Ocean Wings News
Albatross Encounter Update for December 2015
Welcome to the Albatross Encounter update for December 2015.
Species of interest this month have included Chatham’s albatross, black-browed albatross, pomarine and Arctic skua, grey-faced petrel and Caspian tern and common diving petrel. To see what was sighted this month click on our sightings page.
Once again we’ve been incredibly busy with the summer season well underway. We’ve operated 60 tours this month and observed a wide variety of seabirds despite some challenging sea conditions.
Birds that caused the most excitement were Chatham Island albatross and Cook's petrel. Chatham’s albatross sightings are a rarity and typically occur just once a year. Whether or not it’s the same individual remains a mystery but this individual soared past Encounter II on a particularly windy day. The passengers who were on a photography tour of New Zealand were so intent on taking pictures of the albatross soaring in the skies, that they appeared to not realise the significance of Tracy jumping up and down calling out “Chatham’s albatross”. Having been out to the Chatham Islands at the end of the season to try and unsuccessfully spot a Chatham’s albatross at the Pyramids, it’s always exciting to see them here in Kaikoura. Endemic to the Chatham Islands, this is a rare albatross species with these birds breeding only at the Pyramid in the Chatham’s, a small isolated and inhospitable rocky outcrop. Similar in appearance to the Salvin’s albatross, they have a darker grey head with a vibrant yellow bill.
Record numbers of southern royal albatross have been recorded this month with 12 individuals being recorded on one tour alone. Numbers of royal albatross have exceeded wandering albatross with some tours frequently recording both northern and southern royals and wandering albatross, giving passengers a fantastic opportunity to see the differences between all three species.
We don’t often see banded northern royal albatross in Kaikoura,as most of these birds originate from the breeding colony at Taiaroa Head on the Otago Peninsula. This breeding colony represents only 1% of the breeding population with the remaining population breeding in the Chatham Islands. Typically, the foraging ground for the Taiaroa birds is east of the Otago Peninsula. From time to time however, we get the occasional bird heading northwards and the trick is to see all 3 colour bands to identify the individual. We have successfully managed to get photos and have sent them to the Department of Conservation ranger for confirmation and background information on this individual.
A variety of albatrosses were seen earlier in the month feasting on a bait ball of squid with Salvin’s, white-capped and southern royal albatrosses all having a feeding frenzy attempting to eat as much squid as they could. Squid is the main diet for albatross, however they have adapted over time to scavenge from fishing vessels. It’s unusual to see squid on the surface here in Kaikoura, but the birds were taking full advantage of this opportunistic moment with dusky dolphins herding the squid to the surface and the bird’s surface seizing from above.
So, that’s all our news for now. Happy birding in 2016.
Till next time……
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