Among the world-wide family of petrels, shearwaters, fulmars and prions, 21 species or 30 percent breed on the Subantarctic Islands. Penguins too, are special in the Subantarctic region. Of seven penguin species breeding here, three (Snares crested, Erect crested and Royal) are endemic to the region. The land birds indicate, through their diversity, just how long these islands have been isolated. No fewer than 15 species are Sub Antarctic endemics.
Our “Birding Downunder” expedition which has been voted “the best ever pelagic birding expedition” includes all of these islands as well as the Chatham Archipelago which lies just north of the Subantarctic region and is renown for its high degree of endemism. Expedition includes plenty of time ashore and zodiac cruising with experienced local “birders” to see and photograph the many island endemics.
Tour Dates: Mid November to early December
Day 1: Arrive at Invercargill. Arrive at Invercargill, New Zealand’s southernmost city. Established by Scottish settlers, its wealth of rich farmland means that sheep and dairy farms predominate. On arrival please make your own arrangements to transfer to the Kelvin Hotel in the city centre. A detailed programme will be available to you when you check in at reception. Dinner is at the hotel, providing an opportunity to meet fellow expeditioners.
Day 2: Depart Port of Bluff. Breakfast at your leisure in the hotel dining room, then travel by coach to the Southland Museum to view the special Sub-Antarctic display before transferring to the Port of Bluff, 27 kilometres to the south of Invercargill. There you will board the Spirit of Enderby, clear customs and depart for the Snares Islands.
Day 3: North East Island. The Snares are the first of the Sub-Antarctic Islands we visit, specifically the largest island in this small island group – North East Island. It is an amazing place – more birds nest on this one island than there are seabirds in all of the British Isles. We will arrive early in the morning and cruise by zodiac (there are no landings permitted) along the sheltered eastern side.
Cruising in sheltered bays, we should see the endemic Snares Crested Penguin, tomtits and Fernbirds. Cape Pigeons, Antarctic Terns, White-fronted Terns and Red-billed Gulls also abound. There are an estimated six million Sooty Shearwaters nesting in the Snares Islands. Buller’s Albatross breeds here from early January onwards.
Day 4: Enderby Island. Enderby Island forms part of the Auckland Island group and it’s a great place to view birds and wildlife. Our plan is to land at Sandy. Bay, the main breeding ground for the New Zealand (Hooker’s) Sea Lion. We’ll also have a chance to observe the following species: Southern Royal Albatross, Northern Giant Petrel, Auckland Island.
Shag, Auckland Island Teal, Auckland Island Banded Dotterel, Auckland Island Tomtit, Bellbird, Pipit, Red-crowned Parakeet, Yellow-eyed Penguin and Light-mantled Sooty Albatross. We also have a very good chance of seeing the Sub-Antarctic Snipe. Other more common species we will see include the Goldfinch, Song Thrush, Blackbird, European Starling, Red-billed Gull and Redpoll. On Derrycastle Reef there is a good chance of seeing the Bar-tailed Godwit, Turnstone and perhaps other migratory waders.
Day 5: Carnley Harbour. This morning we cruise to Carnley Harbour in the south of the Auckland Islands chain. There will be an opportunity for the more energetic expeditioners to climb to the Southwest Cape Shy Albatross colony. Gibson’s Wandering Albatross nest above the colony amongst the tussocks, and we should obtain good views of these birds, as they will be nesting at this time.
Those passengers remaining on board will have an opportunity to cruise by Zodiac along the coastal forest with a chance to see the New Zealand Falcon and enjoy close encounters with other bush birds. We depart the Auckland Islands mid-afternoon and head southwest to Macquarie Island.
Day 6: At Sea. At sea we will have a series of lectures supported by videos of the biology and history of the Sub-Antarctic Islands and the Southern Ocean. The Sub-Antarctic Convergence Zone is traditionally very close to the area we sail through, so we should expect the birdlife to reflect this as we approach Macquarie Island.
We will be at sea all day, another great opportunity to see pelagic species including Wandering Albatross species, the Royal Albatross, Shy and Whitecapped Albatross, Light-mantled Sooty Albatross, Grey-headed Albatross, Black-browed Albatross, White-chinned Petrel, Mottled Petrel, White-headed Petrel, Cape Petrel, Diving Petrel, Greybacked and Black-bellied Storm Petrel.
Days 7 & 8: Macquarie Island. Arrive at Macquarie Island, the only place to see the Royal Penguin – there is an abundance of these here. King Penguins are also found in large numbers. Two other penguin species breed on Macquarie Island - the Gentoo and the Rockhopper. Along the coast we will see the Imperial Macquarie) Shag. Redpolls can be spotted as can the European Starling along the cliff edges. We plan landings at both the Anare base and at Sandy Bay. We continue our exploration of Macquarie Island and then depart for Campbell Island on the afternoon of our second day.
Day 9: At sea en route to Campbell Island, we will see a broad range of species, as we did while traveling to Macquarie Island from the Auckland Islands.
Day 10: Campbell Island. We arrive at Campbell Island in the morning and spend the day exploring the island on foot from Perseverance Harbour. Campbell Island is truly magnificent. Rats have recently been successfully removed, producing an encouraging increase in small bird numbers, most notably the New Zealand Pipit. There are some great birding and photographic opportunities on this island, especially the Southern Royal Albatross and the early flowering mega herbs.
During the day ashore we should see the Southern Royal Albatross, Light-mantled Sooty Albatross, Northern Giant Petrel, Campbell Island Shag, Southern Skua, Red-billed Gull, Black-backed Gull, Antarctic Tern, Redpoll, Dunnock and New Zealand Pipit. The regeneration of the mega herbs since the removal of the sheep in the 1970s and ‘80s is a spectacle to behold.
Day 11: At sea en route to the Antipodes, it is a day for pelagic birding. Species commonly seen in this area include Wandering Albatross species, Southern Royal Albatross, Black-browed Albatross, Campbell Island Albatross, Light-mantled Sooty Albatross, Salvin’s Albatross, Grey-headed Albatross, Northern and Southern Giant Petrel, the Sooty Shearwater and the Little Shearwater. This region of the Southern Ocean is one of the few places where the Fairy Prion, Fulmar Prion and Antarctic Prion occur together, providing a good opportunity for comparison. Other species to be on the lookout for include the Soft-plumaged Petrel, Petrel, Wilson’s Storm Petrel, Black-bellied Storm Petrel and the Common Diving Petrel.
Day 12: Antipodes Island. Antipodes Island is one of the most isolated, least known and rugged of New Zealand’s Sub-Antarctic Islands. Landings are not permitted, so we plan to cruise along the coastline by Zodiac where we have a good chance of seeing the Antipodes Island and Reischek’s Parakeet, a strong subspecies. We will also see the Antipodes subspecies of the New Zealand Pipit. We enjoy good views of both Erect-crested and Rockhopper penguins breeding on the coastline. There are also usually a good number of Antarctic Terns and Kelp Gulls.
Day 13: The Bounty Islands. We arrive at the incongruously named Bounty Islands, inhospitable granite knobs lashed by the southern ocean, in time for an early morning cruise by Zodiac. Erect-crested Penguin, Fulmar Prions and the endemic Bounty Island Shag feature on our list for this morning. After the cruise we depart for the Chatham Islands.
This afternoon we should see Wandering Albatross species, Northern Royal Albatross, White-capped Albatross, Salvin’s Albatross, Northern Giant Petrel, Cape Petrel, Antarctic Fulmar, Mottled Petrel, Soft-plumaged Petrel, Broad-billed Prion, Fulmar Prion, Whitechinned Petrel, Sooty Shearwater, Little Shearwater, Grey-backed and Black-bellied Petrels as well as Wilson’s Storm Petrel. There is a possibility of seeing the Chatham Island Petrel, and we will be keeping a close watch for the Magenta Petrel.
Day 14: Pyramid Rock. As we continue toward the Chatham Archipelago, there are excellent opportunities for pelagic birding. In particular, we will look out for the Chatham Island Petrel (it has been seen on this leg of the voyage before) and also the very rare Chatham Island Taiko or Magenta Petrel (which has also been seen in the environs). This afternoon we will arrive at the spectacular Pyramid Rock – the only breeding place of the Chatham Island Albatross.
Day 15: South East Island (Rangatira). At South East Island (Rangatira), one of the world’s greatest nature reserves, we cruise by Zodiac (landings are not permitted) and should obtain good views of the very rare Shore Plover and the Chatham Island Oystercatcher. We should also see the Pitt Island Shag, Tui, Tomtit and Red-crowned Parakeet.
This afternoon we will cruise past Mangere and Little Mangere Islands and relate the story of how the endemic Black Robin was rescued there in the 1970s when the total population consisted of only six birds. This evening we sail across Pitt Strait to the main Chatham Islands and past the Tuku Valley where the Magenta Petrel breeds.
Day 16: Chatham Island. Today we land at Waitangi, the main settlement on the Chatham Islands. Near the landing area we should see the endemic Chatham Island Shag. Local buses and Land Rovers will transport us down the South Coast to the Tuku Reserve. Here on private land, and guided by the local people, we will enjoy a bush walk in the hope of seeing the Chatham Island Warbler and Chatham Island Pigeon. Much of Chatham Island has been developed for farming, and many introduced European birds can be seen in this area. We return to the Spirit of Enderby in the early afternoon in order to depart for Dunedin.
Days 17 - 18: At sea en route to Dunedin we will cross what is known as the Chatham Rise. It is a relatively shallow area of water, compared with the rest of the surrounding ocean, and it is also one of the best places for pelagic watching with an overlap of both northern or more temperate species and birds from southern latitudes. We can expect to see Wandering Albatross species, Royal Albatross species, Black-browed Albatross, White-capped Albatross, Salvin’s Albatross, Westland Black Petrel, Flesh-footed Shearwater, Buller’s Shearwater, Sooty Shearwater, Little Shearwater, Fairy Prion, Broad-billed Prion, Grey-backed Storm Petrel, White-faced Storm Petrel, and Diving Petrel. There could well be other species in addition, so it is a good time to be out on deck.
Day 19: Dunedin. We arrive in the Inner Harbour at the Port of Otago, Dunedin. After completing formalities with Customs and Agriculture, you are free to disembark. There will be central city and airport drop-offs.
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