20 Nov 2010

A second great pelagic tour off Kaikoura - 20th

Woke up at 7am and had a pleasant breakfast in the garden. I did make an appeal to the Gods of Albatrosses that the two other presumed partcipants would show up for the 9am pelagic, though they hadn't confirmed it yesterday. I had a walk to Encounters office and had a latte while waiting for information whether it's gonna be a pelagic tour or not. Ten to nine I saw the skipper Gary Melville parking the van in front of the office and he soon told me that the two other had show up. What a great relief! And the funny thing was that the two guys, Leif-Åke and Christer, were from Sweden (Söder in Stockholm). They had travelled for five weeks and had also visited Cook Islands. Leif-Åke work as a journalist (with focus on travelling) on the newspaper Aftonbladet, which is the largest one in Sweden. They were a great and happy company. The weather was perfect, yes, even better than yesterday, as it were more windy. Knownledgeable skipper Gary took another route this morning and also stopped by at a few fishing boats that attracted seabirds. The species and numbers were pretty much the same as yesterday: Northern Royal Albatross (2), Wandering Albatross (7), White-capped Albatross (2), Salvin's Albatross (6), Northern Giant Petrel (17), Westland Petrel (25), Cape Petrel (60), Southern Cape Petrel (1), Hutton's Shearwater (200), Buller's Shearwater (1), Red-billed Gull (10), Black-backed (Kelp) Gull (10) and Little Penguin (2). But, the seabirds were more airborne this windy morning and kept sweeping around our boat all the time. It was indeed an heavenly spectacle to see all these magnificent albatrosses be in their's element. Back to the harbour the three of us were quite mentally exhausted, in a positive meaning. We had a nice latte and espresso at Encounters café before we split up. It started to rain and Gary were kind and drove me to my accommodation at the Lazy Shag.

Wandering Albatross.
Northern Royal Albatross.
Northern Royal Albatross, with a wingspan more than three metres!
Northern Royal Albatross, which were more photo friendly today!
Wandering Albatross, about 3,5 meteres between the wingtips.
Wandering Albatross.
Wandering Albatross.
Moulting White-capped Albatross.
Salvin's Albatross.
White-capped Albatross (left) and Salvin's Albatross.
Cape Petrels, Giant Petrels and albatrosses following the boat.
Westland Petrel.
Northern Giant Petrels.
Cape Petrel.
Hutton's Sheawater, which breed only in the Seaward Kaikoura Range!

As it continued to rain a decided to do some practical and necessary things such as taking a two-hour power nap, shaving my head as I start to look like long-haired hippie, washing my clothes in a nearby automatic laundry, writng up last days sightings and finally I rounded up the day with a walk along the beach and had a lovely seafood dish in town.

19 Nov 2010

Seabird bonanza off Kaikoura - 19th

Dominic and I got up at 5am and had a quick breakfast before we walked to Albatross Encounters office. The skipper Gary Melville and two other partcipants were waiting for us. Great! Just four birders on the boat, meaning good space for everyone. We left the harbour about 6am. Perfect weather conditions, cloudy and just moderate winds. The 2,5 hours (though the time stood still) peleagic produced following species: Northern Royal Albatross (1), Wandering Albatross (5), White-capped Albatross (3), Salvin's Albatross (4), Northern Giant Petrel (7), Westland Petrel (8), White-chinned Petrel (1), Cape Petrel (60), Southern Cape Petrel (1), Hutton's Shearwater (300), Red-billed Gull (20), Black-billed Gull (1), Black-backed (Kelp) Gull (80) and White-fronted Gull (20). What a great morning and the sample of photos below speak for themself! Dominic went back to Picton in the evening and me myself look forward to another pelagic trip tomorrow.
Adult Salvin's Albatross.
Adult Wandering Albatross coming in!
Dominic in action. Northern Giant Petrels, Salvin's and Wandering Albatross and lot of Cape Petrels.
Adult Salvin's Albatross.
Immature Salvin's Albatross.
Immature White-capped Albatross and Cape Petrels.
A gorgeous adult Wandering Albatross!
Westland Petrel.
Wandering Albatross and Kaikouta Ranges in background.
A beautiful Cape Petrel.
Cape Petrel.
Cape Petrels, Giant Petrels and Wandering Albatross.
Dusky Dolphins.
Dominic were very happy with the pelagic.
The bay of Kaikoura and Kaikoura Ranges with its snowy peaks.

18 Nov 2010

Wellington-Picton-Kaikoura 17-18th

Left Chathams at 10:15am on Wednesday 17th and arrived to Wellington two hours later. Checked in at XBase. Had a shower, write up sightings, checked e-mail, updated the travel blog and had a late taste-of-india- lunch round the corner. Took the bus uphill to Karori Sanctuary, but unfortunately it closed at 4pm and I were 20 minutes late. However, I took a walk along the fence and saw lot of Tuis, several singing Tomtits, Fantails, a New Zealand Falcon at three occasions and saw and heard several Long-tailed Cuckoos. Then I had a nice walk down to my accommodation through Aro valley. Got to bed early.

Central Wellington seen from Karori.
One of many Tuis seen on my walk in Aro valley.

Got up at 06:15am. Packed and had breakfast at XBase while checking e-mail. Took a taxi to the ferry terminal and checked-in my baggage. The ferry to Picton on the South Island left at 8:25am. It were very windy in the open sea. The ferry was steady, but the salt spray were quite annoying for an hour or so. However, the crossing produced a few Flesh-footed Shearwaters, at least 300 Fairy Prions and a magnificent White-capped Albatross! When we approached Marlborough Sounds the sea got calmer and I started to look for shags and the King among shags. I saw Little, Little Black, Pied and Spotted Shags, but, unfortunately, not a single King Shag. There were a few good rafts of Fluttering Shearwaters and a many Australian Gannets.

Well in Picton I headed to the train station, not more than five minutes from the ferry terminal. Here I should meet the Swiss birder Dominic Martin by appointment for company to Kaikoura and seawatching there. He arrived ten minutes before the departure. The Tranz Scenic took about 2 1/2 hour and offered nice views along the coast. In Kaikoura we visited the Albatross Encounter's office and payed for tomorrow's pelagic trip and then headed to our accommodation at Lazy Shag. Dominic made a nice pasta supper and afterwards we had a five minutes walk to the beach for an hour of seawatching. We saw six Parasitic Skuas (and a few unidentified distant ones), numerous of small shearwaters (most probably Hutton's), Red-billed Gulls, White-fronted Terns, Australian Shovelers and a pair of Banded Dotterel. We rounded off the day at a nice outside table, a latte for me and a beer for Dominic and a nice chat.

Wellington seen from the ferry to Picton.
Tory Channel (Marlborough Sond) on the South Island.
View from the ferry at Queen Charlotte Sound.
Dominic scanning the sea at the beach of Kaikoura.

17 Nov 2010

Chatham Islands on 12-16th November

Arrival to Chathams 
I had nice Friday morning in a sunny Wellington exploring a little part of the town and, of course, a couple of latte, of which one were enjoyed at the Opera House plaza. At 11:00 I did catch the bus to he airport, which only took 15 minutes. Wellington Airport is in fact quite nice as it is rather small and no heavily traffic. The little plane to Chathams were delayed nearly an hour, but I was in no hurry. We were about 20 people going to Chathams, of which nearly all had connections to the island. We arrived about 4pm (+ 45 minutes ahead to NZ) and Natasha from Hotel Chatham was there to pick me up. Natasha guided me through the landscape and the islands history. At the small village Waitangi (were about 70 people live) she dropped me at the Beach house. A lovely little house with modern equipment and decoration, just 100 metres from the beach. I shared the house with a nice couple, Angie and Bruce, from the mainland. Angela doing a lot for the conservation with a main interest in butterflies and her father Bruce is a Kiwi farmer and they are staying for a week. I learn a lot from them about NZ in general and different conservation projects going on here and there in NZ.

This 24 seat plane traffic Chathams-Wellington three days a week.
View at Waitangi Bay towards the village Waitangi in far background.
Short facts about Chatham Island: This remote group of 10 islands lies 768 kms east of Wellington. Approximate land area for Chatham Island is 90,000 ha and Pitt Island 6,200 ha. Only these two islands is inhabited, by 600 and 50 persons respectively. The islands were formed eons ago by volcanic upthrust and were first inhabited by the Moriori tribe, which arrived between 500 and 1100 years ago. Its distinctive Polynesian culture was mainly peaceful but the situation changed for the worse with the arrival of Europeans in 1791 and followed by groups of mainland Maori in the mid 1800s. The last full-blood Moriori Tommy Solomon died in 1933. The first European to arrive on the islands was Lieutenant William Robert Broughton, commanding the brig HMS Chatham. He named Chatham Island efter his ship and Pitt Island after William Pitt, Earl of Chatham.

Exploring the northern part

On Saturday two mini buses picked us up at 9am for a full day tour at the northern part of Chatham Island. The tour were arranged by Val at Hotel Chatham for a group of kiwis and Bruce, Angela and myself were able to join. Andy and Ben were excellent guides and drivers throughout the day. While the others had a look of sights I was looking for birds. At noon we had a stop at Matarakau at the northeastern part and I was able to scan the sea for the first time. Within a minute a saw a flock of beautiful Chatham Island Shags that flew by close to the shore. Five minutes later I spotted my first albatross ever! What a magnificent and elegant bird. The bird of my dreams! Soon I could identify it as a Buller’s Albatross, one of the “smaller” albatrosses. We did stops now and then, but of the more interesting places were the 200-year-old Moriori tree carvings at Hapupu, the old whaling station at Okawa Point where Andy collected paua and kina from the sea and Point Munning and its fur seal colony and breeding Pitt Island Shags. At the two latter sites I saw many Sooty Shearwaters, four Buller’s Albatrosses and several distant and unidentified medium-sized albatrosses.

At 6pm we reached the small village Kaingaroa, located on the northeastern tip, for the yearly community seafood feast. What a perfect timing for us. Locals from the area cooking their special seafood meals and take it to the club house restaurant in the harbour. One pay $NZ50 and you eat as many different dishes you want. It was indeed a gastronomic experience. My favourites were crayfish, cremed paua and muttonbird.

At 9pm the bus dropped us at our house. So many impressions in ones mind and a good tiredness, being outdoor all day long in good company. And not to be forgotten, three endemic bird species (Chatham and Pill Island Shag and Chatham Oystercatcher) as a few endemic subspecies.

A Black Swan egg. We boiled one and made an omelette of another, which were good enough for three people.
One of several nice 200-year-old Moriori tree carvings (dendroglyphs) in the Hapupu forest reserve.

View towards Point Munning, the northeasternmost tip on Chatham Island.
View from Te Whakaru towards Okawa Point on the northeastern part.
A nice Weka, which is rather common on the island and the locals have them on the dish.
The endemic Chatham Island Red Admiral.
New Zealand Fur Seals at Point Munning, where we also saw lot of puppets playing in small pools!
Huge Black-footed Pauas, which Andy collect from the sea within a five minute swim in the cold sea!
The beautiful shell of a Paua.
Muttonbird (Sooty Shearwater chicks) were one of the dishes on the seafood feast at Kaingaro.

A bicycle ride to the southeastern part
On Sunday 14th I had a nice lie-in and got up 8am. I spoke to Val at the hotel and he promised to arrange with bicycle for me as intended to visit the southern parts on the remaining days by my own. In meantime I tried to connect to Internet at the hotel, but the connection were too slow to work properly. Val dropped by with a mountain bike and hit the road, but unfortunately, in wrong direction. However, I continued on the hilly gravel road to Owenga on the southeastern part. To be true the this part didn’t offer much, but pasture land, gorse and areas with introduced forests of pine and spurce. Also, I think Chatham Island hold the world largest population of European Skylark. However, I were happy to found at least two Chatham Island Tui (probably three birds) in a small valley with a river stream halfway to Owenga. Strange, as the books says the Tui is present only on Pitt and South East Island. There were also several Fantails and Silvereyes. I was back to the Beach house at 4pm. In all I did 50 kilometres on bicycle, of which the return in strong headwind. I had a dinner and enjoyed the surroundings in late afternoon.

View towards Waintangi, which is the main village and home for about 70 persons.

A lovely stream in the valley where the Tuis were seen.
The statue of Tommy Solomon, the last full-blood Moriori who died 1933.
View at the southeastern part.
Southwestern and northern parts by car
Due to very strong winds the planned trip to Pitt Island were cancelled. Angela and Bruce hired a car by Val, so I joined them for a full day travelling. We started at the DOC office and a guy there were helpful and we received useful information for the day’s route. He also informed us that about 40 Chatham Island Tui was transferred from Pitt Island to Chatham recently, which explain my birds on yesterday.

We decided to try for the Chatham Island Pigeons and Parakeets on the southwestern part. Halfway from Waitangi we suddenly discovered a huge seabird gliding inshore and over the pasture land. I soon recognize it as a Northern Giant Petrel. Wow, what a totally unexpected sight! Next there were three more and we soon found out that a dead sheep attracted these scavengers.

We arrived to the Waterfall Creek, a nice valley with native forest, and soon Angela spotted a pigeon perched in a tree. We enjoyed the sight and soon the pigeon flew away. We continued to walk upwards from the valley and when we reached the ridge we found several foraging pigeons on the fields close to the road. We had many close views within the next hour and we saw up to 30 pigeons. While we had a coffee break at the bottom of the valley we also had a quick glimpse of two Chatham Island Parakeets and several Chatham Islands Tuis. Totally satisfied we headed back to Waitangi and further north to Nikau Bush Reserve, which id famous for its Nikau Palms. It’s a completely lovely forest, but a little rest of what once was. There were several Fantails and Silvereyes. We continued northwards and made several stops along the Te Whanga lagoon and saw for example Grey Ducks, Masked Lapwings, Pied Stilts. White-fronted Terns, Wekas, White-faced Heron, Black Swans and Great Cormorants. Swamp Harriers were to seen now and then throughout the day.

 In the afternoon we reached Wharekauri at the northernmost part. A beautiful and untouched coastline. The sea was rough and shifted in colouration. Sooty Shearwaters passing by as did several Northern Giant Petrels close to the shore, while a few Buller’s Albatrosses kept their distance to shore. A pair of Chatham Island Oystercatcher seem to be nesting at the site and both were colour-tagged. We just enjoyed the moment. On the way back we had a stop at Blind Jims and had a look for fossil shark teeths. We found several small black ones. Back at our house Angela made a delicious pasta dinner, which concluded a very good day!

The Waterfall Creek with its lovely native forest.
The endemic Chatham Island Pigeon has a length of 55 cm, which make it to one of the largest pigeons in the world.
Chatham Island Pigeon.
Part of the Nikau Bush reserve at the northern part of island.
A lovely Chatham Island Fantail sitting upside down and looking down at me as it spread its tail!
The untouched beach at Wharekauri.
The endemic Chatham Island Oystercatcher.
One of several Northern Giant Petrels that flew by close to shore at Wharekauri. Imagine these birds are two metres between their wingtips. Note the huge bill.
Angela and Bruce at Wharekauri beach. Very windy indeed.
View towards the northwestern part and Petre Bay in far background to right.
 Pitt Island
I woke up early in the morning and quickly checked the weather outside. Wow, scattered clouds and just a soft breeze, meaning it will be a perfect day for a journey to Pitt Island in the south! We spoke to Val and he told us to be at the air strip about 9am. Bruce, Angela and myself drove slowly towards the airport and had several stops enjoying the lovely morning.

We arrived on time to the airport where Ben were ready with his little aircraft. Usually, the minimum for a Pitt Island tour is four persons, but Val and Bernie (the guide on Pitt Island) were very kind and arranged a guided tour for the three of us. The flight to Pitt Island over the Chatham Islands western coastline were amazing as were the journey over the Pitt Island. We landed on a grassy strip on the southern part. Bernie were awaiting us and a couple of Tui researchers (Sam and Sara) were to return from two weeks on Rangatira (South East Island) and Pitt Island respectively. Bernie took us to the southern parts. I were able to seawatch for half an hour at the strait between Pitt and Rangatira, which produced Cape Pigeon (12), Buller’s Albatross (7), a most probably Chatham Albatross, Sooty Shearwaters, Brown Skua (10) and Northern Giant Petrel (6). Then we headed to Pitt Islands highest point with an awesome view in all directions and especially towards the Mangere Islands. After this breathtaking experience we had a delicious lunch of crayfish and paua patties at Bernie’s Flowerpot Lodge. Then we headed to the Caravan reserve where we spent the whole afternoon. What a lovely forest! It has been a reserve for about twenty years and hold good numbers of native and endemic species and subspecies. We saw about 20 Chatham Island Gerygone (warbler), which is a full endemic specie. Subspecies confined to the Chathams: five Tomtits, 15 Tuis, 10 Fantails, 5 Red-crowned Parakeets. The Chatham Petrels burrows within the reserve were empty. At 5pm it was time to get back to Chatham Island. On the return Ben flew along the southern and western coastline of Chatham. Very scenic!

 Back at the Beach house we were welcomed by Sam and Sara. Angela cooked a delicious last supper as I were about to leaving the next morning. We had a peaceful evening and it was nice to get acquainted with Sam and Sara. Sam let me hear different songs of Tui, which differ between Chathams and the mainland, that he had recorded. Sara showed me awesome photos of Black Robins from her stay on Rangatira!

On Wednesday morning I took farewell of Bruce and Angela, which felt a bit sad as I like them very much and we had have a good visit together. At 10:15am I left Chathams for Wellington. Back to civilization and new adventures.

Part of Te Whanga Lagoon. Almost as smooth as a mirror.
Ready for a flight to Pitt Island. The weather conditions were just perfect and not much of a wind. From left: Bruce, Angela and the pilot Ben.
Mangere Island (right) and Little Mangere Island (left). Mangere is the main home for the Black Robin, which was rescued from near extinction. A very interesting and happy story indeed.
Rangitira (South East Island), the home for thousands of breeding seabirds and the endangered Black Robin, which has been transferred from the main site Mangere Island.
Pyramid Island, the only breeding site for the Chatham Albatross!
Impossible to describe the beautiful forest within the Caravan reserve.
A lovely male Chatham Tomtit at Caravan reserve.
Female (known by the colour-rings) Tui feeding on the Chatham Flax at Caravan reserve.
Juvenile Chatham Gerygone (Warbler) at the Caravan reserve.
Part of Pitt Island from the air on our return.
Part of the southern coastline of Chatham Island seen on our return.