The next few blog entries will be on the Western Pacific Odyssey trip which I have only just recently returned from. The WPO is a trip which I'd been long wanting to be apart of, and was first brought to my attention by John Cooper way back in 2007(?). John kindly supplied me a CD of images back then which I very much enjoyed trawling through, and with seabirds already in the forefront of my birding, the opportunity to go this year with Edward Paxton was too much of an opportunity to ignore.
Monday 20 March
I had overnighted in Auckland, relatively close to the harbour front and not too much of a walk from the Auckland Sky Tower. After tentatively walking around the outer rim of the Auckland Sky Tower during the morning (under controlled circumstances might I add), it was then a case of chilling for a few hours, before grabbing a taxi to the Grand Millennium Hotel, where expedition staff from Heritage (Matt Jones and Frank Lambert) were ready to greet me. I also met up with Ed, as well as the other Birdquest gang.
We were soon coached down to the harbour and stepped onto our home for the next month, the beautiful Heritage Adventurer. The previous vessel used for this specific trip - the Spirit of Enderby - is no longer available and is therefore why we were using this grander vessel, which worked in some sense, but it was thought the size/noise of the vessel meant the seabirds' proximities to the boat never meant they were super close.
The rest of the afternoon was spent doing all the usual practicalities and meeting our expedition leader, Chris Collins, and the entire crew etc.
Tuesday 21 March
As is typical for the first morning, excitement ensured an early awakening and light soon gave way to Great Barrier Island, our first landing of the trip. Our first Pterodroma - a Cook's Petrel - overflew us as we steamed into the bay. Another Cook's Petrel was even found on deck, so we all got some excellent views of the bird in the hand before releasing it.
The walk around the conservation area of Great Barrier was plenty enough time to see all of the birds, but as I had spent some time in NZ before the trip, there was only one species I was after here, this being the New Zealand Kaka. As this was the case, after landing, I went off on my own (the usual theme for me and this continued throughout the trip... nothing worse than being in a big group) and soon found some Kaka. It was then a case of slowly walking the forest trail which looped back down to the landing area. Overall a decent selection of birds were found: Tui, Buff-banded Rail, Grey Geregone, Brown Teal, a Sacred Kingfisher and New Zealand Pigeons.
After this and lunch, it was then a case of being out on deck as we sailed through the Harauki Gulf. This gave way to some excellent seawatching, and as the evening progressed, we chucked out an oil slick and found numerous New Zealand Storm Petrels! Totals:
Cook's Petrel - ca. 25
Common Diving Petrel - 10
Buller's Shearwater - 35
Flesh-footed Shearwater - 10
Fluttering Shearwater - 3
White-faced Storm Petrel - 1
Black Petrel - 25
Grey Noddy - 15
Grey-faced Petrel - 15
Fairy Prion - 3
White-capped Albatross - 3
White-necked Petrel - 5
New Zealand Storm Petrel - 15
Providence Petrel - 1
Black-winged Petrel - 1
|New Zealand Kaka|
|New Zealand Fantail|
|New Zealand Storm Petrel|
|New Zealand Storm Petrel|
Wednesday 22 March
Another fine morning and we arrived at the Bay of Islands, situated on the north-eastern tip of New Zealand. The seas here were beautifully calm and clear, giving way to coral reefs and pristine sandy beaches.
We left the vessel and onto a smaller inter-island ferry, bound for the island of Urupukapuka. As we arrived at the jetty, a party of New Zealand Plovers were ready to greet us. I then walked off on my own as I stayed behind to photograph the plovers, meaning the group had left me, which was fine for me. I walked the south-western edge of the island first, finding most of the endemics already seen in NZ, but a Red-crowned Parakeet was new for me. I then found a beach and decided to go for a swim as it was desolate of people, in fact, I hardly saw anyone for a couple of hours.
Afterwards, I walked towards the centre of the island and down a trail to a beach where I thought I would be able to coast back to the jetty. With only 20-minutes until we had to depart, I found myself unable to coast, and in a panicked state, had to run back up the hill and over the island and back to the boat... somehow I arrived with a minute to spare, and even had time to look at a Stingray below the jetty. This mishap was worth it though, as a Tomtit, several North Island Saddlebacks and Whiteheads were seen, making this a productive visit. The views were also incredible from the high points.
The afternoon was spent sailing north and away from New Zealand, but the seabirding was strangely quieter than imagined, with pretty much the same stuff seen as the day before, although a Bottlenose Dolphin became friendly with the vessel for a short time.
|New Zealand Plovers|
|views from Urupukapuka Island|
Thursday 23 March
Today was a day at sea as we sailed NNW towards Norfolk Island. The day started well with a stunning Gibson's Wandering Albatross hanging at the back of the boat for a few minutes - it still amazes me how big these are!! It was then a case of scanning the seas for most of the day. Probably the highlight for me here were the White-necked Petrels. As the day progressed, we were starting to lose the Cook's Petrels, which were to be replaced by another smart Pterodroma... the Black-winged Petrels, which breed on Norfolk.
|One of many sunrise photos|