Friday 1 March 2019

Day eighteen - petrels and penguins

Hard to believe summer is over, and it is already the start of March….  We were up, breakfasted and then down to the wharf to meet our skipper and boat, and chum master extraordinaire – Matt Jones.  The weather was holding for the moment and looked like it could be a good one.  We headed out into the bay, getting some nice views of the Foveaux shag on a rock, with both the bronze form and the pied form side by side.  We headed out and searched a spot, finding one, then two Fiordland crested penguins sitting out on the rocks.  They looked like they were all dressed in their new plumage, and ready to head back out to sea after their moult.  We then spotted a couple more further along in a small cave, and then a third appeared there, so five birds in total – a great start to the day.
Next, we headed across to some islands to search for yellow-eyed penguins.  These birds have been having a pretty tough time the last few years, with a large proportion of their chicks dying at sites around Stewart Island.  We searched and searched in places we have found the birds before, but to no avail. A lot of fur seals though, and their population seems to be doing well.  We then headed on a bit further, and found a couple of resident brown skuas. They came in to investigate and Matt threw them scraps of cod.  These birds have become quite adept at snagging bits of fish out of the air! Excellent views and then off out into the deep blue.
We headed out to a reef system a fair way off the island, and the wind and swell gradually picked up, so that by the time we were in our location we had a good2-3m regular swell, and every now and then a big 4-5m whopper would roll through. We started chumming in earnest, and as we already had about 50 albatross already following the bird numbers soon started to grow.  We mostly had white-capped albatross, but a few Salvin’s and Buller’s albatross were amongst them, and a few Southern Royals as well.  Over the next few hours we had a few Northern giant petrels come past, but we stared intently looking for smaller birds, and were rewarded.  We ended up seeing about 15 mottled petrels, coming through in singles, with the first 3-4 showing really well, coming quite close to the boat in really good light!  Excellent!  We also had probably similar numbers of Cook’s petrels, also showing well, a single white-chinned petrel, and at least two grey-backed storm petrels and two white-faced storm petrels.  One of the grey-backed gave really good views.  But possibly the star of the show was a Campbell albatross that came right in to the boat, and spent probably at least an hour with us, giving really nice views.  We also had a few common diving petrels during the course of the day, nothing close, and of course hundreds of sooty shearwaters.  These were of course checked for short-tailed, but nothing stuck out.
After a few good hours of chumming, and some pretty good motion, it was time to head slowly back in to calmer waters.  Everyone had done really well and there was no sign of any green gills. So we headed in to check some spots for yellow-eyed penguins.  We did manage to get a fleeting glimpse of one in the water in one bay, but it did a disappearing act on us, and we just couldn’t see any others on land.  We rechecked some islands and then right at the last minute, there was one sitting on a rock with its back to us, sunning itself. We got pretty nice views of the bird standing proudly, sad to think this could become more and more difficult in coming years!
We decided it was getting pretty close to beer o’clock and so back towards Half Moon Bay it was.  But what a great day with some really good birds seen, and excellent views of everything! Another great day on the water!

Bird of the day– Campbell albatross x4, Fiordland crested penguin x1, mottle petrel x1, yellow-eyed penguin x2

Leaving Half Moon Bay

Chum-master Matt Jones ready for action

The morning penguin search

Hmmm...a slight miscalculation I think!

Successful at last a yellow-eyed penguin in our sights

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