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Kaikoura (reviews, reports)

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Shy Mollymawk

Reviews & trip reports

The Ornithological Society AGM held at Kaikoura over Queen's birthday weekend, 2008, provided an opportunity for some pelagic birding. Our contingent from the Wairarapa, being mindful of their carbon footprint, took the train to Wellington and the interisland ferry, and a bus from Picton to Kaikoura.

The trip across the Straits was perfectly calm and as always offered an opportunity for pelagics. Not that it does me much good as I am not much good at identifying the birds on the wing and often at a distance. However, I did get cape pigeon. There were also a good number of albatross which were probably mostly shy or white-capped and fluttering shearwater. As we entered the Sounds things improved for me and I spotted a King Shag, blue penguins, rafts of gannets and spotted shags, and white-fronted terns, pied shags and the ubiquitous gulls.

I've been across the Straits often enough in the summer but have never seen so many birds on the trip which confirms for me that the winter is very often the best time for birding in NZ. The weather is always a risk at any season here.

The next day was also fine and calm. The experts say that pelagic birding is better during rough weather but I was happy enough with the calm conditions. The trip with Ocean Wings was just magical. It's a long time since I have had such a great birding experience.

Travelling south and parallel to the coast for some time, we stopped eventually at some point known only to our captain but somewhere near the trench I would hazard. Cape pigeons were the first to arrive to take advantage of the block of liver chum and then the albatross started to fly in. It was an opportunity to improve my identification of birds on the wing. However, I have to say, they are the more easily identified alongside the boat. The distinctive yellow band along the bill identified Buller's albatross, the southern variety it seems. Shy (white-capped), black-browed and a solitary Salvin's also arrived and then the wanderers began to fly in. They are the true monarchs of the ocean and soon shouldered all other birds away from the chum.

The captain pointed out the darkening purple of the "heels" of the birds which indicated breeding colour. It was also a surprise to learn that only females are usually found off the coast. Apparently the males, which are somewhat larger, do not compete with the females for food, the males staying well south. Real gentlemen!

We moved on with some of the birds following us, the cape pigeons flying right up close to the side of the boat while a wanderer, magnificent in flight, moved back and forth across our wake. We stopped suddenly, the captain having noticed a Royal albatross just sitting on the water. We continued on to join one of the fishing boats which already had an entourage of sea birds as they pulled in their net. Here we saw giant petrel, the darker northern variety, hutton's shearwater, black backed, black-billed and red-billed gulls as well as wanderers, black-browed and shy albatross. We then headed along the shore line to Barney's rock where we picked up little blue penguins, white-faced heron, pied and spotted shag, and gannets as well as NZ fur seals and dusky dolphins. We failed to see any Hector's dolphins.

The trip to Kowhai Bush on the Sunday was the more interesting for the rifleman. One of the locals showed me the nesting boxes put out for these birds for a scientific study some years ago. I had not realised rifleman readily used nesting boxes. Every time I head to the South Island birding, I am always pleasantly surprised to find how easy it is to pick up the brown creeper. Also it seems that Kaikoura is a good place to pick up Cirl Bunting.

- Narena Olliver

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New Zealand Bird's would be greatful to birders' willing to review any of our birding pages or contribute a trip report for inclusion on these pages.
All published contributions will be acknowledged on the appropriate birding page and the contributor will receive a copy of New Zealand Bird's birdsong CD.  Contact the web diva:Narena Olliver,
(page last updated  17 May 2007)