Trip Report

Tolaga Bay Pelagic – 2 May 2004

Participants: Sav Saville, Brent Stephenson, Ian Southey, Tim Barnard, Steve Wood, John and Dorothy Geale, and Bert Lee (Skipper).

Weather: Mod 10-15 knot NW wind, with sloppy 2-3m swell and some chop. This steadily eased by midday to 1.5m, but still very sloppy. This all made for a rather uncomfortable trip, with 4 of the participants being sea-sick (and yes I was one of them!).

We left the Tolaga Bay beach at 0820 and headed straight out. On the way out we saw fluttering and Buller’s shearwaters, and a bit further the out the first grey-faced petrels were seen. Not long after that several common diving-petrels and sooty and flesh-footed shearwaters were seen. We stopped and anchored about 15 kilometres offshore, in 45m of water, at 0916 hours. We drifted slowly along a small drop-off into 60-70m water, with the anchor down. Chum soon brought in moderate numbers of grey-faced petrels, and sooty and flesh-footed shears, with the occasional Buller’s shear coming in for a closer look. At about 0940 the first of the albatrosses arrived – an immature Campbell/black-browed. Not long after an adult Campbell alb arrived, and later we had at least two adult Campbell albs and twoimmature BB/Campbell albs at the boat. Six swallows, presumably welcome swallows flew past the boat heading towards land, having come from the east, a strange sight (seen at S38°23’33.06″ E178°33’43.56″, approximately 15 km offshore).

We decided to head to another spot at 1105 hours, and moved another 11 km out into deeper water, and then headed north for 7.5 km. On the way at 1159 we got good views of an immature wandering albatross and a Buller’s albatross made a brief appearance. We dropped anchor at 1212 hours in roughly 80m of water. An unexpected brown skua put in an appearance, harassing a sooty shearwater, and forcing it underwater time and time again for several minutes. The skua then flew right over the boat giving excellent photographic opportunities and great views. It disappeared, and then probably the same bird came back almost an hour later. During the time that we sat and chummed sooty, flesh-footed and Buller’s shearwaters were around the boat in small numbers, as were grey-faced petrels. A Buller’s albatross (possibly two) put in an appearance, and there were three sightings of Wilson’s storm-petrels, possibly different individuals. Good views of several of these allowed us to appreciate significant differences in the flight progression between these and New Zealand storm-petrels. NZSP has a far more swiftlet like, more direct flight, with a whippier wing action.

At least three small Bronze Whaler sharks came into the boat to feed on the chum and created a bit of excitement during the sometimes birdless intervals. Similarly jumping yellow-finned tuna also created a stir – some of which were at least 30-40 kgs, and were clearing the water by almost a metre.

We lifted anchor at 1442 and headed back towards land. As we sped in towards land, at 1447 Bert suddenly called a storm-petrel and glimpses were caught of a very pale bird disappearing off to the port side. We managed to find the bird sitting on the water and as we drew closer, suddenly realised it was a GREY PHALAROPE! The birds’ position when first encountered was S38°19’45.65″ E178°40’48.27″. We couldn’t believe our luck, after a fairly quiet day, to have ‘bumped’ into a hugely rare bird (perhaps the 9th accepted – it’s a formality honest – for NZ). We got to about 60m away when the bird flew off, but we found it again, and then when it flew next it disappeared. Steve Wood, Ian Southey and I managed to get a few photos, so acceptance of the record should be relatively easy. The bird was showing colour in much of the bill, and some breeding plumage was starting to show through. Still not able to believe our luck, we headed for shore, seeing several fluttering shearwater, and arrived back at the boat ramp at 1558. A reef heron was seen up the river.

Birds seen

Buller’s shearwater c. 15
Fluttering shearwater c.15
Sooty shearwater c. 20
Flesh-footed shearwater c. 30
Common diving-petrel c. 15
Grey-faced petrel c.50
Wilson’s storm-petrel c. 3
Fairy prion 2
Campbell albatross 2
Black-browed/Campbell albatross 2+ imm
Buller’s albatross 1-2
Wandering albatross 1 imm
Brown skua 1
White-fronted tern
Australasian gannet
Black-backed gull
Reef heron 1

Grey phalarope from behind

Grey phalarope side profile, note the diagnostic yellow base to the stout bill

Grey phalarope flying away

Grey phalarope flying, side profile

Brown skua