Sub-Antarctic Islands of New Zealand & Australia (part 3)

The Sub-Antarctic Islands of Australia & New Zealand
22 November to 9 December 2001
A personal account by John Brodie-Good

1 December
Another day at sea, a change in the weather though, not the big swells or winds we feared but unusual conditions for this part of the world, fog and mist. Unfortunately  three days of it in the end. Visibility varied the whole time, often only a few hundred yards sometimes, at others about a mile or so. Possibly the quietest day of the trip, still with plenty of seabirds, no new species but the return of Salvin’s Albatrosses and Fairy Prions, both species seen on the first two days of the trip.

Fig. 12. Ok, where are these islands then? Anxious passanges stare into the gloom. Copyright of Angus Wilson© 2002.

2 December
Another group of islands, this time the Antipodes, but the weather had worsened. Strong north-west winds meant a swell and we spent hours bobbing about  offshore, the island appearing and disappearing  in the mist and low cloud. It did calm a bit in the afternoon, just enough to put two naiads in the water to cruise close in. The brave were rewarded with super views of our next endemic penguin, the Erect-crested Penguin, which breed in these lonely cliffs, and which had been seen in the water around the ship. Antipodean Wandering Albatrosses flew around, whilst the parakeets on the island proved very difficult to get to grips with in the conditions.

Fig. 13. The intimidating mass of the main Antipodes Island looms out of the mist. Muffled by the ominous sound of waves pounding against rock, the braying of thousands of Erect-crested Penguins on ledges at the base of the cliffs wafts out to the ship. Endemic Antipodean Albatrosses sweep past the ship and circling on stiff wings, rise up into the gloom to locate their nests on the grassy top of the island. Copyright of Angus Wilson© 2002.

Fig. 14. With a stiff swell running, it takes some courage to clamber down a ladder and into a bouncing Niad. Today there was less laughing and joking from those who turned their tags! Copyright of Angus Wilson© 2002.

Feeling a little disappointed, I joined Mark Marshall outside on deck as we sailed away in the now fading light. Everyone else was inside, getting ready for Dick’s round of drinks, to celebrate his last species of penguin. Mark drew my attention to a bird coming into towards the bows. As I raised my bins and focussed on the bird that feeling in the pit of my stomach happened when you know something big is about to happen. We were both watching a legendary Magenta Petrel, the region’s and one of the world’s rarest seabirds. Having had just enough views to i.d. the bird, it crossed in front of the bows, we raced around to the port side but it had gone into the murk. Whilst ecstatic with our bird, we were not looking forward to telling the others inside the ship [comment from AW - 'You can bet on that!'].

3 December
The wind had dropped but the visability if anything was worse. Poor old Angus had had a nightmare involving a Magenta Parakeet*! Rodney announced on the P.A. system that we were in fact in the middle of the Bounty Islands, but you could’nt  see them!  We drifted for a while,  the bridge  team keeping a close watch on the radar, but it was useless. Luckily we did see the only endemic from the ship, Bounty Island Shag. By late morning the decision was made, head north again towards our final island group, The Chathams.  Lots more seabirds for the rest of the day, Fulmar Prions added themselves to our still growing  list and later in the afternoon a bird many  of us had been waiting for, White-faced Storm Petrel. They did not disappoint, delightful little birds, with a fairly typical storm petrel type flight some of the time, then they seem to have little manic spells when they go all over the place  at high speed. A welcome sight  for the rest of the trip. [* now extinct]

4 December
At last the fog and mist seemed to be lifting, as we headed on north, through waters historically rich in cetaceans.  Expectations were high. But by late afternoon, they had gone, we spent some hours cruising over some underwater canyon edges but simply nothing, not even a dolphin. A large Ocean Sunfish early afternoon was it. The birds however were improving again.  Not only numbers were building but three  species joined the trip list. The first was a dark phase Kermadec Petrel, flying ahead of the ship for a few minutes amongst  the many Grey-faced. Late afternoon and the Chathams appeared ahead of us, with Pyramid Rock the closest point. Our 14th species of albatross’s entire  world  population breed on that single rock, the handsome Chatham Island Albatross. They were joined offshore by their cousins, Pacific Albatross.

Fig. 15. The extraordinary Pyramid Rock, the sole breeding site for the Chatham Albatross. The total world population is probably no more than 40,000 individuals with some 5,500 breeding in any one year.

We circumnavigated the rock twice, noticing on the first circuit, with some surprise, three people ashore halfway up the rock. Rodney  tried the radio and was soon talking to them, they  were ashore to census the alberts [albatrosses]. Eyebrows were raised, scopes with tripods came out as the news came down from the bridge that there was one pair of Indian Yellow-nosed Albatrosses breeding, the first record for New Zealand.  A brave if futile attempt to see them by certain members of our group! Having seen our first White-faced Storm Petrels yesterday, they were everywhere today, hundreds of them. We headed on into the island group proper, and our anchorage for the night, off South-east Island. The breeding site of Chatham Island Petrel, the keen stayed on deck until after dark to see if we could by chance see one returning to its burrow, another imaginative attempt!  The naiad which left for the island after dark caused intrigue, what were Rodney’s sons doing in their scuba gear?

Fig. 16. Readily identified by the creamy-yellow bill and solid blue-gray hood, Chatham Albatrosses migrate across the south Pacific to feed in the Humbolt Current of South America.

Next: Chapter 4 - G'day Bruce! Click to read the final installement of the trip.

Click here for the Trip List

Page layout and photos copyright of Angus Wilson© 2002 All rights reserved.
Text copyright of John Brodie-Good© 2002 All rights reserved.
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