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Kaikoura

     Whale Watch

One of the main reasons to visit this area is for the rich pickings in cetaceans, due to the close proximity of the continental shelf just off the coast. There is just one company which runs the boats for the whalewatching (www.whalewatch.co.nz), although another has helicopters for the same reason (not sure why you would fly over a whale when better views are had from the boats, as well as the added bonus of seabirds!). We chose a sensible time for departure of 10:30am, meaning a 10:00am check in at the office. The boats are relatively new and quite spacious, offering plenty of comfortable seats downstairs, and upper and lower outer viewing areas when stationary. The latter is important – passengers must be sat down when moving and judging by the amount of sick bags being given the hammer, this is just as well. The main objective is to see whales, and Sperm Whales are the most predictable. Using sonar, previous viewings, etc, we picked up one of the resident males in no time, accompanying a sister boat to watch it on the surface recuperating before another hour long dive. After searching elsewhere for a little while, the captain tried for this individual again, but it had dived as we approached. This was a blessing in disguise, since the decision was then made to look for a pod of Dusky Dolphins, which were subsequently located and put on a great show around the boat.

Birding on this trip at first seemed a bit of a dead duck, due to the speed of the boat and the bouncing up and down as we looked for whales. However, some seabirds could be seen passing, albeit with unstable views. However, stopping for the whales and dolphins also had its side benefit of plenty of activity around the boat. Shy Albatross were very regular, skimming past the boat effortlessly, and closer inspection revealed that some of these were Salvin’s. The heads of the latter weren’t as grey as expected, making them more difficult to sort out, but good views of the bills revealed the black spot at the base of the bill tip. Hugely impressive, in more ways than one, was the Southern Royal Albatross which was gliding past – even showing the diagnostic black edge to the bill. Two more large albatross were seen, but couldn’t be sorted into Royal or Wandering. Shearwaters were also regular, with all the dark ones looking to be Flesh-footed, accompanied by the distinctive Buller’s. Smaller Shearwaters nearer to the coast in the area of the dolphins had the small size and duskier underwings of Hutton’s, reputedly a species forming large rafts in the Kaikoura area. Only seen once, at the front of the boat while stationary, was a group of 5 Cape Petrels. All in all a good trip for the cetaceans which were the quarry, but also for seabirds on the 3 occasions that the boat stopped at sea.

Whalewatch Sperm Whale

Sperm Whale from Whalewatch boat

Sperm Whale
Sperm Whale Dusky Dolphins

Sperm Whale fluke

Dusky Dolphins
Shy Albatross Shy Albatross

Shy Albatross

Shy Albatross

Cape Petrel Hutton's Shearwater

Cape Petrel

Hutton's Shearwaters

     Albatross Encounter

For anyone with even an iota of interest in seabirds, especially to see the ones the southern oceans have offer in New Zealand, this is THE tour to book on to (www.albatrossencounter.co.nz). I had met Gary and the team at the British Bird fair, and not only did this prise out a 15% discount on the trip, but it was Gary who took the boat out. There are various times of sailing through the day, but I felt the early one at 7am would be best. The only proviso here is that they need at least 3 people to make the trip or pay the whole of the minimum NZ$300 yourself. Luckily, a rather pleasant couple from the Netherlands decided to come along as well, inadvertently lowering my cost in doing so. The departure point South of the peninsular was the same as the Whale Watch of yesterday, but in a much smaller boat. With only 3 of us on though, there was plenty of room to move about at the rear where the real seabird viewing was to happen. We were also fortunate in that the swell wasn’t too high and overall conditions were good.

Plan for the 2 hour trip was to speed to the edge of the continental shelf, stop, then hang the bait (apparently the very choicest stinky fish livers) over the stern of the boat. Within seconds, a squadron of Cape Petrels were straight into the fray, and a Wandering Albatross was in seconds later, tugging at its delicious breakfast. The Cape Petrels multiplied in numbers and were constantly chattering all the time they were there (which was throughout the stop). As the sun rose over the horizon, a couple more Wandering Albatross joined the melee, with relatively dapper Salvin’s proving a little more standoffish. In time, a Southern Royal Albatross forged its way in, although it seemed to be giving respect to the gorging Wanderers. Petrels in the form of early White-chinned and subsequent Westland often made a tour of our vicinity but weren’t enticed to settle down. Same for the much smaller and distinctive Buller’s Shearwaters, which didn’t at any time even look as if they were going to settle. It took a little time, but a Northern Giant Petrel eventually alighted a little distance from the boat, with a couple more circling the area, but it didn’t come any closer. A couple of Shy Albatross did, however, giving really close comparison with the very similar Salvin’s.

We then headed over to a fishing boat to look for more variety and following that the final stop was in the deeper water. This is where the Northern Giant Petrels came into their own. The Wandering Albatrosses present still ruled the roost, but the former Giants wasted no time in landing near to the bait to take their share of the goodies. They seemed up for a fight with the Salvin’s Albatross present, and also their own kind, but were much more respectful of the Wandering Albatross with their own threatening bayonet of a bill. A Northern Royal Albatross also flew by, showing the much darker upperwing compared to Southern, although it was more of a flyby, not showing the same interest in the bait ball at the stern.

Boat Mixed birds

 

(From bottom left) Cape Petrel, Shy Albatross, Northern Giant Petrel, Wandering Albatross
Buller's Shearwater Cape Petrel Northern Giant Petrel

Buller's Petrel

Cape Petrel Northern Giant Petrel
Giant Petrel Albatross & Petrel

Norther Giant Petrel

Shy Albatross & Northern Giant Petrel
Wandering Albatross Wandering Albatross Wanderin Albatross

Wandering Albatross

Wandering Albatross

Wandering Albatross

Southern Royal Albatross Salvin's Albatross Westland Petrel

Southern Royal Albatross

Salvin's Albatross Westland Petrel

     Kaikoura Peninsular Walkway

 

Walkway Walkway

When inKaikoura and with a couple of hours to spare, this 2 mile or so marked trail is well worth the time spent on it. The best way to tackle it is to drive to the smallish yet free car park at the Fur Seal Colony. We visited on a Sunday so this was predictably very busy. From here, there are a couple of ways to proceed, but if the tide is out, it might be preferable to walk along the bottom of the cliffs, with partly well marked routes over the rock pools, shingle and grass, climbing about two thirds along to meet the upper path, then continuing South to the boat docks on the southern part of the peninsular. By doing this, ample views of lounging New Zealand Fur Seals should be gleaned, although they could be on rocks anywhere along the walk. The walk is also notable for Hutton’s Shearwater, which breed in the mountains above the peninsula, but some of which have been relocated to try to establish a new breeding colony in one of the bays. Nonetheless, small flotillas of these birds were seen passing close to the shoreline (in addition to a couple of Albatrosses which looked like Shy/Salvin’s). While circumnavigating the rocks and odd rock pool, it is worth checking for shoreline birds, such as Variable Oystercatcher, White-faced Heron, Paradise Shelduck, and Australian Pied Cormorant. Only other birds of note above the cliffs on the return walk were New Zealand Pied Fantail and Welcome Swallow (as well as a couple of European introductions – Yellowhammer and Skylark).

Australian Pied Cormorant Little Pied Cormorant NZ Fantail

Australian Pied Cormorant

Juvenile Little Pied Cormorant New Zealand Fantail
Fur Seal Fur Seal Paradise Shelduck

Australasian Fur Seal

Australasian Fur Seal

Female Paradise Shelduck
Welcome Swallow White-faced Heron White-fronted Tern

Welcome Swallow

White-faced Heron White-fronted Tern

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Introduction

Singapore

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