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Albatross Central: Kaikoura

Albatross Central: Kaikoura

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After a lively crossing of the Cook Strait on the Interislander Ferry Service we headed south along the coastal highway towards our destination of Kaikoura, it was a scenic trip and as we approached the town we could see roaring seas and white spume everywhere. We pulled into a layby and to enjoy the cavalcade of seabirds battling the storm.

Over the coming days we were to fall in love with this place. So taken with it were we that both wanted to live there. We were also lucky to join two of the best natural history tour companies we have ever experienced. Firstly Whale Watch Kiakoura through which we had memorable encounters with the local Sperm Whales and secondly the incomparable Albatross Encounter and its twin organisation Dolphin Encounter.

Seabirds have always had a special pull with me and now I was about to enjoy one of the best week's of my life surrounded by them in one of the world's superstar locations, shearwaters, petrels, prions and albatrosses; it doesn't get better than this! Like a child in a sweetshop, fuelled with Kaikoura Kracker to quell my propensity for seasickness, we set out into slightly choppy sea to the edge of the abyss. Thankfully it is just a short distance offshore at Kaikoura, one of the principle reasons it is so brilliant for seabirds, and before long the famous 'chumming' operation of Albatross Encounter had commenced. Barely had the bait touched the water than the first of the Northern Giant Petrels had approached with a menacing air and was quickly followed by a plethora of other charismatic species.

The photographic opportunities come thick and fast as the birds wing in. At least 5 species of albatross put in regular appearances by the boat, often all five at the same time. The largest were the mighty Southern Royal Albatross and their marginally smaller sibling species Northern Royal Albatross. They were significantly outnumbered by 'Gibsons' Wandering Albatross, garrulous and feisty in the extreme, this latter species tended to dominate the others. The small albatrosses, commonly referred to as Mollymawks, were represented on this occasion by two species from the 'Shy' albatross group, namely White-capped Albatross and elegant Salvin's Albatross.

Alongside these giants of the bird world were large numbers of Westland and White-chinned Petrels, Fairy Prions and smaller numbers of Cape and Cook's Petrel, Buller's and Sooty Shearwater. In total I made 3 trips with Albatross Encounter and all of them were absolutely superb and an absolute must for any birdwatcher visiting South Island. On these trips you really do get 'eye to eye' with an Albatross.

All the images in this blog are copyright Jeff Clarke 2013 (unless otherwise stated)
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