Ocean Wings News
Albatross Encounter Update February 2010
Welcome to the Albatross Encounter update for the month of February 2010.
This has been a great month for us in regards to species, days of operation and passenger numbers. There were a total of 28 days of operation with a wide range of species including some rarities. To see what species were sighted this month and for other months of the year go to our sightings page.
Species of interest for this month include great shearwater, black petrel, white-chinned petrel, Pomarine skua, and Buller's albatross.
On the 14th of the month there was a sighting of a shearwater species that has been seen in New Zealand on only a handful of occasions. It was a great shearwater (Puffinus gravis) which breeds on Sub-Antarctic Islands in the Atlantic Ocean. Skipper, Gary Melville, spotted the bird sitting next to a local commercial fishing boat and was initially unsure of its identity, but after a closer look and a quick reference to an ID book, he called it correctly as the great shearwater. This large species is classified as a rare vagrant to our waters, so it was a great sighting to add to an already successful tour!
A confusing sighting was made on the 23rd of this month. It was a white-chinned petrel (Procellaria aequinoctialis), which is not an unusual species for us, but what was interesting was the colouration of its bill (primarily the maxillary unguis). This part of the bill on white-chinned petrels is a cream/ivory colour which matches the majority of the bill structure. This is an ID feature when comparing it to the very similar and sympatric Westland petrel which has a black tip to its bill. As you can see from the photo this white-chinned petrel has both a white chin and a black tip to its bill, which is a confusing mutation!
Another Procellaria petrel, the black petrel (Procellaria parkinsoni) was sighted on the 2nd of this month. This North Island breeder is around 10cm smaller and 500gm lighter than the white-chinned petrel, making it the smallest of its genera. It is not a frequent visitor to this area, but is commonly seen around the Hauraki Gulf where it is an endemic breeder.
As summer goes on we often see the next generation of newly fledged birds out on the water. It is great to witness their growth throughout the year as their plumage and feeding behavior develops into adulthood. The photo below is of a juvenile black-billed gull (Larus bulleri) which is yet to develop its black bill. This can lead to confusion with the red-billed gull (Larus scopulinus) whose juvenile has a black bill!
Arctic skua or parasitic jaegers (Stercorarius parasiticus) are a common sighting for us on our tours during our summer months. These northern hemisphere breeders can be seen in aerial dogfights as they harass gulls and terns to force them to regurgitate the contents of their stomach which they then consume, often before it hits the water. This behavior is called kleptoparasitism. There is another very similar skua, which is not so commonly seen, called the Pomarine skua (Stercorarius pomarinus). A Pomarine was seen on the 19th as it flew over the vessel, no doubt attracted by the multitude of gulls and terns.
We are getting more sightings of one of the most photogenic albatross as the year progresses. This is the Bullers albatross (Thalassarche bulleri). This endemic albatross is stunning with its bright yellow stripes over a black bill and a white crescent behind its fierce looking eyes. It is one of the smallest albatross that we see here in Kaikoura but it more than makes up for it with its beauty! It is a common sighting from March through to September, so while they are here make the most of the opportunity by coming out on our tours this winter!
Till next month, good birding!
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