Birding Down Under #4

Love and death on Campbell Island

Birding Down Under - Part 4


As we left Macquarie Island it was hard to feel to disappointed despite having to abort the Sandy Bay expedition. This is a truly phenomenal location and with the success of the pest eradication program things should just get better and better. I am dedicated to returning here someday hopefully on my way to the Ross Sea.

Macquarie Island of course has its own Shag. They weren’t apparent on our tour of the north end of the island but we saw several on the water around the island. In an earlier part of this report I mentioned trying to see all 12 species of native New Zealand shags on this trip - I failed to include
Macquarie Island Shag as it isn’t a New Zealand native. So on recalculation at this point I had seen 8 of 13 possible Shag species.

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Macquarie Island Shag, off Macquarie Island

As the day closed we sailed north from Macquarie Island. A lone “White Nelly” cruised by to end the day - bid us farewell and then flew off into the sunset.

First Image First Image “White Nelly” White morph, Southern Giant Petrel, north of Macquarie Island

Day 8, Nov.8th - at sea en route to Campbell Island

The next day was at sea between Macquarie Island and Campbell Island. We had some nice views
Grey-headed Albatross including an immature bird that ventured close enough to get some decent pictures.

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Grey-headed Albatross, immature, north of Macquarie Island

It was a bit of a slow day. I glimpsed a Grey Petrel which Oliver Nuessen spotted. I had several decent looks at Blue Petrels none of which were photographable. The occasional Mottled, Soft-plumaged and White-headed Petrel were seen along with Black-bellied, Grey-backed and Wilson’s Storm-petrels. Southern Royal, Gibson’s as well as our first Antipodean Albatrosses checked in. Campbell and Shy Albatosses rounded off the mollymawks with the occasional Light-mantled Albatross to liven things up.

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First Image First Image Light-mantled Albatross, immature, north of Macquarie Island

I keenly awaited the next days visit to Campbell Island home to six breeding species of Albatross - only to be out done by the Crozets in the south Indian Ocean with seven.


Day 9, Nov.9th - Campbell Island

We awoke bright and early resting comfortably in Perseverance Harbour a large deep fjord almost cutting the island in half. This island group is the southernmost in New Zealand lying over 600km south of Bluff. “Campbell Island was discovered in 1810 by Captain Frederick Hasselborough of the sealing brig Perseverance, which was owned by shipowner Robert Campbell's Sydney-based company Campbell & Co. (whence the island's name).It became a seal hunting base, and the seal population was almost totally eradicated.”-Wikipedia.

A meteorological station was manned until 1995-since that time the islands have been uninhabited by man. Feral sheep and cattle were eliminated in the 1980s and in 2001 the worlds largest rat eradication project (at that time) began and the islands “rat free” status was confirmed in 2003. The seabirds and other flora and fauna are making a rapid comeback


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Campbell Island, New Zealand

After breakfast we prepared for the day on Campbell Island. The first order of business was a Zodiac cruise along Perseverance Harbour on what appeared to be a remarkably calm morning.
It wasn’t long before we were all ogling our first new bird of the day a male
Campbell Island Teal.

This flightless and mostly nocturnal species was driven to the brink of extinction and was in fact presumed extinct when miraculously rediscovered by Rodney Russ on the tiny Dent Island in 1975. Eleven birds were taken into captivity and a captive breeding program started. A small introduced population was started on Codfish Island and subsequently in 2004 to Campbell Island. In 2011 the species was down listed to Endagered (from Critically Endangered) and was felt to be firmly re-established on Campbell Island.

First Image First Image Campbell Island Teal, male, Perseverance Harbour

We cruised down to Tucker Cove watching the New Zealand Sea Lions and coming across two very young Southern Royal Albatrosses floating on the becalmed water. We thought they might be grounded given the becalmed conditions.

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Southern Royal Albatross, ? juvenile, Perseverance Harbour


Next we spotted several Campbell Island Shags (9/13 possible shags). An immature bird popped up close to the zodiac showing off its distinctive white throat and allowing for a few pictures.

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Campbell Island Shag, immature, Perseverance Harbour

After exploring Tucker Cove we circled back. We suddenly noted a large collection of gulls harassing one of the juvenile
Southern Royal Albatrosses. It wasn’t entirely clear what was happening but we thought thet Albatross might be trapped on the water given the lack of any wind to get air born.

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Southern Royal Albatross, harassed by Kelp and Red-billed Gulls , Perseverance Harbour

It suddenly became clear what was going on when a New Zealand Sea Lion crashed through the surface of the harbour with a large mouthful of white feathers. The Albatross was being attached by the Sea Lion and the Gulls were hanging out waiting for there share.

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Southern Royal Albatross, under attack by NZ Sea Lion, Perseverance Harbour

Well despite being under attack from above and below the Albatross had lots of fight left in it. It managed to catch a first year Kelp Gull by the throat and nearly drowned it before it was once again assaulted by the Sea Lion.

First Image First Image Southern Royal Albatross, attempting to drown a Kelp Gull, Perseverance Harbour

The drama continued right in front of our rather wide eyes. The Sea Lion repeatedly attacked the poor Albatross from underneath repeatedly inflicting ghastly wounds. The gulls added to the chaos squaking and mobbing the victim while a couple of Brown Skua and Northern Giant-Petrels hovered. Horrifically the poor Albatross seemed to be able to withstand virtually any punishment without perishing.

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Southern Royal Albatross, under attack by NZ Sea Lion, Perseverance Harbour

It was and incredible and disturbing vision watching a Kelp Gull helping itself to the albatrosses gizzard while perched on the still very alive birds chest. We all prayed for the birds death which seemed to be dragged out beyond imagination.

First Image Southern Royal Albatross, with Kelp Gull , Perseverance Harbour

Mercifully the albatross finally seemed to have had enough and died. As a final indignity the first year Kelp Gull that had nearly been drowned by the albatross landed on the bird seemingly gloating at its victory. We were all saddened at the destruction of such a fine creature just as it had reached independence. What a cruel fate.

First Image Southern Royal Albatross, with Kelp Gull , Perseverance Harbour

We proceeded to land on Campbell Island for our trek up Beehman Hill to the Southern Royal Albatross nesting area. They nest in scattered pairs on the high tussock grass slopes.

After landing one of the group gets interrupted during a “bio break” by an overly friendly
New Zealand Sea Lion and comes scuttling around the side of a shack followed closely by her new friend. I try with difficulty not to find it to amusing.

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New Zealand Fur Seal, Landing Wharf, Campbell Island

About fifteen of us headed off on the long but gentle climb up Beehmam Hill. A well maintained boardwalk winds its way across the island through the tussock grass slopes.

First Image First Image Boardwalk, Campbell Island

The Campbell Island ssp. of the
New Zealand Pipit was common and one bird seemed to find me quite fascinating and followed me for most of the walk. It was very reminiscent of the Mockingbirds in the Galapagos and one can’t help but feel that the locals are as interested in you as you are of them.

First Image New Zealand Pipit, Campbell Island

Despite being early in the spring it was impossible not to notice the unique and interesting plants. A very tight cushion plant Phyllachne colensoi was blooming and would definitely be the pride of any rock garden.

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Botanical treasures, Campbell Island

First Image Phyllachne colensoi, Campbell Island

We observe a pair of Light-mantled Albatrosses on the cliff edge displaying and constantly vocalizing. One of the pair soars around over our heads and then returns to what we assume is a nesting site.

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Light-mantled Albatrosses, stretching its wings, Campbell Island

We finally get to the higher reaches of the island and we start seeing white specks nestled in the grasses in the distance. A quick peek through the binoculars confirms these as Southern Royal Albatrosses the largest of all the giant seabirds.

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Perseverance Harbour, Campbell Island

First Image Southern Royal Albatross with Perseverance Harbour, Campbell Island

We found a pair of Albatrosses which were clearly a mated pair. Several of us settled in at a comfortable distance (for the albatrosses) and waited for the show. Both birds were relatively young based on the wing patterns. The male has the dark staining on the bill. For the first half hour or so they snuggled and gently groomed each other.

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Southern Royal Albatrosses, mated pair, Campbell Island

Things clearly started to get more intimate.

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Southern Royal Albatrosses, mated pair, Campbell Island

The complex grooming behaviour carried on for at least an hour with the occasional break for a stretch.

First Image First Image Southern Royal Albatrosses, mated pair, Campbell Island

The natural culmination of this ritual was a bit of an “anticlimax” and was much briefer than the lead up. I guess this isn’t to surprising given it had probably been a year since the last such occaision.

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Southern Royal Albatrosses, mated pair copulating, Campbell Island

They seemed quite pleased with themselves afterwards and slowly the small crowd dispersed realizing the show was over.

First Image First Image First Image Southern Royal Albatrosses, mated pair, Campbell Island

I wandered off looking for other interesting happenings. Various male Albatrosses were calling. Most of the birds were singles probably just back to the island and either trying to attract a mate or signalling to an arriving mate their location. Hannu Janes was making some sound recordings of the Albatrosses eerie vocalizations.

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Birderus proffesionalus finlandicus (Hannu Janes -- Birdquest) a rare vagrant on Campbell Island during the austral spring

I noted Mark Rowbottom had a found a comfy spot to relax so I joined him to have lunch and observe his new friend. We sat a few feet from a mature Southern Royal Albatross snoozing quite oblivious to our presence. One one occasion it got up had a wing strech and then settled back in.

First Image First Image First Image Southern Royal Albatross, Campbell Island

We watched an Albatross walk by clearly off on important business. Over the next fifteen minutes it covered about a kilometre and started walking up the side of a very steep hill. It went up the hill that would have been a climb rather than a walk to a person. It arrived at the top spent a few minutes finding a good spot and then launched. It wasn’t long before we saw another bird repeat this exercise. This steep hill obviously served as the albatross launching pad.

First Image Southern Royal Albatross with launching site hill in the upper left corner, Campbell Island

Several albatrosses were soaring around enjoying the breeze that had picked up nicely from the becalmed morning. We relaxed enjoying the amazing site of the albatrosses-kings of flight with a wingspan closing in on 12 feet.

First Image Southern Royal Albatross, King of Flight, Campbell Island

I
t wasn’t long before our albatross awoke and decided it was time for a stroll. He took a rather circuitous route to “Take Off” Hill scaled the hill and hit the breezes. It was remarkable how such a huge bird could cover so much territory on foot especially over the tussocks. They were way quicker than any person hiking the same route.

First Image First Image First Image First Image First Image First Image Southern Royal Albatross, Campbell Island

It was getting late and I still hadn’t made it to the look out at the far side of the Island. I headed up the rest of the hill. Many more single albatrosses were scattered across the hillsides along the route to the top.

First Image Southern Royal Albatross, Campbell Island

As I approached the top I noted that the weather had changed and appeared a bit threatening. As I reached the lookout over Northwest Bay it started to rain. The view was spectacular in the odd light which had a most spectral quality reminding me of HP Lovecrafts’ phantasmagoric descriptions of the southern reaches of our world.

First Image Northwest Bay and approaching storm, Campbell Island

It looked a bit menacing so I started back down the long hill noting that Katya was on her way up to fetch me. It was a slippery walk back down despite the boardwalk being topped with chicken wire for traction.

The brief storm passed by an never amounted to much. The
Campbell Island Teal came out for a look at us on our return to the wharf. To our distress we saw that another Southern Royal Albatross was being tortured in an identical manner to the poor bird this morning. What a day!

First Image Spirit of Enderby, Perseverance Harbour

Back on the ship we all recounted the remarkable adventures of the day. Sort of reminiscent of an episode of “Wild Kingdom”.

Day 10, Nov10/11- At Sea between Campbell Island and Antipodes

It was a beautiful day relatively calm and sunny. This was the day to see Grey Petrels. We saw many birds but they were quite reluctant to approach the ship. This combined with the demise of my 1.4 teleconverter resulted in suboptimal photographs of this species. Although not flashy I really enjoyed my opportunity to study this unique Procellaria.

First Image First Image First Image First Image Grey Petrel, north of Campbell Island

We had a good number of “Wanderers” including a bird which given its plumage I initially felt was an immature bird. However after consulting Steve Howell’s new book
Petrels, Albatrosses and Storm-Petrels of North America I discovered this is in fact a fairly distinct “female-type” Antipodean Albatross. Apparently “the mottled brown chest contrasting sharply with white belly is a pattern not seen in Snowy (or Gibson’s?) wanderer’s.”

First Image First Image Antipodean Albatross, female-type, north of Campbell Island

I was pleased to finally get a picture of what was a definitive male Antipodean Albatross. This bird is near identical to the individual in Figure A9a.6 in Steve’s book showing the classic features of a mostly white body, solidly dark wings, a well defined dark cap and most interestingly a ghosting of a dark chest band.

First Image Antipodean Albatross, male, north of Campbell Island

Mollymawks were common and a very co-operative Black-browed Albatross allowed excellent comparison with the more common Campbell Albatrosses.

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Black -browed Albatross, north of Campbell Island

With a decent look this sibling species pair can be differentiated by eye colour with the Black-browed having a black eye and Campbell’s having a distinct light honey coloured eye with a more extensive “black brow”.

First Image Black -browed Albatross, dark black eye, north of Campbell Island

First Image Campbell Albatross, light honey coloured eye, north of Campbell Island

The underwing pattern of these two species is also unique with the Campbell Albatross having a more extensive jagged border especially proximally. This feature was quite notable even at a significant distance.


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Black -browed Albatross, underside, north of Campbell Island


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Campbell Albatross, underside, north of Campbell Island

Many Campbell Albatrosses were with us the entire day. Several younger birds were seen and photographed along with the many adults.
First Image First Image Campbell Albatross, adults, north of Campbell Island
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Campbell Albatross, subadult - note lightening of eye, north of Campbell Island

A juvenile albatross with an all dark bill with a black tip stopped in very briefly. Differentiating between juvenile Campbell and Black-browed Albatrosses at sea is not possible with our current knowledge.

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Campbell/Black-browed Albatross, juvenile, north of Campbell Island

Several Grey-headed Albatrosses were seen including a juvenile. Shy, Salvin’s and Light-mantled rounded off the mollymalk show.

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Grey-headed Albatross, juvenile, note grey hood with white cheek, north of Campbell Albatross

We had a reasonably good day for prions with a few Antarctic Prions in the morning and mostly Fairy Prions in the afternoon.

I photographed a prion that I assumed was an
Antarctic Prion. On examining the pictures the bill was quite large looking and I wondered if it might be a Broad-billed. However it s head and bill didn’t look bulky enough and the bill seemed bluish rather than pure black.

All the Broad-billeds I had photographed had a darkish line from the gape across the face to the eyeline which gives the birds a “dirty face”. This can be seen on the first pic below. This birds face was clean.

First Image Broad-billed Prion, south of Snares

This bird seems intermediate between Broad-billed and Antarctic so I wondered if it was a Salvin’s Prion. They are known from these waters in winter and spring so it is certainly possible

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Possible Salvin’s Prion, north of Campbell Island

Note the differently stuctured bill of the Antarctic Prion below.

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Antarctic Prion, south of Auckland Island

I feel less than definitive in regards to the identification as a Salvin’s Prion so I have left it as a Prion sp. officially.
Several
Fairy Prions were seen as we moved north.

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Fairy Prion, note snowy white underparts, white supercilium, slim bill with relatively long separation between tubes and max. ungis, north of Campbell Island

Finally in the afternoon I photographed a bird that seemed to meet all the criteria for a Fulmar Prion.
These “criteria” were derived from various references including- Only & Scofield, Albatrosses, Petrels & Shearwaters of the World, Harrison’s, Seabirds: An Identification Guide and Shirihai’s, The Complete Guide to Antarctic Wildlife. The later work is the single best reference for Prion identification and Shirihai is the only author to mention the differences in facial features which actually seemed very helpful in separating these species.

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Fulmar Prion, note bluish wash under tail coverts, thicker stubby bill with minimal separation of tubes and max. ungis, near absent supercilium with plain face, north of Campbell Island

The so called “criteria” I developed was gleaned from the aforementioned references sources. They are subsequently listed in order of usefulness in the field and in photographs in my very limited experience.

Fulmar Prion as compared to Fairy Prion has:
1. a nearly absent white supercilium, indistinct eye-stripe bland facial appearance
2. a shorter, thicker stubbier bill, with little separation between nasal tubes and maxillary ungis.
3. a blue wash on under parts especially in axillary area and undertail coverts
4. brighter blue upper parts
5. a more clearly defined tail band
6. a more distinct wider open M mark on back

Later in the Bounties where theoretically all the small prions are Fulmars I felt there was significant validity to the 1. & 2. & 3. and probably some value in 4. & 5. as supporting features. I had trouble confirming 6. as useful in any way.

I will dig a bit deeper into this with lots of supporting photos in the 5th and final Part of this trip report.
We had a goods selection of seabirds today along with the aforementioned we had
Common Diving Petrel, Southern Royal Albatross, Northern Giant Petrel, Mottled, Soft-plumaged, White-headed, White-chinned and of course the ubiquitous Cape Petrel.

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Cape Petrel, north of Campbell Island

Day 11, Nov 111/11- Antipodes Islands

The weather got significantly rougher overnight. As we approached the Antipodes anxiety about the seas increased. You can’t land on the Antipodes but the target birds at this stop can often be viewed reasonably well from a zodiac.
The main population of Erect Crested Penguins breed here so this is an important stop - we keep our fingers crossed.

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Antipodes Islands, New Zealand- 1909, John Mackay, courtesy Freshwater and Marine Image Bank

The Antipodes are over 800km from the South Island and thus are the remotest of all of New Zealand’s offshore islands. It is the the primary breeding site for the Antipodean Albatross and hosts many other species of seabirds.

First Image First Image Antipodean Windward Islands, steep vertical cliffs typical of Antipodes - New Zealand

We were all thrilled when Rodney announced he was going to proceed with the afternoons planned Zodiac cruise.We prepared for a wet ride.

It wasn’t long before we were loaded up and heading in to the main island. Even from a distance we could make out numbers of
Erect Crested Penguins.

First Image First Image Erect Crested Penguins, Antipodes Island

We moved closer and when we entered the bay it was relatively sheltered and we were able to unleash the camera equipment. Along with the penguins there were lots of New Zealand Fur Seals and Northern Giant Petrels.

First Image First Image Erect Crested Penguins and New Zealand Fur Seal, Antipodes Island
After a cruise by the penguin colony we started searching the vegetated cliffs for parakeets. The Antipodean Parakeet is clearly a distinct species being the largest of New Zealand Parakeets and possessing an all green head. The Reischek’s Parakeet is variably considered a unique species or as a subspecies of the Red-crowned Parakeet.
It wasn’t long before we had a couple of small groups of parakeets and some timely photographic work from one of the group allowed us to ascertain that both Antipodean and Reischek’s Parakeets were involved.
We noted a large number of
New Zealand Fur Seals including lots of young animals and pups.This species has been making major gains in the last decade and no where is this more obvious than in the antipodes and the bounties.
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New Zealand Fur Seal, Antipodes Islands

We returned back towards the penguins and to our delight a bird had come down very close to the shoreline allowing us some much better photographic opportunities.

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Erect Crested Penguins, Antipodes Island

Before we headed back to the ship Rodney spotted a Subantarctic Fur Seal a rare sighting in these waters. Apparently the cream-coloured facial mask and buffy chest along with long facial vibrissae (whiskers) are apparently distinctive of this species.
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Subantarctic Fur Seal, Antipodes Islands

We bid farewell to the friendly Erect Crested Penguins and headed back to the ship. It was a rough and tumble and wet ride back.

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Erect Crested Penguin, Antipodes Island

The Erect Crested Penguin was the 8th species of Penguin since we left Bluff (hadn’t seen Little Blue yet on the official tour) and for several individuals this completed a quest to see all the worlds penguins.
A celebration was in order!

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Returning from Antipodes, Adam Walleyn-skipper, Keith Barnes,
Tropical Birding- ?just finished praying, Stefan Pfietzke - holding on tight

As we waited for the last tour to return a Light-mantled Albatross came in to investigate and as it turned out the was the last individual of the trip.

First Image Light-mantled Albatross, Antipodes islands

The show wasn’t quite over as the sun began to set a very large number of White-chinned Petrels gathered just off shore numbering in the 1000s. It was quite the sight and the Antipodes would seem to be a stronghold for this species.

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White-chinned Petrels returning to Antipodes Islands

The sun was setting as we sailed away from the Antipodes on the way to the next adventure in the famous Bounty Islands.

First Image Sun setting on the Antipodes

End of Part 4 stay tuned for the 5th and final chapter soon