Southern Ocean : part 2 - David Stowe | Australian Bird Photographer

Day 4 - 25/12/2015 : Auckland Islands (Enderby Island)


In case you missed it Part 1 is HERE


Woke up to celebrate the birth of Jesus anchored in the wonderfully sheltered Harbour of Sandy Bay, Enderby Island.

Merry Christmas!!


aww ...Henry even bought me a present ....

..oops....

knew i forgot something...


Very much missing seeing my girls opening their presents and being with them today.

Last night was interesting - Sleeping with your legs rising above your head and back again wasn't always easy but we survived.


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The Auckland Islands are about 460km south of Bluff the largest of the five New Zealand sub-antarctic groups with Enderby being at the northern tip

We are also now into the 50 degree latitude!

The Auckland Islands are basically "the eroded and sea-flooded remains of two ancient volcanoes"* and have incredible diversity of plants and animals

Enderby has also been freed of the tyranny of introduced animals and the native wildlife abounds.


*from the book "Subantarctic New Zealand" by Neville Peat

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Rodney's map drawing skills are pretty awesome i reckon


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Henry, adorned in his finest Santa hat, (and matching red waterproof pants - which are awesome!) and I made it on the first Zodiac to the beach and were instantly rewarded with a pair of Auckland Island Teal right at our feet as we landed.

Such cute little birds and flightless too!


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Tomtit and Pipit were also added to our trip list before we were told to move quickly on if we encountered a bull Hookers Sea Lion.


I'm no biologist but I'm pretty sure this one is a bull...

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Laden with plenty of camera equipment and a packed lunch we set off on a 15km hike around the island.


Edit: have I mentioned the food yet? Seriously incredible what we have been eating. Even the packed sandwiches were gourmet self selected fillings of awesomeness.The little mini Snickers were a nice treat too.as were the mini Picnics....and Flakes and..

oh thats right ...

mmm the Fresh Fruit and healthy stuff!

incredible!


...apparently dinner tonight is 5 courses of Santa's finest cuisine!


The good news is that i haven't seen chef catch a Penguin yet

so things are looking good that the Turkey really will taste like Chicken


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...pretty sure the bush won't hurt you as much as the angry new daddy sea lion Rodney

but hey

poke it with a stick...



In all seriousness, Rodney Russ, Heritage Expeditions founder and our Expedition Leader, did an incredible job of making everything happen.

I don't envy the responsibility he had of making calls on weather and landings and keeping everyone safe and happy, however he did it all.

Very thankful for his abilities, knowledge, and passion for this part of the world.


Also he gave me a free dream trip for taking a pretty photo so hey

no complaints here


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We all walked up the middle of the island to the northern side along a boardwalk, where the group would divide into those wanting to simply walk back to the landing beach and watch the comings and goings of the sea lion colony, and those who wanted to complete a 12km walk around the coast.

However before we separated there was important business to attend to


Birding


and not just any birding, we went searching for the rare Subantarctic Snipe!

Go 'Team Bird'!

(more about them later)

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You see I made this more about birding because the only photos I got were pretty awful

Most were of an out of focus brown rump disappearing into some sort of plant


Apparently the botanists were in heaven because the ground was actually an amazing field of rare megaherbs


ooh there's one!

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a botanist that is

not a megaherb


This is Alex, one of the incredible Heritage guides we had onboard

He's awesome AND a botanist!


I lost track of the names because they're all latin.

I studied Latin at school for a few years but that was a very long time ago

Most of them I think were called:

"insert weird botanical name that sounds like a Harry Potter spell"...


to be honest it was more than my little birder brain could manage after just seeing a 

Coenocorypha aucklandica


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The pretty plant above is

Anisotome latifolia


Below is 

Bulbinella rossii


thanks to Kate Kiefer one of my new friends from the Australian Antarctic Division for responding to my plea for the proper names before posting this


Otherwise they were going to be called Expecto Patronum and Riddikulus


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Santa appearing to pee over the edge of a cliff framed by a field of Anisotome latifolia

(take that botany!)

Actually I don't think he's peeing


or Santa come to think of it...


oh its a lens!

my bad


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Yes there is a joy today


But not just a humorous happiness


a deep joy


There is of course the wonder of Christmas

and what that means to me personally


but also the simple joy of wandering around an island in the middle of Nowhere filled with such colour and beauty it almost feels like the set of a fantasy movie


Northern Giant Petrels, a species I am familiar with seeing on pelagic birding trips against an austere ocean blue backdrop

now wheel around us over vibrantly coloured landscapes covered in plants

that look as though they are all made of candy.


Surreal

and indeed Wonderful in its purest definition


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Random Giant Petrel chicks dotted the island, camouflaged in the open and seemingly popping up behind you like the villain in a pantomime


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Apparently they can spit a horrible smelling fishy mucous at you from 5 metres away so best to keep your distance


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And then there is more green

Such a saturated green in such a gorgeous little bird

The Red-fronted Parakeets were much more numerous and approachable than i had dared hope for.


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From the orange, pink and green

we find a white coastline on the north east corner of Enderby where the Antarctic Terns mimic this starker landscape


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Simply having a whole day on land has been part of the joy too


I'm feeling amazingly blessed that I haven't been sick yet (I'm normally always sea sick)

however having (mostly) hard ground under your feet

and the freedom to walk at our own pace and stop at will

is having a very positive effect on me


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Not all of the walk is easy

Open grass and rocks gives way to thick tussock grass and hidden holes into which a number fell

At one stage we thought we were going to have to carry one of the party back with us after an awkward fall

We were always going to be the last group back to the waiting zodiac as "the photographers", however now we had a great excuse to be last


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Another special bird that we were keen to see were the shags

Each island down here has its own similar yet distinct species and today we were presented with the Auckland Island Shag

Its purple eye striking against the black and white plumage


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Nesting was in full swing and we have been entertained by the way they collect an absolute face full of tussock grass for their nests on the eroded cliff faces


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Even the Brown Skuas were in full parental mode

even if it was in a much more aggressive sort of way


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As wonderful as all these birds were

Today would once again be about the penguins


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Yellow-eyed Penguins


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Rarer than any other penguin species on the planet, these endangered birds are also quite shy


They don't hang out in big colonies and its not until you enter the beautiful Rata forest that their uniqueness and character is fully revealed


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It's here in the forest that they find their own little space to nest


Out of sight of any other pairs under overhanging trees and behind bushes

they go about their business


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Easily overlooked except for their raucous calls echoing through the forest

which kind of ruins the secrecy a bit


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Also loved watching this little Tomtit balancing on a swaying vine

Animated GIF of a dozen frames shot in quick succession on the 1DX (quality not great in an effort to make it load a bit faster)

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As we exit the mystical Rata forest we move back into the tussock grassland


Wildlife, habitats and weather continue to change


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And finally we make it back to beach where the last zodiac is "patiently" waiting for us


...if it wasn't for that guy that fell over who we had to keep waiting for

we so would have been back sooner...


honestly


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What a day

So much to see!

So many birds and amazing landscapes


And now we celebrate with an incredible 5 course Christmas dinner courtesy of the amazing chefs Connor and Andy

We even got presents and a chocolate on our pillows!

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I miss Amy and the kids terribly

My first Christmas away from them


And yet the joy of this day is still great


There is light today


Merry Christmas


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