Monday 3 December 2018

Day fifteen - yellowhead and Fiordland crested penguins

The morning started a little later than usual, as we had been out till late the night before.  So we were up, breakfasted and heading to our water taxi at 0745.  We headed off around to Ulva Island – our location for the morning, where we hoped to clean-up…and we did!
We headed up the path and almost instantly had a South Island saddleback.  Target bird number one and the critical one that could not be found elsewhere on our coming journey in the bag.  We carried on wandered along the trails, admiring the beautiful vegetation.  We soon had red-crowned parakeet, tui, bellbird, and a pair of morepork roosting side by side in a tree near the trail.  Amazing views of these sleepy birds, possibly a nest nearby with large young, so the adults camping out roosting together nearby.  We then had our second target – yellowhead.  We had great views of these stunning birds, their heads glowing lemon yellow even in the dim light below the canopy.  They foraged in front of us, hanging upside down and using their strong legs to grip the branches and trunks.  We spent some time with them, and then carried on, looking for more yellowhead, finding more saddleback, and then some brown creeper. Hard to believe we had seen yellowhead on this trip before their closely related cousins!  Further on we found some kaka feeding in the blooms of kamahi trees, and had great looks at the way they fed with their tongues, clearly gathering nectar from the flowers.
At a beach we watched several weka running along the tideline, and then spotted a couple of tiny little black chicks following one of the adults.  The adult was not keen to let them out into the open, so we had to make do with views through the vegetation.
We decided to head back the way we had come, seeing more red-crowned parakeets and saddleback, and a pair of copulating kaka!  Talk about déjà vu!!!  We had had North Island kaka copulating in Pureora Forest Park, and now here were some South Island kaka doing the same!  Once they had finished, and seemed exhausted with their antics, we carried on. We then managed to find a rifleman nest that Matt Jones told us about, and saw the male come in several times. Nice, I think we had pretty much cleaned up!
We decided to head back towards the jetty, as it was getting towards midday, and we had a very important rendezvous with Aurora Charters.  The boat was there ready and waiting, so we climbed aboard and started to munch on our lunches as we headed out towards Wreck Reef.  On the way we spotted a few little penguins, pausing briefly for them, before getting out into open water.  Matt was onboard and started to throw a bit of chum over the side and we soon had a few white-capped and Salvin’s albatross following the boat as we steamed.  We made a quick pause at an island for a brown skua – a couple of birds came out to take a look, and we then continued.  As we got further out numbers of albatross started to increase, and then a few common diving petrels were seen – flying but of course never coming in that close.  A few sooty shearwaters started to appear, but conditions were really calm, almost too good, with only a light breeze and mostly just a couple of feet swell.
We arrived at Wreck Reef, and started chumming in earnest.  In the end we had probably 40+ albatross around us, mostly white-capped, a few Salvin’s and at one time seven Southern Royal albatross. We also had a few Northern giant petrels come in, and at least one Westland petrel.  Probably the most surprising though were a good number of Cook’s petrels, probably over the course of the day 50+, with some of them coming right in and landing on the water at the back of the boat and taking fish scraps.  This happens very rarely in our Hauraki Gulf trips, but multiple birds repeated this over the course of our chumming.  They were clearly very hungry.  We had a couple of fly-by Hutton’s shearwaters, and a single fairy prion and Buller’s shearwater also came in to have a look at the boat.  But unfortunately, no sign of anything along the lines of mottled petrel.  But still a lovely day out and some great views of albatross!  And we had a 3m+ shark come in and investigate the chum slick giving quite nice views.
We started to steam back in towards the Muttonbird Islands, and checking the coastline. There were a lot of NZ fur seals up on the boulder beaches, and we scanned and scanned, but no yellow-eyed penguins.  But just off one of the reefs we spotted some Fiordland crested penguins floating and preening.  There looked to be about 7-8 of them, and as they drifted around the corner we moved slightly to get a better look.  They were 70m+ away as we watched them, and then all of a sudden something spooked them and they came porpoising towards the boat!  They stopped about 15m away, surfaced and sat there posing for their pictures, before then suddenly porpoising off in another direction and out to see!  Awesome! We found a couple more up on land at several other locations, before getting back in to port after an outstanding day!

A morepork snoozes during the day, its mate a foot or so away

A yellowhead peers at us

A brown creeper or pipipi looks to the sky

A South Island kaka taking nectar from kamahi flowers

Copulating kaka! Again!

A white-capped albatross calls as it comes in to land

A Cook's petrel takes a very close pass as it comes in to steal chum

A Northern giant petrel does a flyby in beautiful light

A Salvin's albatross puts the landing gear down

A brown skua comes in to bits of chum

Stunning Fiordland crested penguin comes in to check us out with its mates close by

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