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Thursday 12th November - Thursday 3rd December 2009

János Oláh

Anyone interested in seabirds and penguins must do this tour once in their lifetime! This is definitely the ultimate Southern Ocean birding cruise and provides what must surely be one of the most outstanding seabird experiences possible anywhere on our planet. On the 2009 tour we recorded 122 bird species, of which 40 were tubenoses! We visited a succession of famous islands, whose names are but a distant dream for most: the Snares; the Auckland Islands; Macquarie Island; Campbell Island; the Antipodes Islands; the Bounty Islands and the Chatham Islands. Billed by Heritage Expeditions as ‘Birding Down under’, our 18-day voyage aboard the Russian oceanographic research vessel Professor Khromov (renamed Spirit of Enderby by our New Zealand tour operator) took us to a succession of tiny specks of land in the vast Southern Ocean and treated us to an extraordinary array of penguins, albatrosses, petrels, storm-petrels and shags, as well as some of the world’s rarest land birds. Throughout our voyage, there was a wonderful feeling of wilderness, so rare these days on our overcrowded planet. Most of the islands that we visited were uninhabited and we hardly saw another ship in all the time we were at sea. Our identification skills were constantly challenged by no less than 14 forms of albatrosses, 22 species of shearwaters, petrels and prions, and four species of storm-petrels. On land, we were treated to magical encounters with a variety of breeding penguins and albatrosses plus a selection of the rarest land birds in the World. The almost endless highlights of the tour included a superb trio of shorebirds: the rodent-like Subantarctic Snipe on Enderby Island; the exceedingly rare Chatham Island Oystercatchers and the Shore Plovers in the Chatham Islands; a magical time spent with the Royal Penguins and King Penguins on Macquarie Island; a rare Magenta Petrel on a sunny morning off the Chatham Islands; Light-mantled Sooty Albatrosses in their beautiful display flight over a cliff face on Enderby Island; face-to-face contact with Southern Royal Albatrosses on the nest both at Enderby Island and on Campbell Island; encounters with flightless Auckland Island and Campbell Island Teals, which are surely the rarest ducks on our planet; large numbers of delightful Snares Crested and Erect-crested Penguins at their breeding colonies; a total of six species of restricted range shags; huge numbers of Salvin’s and Chatham Albatrosses squabbling for food off the stern of the ship; great views of the single island endemic Antipodean Island Parakeet and perhaps a World record total of 32 tubenoses in a single day! Mammalian highlights included some very fine New Zealand Sea-Lions in the Auckland Islands and on Campbell Island, two sightings of Subantarctic Sea-Lion and a selection of cetaceans including Great Sperm Whales, several schools of Long-finned Pilot Whales and a small pod of Killer Whales. The Southern Ocean lived up to its awesome reputation for violent storms and gave us a very real taste of the ‘roaring forties’ and ‘furious fifties’ during our first two weeks at sea. The weather was rather unseasonal (as we can expect anywhere in the world nowadays). It was the coldest spring for a long time on mainland New Zealand and we certainly felt this on our cruise too. We also encountered several icebergs, which are not normally seen on this voyage at all.