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New Zealand birds post / photo dump - Part II - South Island

Posted: July 13th, 2014, 8:57 am
by chrish
I put up some photos from my "visiting" part of my trip to the North Island here - viewtopic.php?f=19&t=20011

But when I booked my trip, I figured out I could add a round trip to Christchurch on the south island for only an extra $50 (considering the ticket was approaching $2K, "only" $50 seemed a not unreasonable addition). So I booked a one night stay at Christchurch, arriving at 4pm and leaving the next day at roughly the same time.

My reason for going to Christchurch was to make the drive up to Kaikoura. Kaikoura is one of the world's premiere pelagic birding spots for a simple geographic reason. There is very deep water just offshore.

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To get in 3000 feet of water off normal US pelagic spots, you typically have to get 30 or more miles offshore (Monterey Bay being the exception). In Kaikoura, you get in deep water within a few minutes off the dock. Another thing that makes Kaikoura special is that many species of seabird breed in the South Island of NZ and nearby offshore islands. Because of this, there are pelagic tours that run 7 days a week, 2-3 times per day. My tour met at 9:00am and we were back on shore by just after noon.

Actually, I had been in northern New Zealand for a week (after leaving the sweltering Texas heat) and had enjoyed having highs in the mid 60s. When I arrived in Christchurch I was somewhat shocked to see that the high that day had been 44°F with a cold southern (= Antarctic) wind. I drove north to Kaikoura and the sun went down, the temperature dropped to below freezing! Fortunately, the sun came out the next day and warmed it up into the 50s.

Here's the beach at Kaikoura with the Kaikoura range in the background. The first snow of the season had fallen the day before I got there.

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We got into the boat and headed offshore. There was an appreciable (2-3 meter) swell close into shore and we had tough sledding getting out the first 10 minutes or so. Even though we were trudging out very slowly, within 9 minutes of boarding the boat, we had our first pelagic birds following the boat (Cape Petrels and a Mollymawk)

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Within another 10 minutes we had a decent sized flock of followers, including our first of the giant albatrosses -

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The most abundant bird we saw were Cape Petrels. These are one of my favorite pelagics due to their contrasting patterns. I probably photographed several hundred of them. I was hoping to see the Antarctic (sub)species mixed in with the more typical New Zealand (sub)species, but didn't manage to pick any out.

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Here's a fairly typical view of our entourage behind the boat -

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As soon as we stopped, they would all plop down onto the water knowing that a feeding was coming next -

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Within a few seconds of stopping, the captain threw the "burley" overboard which consisted of a large block of fish frozen in a net bag. As soon as that went over, the big boys started coming in -

White-capped (Shy) Albatross

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Buller's Albatross

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and a few Black-browed (Campbell's?) Albatross

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but the real stars of the show here are the giant albatrosses. The species I've shown so far are often called Mollymawks in New Zealand to indicate that they are small albatrosses. Most of the albatrosses seen in North American waters (Short-tailed, Black-footed, Laysan etc) are "small" albatrosses. These "smaller" species weight 8-9 lbs and have a wingspan of 7-8 feet. They are huge birds, but are overshadowed by the giants. The giants can weigh over 20 lbs and their wingspan is 10-12 feet! They are massive birds.

The taxonomy of giant albatrosses is a bit confusing (as is the taxonomy of the Mollymawks). There used to be two species, Wandering and Royal Albatross, but the Royals were split into Northern and Southern Royals. Then the Wandering was split into 3/4/5/? species which may not be separable at sea due to their overlapping plumage sequences. Some people regard Gibson's, Snowy, Antipodean, and Wandering as separate species.

Here's a comparison flight show of a giant (Gibson's Wandering) next to a Mollymawk (Buller's Mollymawk). They are roughly the same distance from the camera so the apparent scale is reasonably accurate. Unfortunately, the angle of the Gibson's obscures how much larger the wingspan is, but you can see the difference in mass.

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Here's a few shots of the Gibson's (Wandering) Albatrosses -

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The Gibson's Albatrosses were amusing the watch. They would come circling in and "gracefully" skid to a halt behind the boat whereup a fight would break out with any that were already there. Then they seemed to settle down to eat. The orange patches on their "ears" are stains from the salt expelled from their tube noses while in flight.

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I was hoping for Northern Royal on this trip (would have been a lifer), but we only got Southern Royals. You can tell Royals from "Wandering" by the black edge to the blades of the mandible -

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Another of the "giant" birds we saw on this trip were Giant Petrels. Again, there are two species, Northern and Southern, and once again, I was hoping to see the new one (Southern) but only saw the one I had seen before (Northern). These are massive predatory petrels of the Antarctic waters. They are second only to the albatrosses in size with wingspans over 7 feet and weighing over 10 pounds. They are not "handsome" birds.

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This individual followed us almost all the way to the dock when we were headed in, literally coming to within a few hundred feet of shore before heading back out to sea -

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There are a couple of good target birds to get while at Kaikoura. The Westland Petrel is probably easier to see here than anywhere else in the world. I find these big, glossy black Procellaria petrels (Wesland, Black, Spectacled) to be really striking birds -

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The other important bird to see here is the Hutton's Shearwater. During the summer this species breeds only in the Kaikoura ranges just inshore here. They can be seen by the thousands feeding just offshore. However, of the two trips I have made to Kaikoura, both have been in the winter. Therefore we only got glimpses of these shearwaters flying by at high speed. But it counts and its a lifer!

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The tough thing about identifying Huttons is that during the winter here, the more northerly Fluttering Shearwater is more common here along the coast and the two are tough to distinguish. These are Fluttering which, of course, sat right next to the boat. The Huttons flew by like missles, usually when we were moving!

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We also got a few other species -

Fairy Prion -

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and we had three species of gull (Kelp, Red-billed, and Black-billed). Here's a Black-billed Gull being photobombed by a Cape Petrel (or maybe the other way around?) -

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We also saw some Little Blue (White-flippered) Penguins, but I didn't bother photographing them.

So although I only got 1 new bird, it was a great trip. We got back to shore around noon, and I grabbed a bite to eat (sausage roll.....hmmmm!) and headed back to my hotel to shower and head south to Christchurch to get my flight home that afternoon.

I realized I had a couple of hours extra time to spare, so I stopped on the way home a few spots to try to see a few more critters.

I stopped along the coast at the Kaikoura peninsula to photograph some birds on the beach -

Red-billed Gull

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Pacific Reef-Heron

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Pied Cormorants -

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While I was trying to sneak around some rocks to get that last photo, I almost stepped on this big lump which I didn't see there.

New Zealand Sea Lion (Phocarctos hookeri)

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It is amusing now how close I came to stepping on this thing and thinking about how "unfavorably" it might have reacted :shock: , but at least he let me take his photo. This species is actually known to be somewhat aggressive for an Otariid so I'm glad I didn't step on it.

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Back by the car, I saw some people taking a photo of the "rocks" and didn't think anything of it until I got back there and saw this on the rocks right next to the car -

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A little further down the coast I pulled over at this overlook over Otumatu Rock Wildlife Sanctuary -

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On this rock you can see Pied Cormorants but also a different species (the grayish one) which is a Spotted Shag. I got a close up of it a few minutes later when it swam closer to shore. It had a messed up upper mandible.

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If you look at the Otumatu rock photo, you can see some big white birds just past the rock offshore. These are albatrosses sitting just offshore on the sea.

Also, on the rock you see some more pinnepeds, however this is a different species, the New Zealand Fur Seal (Arctocephalus fosteri) (this one was obviously much closer on the rocks below the overlook) -

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I figured I had time for one more 30 minute stop or so before I had to get to the airport. As I drove south I saw a sign for Saint Anne's Lagoon Wildlife Preserve which was right next to the highway so I pulled into there and checked the ponds. No lifers, but I did see some species I don't see often in NZ (the light was terrible!) -

Australian Shoveler -

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Grey Teal

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New Zealand Scaup (which I had only ever seen once before)

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So my trip didn't produce huge numbers of lifers....ok, just one. But I love pelagic birding and Kaikoura is the most amazing place on earth to do it so I wasn't dissappointed. Now I just had 18 hours of flying to get home.

My total trip list for NZ was 66 species, but when you consider that NZ only has 333 species, 14 of which are Penquins, 60 of which are pelagic species, dozens of which have extremely small ranges, probably a dozen of which are extinct, and the northern migrants weren't there, I did OK for a non-birding trip ;)

Canada Goose
Black Swan
Paradise Shelduck
Mallard
Australian Shoveler
Gray Teal
Brown Teal
New Zealand Scaup
California Quail
Brown Quail
Ring-necked Pheasant
Wild Turkey
Little Penguin
Buller's Albatross
White-capped Albatross
Black-browed Albatross
Royal Albatross
Wandering Albatross
Northern Giant-Petrel
Cape Petrel
Fairy Prion
Westland Petrel
Hutton's Shearwater - lifer
Fluttering Shearwater
Australasian Gannet
Great Cormorant
Pied Cormorant
Spotted Shag
Little Pied Cormorant
White-faced Heron
Pacific Reef-Heron
Swamp Harrier
Buff-banded Rail
Purple Swamphen
Pied Stilt
South Island Oystercatcher
Variable Oystercatcher
Masked Lapwing
Bar-tailed Godwit
Black-billed Gull
Red-billed Gull
Kelp Gull
Caspian Tern
Black-fronted Tern
White-fronted Tern
New Zealand Pigeon
Sacred Kingfisher
Eastern Rosella
Tui
New Zealand Bellbird
Gray Gerygone
Saddleback
Australasian Magpie
Whitehead
New Zealand Fantail
New Zealand Robin
Welcome Swallow
Silver-eye
Eurasian Blackbird
Song Thrush
Common Myna
European Starling
Australasian Pipit
Common Chaffinch
European Goldfinch
House Sparrow

Re: New Zealand birds post / photo dump - Part II - South Is

Posted: July 13th, 2014, 11:13 am
by cbernz
My wife and I were supposed to go to NZ on our honeymoon, until our situation changed and we ended up doing a much shorter trip to Zion NP. Now all my desire to go to NZ has been rekindled reading your posts! NZ pelagic birding is to NJ pelagic birding as a ribeye is to a Slim-Jim.

Re: New Zealand birds post / photo dump - Part II - South Is

Posted: July 14th, 2014, 3:24 am
by J-Miz
Wonderful post once again, Chris!

And cbernz: nice analogy, haha!

Re: New Zealand birds post / photo dump - Part II - South Is

Posted: July 17th, 2014, 7:36 am
by monklet
SPECTACULAR :beer: :beer: :beer:

Re: New Zealand birds post / photo dump - Part II - South Is

Posted: July 20th, 2014, 3:59 pm
by Andy Avram
Awesome, and I am talking about both NZ posts. It is a country that is far down on my wishlist of places to go, but everytime you post about it I want to reconsider and go there.