Kaikoura Albatross Report

To: Birding Aus <>
Subject: Kaikoura Albatross Report
From: Laurie Knight <>
Date: Thu, 15 Jul 2010 09:17:11 +1000
As I mentioned in another post, I attended a geography conference in Christchurch last week. I had a spare day before the conference and booked myself on a 3 hour boat trip out of Kaikoura. As the recommended travel time from Christchurch is 2.5 hours, this meant setting off more than an hour before dawn. Fortunately, it was pretty much just a case of following the street I was staying in all the way there.

The regular fee for a berth on an "Albatross Encounter" is NZ$110 or NZ $260 if there are less than three participants. There were three others on the trip, so the cost for me was less than A$100.

The boat itself was a very nice and fast (not too noisy or smelly and capable of doing 25 knots). Sea conditions were relatively calm, so there was not need to take any motion sickness medication.

The launching site was close to some rocks with roosting Black-Billed Gulls, Red-Billed [Silver] Gulls, White-fronted Terns and a Spotted Shag. The first Cape Petrel showed up shortly after we started to motor out to the rendezvous point. Before long, there were dozens of Cape "Pigeons" circling the boat. For some reason, they reminded me a bit of Tahiti Petrels in flight. We also had brief views of Blue [Little] Penguins. The first albatross turned up about 20 minutes after we had launched.

The boat was surrounded by birds when we pulled up. Rather than throwing burley over the side, the skipper placed some sort of fish loaf in a chicken wire cage attached by a rope to the boat. This stopped the birds simply gulping the food down.

While we were sitting at that point, we had six species of Albatross - Black-browed, Wandering, Bullers, Shy, Salvins and Southern Royal, mostly Northern Giant Petrels, a large number of Cape Petrels, and a couple of Westland Petrels and Black-backed [Kelp] Gulls around the boat. Competition for the bait was fierce, and the Wandering Albatross dominated the ruck, with the Giant Petrels having a go from time to time. On at least one occasion, a Wandering Albatross grabbed [and lifted out of the water] a Cape Petrel that got in the way. We also spent a bit of time near a fishing boat - the workers threw the scraps overboard as they gutted the fish they had caught.

On the way back, the boat headed over to some large rocks to check out the loafing terns and seals. About a kilometre or two from shore, the boat flushed a flock of Spotted Shags that also included a Fluttering Shearwater.

Overall, I had a very productive morning with half a dozen pelagic ticks [I hadn't previously been on a southern pelagic]. The skipper was friendly and quite knowledgeable about the birds [he would have been doing over a hundred trips per year for a decade]. The boat was a pleasure to ride in and it moved at twice the speed of the normal sort of tub I had been out in before. [It was interesting being in a boat that could keep up with the birds.]

I quite enjoyed getting full screen photos of a number of species and it was nice having side-by-side views of the different species of Albatross. If you are passing Kaikoura, I would recommend going on one of the "tours" [9 am and 1 pm daily, depending on demand and sea conditions].

Regards, Laurie.

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