Posts Tagged ‘bird watching’

Celebrating life in the Banks Islands

June 12, 2014

26 April 2014

We woke to a rolling sea the colour of gunmetal and were up early and on deck. The Spirit of Enderby was drifting in the centre of the Banks Islands, maximising our chances to see the rare and little-known Vanuatu Petrel, as it made its way to feeding grounds from the island of Vanua Lava, thought to be where it roosted.

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The landscape was surreal, with volcanic islands all around, topped with cloud or steam. I spent the morning on board, watching for birds, while the zodiacs went out to find the petrel.

We were all relatively successful. As the day got warmer, parts of the sea began to “boil” with movement and fish were seen jumping and scattering. Some of the crew went out with lines and succeeded in catching a beautiful small tuna, about a metre long, which we sampled as sashimi that evening. These fish feeding frenzies attracted the birds as well, including storm petrels, boobies and frigate birds.

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Storm petrels working a fish frenzy.

Mid afternoon, after another huge lunch and time to relax, we all boarded the zodiacs and headed out in a calm sea, to try to spot Vanuatu petrels returning to the islands to roost. The evening was to prove to be a highlight of the whole trip. As we sat rocking on the sea, we were suddenly visited by a pod of Blainville Beaked whales, which surfaced so close we could smell their fishy breathe. It was a remarkable encounter, one that left everyone in my zodiac quiet and pensive, for at least five minutes.

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Not long afterwards, as the sun was beginning to lower in the sky behind Ureparapara, the sea began to boil again with fish life, as tuna chased smaller baitfish and flying fish. Suddenly the birds appeared – frigate birds, boobies, terns, storm petrels and then the Vanuatu petrels, wheeling and diving around us. It was a magnificent sight, made all the more exciting by the rarity of this bird and how little is known about it. We stayed out as late as we could, watching a constantly changing scene of fish and birds, until the sky began to darken, and we were “forced” to return to the Spirit of Enderby, to celebrate another wonderful day.

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Fiji to Vanuatu

May 29, 2014

The Pacific ocean is that clear blue that dreams are made of; mile after mile of life-giving saline. We saw very little rubbish as we made our way from Fiji to the long archipelago of Vanuatu. The magnificent Tahitian petrel, so elegant in its wheeling black (chocolate, really) and white, passed us by without a glance.

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Tahitian petrel – photo courtesy of Heritage Expeditions

Wedge-tailed shearwaters and masked boobies made an occasional appearance and sometimes, in the distance, a finned hump of a passing cetacean was caught in the lens of binocular or camera. The flying fish provided by far the most fascinating entertainment. They ranged in size from 1-2 cm to ten times that size and their colours were many and various. Steve N G Howell is an expert on these amazing “butterflies of the sea” and Steve just happened to be with us. The mile after mile of blue ocean passed remarkably quickly, as we waited for “smurfs” or “raspberry wings” or “double harlequins” to make their appearance. Capturing them on camera was another matter… Steve’s book “The Amazing World of Flyingfish” will be out in July.

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My best attempt, compared to Steve Howell’s…

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Most amazing were the flying squid, captured beautifully on this picture of Steve’s, but really hard to distinguish, as they moved so quickly.

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After a spectacular sunset and a visit by hundreds of Wedge-tailed Shearwaters, feeding nearby, we retired for a last night at sea before Vanuatu.  Once again, my observational powers were found wanting at Bird Club that night, when I realised the number of bird and cetacean species I just hadn’t seen…

Our arrival in Port Vila was marked by a trip to the market and the spotting of a few birds in the port area, like an Emerald Dove, foraging in the rubbish.

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Photo courtesy of Heritage Expeditions.

We spent a delicious afternoon on Lelepa Island, snorkelling over wonderful coral.

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Photos courtesy of Heritage Expeditions.

A group of wood swallows ignored our reluctant departure, back to the Spirit of Enderby for another magnificent dinner.

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