Archive for the ‘Wilson’s Storm Petrel’ Tag

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Atlantic Odyssey: a summary – 23rd March – 6th May 2016   Leave a comment

Margaret and I have recently returned from a very long trip known as the Atlantic Odyssey, a repositioning cruise that is available once a year as a tourist ship ends its program in the Antarctic at the onset of the southern winter and moves to the Arctic for the northern summer. On top of that we went straight from Cabo Verde, the end point of the cruise, to Mallorca to join our friends at Birdquest in Mallorca to celebrate their 35th year of operation. It total we were away 45 days.

I hope to upload many photos from this remarkable and highly photogenic journey from each of the locations we visited, but for now here is a brief overview of the entire trip.

111 Atlantic Odyssey map

Here is a map of our route. There is one important difference to what shown above. In 2016 for the first time the operators, Oceanwide Expeditions, didn’t take the Plancius to the Antarctic Peninsula before heading to South Georgia, instead cruised directly from Ushuaia to South Georgia. You could take a Ushuaia – Antarctica – Ushuaia trip immediately prior to the Atlantic Odyssey, but this would have lengthened our entire tip to 55 days which we though was too much. I have already been to Antarctica but we both intend to to visit some time in the future.

IMG_1101 view from hotel on arrival

After a couple of days of travel we arrived at Ushuaia, the southernmost tip of Argentina, just as darkness was falling. The view from our hotel was breathtaking.

IMG_4510 Beagle Channel views

Over the next day and a half we explored the Tierra del Fuego National Park …,

IMG_4250 Andean Condor

…. seeing wonderful birds like Magellanic Woodpecker and this Andean Condor.

IMG_4587 Humpback Whale

We took a boat trip on the Beagle Channel and had close up views of Humpback Whales as well as several species of seals and seabirds.

IMG_4682 Plancius

In the afternoon we boarded the Plancius, the ship that was to be our home for the next 34 days.

IMG_4705 fogbow

The passage from Ushuaia to South Georgia was disappointing, we were following the line of the Antarctic Convergence and at this time of year this means fog. This meant few seabirds were visible, even though we did see some lovely fogbows.

7F1A6898 SG glacier

South Georgia was an absolute delight, one of the most wildlife rich and photogenic sites on the entire planet. Described as being like the Alps rising straight from the sea, huge glaciers sweep down from 3000m peaks to the coast.

IMG_4793 Wandering Albert fem + chick

We were able to see Wandering Albatrosses on the nest ….

7F1A7187 King Penguins

…. enormous colonies of King Penguins ….

IMG_5203 KPs

…. many which waddled by completely indifferent to us.

IMG_5227 Fur Seal

There can be few cuter things in this world than a Fur Seal pup.

IMG_5118 Grytviken

We also paid a visit to the old whaling station at Grytviken.

7F1A7748 rough seas

As we left South Georgia we headed north towards Tristan da Cunha we encountered rough seas and several icebergs.

7F1A7910 Wandering Albert

This was the best section of the entire trip for seabirds. Species varied from the enormous Wandering Albatross with its 3.5m wingspan ….

7F1A7931 Wilson's SP

…. to the tiny Wilsons’ Storm Petrel.

7F1A9629 Spectacled Petrel best

As we approached the island of Gough the endangered and much desired Spectacled Petrel put in its first appearance.

IMG_5474 approaching Gough

No landings are allowed on Gough but it is normally possible to cruise inshore in the zodiacs and see the endemic species. On arrival we found the stiff easterly wind had built up a big swell, so we couldn’t approach any closer.

IMG_5622 remotest island

Good weather the following day allowed us to land on the main island of Tristan – the most remote inhabited island in the world.

7F1A9801 Inaccesssible Island

We were not so lucky with the nearby (and appropriately named) Inaccessible Island. Although vertical cliffs prevent access to the interior, the tussocks at the base of the cliff hold a population of the smallest flightless bird in the world – the Inaccessible Island Rail. A swell breaking on the steeply shelving beach prevented any hope of landing and dashed our hopes of seeing this enigmatic bird.

IMG_6032

We were luckier with the neighbouring island of Nightingale, although the landing was far from easy. The endemic finch and thrush were abundant and we hiked up to the relict forest at the top to see the critically endangered Wilkin’s Finch.

IMG_5829 Great Shearwater on launch post

On route we saw many Yellow-nosed Albatross chicks and recently fledged Great Shearwaters (above) which launched themselves into the air from these take-off posts and sometime pattered across the top of our heads to give themselves an extra push.

7F1A0133 Flying Fish

The sea crossing between Tristan and St Helena was the quietest of the trip with only one or two individual birds seen on some days. There were plenty of flying fish about to challenge your photographic skills.

IMG_6154 Jamestown

The capital of St Helena, Jamestown is nestled in this steep-sided valley.

IMG_4093 Jacob's Ladder

There is a winding road connecting Jamestown to the rest of the island of course, but if you want a short cut you can always try the 700 step Jacob’s Ladder.

IMG_3990 White Tern

St Helena’s tourist trade is mainly based on sites associated with its famous former resident , Napoleon Bonaparte. Of course the birders were more taken with nesting seabirds, like this White (or Fairy) Tern photographed at the site of Napoleon’s former tomb.

IMG_4216 Wirebird

Although St Helena had a number of endemic birds before the arrival of man, only one remains, St Helena Plover or Wirebird. We had great views of up to 40 at two locations in the mountains.

7F1A1247 PTS Dolphins

We encountered a few more seabirds as we headed towards Ascension Island but we also saw a good number of cetaceans, such as these Pan-tropical Spotted Dolphins.

IMG_4405 view from Plancius

Ascension is basically just a huge military base and is covered with listening and communication devices. It is technically uninhabited as none of the 800 or so residents has right of abode or can buy property, all are on fixed term contracts.

7F1A1180 Ascension cliffs

Ascension, a relatively new volcanic island, has stunning coastal scenery comprised of layer after layer of lava and ash.

7F1A0921 Sooty Tern colony

The two biggest wildlife spectacles are the Sooty Tern colony on the mainland ….

IMG_4438 Frigates

…. and the huge offshore Ascension Frigatebird colony.

IMG_4443 Boatswain Bird Island

We arrived at the offshore stack of Boatswain Bird Island at first light and saw just about all of the world’s population of Ascension Island Frigatebird leave their roost.

7F1A1086 Ascension Frigatebird imm

As the light improved we had fantastic views of this rare and range restricted seabird right over our heads.

7F1A1417 Leach's SP

As we headed north we crossed the Equator and it became very hot on deck. The following day we passed through the doldrums and the sea was still and flat with an oil-like texture. You could see the reflections of the Leach’s Storm-petrels in the glass like surface ….

7F1A1389 Clymene Dolphin

…. and when a group of Clymene Dolphins came in to bow ride, you could see every detail underwater.

IMG_4286 Praia church

On the 28th of April, 34 days after we left Ushuaia, we docked at Praia on the island of Santiago, Cabo Verde. Margaret opted for a cultural tour of the city visiting churches, museums and sites of historical importance ….

IMG_4518 Santiago rocks

…. whilst I joined the other birders for a trip into the interior.

IMG_4523 GH Kingfisher

We saw three of Cabo Verde’s endemic species, a number of vagrants to the island (from the New World and the Old) and other residents like this beautiful Grey-headed Kingfisher.

From hotel

Whilst most of the other passengers headed home we continued on (via Lisbon and Barcelona) to the Mediterranean island of Mallorca. We spent much of the first day relaxing after our overnight flight, but in the evening we met up with 19 other Birdquest clients and 9 members of staff who had come to Mallorca to celebrate Birdquest’s 35th year of operation. Rain affected the first part of the trip but it brought down many migrants ….

IMG_4640 Tyrrenian Spotted Fly

…. as well as newly arrived ‘Tyrrhenian’ Flycatchers, the pale and lightly streaked local race of Spotted Flycatcher, which recent research had indicated is worth specific status.

7F1A2168 Tawny Pipit

Agricultural areas held lovely birds like this Tawny Pipit.

Formentor

The mountainous spine of the island ends in the picturesque Formentor Peninsula, a location for Crag Martins, Eleanora’s Falcons and other great birds.

7F1A2106 Cinereous Vulture

Higher up in the mountains we saw Griffon and Cinereous Vultures (above) ….

Albufera at dawn

…. whilst the marshes of S’Albufera and S’Albufeteta gave us views of many specialties ….

IMG_4774 Red-nobbed Coot

…. such as this Red-knobbed Coot, a mainly African species that in Europe is restricted to Spain.

Cabrera (3)

The highlight of the trip for me was our visit to the island of Cabrera off the south coast of Mallorca. In this untouched area of maquis and woodland we found many migrants and well as stunning views of the endemic Balearic Warbler ….

7F1A1738 Moltoni's Warbler

…. and the range restricted Moltoni’s Warbler (which contrary to what I posted last year) is actually the last European breeding bird that is a life bird for me.

7F1A2048 Scopoli's Shearwater

On the way to and from Cabrera I had my best ever views of Balearic and Scopoli’s Shearwater (above). All-in-all our four days birding on the reunion gave me many more species than I saw during the whole of my last two-week visit to the island.

 

As I said at the start this is just an overview of the trip. Probably starting some time in the summer I will post a lot more pictures, treating each site in more detail.