Sunshine Coast Birds

Birding and other wildlife experiences from the Sunshine Coast and elsewhere in Australia - and from overseas - with scribblings about travel, environmental issues, kayaking, hiking and camping.

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Cruising the Pacific from Oz to New Zealand: Pycroft's Petrel and Other Seabirds

Wandering Albatross
Nice seabirds seen during a two-week cruise from Brisbane to New Zealand and back included Pycroft's Petrel (the highlight); White-bellied  and White-faced Storm-Petrels; Black and White-chinned Petrels; Northern Royal and Buller's Albatross; Red-tailed and White-tailed Tropicbirds; Red-footed Booby; White, Sooty, White-fronted and Bridled Terns; Black-winged, White-necked, Kermadec, Gould's, Mottled and Cook's Petrels; Common Diving-Petrel; Broad-billed and Fairy Prions; and Little Shearwater.

Great-winged Petrel
We indulged in a two-week sojourn aboard the cruise ship Sea Princess, departing Brisbane on  January 13 and returning on January 27. Our route took us directly from Brisbane to the north end of New Zealand, where we veered south down the North Island's east coast. The ship called in at Auckland and Tauranga before turning into Cook Strait to visit Wellington. We then proceeded down the east coast of the South Island, visiting Akaroa and Dunedin, before heading west through the Foveaux Srait to Fiordland in the island's south-west. Our return route took us directly north-west from Milford Sound across the Tasman Sea to Brisbane. Weather conditions generally were uncharacteristically fine and mild for all but one day. Apologies in advance for the poor quality of some of these images but birds were often distant.

Great-winged Petrel
We had a stateroom with a balcony on the 11th floor deck, affording wide views of the ocean. As well, I spent a good deal of time watching from the ship at lower decks near sea level. Unfortunately, most of the cruising in New Zealand waters was at night. This post will focus on seabirds; further offerings will cover scenic attractions and other information about the cruise.

January 14. We were well outside Australian territorial waters during our first full day at sea after leaving Brisbane late the previous afternoon. A Gould's Petrel was identified close to the ship in the early morning. Many other small Pterodromas that day went unidentified - a pattern to be repeated throughout the trip as these small, fast-flying petrels are not easily identified from big ships unless they are close. The first of many Great-winged Petrels appeared; this species proved to be common on both transects of the Tasman Sea and in waters all around New Zealand. Almost all were of the New Zealand-breading race gouldi; however, a couple of the race macroptera were seen on the return leg in the Tasman Sea. A few Wedge-tailed Shearwaters and a couple of Flesh-footed Shearwaters were also seen on Day One of the cruise, and just before sunset, a single Sooty Tern flew over the ship.

Northern Royal Albatross
January 15. Several Black-winged Petrels were seen quite well as we continued our journey east. More Wedge-tailed and Flesh-footed Shearwaters were about in small numbers. The first and only Pomarine Jaeger for the trip was noted and a Northern Royal Albatross graced the horizon as the vessel approached New Zealand.

Buller's Shearwater
January 16. A memorable day. We could see the northern end of Ninety-Mile Beach on New Zealand's North Island at first light and the approach to land was accompanied by a sharp rise in bird numbers. Great-winged Petrels were numerous and the first Shy Albatross (apparently race steadi) appeared. As we rounded the top end of the North Island, the ship was accompanied by large numbers of Buller's Shearwaters and Cook's Petrels.

Australasian Gannet
Our first Little Shearwater appeared along with small numbers of Fluttering Shearwaters and Fairy Prions. As we steamed down the eastern coast of the North Island, there were numerous White-faced Storm-Petrels, Cook's Petrels, Buller's Shearwaters, Fairy Prions and Australasian Gannets.

Pycroft's Petrel off Poor Knights Islands
Cook's Petrel off Poor Knights Islands
About 10 nautical miles off the Poor Knights Islands, east of Kaeo, I saw from 6 to 8 Pycroft's Petrels. The islands are one of the few breeding sites for this rare New Zealand species. I saw the Pycroft's Petrels over a period of about 15 minutes as the ship covered a distance of a few kilometres. Plenty of Cook's Petrels were about and the two species could be seen together close to the ship. The differences were quite apparent. Pycroft's appeared notably more bull-headed (a feature described as thick-necked by other observers) and was much darker on the upperparts. The M marking on the upperparts was less marked than in Cook's. The conspicuous eye patch of Cook's was essentially absent in Pycroft's, the eye markings of which were only marginally darker than the cap; Cook's generally appeared much more pale-headed with a somewhat smaller-looking head.

Black Petrel
Seabird numbers in good numbers continued to be seen as we entered Hauraki Gulf - mostly the species referred to above but several Black Petrels were noted along with a couple more Little Shearwaters and a few Common Diving-Petrels. A small black-and-white storm petrel was seen, but not not well enough to be identified. We berthed at Auckland that evening.

Kelp Gull
January 17. We were in Auckland all day, seeing the first of many Red-billed Gulls, Kelp Gulls and White-fronted Terns noted during the rest of our trip around coastal New Zealand.

Little Penguin
January 18. We were at sea at night before arriving in Tauranga. A Little Penguin was floating on the sea surface near the ship; many others were heard in coastal waters but this was my only sighting of this species. Other seabirds in the sheltered waters included Little Pied Cormorant and Little Pied Cormorant.

White-fronted Tern
January 19. Again, our sailing at sea was at night before we arrived in the port of Napier, where Great Cormorant was the only addition to the seabird list.

January 20. Most of the journey south of Napier was again at night but in the few hours of daylight in Cook Strait before arriving in Wellington we saw our first Hutton's Shearwaters and Sooty Shearwaters. Other birds included Shy Albatross, Fairy Prion and another Northern Royal Albatross.

January 21. More nocturnal travelling before reaching Akaroa, where Spotted Shag in large numbers was added to the list.

Northern Royal Albatross at Talaroa Head colony
January 22. We sailed again at night to reach Port Chalmers, near Dunedin. As we left the harbour in the late afternoon, about 60 Northern Royal Albatross were counted at their nesting ground at Talaroa Head. Large numbers of Stewart Island Shags were present here and we saw our first Buller's Albatross and the only Arctic Jaeger of the trip.

Buller's Albatross
January 23. We had a few hours of morning daylight in the western Foveaux Strait as we travelled westward, seeing many more Buller's Albatross and the first Wandering Albatross (antipodensis) of the trip. Of interest was the sighting of several Mottled Petrels and Broad-billed Prions at close quarters.

Shy Albatross
Cook's Petrels and Sooty Shearwaters were numerous, and a single Northern Giant-Petrel was seen.

January 24. After visiting Fiordland, we left Milford Sound for the return journey across the Tasman, seeing the only White-chinned Petrel of the trip along with small numbers of Buller's Shearwaters, Cook's Petrels and Shy Albatross. A small group of Short-tailed Shearwaters was unexpected as we proceeded westward, as were a couple of Black-winged Petrels.

Cook's Petrel - Foveaux Strait
January 25.  This was the only windy day of the trip, gusting up to 45 knots with a 5m swell as we made our way across the central Tasman Sea in international waters. In the vicinity of 32' 21' 27' s, 159' 17' 49' e I saw 2 Red-tailed Tropicbirds, and soon after a single White-tailed Tropicbird. A third Red-tailed Tropicbird was seen over the ship 30 minutes or so later.

Red-tailed Tropicbird
Several Bridled Terns were seen in the same general area along with 3 Fregatta-type storm-petrels. One of these was seen well as in banked in full sunlight close the ship, clearing showing all-white underparts except for its dark throat; this bird was undeniably a White-bellied Storm-Petrel.

Wandering Albatross
Small numbers of Great-winged Petrels were the only other birds seen this day apart from a single Wandering Albatross (antipodensis).

Black-winged Petrel
January 26. This was the last day at sea and the only day sailing in daylight in Australian territorial waters. Birds were few but the species were good. A pale-phase Kermadec Petrel was seen about 110 nautical miles east of Coffs Harbour (about 29' 59' 22's, 155' 41' 42'e). Then a White-necked Petrel and a White Tern were seen at about the same time some 100 nautical miles east of Brooms Head, NSW (29' 43' 39's, 155' 40' 40e); the water depth here was about 4000 metres.

White-necked Petrel
A few Wedge-tailed Shearwaters and Great-winged Petrels were the only other birds seen this day before an immature intermediate-phase Red-footed Booby flew over the ship just on sunset about 60 nautical miles east of Surfers Paradise (about 28' 4' 71's, 154' 34' 39'e). We arrived in Brisbane early the next morning.

Red-footed Booby
SEABIRD SPECIES LIST: Little Penguin, Wandering Albatross, Northern Royal Albatross, Buller's Albatross, Shy Albatross, Northern Giant-Petrel, White-chinned Petrel, Black Petrel,  Pycroft's Petrel, Cook's Petrel, Black-winged Petrel, White-necked Petrel, Mottled Petrel, Broad-billed Prion, Fairy Prion, Hutton's Shearwater, Fluttering Shearwater, Little Shearwater, Sooty Shearwater, Short-tailed Shearwater, Buller's Shearwater, Common Diving-Petrel, White-faced Storm-Petrel, White-bellied Storm-Petrel, Red-footed Booby, Australasian Gannet, White-tailed Tropicbird, Red-tailed Tropicbird, Pied Cormorant, Little Pied Cormorant, Great Cormorant, Spotted Shag, Stewart Island Shag, Red-billed Gull, Kelp Gull, White-fronted Tern, Gull-billed Tern, Arctic Jaeger, Pomarine Jaeger.


  1. Finally your blog us up and running. I have been waiting for it. Most interesting. You were lucky with great weather and relatively calm seas for your two week trip.

  2. Nice one Greg!

  3. What a wonderful cruise with so many seabirds. I still haven't seen any kind of Albatross and would love a glimpse. It would be hard to stay in wondering what was passing by outside.