The rain continued but not enough to put a halt to anything. In the morning I got the bus north to Kaikoura, seabird capital of the world. About halfway is St. Anne’s Lagoon, a small lake just out of Cheviot, which is home to the only “tickable” Cape Barren geese in New Zealand. There has been a population breeding here for at least several decades, and they are the only ones in the country for which you don’t need to fill out a UBR (Unusual Bird Report) if you see them. Of course the bus doesn’t stop at the lake for any passengers who happen to be birders, but if you are lucky you can sometimes spy one or two grazing as the bus roars past, as I did. The lake is worth a visit if in a car though. I’ve seen an Australian shelduck there, and New Zealand’s only recorded Australian reed warbler was found there too.
In Kaikoura I stayed at the Sunrise Lodge. I’ve tried a few different backpackers in Kaikoura over the years; I think Sunrise Lodge has to be the nicest. They have free use of mountain bikes for their guests which is
handy for getting around! The only people staying there were myself and a very nice German girl. Once check-in was sorted I biked to the Albatross Encounter building to make sure their boat was still going out at 1pm (the swell was “moderate” I was told, which in landlubber-speak probably meant “horrific”), and then on to the NZ fur seal colony at the end of the peninsula. On the hill above the colony is where one looks for cirl buntings, the rarest of the country’s introduced finchy birds. I saw a pair but they were a bit too far away to be 100% sure they weren’t the much more common yellowhammers. I’d try again tomorrow.
Back to the Albatross Encounter I went. The other passengers on the trip were a tour group of nine people, which I had naturally assumed would be a birding group but instead turned out to be a group of Bed & Breakfast owners from Christchurch on a famil. Normally the first pelagic birds to appear when one goes out on this boat are the cute-as-a-button Cape petrels (also called Cape pigeons which confuses any non-birders) but today the first bird was a
northern giant petrel, followed by a Gibson’s albatross, then a couple of mollymawks, and then
the Cape petrels started flowing in. The sea was rather rough (three metre swells); I had been going to take photos but looking through a viewfinder brings on sea-sickness so I just used my eyes and remained un-sea-sick. At Kaikoura there’s a deep trench right off the coast so instead of motoring for hours as overseas pelagic boats have to do, here you are right amongst the birds within fifteen minutes or so. It’s great!! The boat stopped, the basket of frozen chum went off the back, and there was an immediate scrum of giant petrels and Gibson’s albatrosses surrounded by a carpet of Cape petrels grabbing at the scraps. The mollymawks all hung around the outskirts out of the way. The species seen here changes through the year. Right now there were southern Buller’s (the most attractive one!), white-capped and the stern-looking black-browed mollymawks. A few Westland black petrels and short-tailed petrels zipped back and forth but the overall numbers weren’t very good on this trip. One of the women passengers was looking decidedly green so the skipper shortened the trip. I ride the
albatross boat for free so I don’t complain about that, especially as I was planning on going out on the 9am boat the next morning if the weather allowed.
The next morning was blue and sunny, despite the forecast for continuing rain. There were just three other people on the morning boat and there were a lot more birds, both in numbers of individuals and species. As well as all the species seen yesterday there were also southern and northern royal albatrosses, and an out-of-season Salvin’s mollymawk. There were also a couple of white-chinned petrels but I didn’t get onto them in time. To give an idea of the difference in bird numbers between the two trips, today there were about 14 Gibson’s albatrosses versus 7 yesterday; 10 black-browed mollymawks versus 3; 35 white-capped mollymawks versus 4; 120 Cape petrels versus 30. (The numbers taken from the tally the skipper keeps). The sea was pretty smooth so I got lots of photos, some of which were usable! On the way back to shore we also encountered a friendly pod of five or six Hector’s dolphins.
After the boat trip I cycled back out to
the seal colony to have another crack at the cirl buntings. Again I saw what I’m almost certain was a pair but they were just slightly too far away to be entirely 100% sure, so they never made it onto my year list. I also kept an eye on the sea for humpback whales which are migrating past at this time of year but none were to be seen.
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