Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Fairy Prions!

Just a quick update of some of the species seen lately. Good numbers of Fairy prions have been sighted along our coastline in the last two weeks. They have sometimes been seen in quite large flocks either resting in rafts or feeding on current lines where plankton accumulates. They also come over to our vessel to offer some great photo opportunities.

We are also seeing Southern Giant petrels on a regular basis. They can be separated from the Northerns by having a greenish tip to the bill compared to the orange/brown of the Northern. More Southerns are seen in winter as they migrate north from their summer range on or close to the Antarctic mainland.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

4 hour tour for keen birders! 12.5.08

On the 12th of May there was an extended four hour pelagic bird tour which left South Bay harbour at 9am and returned at 1pm. On board were New Zealanders Mia Jessen, Shane McPherson, Rob Lawrance, Russell Cannings and two English couples. The skipper was Gary Melville.
The sea conditions were a little rough with a 1.5m southerly swell and 10-15 knt southerly winds. It was decided to take our larger 13m catamaran Lissodelphis which cut through the swell with ease. The first destination was the edge of the Kaikoura canyon with some great looks at Common Diving petrel (Pelecanoides urinatrix) as they buzzed passed the vessel. A wide variety of other species came to the vessel, attracted by a small block of frozen fish liver in a mesh cage. These included endemic species such as Buller's albatross (Thalassarche [bulleri] bulleri) and Westland petrel (Procellaria westlandica).
The next stop was out to a sea mount which rises from depths over 1000m up to 300m. More species were encountered here with great views of both Gibsons (Diomedea exulnas gibsoni) and Antipodean (Diomedea exulnas antipodenis)Wandering albatross as well as both Northern (Macronectes halli)and Southern (Macronectes giganteus) Giant petrel.
The final stop was further off shore where conditions were challenging for those on board but not for the birds who were definitely in their chosen element with spectacular display of aeronautics. It was here that 3 Southern Royal albatross (Diomedea [epomophora] epomophora) made their presence known. At this point seasickness was raising it's ugly head so the vessel cruised back inshore to Barney's rock and calmer waters before returning to the Harbour. The trip was a great success with many species seen, but with the conditions suiting the hardy!
Below is a list of birds seen on the tour.

Southern Royal albatross
Gibsons Wandering albatross
Antipodean Wandering albatross
Black-browed albatross
New Zealand White-capped albatross
Southern Bullers albatross
Northern Giant petrel
Southern Giant petrel
Westland petrel
Cape petrel
Common Diving petrel
Fairy prion
Huttons shearwater
Bullers shearwater
Sooty shearwater
Spotted shag
White-fronted tern
Black-fronted tern
Black-billed gull
Red-billed gull
Black-backed gull
Australasian gannet
Little Blue penguin

So a thanks goes out to those on board who made the trip a success. Having such enthusiastic customers really makes the trip enjoyable to all involved! We look foward to seeing more birders on this and our other pelagic bird tours.


Monday, June 16, 2008

Humpbacks on the March

Just a quick post to let you know that a large number of humpback whales migrating up the Kaikoura coast on their way north to the tropics where they will spend the winter mating and giving birth.

Over the last week or so our Dolphin Encounter tours have seen several humpbacks, often in the middle of a pod of dusky dolphins (quite a sight). This is the most humpbacks we have seen in autumn for a long time, which bodes well for the whales.

An Atmospheric Evening Tour

Hi all

On Saturday the 14th of June Gary took out some birders late in the afternoon, just as the sun was setting behind the Seaward Kaikouras, and at first he wasn't sure if the birds were going to be around "Albert isn't used to seeing me in the evening" said Gary. But after a few minutes of nothing showing Gary and his passengers were treated to a very good selection of albatross and other pelagics set against a stunning sunset turning the sky red.

We have long theorized that the albatross feed at night on upwellings and Gary has seen it once during his fishing days, but it was still nice to see it in action, and lead to a very different kind of bird tour.

Just to top it off there was a huge burn-off happening on one of the hills which looked as though it was setting the clouds on fire.... very cool.

hope you enjoy the pics.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Explorer Tour - 26th July 2008

We have a deep sea pelagic tour operating on the 26th July 2008, please email us at or call on 033196777 (see poster fo more details) there are a huge number of albatross and other pelagics off the coast of Kaikoura and this is the perfect opportunity to see some rarer species along with some of the regulars.

Official OSNZ Trips a Blast!

As well as Gary running his 'unofficial' commando tour a great many Ornithological Society New Zealand members joined us on pre-arranged pelagic tours. And what a great time we had! we only had to travel 25 minutes from the South Bay harbour, before we were over the depths of the Kaikoura Canyon and deep into pelagic territory. We threw out our 'albatross ice cream' consisting of frozen fish liver and waited...

The first visitors of the day were Cape Petrels in their ones and twos at first but rapidly increasing in numbers, the Cape Petrels acted as advertisers to the albatross and before long we had species after species flying in to the rear of the boat (at one point we had 5 or 6 different species around us). And on the morning tours, just as we were about to leave and head for home a Salvins Albatross flew in (a 'shy' albatross with a distinctive grey head), this was an unusual species to see this time of year and as an extra bonus it was a species not seen by Gary and the commando birders!

A complete species list for the day runs as follows:

Southern Royal
Albatross (Mollymawks):
Black Browed
New Zealand Whitecapped
Giant (Nothern and Southern)
Cape (Snares)

hope you all enjoyed the tours, it was certainly a great day to be out on the water, with some spectacular views to be had.

We hope to see many of the OSNZ members back here again.

Good birding


Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Deep Sea Comando Raid a Raging Success

Hello All

During the NZ Ornithological Society's AGM several pelagic bird tours were arranged through Albatross Encounter, one being a deep sea probe which was not fully sanctioned by the organisers and therefore considered unauthorised!

The trip (complete with 10 commando birders) left at 7.15am on the 1st of June with the expectation of seeing something unusual and maybe seeing a few lifers.

We headed straight out to 15miles off the Kaikoura Peninsula and stopped for 4 hours driving straight past lots of birds feeding on upwellings, but there was no stopping. We threw out a block of frozen fish liver (a delicacy for pelagics) and waited... it was slow to start with the first visitors being Southern Royal albatross and New Zealand White Capped albatross (shy).

After 2 hours we sighted a Grey-Faced petrel which lifted spirits and was a first for a couple of the guys. The pressure was building with pelagics arriving all the time although nothing different from the usual cast found here in Kaikoura.

4 hours into the tour there were several yelps from the rear of the boat, signifying the arrival of a White-Headed Petrel another first for many on the tour and a first for Albatross Encounter!

After all that excitement we settled for a delicious lunch and then it was time to move on.

We shifted camp twice more and travelling towards the third we sighted a raft of Cape Petrel and in amongst them was an Antarctic Fulmar yet another first for some.

It was an incredibly calm day and the views were spectacular looking back towards the mountains and we also noted 5 separate sperm whales.

We headed into the Amuri Bluffs and then back along the coastine toward the Kaikoura Peninsula to arrive home at 15:40.

A complete list of species spotted were as follows:


Northern Royal

Southern Royal



Albatross (Mollymawks):

Black Browed

New Zealand Whitecapped



Giant (Nothern and Southern)


White Chinned

Grey Faced

Cape (Snares and Sub-Antarctic)

Common Diving

White Headed






Fulmar Petrels:

Antarctic Fulmar





White Fronted

Black Fronted


Black Backed

Red Billed

Black Billed





I had an extremely enjoyable time with such enthusiastic and knowledgable people and the trip was a real success form my point of view, we are planning another deep sea pelagic trip in late July, depending on demand. If you are interested contact us at or give us a call on 033196777. Looking forward to the next adventure.

Regards and good birding, Gazza...