Cook Strait Pelagic Part 2 steve Richards - kahu nature photography

The skipper had spotted a trawler over towards Palliser Bay so he steamed over towards it. The trawler would be a magnet to the seabirds, particularly when they hauled in the net. As we neared the trawler, we could see a bunch of birds circling a few hundred metres behind it. They were obviously hauling in their catch, and the birds were above the cod end which was just below the surface. The skipper had told us that large albatrosses should appear shortly. Over the next hour we were treated to Southern Royal and Northern Royal Albatrosses and a lone Antipodean albatross and a Salvins mollymawk circling the boat.

Top - A White capped mollymawk and a Northern Royal Albatross fly down the trawl lines. Lower Left - The cod end hauled aboard. Lower Right - A Northern Royal Albatross flies back to us from the departing trawler


The Salvins Mollymawk is a medium-sized albatross. It is black across the top of its wings and the under wings are white with narrow black borders. The head is pale grey running back to the shoulders creating a hooded effect. The bill is grey-green, with lighter shades of the colours on the top and bottom and a black spot at the tip of the lower bill. I had seen these mollymawks nesting on the Western Chain of the Snares Islands.


The southern royal albatross is the largest of the albatrosses, with a wing-span in excess of 3 m and weighing approximately 9 kg. It has a white body and black wings and white tail. The leading edge of the inner upper wing becomes whiter with age. The heavy bill is light pink with a creamy tip. We saw several of the birds nesting on the Auckland Islands.


The northern royal albatross is a huge albatross and is the albatross that can be seen at Taiaroa Head near Dunedin on the mainland of New Zealand. It usually mates for life and breeds only in New Zealand, mainly on the Chatham Islands. Its wings are long and narrow with black upper-wings, with no speckling like the Southern species and white under-wings. The head is white and the heavy bill is light pink with a creamy tip.

The visual difference between the southern and northern royal albatross and the Antipodean Albatross

Left; Southern Royal Albatross and Centre; Northern Royal Albatross, Right Antipodean Albatross


The Antipodean albatross is a large albatross that varies in colour from black-and-white to chocolate brown depending on sex, age and race. The females are the birds with the chocolate brown upper wing and body. The males have black fringing on the feathers on the body and neck. They breed almost exclusively on the Auckland and Antipodes Islands, and a few pairs have started breeding on the Chatham Islands. We saw only one of these birds on this pelagic trip. The next photos are of Antipodean Albatrosses at Kaikoura, to show the difference between the male and female of the species.

Antipodean Albatrosses at Kaikoura. The brown images are females of the species. On the bottom row you can see the black fringing on the body and neck feathers


The Westland petrel is the largest burrowing petrel still breeding on the New Zealand mainland. It is a large size and has an aggressive temperament to ward off any introduced predators. Westland petrels are mostly nocturnal on land, returning to their breeding colonies near Punakaiki at dusk.

The Westland petrel plumage is entirely dark brownish-black, apart from odd white feathers evident in a few individuals and its legs and feet are black. It has a stout bill, which is pale yellow with a dark tip.

We recorded 29 species on the 6 hour trip including 8 albatross species (Antipodean, Northern Royal, Southern Royal, White-capped, Salvin's, Buller's, Black-browed, Tasmanian Shy), 4 shearwater species (Short-tailed, Buller's, Sooty, Fluttering), 3 petrel species (Westland, Cape, Common Diving), Little Penguin, Fairy Prion, Australasian Gannet, Arctic Skua, Black Fronted Tern, Spotted Shag plus a few other common species. Many were quite some distance from the boat, so it was not possible to photograph them. The Tasmanian Shy Mollymawk was only Identified from participants photographs. Unfortunately I never photographed this particular bird. A couple of species which we saw the short-tailed shearwater and the spotted shags on the Seaview breakwater offered some good photographic opportunities.

Top Row - Short-tailed shearwaters and Bottom Row -Spotted shags

The Cook Strait Pelagic was an outstanding success and everybody enjoyed it greatly. I thought it was better than the Kaikoura Pelgic with more species seen. For those living in Wellington it was very affordable, and I can't wait for the next one

I hope this article helps photographers and birders identify some of the various birds seen in Cook Strait.

Thank you to Michael Szabo and Jonathan Delich, skipper of Seafarer II of Cook Strait Fishing Charters and his crew Hamish for a great day out on Cook Strait

Steve Richards -- Kahu Nature Photography

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