Saturday 30 November 2019

Day eighteen: Stew pelagic

So, it seemed that we woke up before we went to bed, or it kind of felt like it!  Short night, but today was looking good for our pelagic.  It had been pretty windy overnight, with some rain, and we were hoping this would have stirred the birds up a little.
We all met up on the dock and boarded ‘Aurora’ with skipper Ian and chum-master Matt Jones…again…he gets around ;). The weather was supposed to be warm and calm, but there was a bit of a breeze running, and we hoped if we got out further we would encounter enough wind to keep the birds flying.  First stop was to check out some sites for Fiordland crested penguins, and we managed to find two adults sunning themselves nicely on the rocks.  Then one of the large chicks we had found yesterday was also visible, so we had a view of that also.  Everyone had nice views and was happy, so we decided to carry on out, hoping that the wind wouldn’t suddenly drop out.
We started to attract a few white-capped albatross as we steamed out, so that started the cameras clicking.  And the light was pretty nice as well.  We carried on out to a couple of islands where we had found yellow-eyed penguins before.  Local knowledge is important with these sorts of things, and so we checked out places we had previously found them.  First beach nothing except a lot of fur seals, including a lot of small pups.  Second beach area, bingo – four birds sitting halfway between the water and the bushes – looking as if they were having a conference!  And they were, they sat there calling to each other and doing a little posturing.  Really lovely to see these birds here, they have had a pretty tough time over the last few seasons, with most of the chicks failing to fledge due to disease.  We spent some time with them, the photographers happily clicking away and everyone else getting really nice views.
But we had places to be and things to see, so we carried on.  Another island and three Southern brown skuas – Matt’s pets – came in to say hello and get a hand out.  Throwing fish scraps into the air, the birds swooped in low and snatched them out of the air.  Fun for all and great to see these impressive birds up close.  They decided they had had enough and headed back to their island roost, and we carried on out to our pelagic destination.  We had just under an hour steaming time to a place we have been many times.  As we got further out the swell started to build as we got away from the shelter of the land, and the winds picked up a little also.  Just what we needed!  There were a lot of common diving-petrels around, and great views of them during the course of the day.
Our first chumming location brought in a bunch of white-capped albatross, a few Salvin’s albatross, several Southern Royals and a couple of fly-by Northern giant petrels.  There were a few Sooty shearwaters also cruising past, and Cape petrels coming in also.  A good number of albatrosses was building, probably 50+, but there was not a lot of other new things coming in, so we decided to move.  We ended up over the course of the day spending time at 5 different chumming spots.  As we got further out, we picked up different things, with a short-tailed shearwater and a bunch of white-chinned petrels coming in for nice close views.  At the later stops we had at least 8 really nice views of mottled petrels and at least ten Cook’s petrels that really came in for great views.  Sometimes this species can be distant brief views, but this was far from that.  And the last couple of stops we managed to get great views of fairy prions as well, but no broad-billed prions showed themselves.  Never mind, we had excellent views of everything seen during the day, which is always a key thing, and by the end of the day had seen well over several hundred albatross!
We decided to start heading back towards Oban, albatross in tow, more common diving-petrels, sooty shearwaters, etc as we headed in.  We stopped at an impressive Foveaux shag breeding site, where there were several hundred pairs and fairly large chicks on show.  Also a few spotted shags.
Back in port it was time for a quick rest before another beautiful dinner, and then a quick walk to see if we could spot some long-tailed bats.  We managed to see one really well, and as the temp was pretty cool we felt pretty lucky!  Of to bed to get some sleep!

Day total – Seen = 33; new for the trip = 2; total for the trip to date = 157

Heading out on the ocean's waves

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