Ocean Wings News
Albatross Encounter Update for December 2016
Welcome to the Albatross Encounter Update for December 2016.
Despite the earthquake, we have been able to operate 13 tours. Our visitor numbers are more like our winter months, rather than summer, but we’re so pleased to be able to get back out onto the water.
Species of interest this month has included black-browed albatross Antarctic fulmar, Northern royal albatross, Westland petrel, White-chinned petrel and flesh-footed shearwater. To see what was sighted this month go to our sightings page.
We continue to be affected by the impacts of the 7.8 magnitude earthquake on November 14, which has been described as “one of the most complex earthquakes ever recorded on land”. The season has taken a slightly different turn prior to what was anticipated and we’ve operated a limited number of tours. There has been a huge amount of discussion and planning regarding the recovery of Kaikoura, but these things can’t be instantly fixed. The Government has just pledged $5 million to dredge the harbour and return it to the same operational status prior to the quake and a further $2 billion to fix the roads and railway links. The road north to Blenheim will take the longest with at least 9 slips larger than the previous “biggest slip” recorded in New Zealand.
Diversions have been put in place on the Inland Road and the road was finally opened to two - way unrestricted access on 19th December. Prior to this, only a determined few have succeeded in coming into Kaikoura, with the only access via plane, helicopter or an escorted convoy via the Inland Road, with the road susceptible to closure due to aftershocks and adverse weather conditions.
Prior to the Inland road opening, we were only able to operate 3 tours. One tour was an extended 5 hour tour for a tour group from Finland who had flown into Kaikoura. The weather wasn’t the best for photography, with a lot of heavy downpours at times, but the wind from the south was a great opportunity to observe a huge diversity of seabirds.
We were lucky to see a total of 24 species, including a banded northern royal albatross from Dunedin that hasn’t been recorded in this area before. Fortunately, we were able to obtain some images clearing showing the 3 colour bands necessary to identify this individual. We have sent these photos off to the Department of Conservation ranger that works with them at Taiaroa Head and we hope to gain some information about this individual shortly.
Other species of interest observed during this tour were grey faced petrel, Buller’s shearwater, Hutton’s shearwater, Antarctic fulmar, arctic skua and six different species of albatross including a juvenile black-browed albatross.
Barney’s rock has suffered significant rock fall, which has completely wiped out a small ledge and surrounding vegetation that we believed was the site where a pair of reef heron’s used to breed each year. Looking at the damage, it would be unlikely that these reef herons will return to breed.
There’s also grave concerns on the impact of the quake on the breeding population of Hutton’s shearwaters. Landslides caused by the quake have caused significant impact on the two Hutton’s shearwater mountain colonies. Major landslides have covered parts of both colonies,whilst the small colony on the Kaikoura Peninsula appears to be unscathed. The quake couldn’t have happened at a more devastating time. With the start of the breeding season, many of the adult birds are believed to have been in their burrows at the time. Current estimates are that 20-40% of the worlds Hutton’s population may have been lost. Further assessments of the colonies will be required once it’s deemed safe enough to access these areas, although it is envisaged that access won’t be possible until the end of this year.
The birders we have seen have been a determined bunch including one couple who drove from Dunedin to join the convoy that arrived into Kaikoura mid-morning, went out on a standard bird trip and left Kaikoura on the convoy the same afternoon.
After Christmas, we welcomed the arrival of our first cruise ship for the season, the Caledonian Sky. We were super busy taking lots of passengers on albatross tours with the cruise ship passengers keen to do everything they could to support Kaikoura. Although there were some logistical challenges, the day was a huge success.
The support we’ve received over the last few weeks has been tremendous including votes of confidence from birders determined to visit and join our tours as soon as the road opens.
So, that’s all our news for now.
Till next time……..
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