Monday, 21 February 2011


So today we had an awesome time in Kaikoura...a place I love!  We anchored just off South Bay early this morning, and the sun was streaming in through the port holes.  Up and off to shore in the Xplorer and I led the first birders on an Albatross Encounter trip.  Gary was the skipper, and so I really didn’t need to be there, but of course wanted to!

So we headed out into a lumpy sea, there was no wind but a good 2-3m residual swell.  Before too long we got onto a local fishing boat processing some of its catch and so the birds were coming pretty easy.  To start with we had at least 10 wandering albatross, a single Buller’s albatross (probably the Northern subspecies), Salvin’s and white-capped albatross, and later a single Northern Royal albatross – five species of albatross, and most of them up close.  Once we stopped and put the chum out for them we literally had most of them within arms length.  There were also a lot of Cape petrels squabbling over the food, but keeping out of the way of the bigger birds, and lots of white-chinned petrels, a few Westland petrels, and several species of shearwater.  Everything was wheeling around the boat and with perfect light for photography the shutters onboard were being punished!  A strange white-chinned petrel with small white ‘spectacles’ had Gary and myself excited, but alas not enough for a real spectacled petrel!

We spent about 2 hours with the birds, adjusting the angle of the boat to maximise light direction etc., and with just a light breeze everyone coped with the swell very well.  The birds were still wheeling around the boat, often within touching distance, but we decided to head inshore to check out a few other sites.  So we said good-bye to the albatrosses and headed towards Barney’s Rock.  Close to the rock we could see the dolphin swimming boats with their swimmers in the water, so we avoided them, but got great views of spotted shags, red-billed gulls, and NZ fur seals all over the rocks.  A couple of little blue penguins were also around and we got relatively close to them, and then a small number of dusky dolphins decided to breakaway from the swimmers and come around us.  So we had stunning views of them as well!

We then headed along the coast towards home, but with streams of spotted shags coming past we decided to follow them and found a big feeding flock of them just off the beach.  We spent a little time with them, and then found a flock of the local endemic Hutton’s shearwater feeding with some white-fronted terns.  Perfect!  Excellent photo opportunities of them both, before heading back to the harbour.

I headed back to the Dolphin/Albatross Encounter base and had lunch with Alex, a good mate who works for them, before spending some time photo editing and catching up on some emails, etc.  In looking at my photos I came across a white-chinned petrel that had a piece of nylon fishig line about 4-5cm sticking out of the corner of its mouth.  A sad reminder that this species is one of the worst affected by long-line fishing.  This line looked more like that from a recreational fisher, but obviously indicated an embedded hook within the bird.

I headed out with Gary and another group later this afternoon, with less birds, but picked up an additional Campbell albatross, and had gorgeous light.  So well worth it.  We are now bumping our way north towards Wellington.  The last couple of days since Fiordland have been great, with a nice day on Stewart and Ulva Island and then yesterday in Dunedin.  Spotted shags in their hundreds feeding around the ship alongside the port were the photographic highlights for me.

Wandering albatross in close

One of my favourite images of the day, a Salvin's albatross

'Bespectacled' white-chinned petrel

And a little closer

Northern Royal albatross

White-chinned petrel with nylon fishing line hanging out of the corner of its bill

Buller's albatross landing

Hutton's shearwater in flight

Beautiful wandering albatross portrait
And from earlier - Stewart Island and Dunedin...

Tomtit on Stewart Island

NZ fur seal porpoising beside the ship

Spotted shag beside the ship in Otago Harbour

Doing the duck dive

Duck dive Part II

White-capped albatross in flight


  1. Great shots Brent, the Wandering albatross first shot is great!!
    One question do you change you white balance when photographing white birds at sea?

  2. Hi Tim. No I always shoot RAW and even when processing almost never change white balance. I generally shoot Av mode and under expose depending on the light and what I am shooting at sea.
    Cheer, Brent