Thursday 30 January 2014

A stom-petrel at arms length

We awoke to a stunning looking day, with a light breeze (perhaps too light!), and sunny clear conditions.  We headed off, grabbed some lunch and then headed for the Sandspit Boat Ramp, stopping quickly for a rather showy buff-banded rail that was feeding right out on the open lawn beside the mangroves.  A nice start!  We met Brett our fantastic skipper on the ‘Assassin’, and with bags stowed, cameras and bins out, and anticipation in the air we headed out the Kawau Channel towards the open ocean.

Barely had we left the channel out of Sandspit and the first target appeared – little blue penguin.  We got great views of a number of them rafting on the water, sitting quite high in the water, preening and lolling about.  We then saw some feeding, with white-fronted terns feeding over them, and even several Arctic skuas (Parasitic jaegers) on the chase, harassing the terns to steal their food.  Fluttering shearwaters were around in reasonable numbers as well, dotted here and there in small rafts and we got nice opportunities to see them taking off and flying past.

We carried on out into the open water and to the eastern side of Little Barrier Island, encountering our first Buller’s and flesh-footed shearwaters, Cook’s petrels, and white-faced storm-petrels.  But we kept moving, wanting to get to our first chumming location instead of stopping and starting.  A few diving gannets and fish boiling on the surface did bring a temporary stall in our progress, but we carried on shortly after.

Reaching our first chumming location, we put out the burley and within a few minutes had white-faced storm-petrels, Cook’s petrels, and Buller’s and flesh-footed shearwaters in feeding on the slick.  Brett was doing a great job of chumming, and before long we had a good assemblage of birds.  And it wasn’t long before the first New Zealand storm-petrel appeared!  Whoops of joy went up – always a bird that people want to see, and it never fails to bring out some whoops when it does!  With light breezes and the current holding us in just the right way, we had stunning views of all the birds, with particularly close and good views of both of the storm-petrels, both species down to less than 2m from the stern of the boat!  All the other species gave great views as well and the cameras were certainly clicking!
We had several, at least three, NZ storm-petrels around at one point, so excellent views, and we then decided to head on further to see what we could find, plus some time steaming to delete and clear some space on the memory cards!  As we headed out the sea was almost glassy calm, with just a slight breeze and almost no swell, so stunning views of Little Barrier and the Mokohinau Islands.

On the way to the Mokohinau Islands Brett spotted a Manta ray feeding right on the surface, an animal probaby at leat 3m across.  Then we arrived at Maori Rocks where there is a pretty decent gannet colony, but we also found at least 80+ grey ternlet, a species that roosts here from late November through to March-April.  We had great views of these really pretty little noddies, with excellent flight views as well, and then decided to head on out further towards deeper water.  On the way we spotted another manta ray, and we pulled up at about 180m.  Brett started chumming again, but with only a light breeze there were not a lot of birds around to start with.  However, things picked up, and before long we had a good assemblage of birds, and then several NZ storm-petrels arrived.  Again we had them litterally arms length from the boat, and again the shutters on the cameras were almost smoking!  It was really special to have them so close!  Several grey-faced petrels also made an appearance, but there was nothing else new.  After several hours of surreal seabirding, we had to say good bye to our little flock of storm-petrels and started to head back in.

On the way in we had several half playful common dolphins that came in rather half-heartedly and bow-rode a little, but absolutely stunning sea conditions and a beautiful evening as we headed back past the Mokohinau Islands and Little Barrier and back up the Kawau Channel.  Coming alongside the wharf took a little longer than usual (with a trainee skipper!!), but we then headed off to another awesome dinner before a well earned sleep!

Day total – Seen = 38; new for the trip = 13; total for the trip to date = 78

Little blue penguin preening on the surface

Fluttering shearwater about to take off

The chase - Arctic skua chasing a white-fronted tern

Cook's petrel up close

White-faced storm-petrel bouncing off the water

White-faced storm-petrel dipping under to get food from below the surface

Beautiful Buller's shearwater making a pass

White-faced storm-petrels dancing on the water

New Zealand storm-petrel coming in for a look

New Zealand storm-petrel feeding on the surface

More dancing

New Zealand storm-petrel about to dip down

New Zealand storm-petrel in flight

Grey tern let roosting on Maori rocks

Grey tern let in flight

Grey tern let coming in to land

Buller's shearwater again

Cook's petrel in close to the back of the boat about to dip down to the slick

Tuesday 28 January 2014

Fairy tern hopeful

After the lovely clear night before with sightings of kiwi under the belt, it was strange to wake up to drizzle.  However, a few little showers over breakfast were all that eventuated, and byt the time we left the accommodation and headed north it was scattered cloud, all be it a little blustery.  We headed to Tane Mahuta, the very impressive kauri tree found just north of Trounson in the Waipoua Forest, where we did the short walk, checking out some of the plants and managing beaut views of a grey warbler feeding a recently fledged juvenile, and nice views of a male tomtit.  Not a lot of other bird action around, so we decided to head back to the south and to a site for Australasian little grebe.

We found the pair of grebes on their usual pond, which was great, as the birds had apparently taken off for a week or so recently, so nice to see them back there.  We then headed down into Waipu, grabbed some lunch at a bakery, and then headed to a nearby estuary to enjoy our lunch in beautiful sunshine, overlooking the estuary.

Before we even got out of the van a fairy tern had been spotted in the distance, and upon getting out we quickly had it in the scope, and had found another one also roosting on the mudflats.  They were a long way off and the heat haze was pretty bad, so we hoped for better views.  But in the meantime we ate lunch, and checked out the other birds nearby, which included a lot of variable oystercatchers and New Zealand dotterels, a reef egret, and a good flock of bar-tailed godwit and red knot.  To round things off several banded dotterel and some turnstone were present.

Finishing lunch we decided to get a little closer to one of the fairy terns, which had by now flown over the channel for a bit hunting fish, and had then landed closer to us.  On closer inspection we realised it was the recently fledged juvenile bird.  However, there were at least two adults around also, and every now and then one would fly in with a fish and feed the juvenile.  We had several fantastic views of the adults hovering over the channel right in front of us, only to plunge right into the water and come up with a fish which it then fed to the juvenile.  Cracking stuff!  And in between all this we had variable oystercatchers, red knot and bar-tailed godwit, and New Zealand dotterel running and feeding around us.  Plenty to look at and point the camera at!

After a few hours enjoying the area and the birds we decided to head on south to another location in the hope of seeing buff-banded rail.  And sure enough, we had a bird pop out right in front of us, and showing off pretty well.  It disappeared for a bit and then came back out and went back to where it had appeared from, only to come out again with two tiny little chicks following it!  Very cool!  We kept a watch out for it, but it didn’t appear again, so we had to amuse ourselves with tui and bellbird feeding in flax flowers, brown teal feeding in the shallows, and variable oystercatchers and purple swamphen (pukeko) running around the place.  All with brilliant sunshine and a cooling breeze – perfect!

But it was soon time to head to the accommodation, quickly checkin and then head off out for dinner, having worked up a pretty good appetite!

Day total – Seen = 51; new for the trip = 13; total for the trip to date = 65

The big tree!

With the group at the base...


Looking at the fairy terns

Photographers in action
Etienne getting close to a New Zealand dotterel

Red knot feeding on the mudflats

Fairy tern hovering waiting for the plunge

Heading back with a fish to feed the juvenile

Starting out

Well luckily the heavy rain, thunder, and lightening of the day before had cleared and broken cloud and sunny conditions prevailed…although the wind that had blown it all away was still with us.

We packed the van – always a trial and error experience on the first morning – and then headed for our first stop, a forest stop nearby in the beautiful Waitakeres.  We had excellent views of tui in bright sunshine showing their beautiful irridescent plumage and neck filoplumes, as well as great views of New Zealand pigeon and fantail and then a small group of sulphur-crested cockatoos flew in to show off.  A few more Australians made an appearance, with masked lapwing and Eastern rosella added to the list.  We then headed out to the nearby Muriwai Beach gannet colony where there was a stiff breeze blowing, but plenty of action with a lot of chicks in the colony, and lots of adults coming and going.  Nice to also see lots of white-fronted terns around, with young birds just learning to fly, and even one seen to eat a grashopper that got too close!  We spent quite a bit of time just enjoying the spectacle and the photographers were in heaven with lots of birds to choose from for flight photography.

We then headed off and made a quick stop at a bakery to grab lunch, before heading to a small wetland pond area where we had our first waterfowl, with plenty of paradise shelduck, mallard, Pacific black duck, and a few grey teal.  It didn’t take long for several New Zealand dabchick to be spotted, including an adult and juv, the latter of which was being given the hurry up by the adult who obviously thought it was time for the teenager to depart!  We also had great views of little pied and little black cormorants side by side, and white-faced heron, and several broods of New Zealand scaup.

Next we headed on northwards, checking out a couple of stops for the recently arrived Australian pelicans, but alas they were nowhere to be seen.  A few gulls, terns, and cormorants would have to do.  Then a quick stop in Dargaville to stock up on breakfast goods, before heading on up to our accommodation for the evening, where we checked in and then had a quick breather before heading out for dinner.  And what a dinner it was!  The local tavern turned on a real feast for us, with massive steaks and fish meals, and then a beautiful dessert.  Of course this was all washed down with some good kiwi beer and wine!

However, not too much to drink as we then headed out after dinner for our first kiwi opportunity, with a walk through a local forest area for Northern brown kiwi.  We heard at least 5 different male kiwi calling during the course of the evening, and managed to get brief but ok views of one bird, and then really good prolonged views of a second bird a bit later.  So a nice start to the tour with our first kiwi species under the belt!  We also saw several brush-tailed possums (not so great!), plus long-finned eel, cave weta, and freshwater crayfish.  Not too bad considering we were almost tucked up in bed before the strike of midnight!

Day total – Seen = 52 + 3 heard (dunnock, North Island robin, morepork); new for the trip = 52; total for the trip to date = 52

Geoff looked unimpressed with awesome views of spotted dove!

Looking out over beaut forest for tui, pigeon, and tom it (and sulphur-crested cockatoo)

Spot the guys with the big lenses!

Which way to point the camera?

Muriwai Beach gannet colony

The gang!

It wouldn't be a birding tour without a sewage ponds!

Saturday 25 January 2014

Cape Kidnappers still producing results

Well the New Zealand subantarctic was amazing!  It really was as good as I hoped it would be!  We had pretty awesome weather most of the time, with a few windy days not allowing us to zodiac at the Bounty Islands or at the Snares, but apart from that we achieved pretty much everything else.  I managed 15 new species for New Zealand, which has now taken me to the top of the stack, with 277 species seen in New Zealand.  There are a couple of species I missed (on the Snares) and a few seabirds I thought we may have seen, but overall outstanding.  Some photos are below!

It is hard to believe, that after all these years and the thousands of photos I have taken already at Cape Kidnappers gannet cony, that I could still get material out there that spins my wheels (or clicks my shutter)!  But, having just been out there with a couple of good friends (Etienne and Nick Littlefair), I managed to get some shots I am very pleased with, some that I think have a different feel to much of what I have already shot at this location.

The colonies were bustling on Thursday when we headed out there relatively early, and armed with the recently acquired 1Dx and my 400 DO and 800 f5.6 I decided to just have a little fun and see what I could get.  The 1Dx is an absolutely camera, definitely far and above the best body I have had, and a massive jump on the 1D MkIV.  Having tested it pretty well during the last month in the New Zealand sub-antarctic, I am still amazed at how razor sharp images are straight from the camera, and how incredible the autofocus tracks subjects.  So the flying gannets and action at the nesting colonies didn't stand a chance!  I shot a lot into the light, hoping to get some pleasing silhouettes and interestingly lit subjects, and I think I did!  The reach of the 800mm made for some interesting portraits as well.  We also visited the red-crowned parakeet aviaries in the Cape Sanctuary and there were lots of birds hanging around the outside, having been recently released, let's hope they do well!

I've also posted a few faves from the two NZ subantarctic trips below, and over the next few weeks am hoping to update regularly as I lead a Wrybill Birding Tours, NZ 21-day tour.

Coming in to land, the autofocus of the 1Dx is just bang on almost every time and these gannets were no match!

A young chick stretching its growing wings, lots of chicks around this season, which is great to see.

Classic shot of a pair greeting each other, but some nice light almost from behind them.

A closer shot with the 800mm as a chick flaps its wings.

Just finished feeding.

The male hybrid 'Cape gannet x Australasian gannet' bowing on the nest - this bird was the son of the original and first record of Cape gannet (from South Africa) in New Zealand.

Feeding with a red-billed gull coming in for scraps in the background.

Coming in to land, again pin sharp thanks to the 1Dx.

A red-crowned parakeet looks curiously at us near the aviaries in the Cape Sanctuary.

The view at Campbell Island, back to where the ship was anchored in Perseverance Harbour.

Orchids in flower on Campbell Island.

Another species of orchid on Campbell Island

The Pyramid on dusk as we left the Chathams

The Antipodes on approach in stunning conditions with the sun getting low.

Royal penguin in full cry on Macquarie Island

Erect-crested penguins rafting just off the Antipodes in stunning conditions.

A penguin slope on the Antipodes, covered in Erect-crested penguins.

Erect-crested penguin just up on the shore.

Taking to the water!

Stunning light in a cave we found on the Antipodes.

Kelp in the light on the edge of the cave.

An Antipodean albatross as we left the Antipodes.

Auckland Island banded dotterel amongst the herbs.

Weka peering at us on the Chathams

Auckland Island shag coming in to land.

Auckland Island dotterel in flight.

Auckland Island tomtit

Chatham albatross in flight near the Pyramid

Big male New Zealand sealion up close on the Auckland Islands.

Auckland Island snipe, a subspecies of the Subantarctic snipe.

Auckland Island teal roosting above the tideline.

Campbell albatross in flight in beautiful light.

New Zealand fur seal on a rock at the Chathams.

New Zealand fur seal shaking the water from its coat.

New Zealand wandering albatross in flight.

Campbell albatross in flight

Auckland Island shag roosting.

Auckland Island shag coming in to land.

We got the zodiacs really close for superb views of shore plover on South-East Island, Chathams.

A light-mantled sooty albatross comes in to land near a potential nesting site.

Again really close for superb views of a female shore plover with a CHICK on South-East Island, Chathams.

Stunning white-fronted tern in flight.

The Pyramid at dusk with an albatross flying past.

Chatham albatross flying past the Pyramid.

Campbell Island shag in flight.

Yellow-eyed penguin porpoising near Campbell Island.

Variable oystercatcher chick feeding on mussels, Fiordland.

Dark morph soft-plumaged petrel between the Chathams and the Bounty Islands.

New Zealand sealions fighting in the water near Campbell Island.

Southern Royal albatross in the fog on Campbell Island.

Fulmar prion in flight near the Bounty Islands.

Southern Royal in flight in front of a breaking wave.

Yellow-eyed penguin looks on, Auckland Islands.

Bounty Island shag in flight near the islands.

Pup New Zealand sealions creching on the beach.

Light-mantled sooty albatross in flight.

The beach master has his way!

Mum, dad, and but - Auckland Island teal.

Light-mantled sooty albatross in flight behind the ship.

Subantarctic pipit on Campbell Island.

Subantarctic snipe on Campbell Island.

Subantarctic snipe - what a ripper! - on Campbell Island.

Curious yellow-eyed penguin!

Cape petrel in flight behind the ship

Royal penguins having a scrap on Macquarie.

Campbell Island albatross

Rockhopper shaking just off the Antipodes

Erect-crested penguin in the water just off the Antipodes.

Close Royal penguin, Macquarie.

Coming out of the surf!

Erect-crested penguin in the water at Antipodes.

Superb pair of light-mantled sooty albatross displaying along the cliffs of the Antipodes.