Ocean Wings News
Albatross Encounter Update October 2011
Welcome to the Albatross Encounter® update for October 2011.
Our visitor numbers increased this month with 27 tours operating. We (NZ) continued to host the Rugby World Cup and once the celebrations had concluded there still seems to be a reasonable number of visitors staying back to enjoy the sights of our magnificent country. So this has been a boost as our normal tourist season 'kicks' off. We’ve also had a few visitors coming out with us that met Gary and Lynette at the annual British Bird Fair in Rutland this year, so it was great to see some familiar faces.
Species of interest this month include Westland petrels, white-chinned petrels, black-browed albatross, Hutton’s shearwaters and southern giant petrels. To see what was sighted this month click go to our sightings page.
We continue to see Hutton’s shearwaters in rafts of up to ten thousand individuals, a truly formidable sight. White-capped albatross are also returning from their annual winter migrations although their numbers appear to be lower than in previous years. The reductions in numbers could be attributed to the lack of fishing activity that has occurred in Kaikoura by the local commercial fishing vessels as they remained parked up in the South Bay boat park for a period of about 6 weeks. This certainly made a significant difference to the bird numbers in recent weeks.
We had an unusual sighting at Barney's Rock, a juvenile shag that was not known to our skipper. A photo distributed to birding experts within NZ still left doubt as to what species of shag had been sighted. In the end it was decided that it was either a juvenile king or Stewart Island shag.
We’ve seen the largest numbers of Westland petrels so far this year with more than 60 individuals recorded in just one trip. Westland petrels are endemic to New Zealand and only breed on the West Coast of the South Island along an 8km stretch along the Paparoa Ranges in Punakaiki. They breed during the winter months and are frequently sighted in Kaikoura during the summer months.
We’ve also had sightings of a white-chinned petrel with a very distinctive white chin. Usually white-chinned petrels seen around the Kaikoura area lack the white chin and it can be confused with the Westland Petrel apart from the absence of the black tip on its beak.
On several occasions a banded southern giant petrel has been seen and Gary has been able to obtain the tag number and send it off to the researchers in America. We’re hoping to receive some information from them shortly.
On the subject of giant petrels, these birds can be very aggressive and occasionally we get to see them attacking other birds as well as each other. On one tour, giant petrels were seen attacking a sooty shearwater; luckily it managed to escape, but only due to the intervention of Gary keen to save it!
A strange phenomenon occurred this month with the presence of a red tide. Red tides are commonly known as algal blooms and their presence can be due entirely from natural causes. Kaikoura in recent weeks has been experiencing large plankton blooms with dense bait balls of krill and zooplankton resulting from upwelling’s within the canyon system. Such productive waters are important for the albatross and other marine life in the area.
So, that’s all our news for now, till next month and happy birding.
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