Thursday 5 June 2014

NZ subantarctics, third and final

So in between the second subantarctic trip and this third one in March, I had time back on dry land leading a 21-day tour around New Zealand for our company Wrybill Birding Tours, NZ.  The daily blogs are here, needless to say we had a great group and saw pretty much everything we hoped for.  I posted a full trip report on our website yesterday, so you can download that here.

But back to Dunedin to board the ship on the last day of February, and then back down into the Southern Ocean.  Luckily the weather had abated a little, as the previous trip heading home from the Ross Sea further to the south had been a pretty rough one, with 10m+ seas and some pretty ferocious winds.  As we left Dunedin and headed towards Stewart Island it was a little windy, but nothing too bad.  Stewart Island was fantastic as always, with time spent on Ulva Island, and then through to Fiordland for a few days, before heading south again.  As we approached The Snares the night before arriving the weather conditions were calm and looked perfect.  As we arrived in the morning however, it was clear the swells were coming from the wrong direction, and our preferred zodiac cruising location was not going to work!  Ahhhhhhhh!!!  My big dip on the last trip had been getting close to Snare's crested penguin and more importantly seeing the Snares fernbird!  We ended up launching the zodiacs and doing an awesome couple of cruises on the normally rough and exposed north-western side of the island.  Bigger cliffs and so no penguin haul outs, although we got a few penguins up on rocks, but great to see the nesting Buller's albatrosses.  I did see several Snares tomtits, and heard three or four times the fern bird, but just couldn't see one!  Damn, that will have to wait till November as well - Snares fernbird has been split as a separate species from the mainland one, hence the desperation!

We did get to cruise around the islands in the ship again so great views of the penguin slope etc in the beaut sunshine, a real shame we didn't get up close to that area...  That afternoon at sea as we left the Snares heading south we had hundreds of black-bellied storm-petrels, which was great to see, and then passed a fishing vessel that had thousands of birds around it - a real spectacle!

Next day was at Enderby Island, with the weather again turning it on for us.  And this time instead of a fleeting glimpse of a falcon as it sprung from the bush edge, we had a falcon trying to catch a pipit right by us, with the bird swooping over our heads!  Definitely my best photo of a flying NZ falcon to date, and there on Enderby!  Very cool.  Also some lovely time with Auckland Island teal on a pond, showing off their tiny little wings, and some good views of the red-crowned parakeet, tomtit, and of course the sealions.  Afternoon zodiac cruising around the cliffs found a light-mantled sooty alb chick on the nest, with adults swooping by, a lone rockhopper penguin trying to look like an Auckland Island shag whilst roosting with them, and a few teal.  As we steamed away from the Auckland Islands to the south, lots and lots of Subantarctic little shearwaters and more black-bellied storm-petrels, and the next morning as we arrived in Campbell Island, we found a Subantarctic diving petrel onboard.  So comparison photos were taken to compare with the common divers we had discovered onboard the day before.

Campbell the weather was pretty nice, but despite a lot of searching I didn't locate a snipe this time - just more prints and probe marks.  Some of the megaherbs were still in flower, as were some of the orchids, but this time we found some sundews as well (one of the passengers was a carnivorous plant expert and had pointed them out the day before on Enderby, so I was on the lookout and found them for him on Campbell).  That afternoon we did a sensational zodiac cruise along the north-eastern corner of the island, with breeding Campbell and grey-headed albs on the cliffs, and Campbell Island shags in the water.  Spectacular, wheeling light-mantled sooty albatross along the cliffs also.

Then a day at sea, with some good birds along the way, before getting in to Macquarie where this time we had slightly better weather and two days available.  So two good landings with the penguins and elephant seals, and a landing at the station.  Finally got some nice shots of white morph Southern giant petrels as well which I was pretty happy with.

Then it was a couple of days heading north, back in to Lyttleton, where just as we rounded Banks Peninsula we had a BLUE WHALE!  My first in NZ and a pretty nice sized animal which showed really well!  Awesome, and then about an hour later we had Hector's dolphin as well - the largest and smallest oceanic cetaceans within an hour of each other - pretty special, and what a great way to end the trip!

Not even out of Dunedin Harbour and Adrian Boyle is already wondering what flavour the sorbet will be at lunch tomorrow...

Approaching The Snares with a beaut sunrise and albatrosses in the air

Antarctic tern about to fly

Buller's albatross on its nest up on the cliffs at The Snares

Buller's in flight

Bathed in sunshine, but alas to exposed on the penguin slope side of The Snares

The penguin slope on The Snares

Fishing boat surrounded by thousands of seabirds to the south of The Snares

Buller's albatross in flight

Pipit on Enderby Island

Tomtit on Enderby Island

Female NZ sealion heading up towards her pup

Who's looking at who!

Cute little pup

Very curious at this age, with a pup coming right in to inspect

NZ falcon in flight on Enderby Island

Auckland Island teal pair

Havin a flap - 'Look at my ridiculous little wings!'

Red-crowned parakeet on Enderby Island

Richard White is wondering if we really have to take this knobber back to the ship after he (Adrian Boyle) gets a little too wet in the surf!

Auckland Island shag in flight along the cliffs

Subantarctic little shearwater in flight as we leave the Auckland Islands

Campbell Island megaherbs

A bit closer

Dent Island - the last refuge for the Campbell Island teal before the rat eradication

No snipe this time...but we know they are around!


NZ sealion looking curiously on

Nesting Campbell and grey-headed albatross and chicks up on the cliffs

Campbell Island shag on the water

White-headed petrel at sea on the way towards Macquarie

Grey-headed albatross in flight

Stunning white morph Southern giant petrel in flight near Macca

Macca in the background

You lookin' at me!

You don't really want to know what that mustard coloured stuff is...

Nice comb-over, a Royal penguin having a bad hair day

That's better!

King penguin in the colony

Rushing around

Two young elephant seals tumble in the surf

Snowy wandering albatross near Macca

The same bird against a rough sea

Blue whale off Bank's peninsula

Pretty amazing animal

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