Ocean Wings News
Albatross Encounter Update February 2011
Welcome to the Albatross Encounter® update for February 2011.
We were all saddened this month with the devastating effects of the Christchurch earthquake on the 22nd February that destroyed the majority of the Christchurch Central Business District. The media reports for this natural disaster achieved international coverage and our heartfelt sympathy goes out to all those affected by this tragedy. Encounter Kaikoura has donated funds to the Christchurch Mayoral Fund that has been set up for donations to the citizens of Christchurch.
The impact of this terrible earthquake is very much localised to parts of Christchurch and nearby Lyttelton. Much of the remainder of Christchurch and outlying areas has not been affected. In Kaikoura we barely felt the earthquake and everything carries on as usual, although there has been a noticeable increase in the number of visitors as many Christchurch people look to get away for some rest and respite.
Tours have been very busy this month with 3 and even 4 tours a day. Clearly the word is out that Kaikoura’s the place to be! As a result, we’ve operated on 26 days this month with species of interest including Cook's petrel, Campbell Island albatross, Buller’s albatross, Caspian tern, Buller’s and flesh-footed shearwaters. To see what was sighted this month go to our sightings page.
We are at the time of year where we draw towards the end of summer, and as a result, the mornings become darker, but with the added advantage of beautiful sunrises over the Kaikoura Peninsula and the Pacific Ocean. We’ve had some amazing morning light with the occasional threatening background as a storm looms- a photographer’s delight!!
We’re starting to see a subtle change in bird species as some of our more commonly sighted birds begin to think about their annual winter migrations. Buller’s shearwaters have been rafting up in their 100’s with a sudden increase in numbers of the flesh-footed shearwaters visiting the area. The arrival of the photogenic Buller’s albatross has been a pleasant surprise and has certainly captivated the attention of our passengers. With the arrival of the Buller’s albatross, it gives us a great opportunity to point out the differences between them and the Salvin’s albatross. Whilst they both have grey heads, it’s the Buller’s stunning coloured beak that gives it away.
We’ve been exceptionally lucky on some of our tours to see the Campbell Island black-browed albatross (Thalassarche impavida) which is clearly identifiable from the black-browed albatross (Thalassarche melanophrys) by its yellow eye. The bird breeds only in the Sub-Antarctic Campbell Island's and is an uncommon visitor to Kaikoura.
Gary was astounded this month with the largest concentration of birds he’s seen for a very long time. Just to give you an idea of some of the bird statistics just for one tour, the following birds were seen; 33 Gibson’s wandering albatross, 22 Salvin’s albatross, 50 Westland petrels and 70 white-chinned petrels…..just to name a few. These birds were busy enjoying a feast of ‘leftovers’ from a commercial fishing vessel and of course also from the chum on our Encounter II vessel.
We continue to see some of our regular banded birds such as orange 512. She has been observed behind Encounter II on numerous occasions and with a very red bill we’re wondering whether she has finally found a suitable breeding partner at last. Red 73E has also made an appearance on 3 occasions. He is a male Gibson’s wanderer who lost his partner after the 2003 breeding season and has not successfully bred since. We are hoping with this breeding season he may have found a suitable mate and was just visiting Kaikoura for its abundant food supply.
A new banded bird turned up this month-yellow 278. We have no information on this bird at this stage and are currently awaiting news from the Auckland Island's research team who have been busy studying these birds over the last few months. We are eager to hear how the breeding season is progressing and if they have managed to see our favourite bird, orange 512 breeding again.
We’ve had a high incidence of blue shark sightings again this month including an encounter with 3 large sharks who were determined to try and steal the chum from the birds. These sharks are clearly lured in by the scent of fish oil emanating from the chum and their arrival at the boat certainly adds excitement during the tour. Some sharks are happy to patrol under the chum bag whilst other sharks lunge at both albatross and giant petrels who are clearly not amused by their presence. We managed to capture some close escapes by a couple of the birds.
Finally, one of our skippers, Alastair, leaves us again this autumn. He’s heading away to the northern hemisphere to get married and become a research assistant. We wish him all the best and maybe one day we will see his return again back on Kaikoura’s shores.
That’s all our news for now, so till next month happy birding!
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