Thursday 6 February 2020

Day three - black and whites, of the storm-petrel variety

Well, another beautiful morning to wake up to.  Sun shining and not a lot of wind, so looked promising!  We had breakfast and then headed to grab lunch and then to Sandspit.  At Sandspit there was a bit of activity going on, it is Waitangi Day after all and a lot of people clearly heading out on the water.  But I doubt many were planning to head to where we were!
We boarded our boat and headed out, a little wind making small waves on the Kawau Channel, but that didn’t stop us finding a couple of little penguins on the way.  One adult that looked like it was ready to start moulting, and a couple of youngsters that looked fresh out of the nest.  Pretty good views of these great little birds before continuing out towards the open ocean.  A brief flyby Arctic skua on the way.
There was a pretty stiff breeze of about 15 knots blowing already as we got out, coming from the south.  It was supposed to freshen a little in the mid-afternoon and swing to the SW, so we wanted to get out and in place without too much delay.  We started to see a few fluttering, then flesh-footed shearwaters, and then some Buller’s shearwaters and Cook’s petrels.  As we reached our chumming location there was a marked increase in bird activity, and so we slowed up.  We started to ready the chum, and bingo!  Within a minute or two and without chum there was a New Zealand storm-petrel – star of the day!  It spent quite a bit of time around the back of the boat in quite nice light really showing off.  The Cook’s petrels, flesh-footed and Buller’s shearwaters all looked a little disappointed they were not the focus of our attention!
Funny thing was, even when the chum was in the water there was not even a single white-faced storm-petrel that showed.  And in fact they were a little stand-offish even when we finally found a few later on in the day.  But we managed to pick up a single sooty shearwater that showed briefly, and a number of black petrels that showed really well, and a few white-faced storm-petrels that showed pretty well also.  But New Zealand storm petrels were definitely the star of the show!
We changed location a few times, and then decided that with the weather forecast and the way the wind was already that perhaps it was better to start heading in.  We slowed a couple of times for things, but a large flock of gannets sitting on the water was in fact just that, and there was no activity to be observed.  We did however, head in to a bay, and managed to pick up three weka feeding along the shoreline.  Being the rarer North Island subspecies a nice bird to see.
We headed back to Sandspit, drove back to the accommodation checking for kookaburra, but again struck out.  Another delicious dinner, a few good wines, and conversation, and a good night’s sleep!
Day total – Seen = 36; new for the trip = 10; total for the trip to date = 76
Happy New Zealand storm-petrel hunters! 

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