Sunday, May 22, 2011

Kaikoura: Albatross Encounters

But, the primary reason that I wanted to be in Kaikoura was to go out on a pelagic birding trip with Albatross Encounters. It is, without a doubt, the best pelagic in the world, if the weather cooperates. This was my third trip with Captain Gary and it was every bit as wonderful as I had hoped.
The continental shelf drops abruptly to the ocean floor about 2 miles offshore here, creating a nutrient rich upwelling of water and huge numbers of oceanic species, like Royal, Shy, and Wandering Albatross, as well as Giant Petrels, Cape Pigeons, Gannets, and more. The birds are so close that you could almost reach out and touch them, although doing so would definitely risk the loss of digits.
We were 9 strong on this outing, more than half of the tour participants came out with me. Betty loved the close-up views of the birds. This Southern Giant Petrel, below, posed for the camera while waiting for a turn at the chum basket.

I think our group must have taken hundreds of photos. Notice the calmness of the ocean on this day.
Our captain told us that this Northern Royal Albatross was a very old bird, possibly 50 years old. Apparently, albatross plumage becomes paler with age. The peach coloring is a remnant of breeding plumage. Upon our return to shore, we were greeted by this shag and gulls. A wonderful trip, not to be missed if you are in New Zealand.

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