Ocean Wings News
Albatross Encounter Update March 2010
Welcome to the Albatross Encounter update for the month of March 2010.
This month has brought with it some great weather for our tours and many happy passengers who took the opportunity to view the many species that are on offer off the Kaikoura coastline. We operated 30 days out of 31 this month and to see what species were seen, go to our sightings page.
This month we ran another of our successful all day tours, which went further offshore than our normal 2.5hr tours. This was a great success with many different species sighted. Highlight for this tour were Cook's petrel (Pterodroma cooki), mottled petrel (Pterodroma inexpectata), soft plumaged petrel (Pterodroma mollis) and brown skua (Catharacta Antarctica lonnbergi). To get a full report of the tour and list of species seen, go to this blog report.
Arctic skua are a common sight, particularly inshore over the summer months. White-fronted terns, also prevavlent inshore, often follow the large pods of dusky dolphins as the dolphins will disturb small baitfish and krill, making them more visible to the ever watchful terns. The skuas engage in aerial pursuit of the terns (and gulls) in an effort to force them to regurgitate their last meal. This behavior is called kleptoparasitism and is how the skuas primarily feed during our summer. During our winter they return to their summer breeding grounds on the Arctic tundra and coastlines of northern Asia and Alaska. Here they feed on lemmings, bird eggs and even berries, depending seasonal variations.
The nominate race of wanderers, the snowy (Diomedea exulans), are seen irregularly on our tours. They can be distinguished (with practice) from the other predominate races such as the Gibson's (Diomedea exulans gibsoni) by their larger size and extensive white coloration. The closest colony for the snowy is on Macquarie Island which is an Australian Sub-Antarctic Island, but with the majority of the species breeding on islands in both the south Atlantic and Indian Oceans such as South Georgia and Crozet.
Both wandering and royal albatross are seen on a regular basis on our tours and it is interesting to observe their behavior towards one another and their own species. Generally their behavior can be classified as hostile, with intense competition in regards to food. Albatross are specialized scavengers, roaming huge distances for the little food that they can find floating on the surface or scavenging behind sharks, seals and other marine mammals. When they do find a source of food they will defend it vehemently as they can not be sure when they will feed next. The wanderers are the most aggressive of the albatross, often seeing off the larger southern royals, though they occasionally will try to dominate, but will rarely hold their throne. The smaller albatross such as white-capped, combine a fierce expression, loud harsh vocalizations and agility to compete with other species. Great photographic opportunities abound when a range of species are interacting around our vessel with some rather dramatic results.
Till next month, good birding!
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