Thursday 14 February 2019

Day three - pelagicing we will go

The skies were clear and the winds calm as we headed out towards Sandspit to start our Hauraki Gulf pelagic, after grabbing lunch of course!  We hopped onto the boat, Piers gave us the run down and safety briefing, and then we were off!  We pulled away from the wharf and a couple of minutes later a reef egret was spotted, so we slowed for everyone to get on to that as it flew past and then landed on the shore.  Out a little further we spotted South Island oystercatchers on the mudflats, and then a small pied cormorant colony.
We got out into the Kawau channel and on the search for little penguin. Surprisingly it took a while, but we then came across a couple of small groups rafted up on the water and good views were had by all.  Carrying on we started to see a few fluttering shearwaters, and then into the open ocean which was pretty darn flat!  There was a light south-westerly breeze and very little swell, so conditions were looking good…perhaps too good!
Small numbers of fluttering shearwaters came past, and then we started to see our first Buller’s shearwaters, and then the odd flesh-footed shearwater.  But we kept focus and carried on out to our first chumming spot.  The only loss of focus was for a couple of bottle-nosed dolphins that came past us, and then appeared to be having a little bit of hanky-panky…hey it is Valentine’s Day!
We arrived at a good location we have been to before and as we arrived we found a number of Cook’s petrels rafted up on the water.  The lack of wind was definitely having an effect on the birds, with many deciding it was too calm, and that sitting on the water was the best plan. We hauled up and started to chum, and after about 10 minutes we had three flesh-footed shearwaters at the back of the boat…hmmmm.  But after a bit of chumming we started to gather birds and slowly and surely started to see our other targets.  Rather surprisingly the first storm-petrel to turnup, after about 30 minutes was a New Zealand storm-petrel!  No complaints there, but still a bit strange.  The NZSP showed well and then a couple of white-faced storm-petrels arrived also.  Over the next couple of hours we had growing numbers of white-faced storm-petrels, flesh-footed, Buller’s and the odd fluttering shearwaters, and then our first black petrel.  Excellent!  We hung out and chummed away, with pretty reasonable numbers of birds based on the light conditions, and at least 5-6 New Zealand storm-petrels passing and at least 2 in view at once.
Around midday we then decided to head out towards the Mokohinau Islands, with the wind having dropped even further.  Glassy conditions almost and small schools of fish on the surface as we went, even a couple of penguins visible.  Approaching the Mokohinaus we had a small school of fish and then a single fairy prion flew in and landed nearby – nice one!  Approaching Maori Rocks we could see some small grey shapes on the side of the rock in the shade, and getting closer we could see they were grey ternlets.  In all an estimate of 35-40 birds was made, and we saw a few in flight and some coming to and from the rock.  Nice to see these little summer visitors.  About 100+ fairy prions were also roosting on the water nearby, most looking a little ragged from their breeding exploits.  We spent a little time cruising this very scenic area, before heading back towards Little Barrier, this time passing to the east of Fanal Island.  We stopped at Simpson’s rock and the conditions were so calm there were even white-faced storm-petrels sitting on the water!  There were also schools of fish feeding around the rock, and more white-faced storm-petrels and fairy prions feeding with them.  We decided to stop and start chumming, and in short order had several black petrels at the back of the boat.  Numbers of white-faced storm-petrels increased and then a shark was spotted – wow a nice big 7-9ft hammerhead!  It cruised past slowly and off and away from the boat.  A New Zealand storm-petrel was then spotted, and then another shark…hmmmm!? Different species!  This one was a quite large bronze whaler, probably 7-8ft long! Nice one…and then things got ridiculous as a blue shark [EDIT: we believe it was probably a mako] – also around 6-7ft came right in and swam through the slick a number of times giving really good views and actually nosing up to black petrels that were on the water.  Eash time the bird would be peering into the water and decide to make a break for it, with the shark really quite intent and almost lunging at the bird.
In the end we spent almost a couple of hours and had a number of NZ storm-petrels really close to the boat, and also white-faced dancing and feeding right beside the boat, with 5-6 black petrels around most of the time.  Late afternoon we decided we still had a way to go to get back, and so it was time to leave.  A lovely ride back towards Sandspit, with flat conditions and beautiful seas.  A lot of Cook’s petrels on the way back to keep us amused as well.
We did a quick swing by Kawau Island to look for weka, and found two very easily, and then headed back across to Sandspit, passing a big flock of feeding fluttering shearwaters with a few white-fronted terns and an Arctic skua (Parasitic jaeger).  Back on dry land we headed back to the accommodation for a nice dinner and well earned rest!
Little Barrier Island in the sunshine

A day to sit out and enjoy

There be grey ternlets on that rock!

Bird of the day– White-faced storm-petrel x5, New Zealand storm-petrel x3

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