New Zealand’s North Island’s Sea Birds

Many of you know that I have had the very good fortune to be a travel guide for nature trips. It is a job that I should pay to do. I get to travel, visit, and learn about things and places that most of us can only dream of. About fifty trips to Africa and nearly the same number to South America and the occasional addition of visits to Sumatra or India or Iceland have peppered by life. Australia and New Zealand have become second homes.

Please do not copy or use the photographs without getting permission – thank you.

There is a blog that was posted in September of 2013 that shows a good bit of the sea bird and oceanic life of the Hauraki Gulf north of Auckland. This page reiterates that and perhaps adds a bit.

..The ocean waters that surround the islands of New Zealand are extremely rich in sea birds. There are petrels, storm-petrels, shearwaters, albatrosses, diving-petrels, as well as gulls and terns. It is a grand contrast to the rather European species that dominate much of the land surface of the country.

The images in this page merely add to those previously posted and I hope offer a greater sense of the diversity that is present on the waters and that was present throughout the island chain

Our charter boat had six birders on it. The captain was most accommodating and provided plenty of enticing chum to attract the sea birds. We were out pretty much all day and only missed one species (New Zealand Storm-Petrel) which had left the area only a week or so before we went out. It is a very rare bird that only recently has been rediscovered (in about 2003) after last being reported in the 1850s. Anyway, the boat was good, the captain knowledgable, the water smooth, the day warm, and all other birds abundant.
The picture is blurry but it helps broaden the feel of the outing. We had huge and noisy (yes really) schools of fish, sharks, dolphins, and birds.
Fluttering Shearwaters were abundant in several locations including the gulf north of Auckland. In one instance we took a hand-raised youngster out to release. It was surprising how small the bird was when in the hand. Seeing them in flight gives a very different feeling as to their size and weight.

 

This is a Fluttering Shearwater resting on the surface.

 

One of the interesting bird notes in New Zealand is that the Maori (MOW-ree as in WOW-ree) are still allowed to harvest shearwater young (Sooty Shearwaters) from a few southern islands. (The Canadian Maritime residents of Newfoundland have a similar allowance for murres in Canada.) The  Maori population is largest in the warmer North Island so the birds that are caught on small islands off South Island are soaked and packed in brine and are mostly sold and eaten on North Island. They are still called by the old whaler and sealer name of Muttonbird.
The gannet of the Southern Hemisphere is called the Australasian Gannet and is found in all coastal New Zealand waters. Like all gannet populations the nesting locations are most often on islands, used year after year, and crowded during nesting season. The young will return to nest at about age 5 (3-7 years).
Here a half dozen adult Australasian Gannets sit with two nearly full-sized youngsters. It will be about five years before the young completely lose the brown feathers and have full bright adult plumage. The transition is slow but steady through those five years. The small terns in the foreground are Gray Ternlets or Noddies.
There are several types of kiwi in New Zealand; mainly on North Island. The map above shows where they are established and breeding. However the DOC (Department of Conservation) has an array of small islands that have been cleared of weasels and cats and are suited for kiwi populations. Eggs are taken and incubated; the young raised to a substantial size on these predator-free islands before being released onto larger islands.
There are “friends” groups that work with DOC in raising kiwis and preparing islands for their release. Ground-nesting birds are threatened by mammal predators – the islands had no mammals (excepting a couple tiny bats) prior to the arrival of humans about 750 years ago. At that time everything from the giant moas to kiwis to the ground-nesting falcon were directly impacted by cats, dogs, pigs, and other predators while deer, sheep, and goats altered vegetative habitat. 
This kiwi in the photo above is a Southern Tokoeka found way down south on Stewart Island. But as I have never been able to stay on any of the northern islands overnight to get a glimpse of the kiwi found in the more equatorial areas I have none of the other species documented. As I suggest, kiwis are nocturnal. The photo is blurry as it was taken the middle of the night in a howling wind. The bird is exploring the wrack line and beach grass on a remote beach. 
The White-fronted Tern is the most common of New Zealand’s terns and is probably easier to find and see than my experience would have you believe. They are a smallish to medium-sized tern that can often be seen in bays and harbors. They wander down to Antarctic islands but can be seen in New Zealand waters year-round.
Resident shorebirds are not as common in the Southern Hemisphere as in the northern. Oystercatchers, however, are found on all continents and the New Zealand coast hosts two species; Pied and Variable. The Pied is black and white with some white in front of the folded wing. The Variable is either all black or black and white with no white in front of the folded wing. So, the all black ones are the black morph of the Variable. The very top left bird may be a Variable as it seems to have little or no white in front of the wing. The other black and white birds seem to have a white patch up the body in front of the wing and thus may be Pied Oystercatchers. Whew.
And, oh yes, chumming with fish bits and fish oil attracts birds and other marine predators. Compared to a shearwater this is a real marine predator. It is most likely a Mako Shark.

 

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