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Albatross Encounter Update December 2009

Posted by Dennis Buurman (45 Comments)
Tuesday, 12 January 2010 in Default

Welcome to the Albatross Encounter update for the month of December 2009.

This month we have had a good month for days on the water with a total of 26 days of operation in a mix of sea and weather conditions. To see what was seen for this month and for other months go to our sightings page.

We have had a lot of good sightings this month with a wide range of pelagic species seen. There was even a new sighting for one of our skippers, which is always very exciting.

Sightings of interest for this month include;

Antarctic Fulmar 2nd Dec

Mottled petrel,  2nd Dec

Cook's petrel,    2nd Dec

Grey-backed storm petrel,  17th Dec

Adult northern giant petrel 

The sighting of the mottled petrel (Pteradroma inexpectata), as the Latin name conveniently suggests, was not expected. Indeed it was the first sighting of the species for Alastair Judkins, the skipper on that day. The bird was very co-operative, flying close to the boat on a number of occasions offering both Alastair and customers the opportunity for photos. This endemic Gadfly petrel breeds on islands south of the mainland such as Stewart, Codfish and Snares. It is a trans-equatorial bird, meaning it crosses the equator on its annual winter migration after breeding. It has been sighted as far north as the pack ice in the Bering Sea. 

The Cook's petrel (Pteradroma cookii) is another Gadfly petrel; though this species is not a regular sighting, there have been a number of previous occasions when this species has been sighted off Kaikoura. It is hoped however, that sightings will become more regular due to an increase in the population due to the eradication of rats on its main breeding area of Little Barrier Island in the Hauraki Gulf in the North Island. It too migrates to the North Pacific, though not as far as the mottled petrel. 

Northern Giant petrels are a common sighting on our tour. They are aggressive scavengers and occasional predators and can be seen at close quarters as they jostle and spar with each other when the chum is in the water. We usually see juvenile or sub-adult birds which can be distinguished by their darker plumage and dark iris, which lightens with age. This month however saw the arrival of a adult which was given the disreputable name “Igor”,  by local fisherman. This adult northern giant really stood out, with his much paler plumage, but also his bold and aggressive manner. Other birds, including much larger wandering albatross, gave him a wide berth as he advanced toward the vessel, displaying and screaming like the Nasgul from Lord of the Rings! He entertained us for a couple of weeks before moving on, no doubt terrorizing all before him. 

We had good looks at a grey-backed storm petrel on the 17th of this month. It was darting around the vessel and skipping in the slick caused by the chum, picking up tiny pieces of food that the larger species either ignored or simply did not see. In contrast to the giant petrel, the grey-backed storm petrel (Garrodia nereis) is one of the smallest species that can be seen off  Kaikoura. At only 18cm in length and weighing a mere 35 grams, it is remarkable that this bird breeds and feeds in the “Screaming Fifties” of the Southern Ocean. It's breeding areas are New Zealand's Sub-Antarctic Islands such as Auckland and Campbell Islands. 

The sighting of the Antarctic fulmar in December was surprising as it is usually seen in winter or early spring. By December they should be heading down to the Antarctic mainland to commence their breeding season. The sightings of fulmars have been much later than usual this year, but its unknown whether this caused by a seasonal shift in their behavior or a merely a one off occurrence.

So to finish the last update for 2009, we would like to wish you all a happy New Year! It has been a good year for us and we thank all of our past customers and extend a warm welcome to those planning on joining us in 2010. 

We look forward to seeing you on our tours soon for more great sightings. Until then, good birding!

Tour Photos
Tour Pic
Budding Photographer
Motteld Petrel
Cook's Petrel
Cape Petrel
Cape Pigeon and Whale Watch



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