New Zealand - January 1st Pelagic Trip

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chrish
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New Zealand - January 1st Pelagic Trip

Post by chrish » March 26th, 2013, 9:11 pm

On January 1st of this year, I went on a pelagic birding trip out into the Hauraki Gulf of the North Island of New Zealand. The Hauraki Gulf is good pelagic birding without going more than a few miles offshore and the trips leave from 5 minutes away from my parents house as a bonus.

We didn't leave until 10:00 am (possibly because it was New Year's Day?), but literally as the boat pulled away from the dock at Sandspit Harbor, we spotted our first "sort of pelagic" bird -

Little Penguin

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This little guy was looking for breakfast in the clear waters..

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As many Little Penguins as we saw that morning in the harbor, it still seems weird to see a Penguin swimming in a harbor in the middle of summer?

The first procellariform birds for the day was a raft of about 200 Fluttering Shearwaters just off the point as we left the harbor. You can see how close to shore they were.

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As elegant and graceful as most shearwaters are, I think Fluttering are relatively clumsy. Watching one try to take of from the water is almost comical.

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of course most of them were in fairly heavy stages of moult which didn't help -

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The next Fluttering Shearwater we came across was not with a big group of Flutterings. Instead he had a petite companion...

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The little bird was my first lifer of the year - Common Diving-Petrel - a bird which had eluded for years.

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We started to see small groups of two and three birds as we traveled north until we came across this huge school of feeding fish -

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I'm not sure what kind of fish they were -

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We stopped here for a few minutes and marveled at the huge size of this school and the huge number of birds it was attracting -

Australasian Gannets -

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large numbers of Cook's Petrels

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and even more Fairy Prions

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but no pelagic voyage would be complete without a visit by the ballerina's of the pelagic world - storm petrels.

White-faced Storm-Petrels were abundant, but amazing to watch as they pattered across the surface of the water picking up pieces of the fish we tossed overboard.

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And if you have had your dramamine, you can watch a video I took of their neat little dance on the water, from the rocking boat, with the unsteady camera (you've been warned!) -



But the reason you go out in the Hauraki Gulf is to see one of the rarest (?) and most poorly known birds on the planet....

New Zealand Storm-Petrel - this species was only known from a few specimens in the British Museum that were collected in the 1800s. About 10 years ago, our guide discovered a population of these almost unknown birds in the Hauraki Gulf. We were lucky enough to see at least 5 individuals throughout the course of the day. Some were quite close to the boat.

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A little further out we added a couple of more shearwaters...

Buller's Shearwaters

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and Flesh-footed Shearwaters

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The only other tube-nose we got was the nearly endemic big, black Parkinson's Petrel

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We stopped a group of islands in the mouth of the Hauraki Gulf to see a colony of Blue-gray Noddy (the only population in New Zealand apparently)

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On the islands, we did see a few not strictly pelagic species as well, including...

White-fronted Terns -

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Red-billed Gulls -

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Pied Shag (Pied Cormorant)

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I took about 300 photos of Cook's Petrels because they are easy to photograph due to their flight style, and because I was hoping one would be the very similar Pycroft's Petrel. No luck on the Pycrofts, but I now have more Cook's Petrel photos than I could ever use!!!

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We also saw some non-avian ocean goers, including large numbers of

Short-beaked Common Dolphin

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But the coolest non-birds had to be the visitors we had to our chum we were putting out. While we were looking at birds, all of a sudden the birds that were sitting on the water behind the boat would pop up and squawk as the flew up from the water. Our guide said "must be a shark" and sure enough a big Great Hammerhead cruised right by the boat. The shark seemed more interested in the chum pieces than the birds on the water.

Great Hammerhead - unfortunately, I didn't get any photos of the actually hammerhead itself, just a shot of its fins.

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A few hours later, and little further offshore, we had another cartilaginous visitor, but this time it was three Mako Sharks. These sharks were intersted in the chum pieces, but were also perfectly willing to try and sneak up under a Prion or other bird sitting on the surface. Several times we watched birds fly up at just the last second. This Fairy Prion barely escaped this attack from the rear....

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As we headed back in late in the afternoon, we saw huge flocks of Cook's Petrels flying around Little Barrier Island where they breed. There were literally thousands of Cook's.

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This is a fairly typical representative scene of the number of Cooks visible in all directions at any moment in time.

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BTW - there are Tuataras on Little Barrier Island in the background.

So we had a decent trip, although diversity was a bit low due to the calm seas and light winds preventing our chum slik from spreading very far. Still a magical day of birding.

The list:

Little Penguin
Australasian Gannet
Pied Cormorant
Pacific Reef-Heron
Common Diving-Petrel (lifer)
Fluttering Shearwater
Flesh-footed Shearwater
Buller's Shearwater
White-faced Storm-Petrel
New Zealand Storm-Petrel
Cook's Petrel
Fairy Prion
Parkinson's Petrel
Kelp Gull
Red-billed Gull
White-fronted Tern
Blue-gray Noddy

Chris

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pete
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Re: New Zealand - January 1st Pelagic Trip

Post by pete » March 27th, 2013, 12:50 pm

The thing I miss most about commercial fishing is the birds!! Some fantastic shots there. The school of fish were yellowtail...I woulda been twitching had I been on that trip with no fishing rod :lol:
Great post!

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Curtis Hart
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Re: New Zealand - January 1st Pelagic Trip

Post by Curtis Hart » March 27th, 2013, 1:38 pm

That looks like a great day on the water. I especially like the sharks and dolphins.




Curtis

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Re: New Zealand - January 1st Pelagic Trip

Post by Andy Avram » March 27th, 2013, 4:25 pm

I would agree with Pete that the fish look like Yellowtail (a type of snapper), but I was unaware how large their range was - if they are indeed, the same species I was catching in the Keys. Tasty fish.

Chris, you have a lack of cold birds on your list, I have a lack of pelagics (only a handful of species, maybe less). I am just not on the coast enough, but this trip report really makes me want to get out on one. Looks fun!

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Re: New Zealand - January 1st Pelagic Trip

Post by nightdriver » March 27th, 2013, 7:49 pm

Chris,
Great post as always. My dream is to someday do some pelagic birding in that area, for now I'll be hopefully going out to deep water of the left coast next month out of Ventura. Really hoping for a Murphy's petrel this time.

-nightdriver

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Re: New Zealand - January 1st Pelagic Trip

Post by Rags » March 27th, 2013, 11:49 pm

Any type of wildlife from New Zealand seems to feature so rarely on the forum. Enjoyed the post and it's subjects, great photography as ever.

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Re: New Zealand - January 1st Pelagic Trip

Post by VICtort » March 28th, 2013, 8:51 am

Chris,
what a terrific trip, ocean conditions looked nice . The school of breezing fish you saw were southern yellowtail, commonly called Kingfish by Australian and New Zealand fishers. Yellowtail are members of the jack family, Carangidae, and close relatives of the southern yellowtail are found widely in temperate to sub-tropic Pacific waters including Chile, Baja , and California and Japan. I too would have been going crazy with fish lust to throw a jig into that
school. Seeing three makos at once is pretty amazing and that alone would have made the trip for me.

I enjoyed this post and it stimulates my long held interest in making a trip down there. NZ has been described to me like San Diego a 100 years ago, which comes close to earthly paradise. Your photos reenforce that romantic image in my mind.

You made reference to birding in a predator free park where native birds were reintroduced... inferring that predators were a limiting factor outside this zone. What predators? Red fox? Feral cats ? Please expand...

Vic

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Re: New Zealand - January 1st Pelagic Trip

Post by chrish » March 29th, 2013, 5:52 am

Thanks everyone.

As for wanting to fish, I'm more of a birder. I only fish when there is no birding, herping, photography, sound recording, snorkeling etc., to do. I go on deep sea fishing trips to bird. There was another boat out there and a kid on that boat threw out a line and almost immediately hooked up. Our captain blew a gasket a went over there and cursed them out because this was
a. a marine sanctuary area
b. an area specifically designated no fishing due to marine cables in the area
The other boaters got embarrassed and left.

Pelagic birding is really a blast. It is a lot harder than land birding for a lot of reasons, but for some reason I just love it. Part of the reason is you never know what you will see. It is always different. It is pretty lame off the Gulf Coast of the US, but if you can into deep water it is magical. And addictive....be warned.

The ocean conditions were too good, unfortunately. The lack of wind slowed the spread of our chum smell and we attracted fewer birds than on a previous trip I had been on.

As for the predator free park, it is in the other post about around the house birding. Here's their sign to show what they have removed and reintroduced -

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They have also reintroduced a few herps (Naultinus grayii, Shore Skinks and are trying to get a frog species reintroduced). I've never seen any of them there. :(

In this park they have removed the problem species that are all over New Zealand -
Stoats, Ferrets, Weasels, Brush-tailed Possums, Hedgehogs, Rodents, Rats, Mice and Cats. There are Red Foxes in some parts of NZ, but not on this peninsula.
The park is on a spit of land to reduce influx of newer predators and they have a predator fence to prevent new ones from arriving. They still have trap and bait stations all over which are monitored constantly. A few rats have swum over from neighboring islands but they think they have them controlled.

The biggest problem now is @#%&ing dog owners. Domestic (pet!) dogs seem to have a natural predisposition to hunt and kill Kiwi. Dogs are strictly prohibited from the park but they constantly bust people for bringing the precious little Fido (it's usually a big dog, not a lap dog) into the park because "he's a member of the family". Surfers and boaters are the biggest culprits. Boaters apparently can't go out on their boats without their precious puppies and they land on the beaches and let their dogs run free while they picnic.

Fortunately, the rangers don't mess around. They place poison dog baits around the park, particularly off beachs and parking areas, and if they find your precious family member locked in the car at the parking lot next to the surfing beach, they call animal control who breaks the window, takes your dog and you get a $500 fine and you have to go to court to prevent your dog from being euthanized.

Even though that would seem somewhat discouraging to almost every dog owner, they bust people every week.

Ooops, sorry for the rant. :oops:

Chris

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Re: New Zealand - January 1st Pelagic Trip

Post by VICtort » March 29th, 2013, 11:49 pm

No rant... It is...the rest of the story. I fully support what the Rangers are doing although I find the use of poison bait repugnant, but it may be necessary. I can only think things are less litigious over there...

I have to chuckle at your thinly veiled contempt for irresponsible dog owners . I find it quite literally easier to arrest someone's child or "old lady" than to get the same persons compliance with dog laws. We have never ending problems with surfers and others allowing dogs to run loose on Cal beaches, they are oblivious to what their spoiled dogs do to ground nesting snowy plovers and least terns... and sadly the hand full of responsible dog owners suffer ever increasing restrictions on canine companions as a result.

Very edifying post, impressive birds and a perspective on the NZ Rangers' approach to dog impacts. That is great the courts support them and put wildlife first. I will tell this story to a lot of colleagues.

Vic

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Re: New Zealand - January 1st Pelagic Trip

Post by tai haku » April 1st, 2013, 9:59 am

I can't believe you posted the only two sharks I have left to tick off my shark bucket list from a single pelagic! Not cool man, not cool (I mean obviously it's very cool but it stings a bit :lol: )!

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Re: New Zealand - January 1st Pelagic Trip

Post by chrish » April 2nd, 2013, 5:53 am

tai haku wrote:I can't believe you posted the only two sharks I have left to tick off my shark bucket list from a single pelagic! Not cool man, not cool (I mean obviously it's very cool but it stings a bit :lol: )!
No sympathy from me since I only have 4 positively identified sharks on my lifelist and this was two of them.

Does that mean you've seen the other 468 species of sharks? :shock:

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Re: New Zealand - January 1st Pelagic Trip

Post by tai haku » April 4th, 2013, 10:25 am

chrish wrote:
tai haku wrote: Does that mean you've seen the other 468 species of sharks? :shock:
I wish! At this point (your two excepted), I've got all the ones I want to see enough to do specific trips for - I'm on about 32 species, could probably get a fair few more off a couple more trips but there's so many non-sharks to see as well. :lol:

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Re: New Zealand - January 1st Pelagic Trip

Post by MHollanders » April 5th, 2013, 2:15 pm

Holy crap. Awesome bird post. Pelagics are my favorite.

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