Archive for the ‘Royal Albatross’ Tag

World Albatross Day: The most magnificent seabirds in the world.   Leave a comment

Today I planned to complete the third instalment of the account of my West Pacific Odyssey. However looking through emails this morning I realised that it was ‘World Albatross Day’, a day to bring attention to the conservation of these magnificent birds. check this link for details

Now I don’t have many pictures that depict efforts to conserve these species but I do know that they face many threats from – for example:

  1. long-line fishing see here
  2. alien predators like mice and rats see this link
  3. mistaking plastic in the ocean for food another link to check out

However this post is on a happier note and celebrates the wonderful times I had watching these, the most magnificent of all seabirds.

When I started birding 43 years ago there were 13 species of albatross. Taxonomic change means that there are now 21. In fact there are a total of 24 forms/subspecies (there are three additional subspecies which haven’t been awarded species status, although this may change in the future).

I have seen all but one of these 24 forms and I have seen an individual that looked so much like the 24th as to be indistinguishable in the hand.

Many of the photos shown below were taken in 2004 before I got into digital bird photography. Pete Morris and Dick Newell offered a CD to the clients on the Sub-antarctic Islands of New Zealand trip in exchange for a donation to the ‘Save the Albatross’ fund. Hence many of the best photos in this collection are their’s. I also have used some photos that Dave Fisher gave me after the Atlantic Odyssey.

So here’s the story of how I got to see all (or almost all) of the most magnificent seabirds in the world.

 

 

In 1978 I went to a talk by RSPB warden Bobby Tulloch on the beautiful Shetland Islands. I was very taken by his slides of his homeland but what really got me was the fact that he showed photos of a Black-browed Albatross flying up and down the cliffs of Hermaness in the most northerly island of Unst. It looked stunning and impossible to miss, I knew Janet and I had to go and see it. So in 1979 we drove all the way up to Aberdeen took the car over to Lerwick and two more ferries to get to Unst. Needless to say we were unsuccessful. This photo is not Bobby Tulloch’s but © Richard Fairbank who has given me permission to use his scanned slide.

 

Well the albatross kept coming back year after year and after getting some great gen off my friend Paul Harvey (who was about to move to Shetland where he remains to this day) I found out that the bird spent most of its time on a nest waiting in vain for a mate. In 1982 once more we drove up to Shetland and on to Hermaness. The nest was only visible from a few angles and one of those involved getting perilously close to the edge. Photo from a scanned slide © Richard Fairbank

 

We have to fast forward to 1991 before I get another encounter with a Black-browed and that was on pelagic trip off Cape Town, SA on a trip led by Ian Sinclair and Iain Robertson. We saw three albatrosses on that trip, Black-browed, Shy and Yellow-nosed. Since then I’ve seen this species again off Cape Town, from two one-day pelagics out of NSW, Australia and from land in Western Australia, in the Cook’s Straight Argentina and on three major cruises, to Antarctica, Sub-antarctic Islands of New Zealand and the Atlantic Odyssey. In total I’ve seen about 8000 individuals. This photo was taken on the Subantarctic cruise with Heritage Expeditions and is © Pete Morris.

 

Whilst we are on the subject of Black-browed Albatross I’d better mention number 2, Campbell Albatross which breeds only on Campbell Island in New Zealand’s subantarctic islands. It is fractionally smaller than Black-browed but with a startling pale eye when seen close and thicker black margins to the underwing. Photo © Dick Newell

 

Being at sea where the albatrosses follow the ship and pass by at eye level is undoubtedly the way to get great views. Photo © Pete Morris

 

I’ll come back to Yellow-nosed and Shy Albatrosses later, so number 3 is the mightiest of them all – Snowy Albatross. In 1998 I went on a fantastic trip to the Falklands, South Georgia and Antarctica. During the first night we sailed out of the shelter of Drake’s Passage and into the South Atlantic and I started sliding around in my bunk. When it got light I managed to haul myself onto the deck and virtually the first bird I saw was a ‘Wanderer’ with a 3.5m wingspan. Just fantastic and seen just in time before I had to rush below and be sick!. The taxonomy of the ‘wandering albatross’ group is a bit complex and I’ll return to it later. Photo © Pete Morris.

 

The plumage succession in albatrosses is complex especially in the ‘wandering group’. Generally the older a bird gets the whiter it becomes – but only up to a point. Females don’t become as white as males and exulans, the true ‘wanderer’, better called Snowy Albatross to distinguish it from other members of the ‘wandering albatross complex’ is whiter than the other species. So this bird photographed at South Georgia is about as white as they come. Snowy only breeds south of the Antarctic convergence at South Georgia, four islands in the southern Indian Ocean and on Macquarie.

 

South Georgia is a fantastic place to see Snowy Albatrosses on the nest. I have seen about 230 of this avian giant on the the three southern ocean cruises that I’ve been on (Falklands-South Georgia-Antarctica, the Atlantic Odyssey and the sub-antarctic Islands of New Zealand) plus one off New South Wales, Australia. For more pictures of the Atlantic Odyssey including South Georgia see here

 

Albatross number 4 is Grey-headed. Breeding a little to the north of Snowy, off southern Chile and at Campbell Island to the south of New Zealand as well as the islands of the southern Indian Ocean. I have seen a little over 100 of this species on my three southern ocean cruises, but 40 or so were chicks on the nest in South Georgia. Only eight were seen in the NZ Sub-antarctic Islands where this photo was taken by © Pete Morris

 

9-11 species (depending on your taxonomy) of medium sized southern ocean albatross are known as ‘mollymawks’ Here are two, Black-browed on the right and number 5, Shy Albatross on the left (along with a White-chinned Petrel).

 

The ‘shy albatross’ group contains three or four species. ‘Tasmanian Shy’ or ‘nominate race Shy’ depending on your taxonomy breeds only around Tasmania but travels as far west as Cape Town which is the only place I’ve seen it, with about 250 seen on my two Cape Town pelagics . Note the back mark in the ‘armpit’ which is a characteristic of all the ‘shy albatross’ group. This bird has not got a yellow base to the upper mandible which means it might be a ‘White-capped’ from New Zealand and the bird in the first photo (with the Black-browed) is an immature so can’t be identified beyond Shy/White-capped. However I have seen undoubted nominate Shy in these waters.

 

The other race/species is White-capped Albatross which breeds in Aukland Island and Antipodies Island south of New Zealand. IOC lumps it in Shy; Howell and Zufelt’s ‘Oceanic Birds of the World’ and HBW’s Illustrated Checklist split it. Photo from NZ’s Subantarctic Islands © Pete Morris

 

The other two species in the ‘shy albatross group’ are number 6 Salvin’s Albatross which we saw breeding in great numbers, 10,000 or more, on and around Snares Islands south of New Zealand. I also saw one on a pelagic off Lima, Peru. Photo © Pete Morris.

 

…and number 7 Chatham Albatross which breeds only a single pyramid shaped rock south of the Chatham Islands where I saw a minimum of 5000. Photo © Dick Newell.

 

Another species pair that can be seen off South Africa is number 8 Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross which breeds in the Indian Ocean to the north of the Antarctic Convergence. It has a light-grey wash to the neck. I have seen 2 off Cape Town in 2011 and 2 from shore in Western Australia. In addition some 30 Yellow-nosed Albatross sp were seen on my 1991 Cape Town pelagic.

 

However this individual photographed on the same pelagic looks intermediate between the Indian pictured above and the Atlantic pictures below. It is possible to to separate them based on the exact shape of the yellow on the bill but I think you would need a photo of it coming straight for you to do that.

 

Number 9 is Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross which has a darker grey hood making the white crown stand out more clearly. When I did my first pelagic off Cape Town in 1991 I was unaware of the pending split, so I was pleased to catch up with undoubted Indian Yellow-nosed when I did another pelagic out of there in 2011. In 2016 we went on the Atlantic Odyssey and passed Gough and stopped at Tristan da Cunha where Atlantic Yellow-nosed breeds in good numbers with a minimum of 250 seen.

 

We landed on Nightingale Island and climbed to the top to see the endemic Wilkin’s Bunting on route we passed some Yellow-nosed Albatross chicks almost ready to fledge. At this age they lack the yellow on the bill and the grey wash to the neck. A lot were sitting on the path and we had to carefully pick our way around them.

 

We certainly got close up views. Photo © Dave Fisher

 

Moving back to the Pacific we come across a couple of albatrosses with yellow on the upper and lower mandibles as well as the gape, that are usually treated as races of the same species (even by the very splitty ‘Oceanic Birds of the World’) number 10 is Buller’s Albatross of the southern form that breeds on the Snares and Solander Islands where we saw about 15. Photo © Dick Newell

 

… and the Northern or Pacific Buller’s which breeds mainly on the Chatham Islands east of New Zealand, about 75 were seen. Photo © Pete Morris.

 

Another group of albatrosses is the ‘sooty albatross’ group. Variously called Light-mantled and Sooty or alternatively Light-mantled Sooty and Dark-mantled Sooty. Photo © Pete Morris

 

Light-mantled Albatross number 11 breeds across the islands of the sub-antarctic and ranges further south into Antarctic waters. I have seen around 200 spread over the three southern ocean cruises that I have taken. Photo © Pete Morris

 

It (along with Sooty) is the smallest and most graceful of the albatrosses. The synchronised display flight of a pair along the cliff edges is a beauty to behold. Photo © Dave Fisher.

 

Younger birds have a paler neck and mantle with the wing feathers lightly edged. Photo © Dave Fisher.

 

The discovery of number 12 was a real surprise. We were at the Antipodes Islands on the Sub-antarctic Island cruise (exactly the opposite side of the world to London, hence the name). Leader Pete Morris was off on zodiac cruise with some clients and I was waiting my turn. I found this all dark ‘mantled’ albatross gliding around the cliffs, I was so chuffed to have found a vagrant and couldn’t wait to tell Pete, but when he got back I found that he’d seen it and photographed it from the zodiac. A somewhat enlarged version of © Pete Morris’s photo.

 

The reason I was so excited about it is that Sooty Albatross breeds on Gough Island in the south Atlantic and so was thousands of miles off course. On the Atlantic Odyssey we saw around 50 at sea from a bit north of South Georgia to the Tristan group. Photo taken near Gough Island by © Dave Fisher

 

We now turn our attention to the four species of ‘north’ Pacific Albatrosses. Number 13 is Black-footed Albatross which breeds in the Hawaiian Island chain. I first came across the species on a couple of pelagics out of Monterrey California where 13 were seen. I have since seen one off the Kuril Islands, Far-eastern Russia and 150 to the south of Japan.

 

Seen close up the feathering around the bill and under the eye is quite distinct.

 

I first saw number 14 Laysan Albatross breeding on Oahu, Hawaii where some 10 adults were displaying, but as the name suggests it also breeds all along the Hawaiian Chain. I’ve also seen it off the Russian Far East where it was common with c400 seen but …

 

… the most bizarre sighting, indeed the most bizarre sighting of any albatross was on Nusa Island, Papua New Guinea. We had caught a small boat from New Ireland to New Hanover to see the New Hanover Manikin, on the return the boatman asked if we wanted to see the albatross. After a bit of questioning from his incredulous clients he detoured to Nusa Island where we treated to the sight of a Laysan albatross wandering around the village and feeding out of a plastic bowl.

 

Apparently it was picked up becalmed at sea and brought to the village to be fed. It was shepherded into a hut at night to keep it safe from dogs. The villagers hoped to release it once the winds increased. It was later discovered to be ringed 12 years previously as a pullus on French Frigate Shoals in the Hawaiian chain.

 

Returning to the West Pacific Odyssey, during the latter part of the cruise we sailed close to Torishima Island south of Japan (more photos of this albatross and of Torishima will appear when I post the last episode of my West Pacific Odyssey) …

 

… here we had the most wonderful views of number 15 Short-tailed Albatross. This species was believed extinct as by 1930 every single one of them on their only breeding island had been killed for their feathers. Fortunately a few immatures must have survived at sea and 25 or so years later a tiny number were found to be breeding back on Torishima. Now they are carefully protected and numbers are increasing. This wasn’t the first time I’d seen this species, we encountered around a dozen off the Kurils three years earlier but this time we saw at least 700. It is such a wonderful story how this bird came back from the dead.

 

Of all the vernacular names given to albatrosses ‘Short-tailed’ must be the worst. It would be far better to name it after Georg Stellar (of jay, eider and sea-cow fame) who first collected it or perhaps call it Golden-headed Albatross for obvious reasons. On appearance alone it has to be one of the best of them all.

 

Last of the Pacific albatrosses and the last albatross that I got to see (and the last new one that I will ever see) is number 16 – Waved Albatross.

 

This magnificent bird nests almost entirely on the Galapagos, a place I have yet to visit, so my only experience is of this one bird that made a close pass of our boat whilst on a pelagic out of Lima, Peru.

 

Now we return to the ‘great albatrosses’, the ‘royal’ and ‘wandering’ groups. the ‘royal group’ consists of two species. This is an adult Northern Royal (number 17) and with its all dark wings with a dark leading edge and black cutting edge to the bill is possibly the easiest of all the ‘great albatrosses to identify. Photo © Pete Morris.

©

Some older Northern Royals get a bit of white speckling in the wing. This species breeds mainly on the Chatham Islands with a few on the NZ mainland near Dunedin but wanders all over the southern oceans. I’ve seen about 10 in South Georgia area, 250 in New Zealand/Chatham Island waters and one just to the north of NZ on the WPO. Photo© Pete Morris

 

Southern Royal (number 18) which breeds primarily on Campbell Island, whitens with age from the mantle outwards … Photo © Pete Morris.

 

… and along the wing, especially on the already white leading edge. This is a fully adult bird. ‘Great albatrosses’can take over 10 years to become fully mature. Photo © Pete Morris.

 

Southern Royal Albatross on the nest Campbell Island. Photo © Pete Morris

 

Southern Royal Albatrosses OTJ on Campbell Island Photo © Pete Morris.

 

A Royal Albatrosses’ view of Campbell Island. Photo © Pete Morris.

 

There are a couple of other species to add in the ‘wandering’ group: number 19 Tristan Albatross, a slightly smaller and darker version of Snowy that breeds in  Tristan da Cunha and Gough Island  that we saw well on the Atlantic Odyssey. This species is endangered as the young are being eaten by mice! We had about 100 sightings on the Atlantic Odyssey between South Georgia and Tristan da Cunha but a) it’s hard to know how many when the same bird can follow the ship for hours and b) it was hard to tell when the last Snowy Albatross that breeds in South Georgia was seen and when the first Tristan’s was encountered.

 

And another in the ‘wandering group’  number 20 Antipodean Albatross which breed mainly in the Antipodes Islands south of New Zealand. I have seen about 80 on the Subantarctic Islands of New Zealand cruise, 40 on pelagics out Kaikora, NZ and a very small number off New South Wales. Photo © Pete Morris.

 

.. and Gibson’s Albatross which is usually treated as a subspecies of Antipodean. It usually retains some gingery tones into adulthood and keeps a dark tip to the tail. It breeds mainly on Aukland Island. About 85 were seen on the Subantarctic cruise, 8 off NSW and one north of New Zealand on the West Pacific Odyssey. Photo © Pete Morris.

 

I said there were 21 species of albatross and I had only seen 20. Well here’s the 21st! Amsterdam Albatross, seen only by the lucky few who get to visit Amsterdam Island in southern Indian Ocean, the most remote of islands. With a population of less than 130 birds and 25 breeding pairs (just 5 pairs when first discovered) the chances of encountering it at sea are low to say the least. And visiting the island isn’t easy either unless you’re a researcher and French. Photo © Vincent Legrendre via Wikipedia.

 

However on a pelagic out of Sydney in 1999 we encountered a most unusual bird. It’s presences was already known and it was obvious the pelagic organisers were targeting it. The bird on the left is a typical juvenile Antipodean but the bird on the right has the dark cutting edge to the bill, green gonys and paler face of an Amsterdam. Photo taken from a scanned slide

 

With a bit of manoeuvring and careful placement of chum the bird was caught and brought on board. It looked like an Amsterdam but French researchers later said the entire population of Amsterdams are ringed and it wasn’t. I don’t recall if a blood specimen was taken but apparently it was logged as an unusual juvenile Antipodean. So I might not have seen the rarest of world’s albatrosses but I’ve seen a bird that looks just like one! Photo taken from a scanned slide.

 

If you go searching for albatrosses in the southern ocean you’ll be bound to encounter some rough seas …

 

.. but you’ll also get views of albatrosses on a daily basis and see wonderful places like Campbell Island. Photo © Pete Morris.

 

Celebrated in literature, poetry and Monty Python sketches, few birds inspire like the albatross does. Photo © Pete Morris

 

This post has taken far longer and has involved many more photos then I originally imaged (the initial idea was to post just 24 images) but it has allowed to go back and look at how much joy these, the most majestic of all birds have given me and this is my contribution to ‘World Albatross Day.

The West Pacific Odyssey part 1: Aukland, New Zealand to Norfolk Island – 14th-19th March 2019.   Leave a comment

The West Pacific Odyssey (often abbreviated to WPO) is a classic birding journey. Just like its ‘sister voyage’ the Atlantic Odyssey, this comes about every (northern) spring as Heritage Expedition vessel Professor Khromov (aka Spirit of Enderby) is relocated from the Antarctic at the end of the southern summer to the Arctic for the start of the northern summer.

This gives birders and other interested travellers a chance to see the diverse seabirds of the western Pacific as well as a number of seldom-visited islands on-route.

Due to earlier problems in visiting sites in Japanese waters this trip had been truncated to the South-west Pacific Odyssey but these issues were resolved and the full trip was offered for 2018. However there were ‘operational problems’ (timing of the annual refit etc) which prevented the trip from going ahead and it was deferred to 2019 – and fortunately those who transferred, kept the 2018 price.

This the first of a number of posts about the voyage, I don’t know at this stage how many there will be, but there will be a mix of pelagic seabirds and cetaceans along with photos taken on land. Not all of the planned landings took place, this was the only downside to an otherwise excellent trip.

Most of the photos are mine, the few that aren’t or were taken from another pelagic trip are cleared marked.

 

We travelled on the Professor Khromov, which the New Zealand company Heritage Expeditions likes to call ‘The Spirit of Enderby’. I’ve been on two other expeditions in this vessel; to the Subantarctic Islands of New Zealand in 2004 and to Russia’s Kuril and Commander Islands, Kamchatka and Sakhalin in 2017. I’ve also been to the Falklands, South Georgia and Antarctica on the sister ship Akademik  Shuleykin in 1998. There were nine ships of this class built in the 80s as Russian ‘research’ vessels (a euphemism for American submarine detection) and were ice strengthened and had the capacity to remain at sea without re-provisioning for extended periods of time. As soon as they were in service the Cold War was over and many were converted for ‘adventure tourism’ in high latitudes. They have given good service but are now looking rather dated. The electronics on the bridge and communication room looks 1940s vintage but they are tough and can withstand anything the polar seas can throw at them. The Professor Khromov is seen here moored off Norfolk Island.

 

The cruise from Tauranga in New Zealand to Yokohama in Japan took 31 days, add to that three days to get there and one to get back and I was away from home for almost five weeks. We disembarked at Norfolk Island, New Caledonia, four places in the Solomon Islands and Chuuk in Micronesia. Unfortunately due to mixture of bad weather and official intransigence we made no landfalls in Japan except at Yokohama. The cruise covered 5650 nautical miles (10500km), we collectively saw 248 bird species including 48 ‘tubenoses’ and 21 species of cetacean. We visited eleven islands in six countries.

 

I left home on the 12th March 2019 and took a flight from Heathrow to Hong Kong. With the time difference it was mid morning on the 14th before I landed at Auckland in New Zealand. After two very long flights I was glad to get off the plane. My friend Steve, who had gone to NZ a few days earlier to attempt to see a Kiwi met me at Auckland airport. I’m glad he was driving as I was far too tired to be behind the wheel.

 

We stopped at the wader spot spot of Miranda. The waders were some distance away as the tide had dropped but we were able to identify Wrybills and Double-banded Plovers among the many Bar-tailed Godwits. More approachable birds included this White-faced Heron …

 

… and the inevitable Pied Stilts …

 

… and Grey Teal.

 

We stayed overnight in Tauranga …

 

… where we saw a few more birds like Silver Gull (formerly split as Red-billed Gull but now lumped with the Australian species) …

 

… the introduced Black Swan …

 

… and the only endemic New Zealand passerine I was to see on the tour – the Tui (one of four extant bird species that have the honour of having the shortest English name of all – I’ll let you puzzle over the other three).

 

The clients met up at a hotel, there were 48 of us. At least a dozen I knew from UK birding or previous foreign trips. There was time to wander around before the bus came to take us to the docks. People in the shops kept asking if we were from the big cruise liner that was already docked. Certainly not – our ship was much, much smaller.

 

Along the shore at Tauranga there were good numbers of Variable Oystercatchers …

 

… and a bird that is very widespread in the Southern Hemisphere – Kelp Gull. This is an adult …

 

… and this is a first year bird.

 

In the late afternoon with the cabins all allocated, luggage stowed, customs cleared etc we cast off and the voyage began. Our starting location was 37 39’S 176 01’E.

 

We made our way out of Tauranga bay and into the open ocean …

 

… we passes a number of islands to port as we headed north.  The rest of the day was taken up with introductions, orientation lectures and the inevitable lifeboat drill.

 

We woke the next day at the northern end of the Hauraki Gulf. We approached the Mokohinau Islands …

 

… the site of a Australasian Gannet colony.

 

Australasian Gannet breeds, as the name suggests, in New Zealand and Australia and is very similar to our Northern Gannet except for having black in the secondaries and a long black gular stripe. We saw several hundred today, a single one the next day, then none.

 

We came across this dense flock of Silver Gulls feeding on what was presumably a huge bait ball. A few Buller’s Shearwaters (Top right) joined the flock …

 

… also seen were a number of the small Fluttering Shearwaters and a couple of the tiny Grey Ternlets (or Grey Noddy).

 

Grey Ternlet was the first life bird of the trip for me!

 

In 2009 I did a comprehensive birding tour of New Zealand which included a pelagic trip into the Haukaki Gulf. We did well, but missed one species, the Black (or Parkinson’s) Petrel. There were no such problems here as we were to see around 30 today and similar numbers the next day.

 

The northern most tip of New Zealand is a group of islands known as the Three Kings. We were 13 miles off there at dawn at 33 57’S 172 24’E and approached closer during the morning, sea birding was superb but our number one target was storm-petrels.

 

In this one photo there are three species of storm-petrel, White-faced on the left, Wilson’s lower centre and above it the enigmatic New Zealand Storm-petrel.

 

This photo wasn’t taken on the trip but from a small boat off the coast of North Carolina but it shows a number of birds we saw on the WPO. The large bird is an Arctic Skua (or Parasitic Jaeger) a bird that breeds in the arctic and subarctic (as far south as northern Scotland) and winters as far south as NZ. The two storm-petrels close to it are, as far as I can tell, Band-rumped. This complex probably consists of multiple species. We were only to see a few on the WPO and all were to the north of here and included one of a larger form that could be as yet undescribed. The lower left bird and the three on the right are Wilson’s Storm-petrels, the most numerous seabird and one of the most numerous of all birds in the world. Breeding in the Antarctic they are found in most oceans of the world at some time of the year. I saw a number off the Three Kings and others saw the odd one further north. Bizarrely it has been shown that the so called ‘northern storm-petrels’ are not closely related to ‘southern storm-petrels and they are found before and after the albatrosses in world bird lists. So the top two stormies on the left are not even in the same family as the top two on the right!

 

But the stormy we all wanted to see was the New Zealand Storm-petrel. This bird has a most interesting history. First collected in 1827, it was later claimed, without any justification, that Wilson’s Storm-petrels have paler streakier bellies the nearer they bred to the equator. So after this it was forgotten about and lost to history until it was rediscovered by a group of British and New Zealand birders in 2003 and given back its rightful specific status. It is likely that it persisted in tiny numbers all those years, breeding on a rat-infested island in the Hauraki Gulf. When the rats were removed, as they have been from many of these islands, the population started to bounce back. On my pelagic in 2009 I saw just one, here we saw 25 …

 

… including three together along with a White-faced Storm-petrel.

 

White-faced Storm-petrel breeds in the North Atlantic, South Atlantic, off South Australia, around Kermadec Islands and New Zealand and according to the book ‘Oceanic Birds of the World’ by Steve Howell et al they could comprise between 4 and 6 different species!

 

Here L-R is a Wilson’s Stormie, a New Zealand Stormie and a Black Petrel.

 

Black Petrels were seen regularly in these waters, like NZ Stormie they only breed around the Hauraki Gulf and have been heavily impacted by introduced rats and cats. With these aliens being slowly removed their numbers are increasing from being close to extinction to perhaps 10,000 birds today. On upper mandible, close to the base, you can see the salt excreting tubes that give tubenoses (members of the Order Procelliformes) their name.

 

Black Petrels are in the genus Procellaria (along with White-chinned, which has recently occurred in the UK and two other species). They have a very different jizz and flight action to the Pterodroma petrels and certainly are an impressive sight, especially when seen head on.

 

Another species that we only saw in the southern leg of the trip was this Fairy Prion. Prions are a group of six fast moving and hard to separate tubenoses that occur mainly in subantarctic/antarctic water. This Fairy Prion was photographed by Pete Morris on the Subantarctic Islands of New Zealand cruise in 2004.

 

The waters around New Zealand are probably the best in the world for albatrosses, however we saw few on this trip. Most move to the south to feed and this year the water was particularly warm so wouldn’t have been suitable for these subantarctic birds. This is a Antipodean Albatross, a split from Wandering Albatross, of the race gibsoni which breeds on islands to the south of NZ.

 

Another albatross seen was this Northern Royal Albatross, which breeds in the Chatham Islands and at Dunedin in South Island of NZ. The solid black wings (with some specking as in here on older males), lack of black tip to the tail and a fine black cutting edge to the bill distinguishes it from the ‘wandering’ group. Photo taken by Pete Morris on the Subantarctic Islands of New Zealand cruise in 2004.

 

Of the several species of shearwater, Bullwer’s was the most numerous …

 

… easily identified by its striking upperwing pattern, these birds wander as far as California in the non-breeding season.

 

Two petrels in the genus Pterodroma – Cook’s Petrel …

 

… and White-necked Petrel. With their fast, high arcing flight and elegant appearance Pterodroma petrels are among the most sought after of all seabirds.

 

There were a number of other excellent sightings none of which I got photos of; the first was ‘Magnificent Petrel’ currently described as a race of Cook’s Petrel but probably deserving species status in it’s own right, see here for an account of its recent discovery, Grey-faced Petrel (the first time I’ve seen it since the split from Great-winged), the local form of Little Shearwater (which like most of the Little Shearwater complex is probably a species in its own right), the rarely observed Pycroft’s Petrel, Kermadec Petrel which we’ll see in the next post …

 

 

… and what appeared to be the incredibly rare Fiji Petrel. I was slow getting on to this bird when it was first found and struggled to pick it up. The situation was made worse as ace Japanese seawatcher Hero Tanoi called ‘it’s got a black body’ unfortunately in the commotion all I heard was ‘it’s a Black Noddy’ which isn’t rare at all! Fortunately the ship was turned round, a chum slick was laid and the bird was encountered again. The known breeding population near Fiji is only about 50 pairs but as there have been other sightings in the Western Pacific it may be that there is an undiscovered population there, alternatively these birds may be a different species. This photo of an undoubted Fiji Petrel is by Dr. Jorg Kretzschmar/NatureFiji-Mareqeti Viti Fiji.

 

I haven’t mentioned cetaceans yet, we certainly saw a good variety throughout the trip. Here a number of Long-finned Pilot Whales are seen with Bottle-nosed Dolphins. The photo looks a little confusing. On the left a Pilot Whale is spy-hopping showing the characteristic mark on the throat, a smaller individual has risen out of the water beside it, whilst a dolphin swims in front and another dolphin is seen just left of centre.. Further back two more Pilot Whales swim towards the camera

 

The characteristic dorsal fin of an adult Pilot whale can be seen, the other fin belong to dolphins. The birds are Black Petrels.

 

The bulbous head of a Pilot Whale and the white patch on the back of an adult male can be seen in this photo, with a Black Petrel for company of course.

 

One further seabird is worth mentioning in these southern waters the ‘Tasman Booby’ a race of Masked Booby that breeds on Lord Howe, Norfolk Island and the Kermadecs. Unlike the other races of Masked Booby it has a dark eye.

 

This must have been the most seabird rich section of the entire trip, certainly so for the Southern Hemisphere. On the morning of the third day we anchored off the Australian administered Norfolk Island (at 29 04’N 167 57’E) which will be the subject of the next post.