Westport Pelagic - Late July 2022 - Writeup summary

This trip to the pelagic zone off Westport and Cape Foulwind was the first of its kind ever for birding - a brief previous trip in 2002 (?) was much smaller scale and resulted in few birds seen. The boat used was a fishing vessel approximately 12 metres long and 4-5 metres wide, with an adequate open platform for viewing seabirds (and fishing, usually). There was a good group of eager bird-watchers, about 10-12. The boat crew and skipper were really nice guys and ensured everything ran smoothly, so the biggest thanks to them, along with Steve Wood who organized the trip!

The plan was to travel 12 nautical miles off the coast of the West Coast - this was the legal limit for the vessel, likely due to the perimeter of New Zealand waters. From here, it was unknown which birds might be spotted. Anything was game. Which is an exciting but risky prospect. We could see some very rare birds, or nothing at all. Luckily the trip wasn't overly expensive so either way it would be an awesome day out. Some were speculating on the chances of seeing very rare seabirds, such as the Amsterdam albatross (Diomedea amsterdamensis), seen off the coast of Tasmania previously. The elusive Grey-headed albatross (Thalassarche chrysostoma) was another possibility. These are deep-sea specialists however, and the Tasman sea off the coasts of Tasmania was much deeper than those off Westport (we got to waters approximately 150 metres deep; comparatively 12 NM off East coast of Tasmania can be ~2200m deep).


The route taken, recorded by my GPS.

There were two separate trips for 23/07 and 24/07 - I was only on the 23rd. We set out early, leaving Westport harbor at 7:30am. Conditions were apparently good, weather was relatively dry, warm and calm. The sea however, wasn't. It could have been much worse, but it did roll quite considerably - which made sea sickness an annoyance to overcome for myself, and so I was unwell for a large portion of the trip. This didn't stop me from getting the very most of the trip regardless of the circumstances. We spent around 4 hours travelling towards the limit area, spent a few hours out there, and then headed back, arriving where we started at 4:30pm. I was personally impressed by the birds, as I rarely go out on pelagics, but other birders were hoping for some more diversity. Notably, Diomedea (Royal) albatrosses were completely absent, apart from a possible sighting in the distance. Giant Petrels (Macronetes) were also absent. White-capped albatross (Thalassarche steadi) were rather common, along with Fluttering shearwater (Puffinus gavia), and then Campbell albatross (Thalassarche impavida) and Cape petrels (Daption capense). The real highlight was the abundance of Fairy prions (Pachyptila turtur), a bird virtually never seen from a coast apart from a dead carcass. Hundreds of them flew nearby, and many "danced" around the boat, giving great opportunities for up-close viewing and photography. There was even a leucistic individual, a relatively rare condition seen in birds which give a partially or fully white coloration. Westland petrels were also frequently seen, which only nest on the nearby Paparoa ranges - they were absolutely beautiful.

Being on the blurred border between oceanic species, and coastal-mainland species, we also frequently saw Red-billed gulls (Chroicocephalus novaehollandiae scopulinus), Black-backed gulls (Larus dominicanus), White-fronted terns (Sterna striata), and towards the end Australasian gannets (Morus serrator). A highlight was spotting a whale spouting on the ride back, very possibly a Blue (Balaenoptera musculus) or Sei whale (B. borealis), regardless very cool.


Fluttering shearwater in the early morning, with Cape Foulwind in the background.


Campbell albatross with White-capped albatross in the background.

All in all this trip made for a greater weekend of South Island birding. For the future of West Coast bird pelagics it may be more worthwhile to start from a location with better access to deeper water. Jackson's Bay in South Westland could be a viable option, as depths of approximately 1000-2000m could be reached potentially. The limiting factors however could be the inaccessibility of the area, and the possible lack of boats. Deep oceanic waters may not always mean higher seabird diversity, as my knowledge is limited here. But it could work.

Posted on Αύγουστος 19, 2022 0145 ΠΜ by noahfenwick noahfenwick

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Leucistic

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Thalassarche impavida

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Large flock in distance

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Glassy eye. Thoughts?

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West Coast, NZ (Google, OSM)

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Three Steeples - Gull colony

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Τι

Γαλάζια Φάλαινα (Balaenoptera musculus)

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Spotted from a distance
Spout went straight up.
Photo taken by Bradley Shields.

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