Trip Report

Tolaga Bay Pelagic – 27 April 2003

PARTICIPANTS – Bert Lee (capt), Steve Wood (pilot), Gillian Vaughan, Ian Southey, Brent Stephenson, Ian Saville, Nigel Milius and Tim Barnard.For a time it was touch and go whether we were going to get out at all. A deepening low was moving up the east coast from the south and expected off Tolaga at about midday on Sunday bringing with it some strong winds and ‘sloppy’ seas. The morning broke with clear skies and light winds so at 8.20 we set off down the river and out into the relative calm of Tolaga Bay. Small flocks of red-billed gulls and black-backed gulls sat around the mouth of the estuary as we passed through light surf. Unfortunately the calm seas weren’t to stay with us for long and we soon hit some interesting swells.

We were determined to get out into the zone in which we had previously encountered large numbers of pterodromids in late February but this meant a ‘bumpy’ ride for at least an hour and a half. The journey out was punctuated by stops and pauses as we struggled to spot birds through the waves. Sightings of fluttering shearwater, gannet and black-backed gulls closer to shore gave way to good numbers of GREY-FACED PETRELS as we hit deeper water. We saw a few common diving petrels in singles and after forty minutes we encountered the first of several BLACK-BROWED ALBATROSS with fairy prionsbecoming increasingly frequent.

We continued to head further into deep water, stopping to search through small flocks of feeding birds. We accumulated an impressive list including a single BROWN SKUA and a very confiding GREY PETREL.Grey-faced petrels were becoming a regular sight with the occasional flesh-footed shearwater. The numbers of albatross also began to increase and included CAMPBELL, BLACK-BROWED, BULLER’S andNZ WHITE-CAPPED ALBATROSS as well as several WANDERING ALBATROSS. We recorded a second LONG-TAILED SKUA having previously seen a bird in February in the same general area and as if to keep the skua theme going we were closely inspected by an impressive SOUTH POLAR SKUA.

We eventually reached our destination and were rewarded with some great views of WILSON’S STORM PETREL, a second GREY PETREL and a fleeting visit from a GREY-BACKED STORM PETREL. A fewBLACK PETREL were also present with sooty shearwater, grey-faced petrels, flesh-footed shearwater and our first Cape petrel along with a good mix of mollymawks, wanderers and two Northern giant petrels. By 1330 the wind had begun to strengthen from the south – chopping up the surface of the water. We decided to retreat and head back to the calmer waters of Tolaga Bay and some solid ground.

Provisional list:

Wandering albatross 8 – Gibson’s (Diomeda gibsoni) 4, Antipodean (D.antipodensis) 3, Wanderer (D.exulans) 1

New Zealand white-capped albatross 4

Campbell albatross (D.impavida) 20

Black-browed albatross (D.melanophrys) 2

Buller’s albatross 10

Northern giant petrel 2

Buller’s shearwater 20

Sooty shearwater 15+

Flesh-footed shearwater 10+

Fluttering shearwater 30+

Common diving petrel 10



Cape petrel 3

Fairy prion 50+ (including some small flocks of 5-10)

Grey-faced petrel 50+

WILSON’S STORM PETREL 12+ (all singles)


Australasian gannet 20-30




Black-backed gull

Red-billed gull

White-fronted tern 5

Not one Arctic skua or pterodromid!

Many thanks to Bert, our skipper, for another great trip. To Brent for another demonstration of outstanding determination to keep photographing birds no matter what, to Steve for some impressive manoeuvering under pressure and to Gillian for a practical demonstration of the value of quality wet weather gear.


Campbell albatross (D. impavida)

Fairy prion

Fairy prion

Grey petrel

South Polar skua – you’ll have to believe me on this one!

Grey petrel

Grey petrel

Grey petrel