Ocean Wings News
Albatross Encounter Update for November 2013
Welcome to the Albatross Encounter Update for November 2013.
The number of tours we’ve operated this month has again increased, leaping from 38 tours last month to 56 tours this month. We’ve welcomed lots of birders who visited Gary and Lynette at the British Bird Fair back in August, who were finally able to achieve their dreams of seeing an albatross up close and personal!!!
Species of interest this month has included Campbell Island albatross, Buller’s albatross, snowy albatross, grey-faced petrel, flesh-footed and sooty shearwater. To see what was sighted this month go to our sightings page.
We had a surprise visitor at the start of the month with the arrival of a white morph. Approximately 10% of the population of southern giant petrels have a white morph phase and this species is predominantly observed throughout the winter months. Usually once a year we have sightings of a white morph, but not so late in the year. We were given the opportunity to compare the 2 species together, with the greenish tip to the beak being the distinguishing feature between the southern and northern giant petrels. Of course the white morph is in a separate league of its own and hard to confuse with anything else!
Other winter species continue to be seen with sightings of black-browed and Buller’s albatross, with a special sighting of a Campbell albatross. Campbell albatross are classified as vulnerable due to the fact that they’re endemic to the Campbell Islands. They are occasionally sighted here in Kaikoura and can be hard to distinguish between the similar black-browed albatross. The key difference is in the eye with the Campbell albatross having a distinctive pale yellow iris. This individual albatross had mysterious blue markings and we have no idea of its origins.
The Kaikoura waters are nutrient rich and highly productive and at this time of year we are seeing plankton blooms and large swarms of squat lobsters, which provide an abundance of food for fish, squid and in turn the wealth of marine mammals and pelagic birds that are frequently observed here. We’ve seen our first sunfish for the season, which is unusual given that the water temperature’s still not quite warm enough for them. However with the sub-tropical current flowing into the canyon system through the Hikurangi Trough, we never know what we’re likely to see. A few instances of albatross eating squid and seals feeding on octopus have encouraged other seabirds to race in and steal a nutritious meal. Local fishing boats add to the smorgasbord of options for hungry birds.
This month we have seen a number of Arctic skua sightings and these birds undertake a massive migration, leaving their summer Arctic breeding grounds and arrive here for the New Zealand summer. They are renowned for being experts at stealing food and are often referred to as “aerial pirates” choosing to chase other birds to get them to drop their latest catch, or even getting them to regurgitate their last meal. It’s fascinating to watch the chase, but usually the skua always wins.
Red 73E, our regular banded wandering albatross from the Auckland Islands made a brief appearance this month, but only for 1 tour. He was last seen here at the end of September, so he’s spent a good 6 weeks foraging further afield.
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So, that’s all our news for now, remember to follow us on Facebook for the very latest happenings.
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