SUBANTARCTIC ISLANDS OF NEW ZEALAND & AUSTRALIA BIRDING TOUR: DETAILED ITINERARY
Subantarctic Islands of New Zealand & Australia: Day 1 Our tour begins this evening at our hotel in Invercargill (Queenstown area) at the southern tip of South Island, where we will stay overnight.
Subantarctic Islands of New Zealand & Australia: Day 2 After breakfast we will transfer to our ship which will be berthed at the nearby Port of Bluff. We will spend the next 15 nights aboard. After boarding we will make ready for departure, setting a course for Snares Island to the south of New Zealand proper. This first leg of our journey will provide our first opportunity to see pelagic species. Watch out for Gibson’s (split from Wandering), Southern Royal, White-capped (or Shy) and Salvin’s (split from White-capped) Albatrosses, and Sooty Shearwaters – there are an estimated 3-4 million of the latter nesting on Snares Island! In addition, Mottled Petrel, Broad-billed Prion and Common Diving Petrel should all feature on the list for the first time today.
Subantarctic Islands of New Zealand & Australia: Day 3 Snares Island is the first of the subantarctic islands that we will be visiting. It is an amazing place (half as many seabirds nest on this one small island as there are seabirds nesting in the entire British Isles!). We will make landfall in the early morning, marvelling at the incredible numbers of Sooty Shearwaters and Common Diving Petrels sweeping past as they head out to sea after leaving their nesting burrows ashore. Landings are not permitted, so we will zodiac cruise the sheltered eastern side. We should see all of the birds that are found on the island. Snares (Crested) Penguins are plentiful around the coast, as are Cape Petrels. Southern Buller’s (or Buller’s) Albatross nest here late in the season and may already be in the vicinity. Cruising in the sheltered bays we will see the endemic races of the Tomtit and the Fernbird (the former is an unusual, all-black form and may represent a distinct species), while Red-billed Gulls and Antarctic Terns will be feeding around the coastline. Later we will sail for the Auckland Islands.
Subantarctic Islands of New Zealand & Australia: Day 4 As dawn breaks we will be at Enderby Island in the Aucklands group, a great island to bird. We will make a landing at Sandy Bay, the main breeding ground for the New Zealand (or Hooker’s) Sealion. As well as an impressive number of sealions we should also see Yellow-eyed Penguin, Southern Royal and Light-mantled (Sooty) Albatrosses, Northern Giant Petrel, the endemic Auckland Shag, the flightless Auckland Teal (split from Brown Teal) and the Auckland Islands races of Double-banded Plover and Tomtit. We will spend some time searching for the delightful little Subantarctic Snipe, another subantarctic islands endemic, which we should find creeping through the rich herbage. Other, more widespread birds include Brown (or Subantarctic) Skua, Red-billed Gull, Red-crowned Parakeet, Bellbird and Australasian (or New Zealand) Pipit, plus introduced Song Thrush, Common Blackbird, Common Starling, Lesser Redpoll and European Goldfinch. Sometimes the dashing New Zealand Falcon makes an appearance. On Derrycastle Reef there is a good chance to see Bar-tailed Godwit, Ruddy Turnstone and perhaps other migratory waders.
Providing there is time, after we arrive at Carnley Harbour, in the south of the main Auckland Islands, there will be an opportunity for the more energetic to climb up to the White-capped Albatross colony at Southwest Cape. The scenery here is dramatic, with the wave-lashed cliffs far below and wonderful views over the southern Aucklands, while, all around one, large numbers of White-capped Albatrosses sit on their nests, display to their mates, preen each other or sail past on those long, long wings. Gibson’s Albatrosses nest amongst the grassy tussocks on the high plateau above the White-capped Albatross colony. We should get marvellous views of these huge birds as they will be nesting at this time. We may also see one of the New Zealand Falcons that frequent the vicinity. Those electing to remain on board will visit one of a number of historic sites in the area.
Subantarctic Islands of New Zealand & Australia: Day 5 As we continue towards Macquarie Island, surely one of the most inaccessible birding Meccas in the world, the excitement will be palpable. We will be at sea all day, providing us with yet another wonderful opportunity to see pelagics, including a fantastic selection of albatrosses which will likely include our first Wandering (or Snowy), Grey-headed and Campbell (split from Black-browed), as well as White-chinned and White-headed Petrels, and Grey-backed and Black-bellied Storm Petrels.
Subantarctic Islands of New Zealand & Australia: Days 6-7 We will arrive at far-flung Macquarie Island, the most southerly of the subantarctic islands and a territory of Australia, in the late morning or early afternoon. We plan to land at both the ANARE base and at Sandy Bay. We will also zodiac cruise in Lusitania Bay. Macquarie is, of course, the only place in the world where one can observe the Royal Penguin and there is certainly no shortage of these. We will visit a large breeding colony at Sandy Bay, below which thousands of these cute creatures loaf on a sandy beach. Some individuals are so inquisitive that if you sit down they will wander over and tentatively peck at your rubber boots! The handsome King Penguin is also found in large numbers, while two other penguin species breed on Macquarie Island, the Gentoo and the Rockhopper. In addition, we will also see the endemic Macquarie Island Shag. Common Starlings eke out a meagre existence in this harsh place at the veritable ends of the earth, while Lesser Redpolls are of particular interesting to visiting Aussie birders, this being their only Australian locale!
We will continue our exploration of Macquarie Island on the second day and then depart for Campbell Island.
Subantarctic Islands of New Zealand & Australia: Day 8 At sea today we will see a similar range of seabird species to those we saw en route from the Auckland Islands to Macquarie Island, perhaps with the addition of Southern (or Antarctic) Fulmar, Blue Petrel and, with luck, Grey Petrel.
Subantarctic Islands of New Zealand & Australia: Day 9 Campbell Island is a great spot. Sadly rats got ashore shortly after the island was discovered and wrought havoc with many of the smaller nesting petrels and prions. The rates have recently been eradicated, after a major campaign, but it will be some time before seabird populations recover. Nevertheless, there is still some great birding and an opportunity to get some good photographs, especially of Southern Royal Albatross. We will be able to sit quite close to these huge but gentle seabirds and we may well see their elaborate bill-clattering courtship ritual.
We will spend a whole day ashore in order to see these and other breeding species such as Southern Rockhopper Penguin, the beautiful, gentle-looking Light-mantled (Sooty) Albatross, Northern Giant Petrel, the endemic Campbell Shag, Brown (or Subantarctic) Skua, Red-billed and Kelp Gulls, and Antarctic Tern. In addition, thanks to conservation efforts, the population of the rediscovered Campbell Teal has now increased to over 200 individuals and we have a very good chance of seeing this remarkable species that has ‘returned from the brink’. Resident passerines include the inevitable introductions: Dunnock, Common Blackbird and Lesser Redpoll.
The island is famous for its ‘megaherbs’, unique subantarctic flowering plants that will just be coming into bloom at the time of our visit. Campbell Island scenery is impressive with great lowering headlands, mile after mile of sheer cliffs, sweeping bays and pinnacle-shaped offshore stacks.
Subantarctic Islands of New Zealand & Australia: Day 10 At sea en route to Antipodes Island. This is another day for pelagic species, with more southerly elements continuing to predominate: Antipodean (also split from Wandering), Campbell and Grey-headed Albatrosses, Southern Giant Petrel and Subantarctic Shearwaters (split from Little) should all be encountered. We will endeavour to sort out Fairy Prion, Fulmar Prion and Antarctic Prion, which is not always easy, and we should get some great views while puzzling over these tricky little ‘tubenoses’. Other species to be on the lookout for include Soft-plumaged and Grey-faced (or Great-winged) Petrels, and Wilson’s Storm Petrel. With luck, we could come across a rarity such as Kerguelen Petrel.
Subantarctic Islands of New Zealand & Australia: Day 11 We should arrive off Antipodes Island, one of the most isolated of the subantarctic islands, during the morning. Weather permitting, we will zodiac cruise the coastline. We will be keen to see the uncommon Antipodes Parakeet and also Reischek’s Parakeet (now split from Red-crowned). We will also see the endemic Antipodes race of the Australasian Pipit. Introduced Common Starlings and Lesser Redpolls are also present. Both Southern Rockhopper and Erect-crested Penguins frequent the coastline and there are usually a good number of Antarctic Terns and Kelp (or Southern Black-backed) Gulls present. As we depart Antipodes Island this evening we will keep a watch out for Grey Petrel. Although it is a winter breeder there may still be one or two birds present.
Subantarctic Islands of New Zealand & Australia: Day 12 We will reach the Bounty Islands in time for a morning zodiac cruise. These inhospitable granite rocks are lashed by the Southern Ocean and are almost entirely devoid of vegetation. Here we will find both Erect-crested Penguin, a species restricted to the Bounty Islands and Antipodes Island, and the endemic Bounty Shag, along with large numbers of Salvin’s Albatrosses and New Zealand Fur Seals. In addition, Fulmar Prions nest on the islands and, unusually for a prion, are active around the cliffs in daylight.
As we head for the Chatham Islands, there is the chance to see more of the species seen previously and to look out for new ones such as Northern Royal Albatross, Chatham Albatross (split from White-capped), Northern Buller’s (or Pacific) Albatross (split from Southern Buller’s or Buller’s) and White-faced Storm Petrel, as we near the Chatham Islands. As we head northwards there is a small but real chance of encountering Chatham Petrel, which breeds only in the Chathams, and we will all secretly be hoping for the miraculous appearance of a Magenta Petrel (or Taiko), a near-extinct species that breeds in the Chathams and which has only been seen at sea a few times in the modern era. This is in fact the area where it is possible to amass the biggest list of tubenoses possible in a single day, and with a bit of luck, we will record 30 or more species today!
Subantarctic Islands of New Zealand & Australia: Day 13 Today we arrive at the Chatham Islands. This remote archipelago has been isolated for thousands of years and both the birds and plants show a high degree of endemism. Sadly, many of the species have become extinct because of extensive development and burning. As we approach the Chatham Islands we will sail past Pyramid Rock, the sole breeding ground of the Chatham Albatross. Later we will visit South East Island. Landings are not permitted on this island, but we will be able to have excellent close views of the endemic Pitt Shag, Chatham Oystercatcher and the attractive Shore Dotterel (or Shore Plover) from the zodiacs. Only about 150 individuals of the latter survive, so to see this remarkable shorebird feeding on the wave-cut rock platforms will be one of the highlights of our visit to the Chathams. We should also see a few Tui and will be looking out for the endemic race of the Tomtit.
Subantarctic Islands of New Zealand & Australia: Day 14 During our birding excursion on Chatham Island itself we should see the endemic Chatham Shag, the rather portly Chatham Pigeon (split from New Zealand Pigeon) and Chatham Gerygone (or Chatham Island Warbler). Other species we should see include Little Penguin, White-faced Heron, Pacific Black (or Grey) Duck, Weka (a flightless, chicken-sized rail), Masked Lapwing (known locally as Spur-winged Plover), Double-banded Plover, Red-billed Gull, White-fronted Tern, Australasian (or New Zealand) Pipit, Welcome Swallow and Silvereye, and also some introduced European species such as Song Thrush, Common Starling, House Sparrow, Common Chaffinch, European Goldfinch and Lesser Redpoll.
Subantarctic Islands of New Zealand & Australia: Days 15-16 As we travel towards the mainland we will cross what is known as the Chatham Rise, a relatively shallow area of water compared with the surrounding ocean. This is also a great place for pelagic seabird watching with an overlap of both northern (i.e. temperate zone) species and those birds that favour southern latitudes. Here we may see Cook’s and Westland Petrels, Flesh-footed, Buller’s and Hutton’s Shearwaters, and Australasian Gannet, as well as more Northern Royal and Chatham Albatrosses, and ‘water-walking’ White-faced Storm Petrels.
Subantarctic Islands of New Zealand & Australia: Day 17 Our ship will arrive in the morning at the Port of Bluff near Invercargill, where the tour ends. An airport transfer will be provided.