bed.  Tomorrow will be an early start, but journeying to the centre of the North Island is going to be exciting!

Bird of the day– Pycroft’s petrel x6, wrybill x1, sharp-tailed sandpiper x1
Out on the ocean waves

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