Between November 12 and 29, I went on an expedition to the Subantarctic islands of New Zealand and Australia. Two and a half weeks on a ship through the Southern Ocean, hopping from island to island, watching birds and making photographs, away from civilization… it was a true adventure. I’m telling here the tale of this voyage.
After more than a day at sea, we reached the Antipodes Islands. Initially, this congregation of islets were can the Penantipodes, or “almost-antipodes”, because they were very close to be exactly on the other end of the world from England. The Pen- prefix was lost with time, and actually, the exact antipode of the Antipodes lies in a small French village near Cherbourg.
Clouds were very low when we arrived, and an unusual wind direction forced us to discard the usual zodiac cruising site. We circled the archipelago, enjoying premium views of its indomitable cliffs and numerous nesting seabirds.
Our captain and our expedition leader agreed on a suitable spot, and we had lunch before hopping onto the dinghies. While we waited for the gangway to be lowered, we saw a Grey petrel (Procellaria cinerea) drifting in the distance. That was a species we were looking for (some had seen it in the morning already), and a great way to start our exploration.
It’s not allowed to land on the Antipodes, but we still managed to see the two endemic species of parakeets, Reischek’s (Cyanoramphus hochstetteri) and Antipodes (Cyanoramphus unicolor), from the boats. The former is very similar to the Red-crowned parakeets (Cyanoramphus novaezelandiae) I saw on Tiritiri and in Zealandia, but the latter lacks any marking on the head; as such, they are very similar to the patches of moss that dusted the slopes of the islands, and we spent a long time showing some of us a parakeet… that turned out to be moss, of course. In the end, both species showed reasonably well, and we could all see them. It was too far to create great photographs, but I still took record shots, as you can see below.
The real star for many was the Erect-crested penguin (Eudyptes sclateri) that nests there and on the Bounty Islands. For my cabinmate Andy, it was the end of a quest, for after that day he had seen all species of penguins on earth. Like all penguins, they have this comical and incredulous look, but they are the only ones to have crests pointing upwards that way (hence their name, uh).
There, I created one of my favourite pictures of the trip.
These birds have quite a striking plumage, with very white underparts, very black upperparts, an orange bill and yellow crests. This black background, which appeared completely naturally in the original pic (I didn’t have to darken it in post-production), comes from the 1-million-years-old volcanic rock the Antipodes are made of.
Do you like it?
In the colonies, we spotted a few Southern rockhopper penguins (Eudyptes chrysocome), recognizable from their thinner, dropping crests. Many of these species have had low reproduction success in recent years; one of the hypotheses to explain it is that, with global warming, fish stocks go further south, and penguins have to swim longer distances to catch preys and feed their chicks, which end up dying from starvation more often. Even if we protect their nesting grounds, these far-ranging species remain under dire threat, and one we’ve proved we are incapable of dealing with, as the COP24 has proven once again.
On the bright side, mice have just been eliminated from the Antipodes. They had not proved to be as much of a problem as on Gough, in the Southern Atlantic (where they have evolved into rabbit-sized monsters and bleed albatross chicks to death), but conservationists didn’t want to take the risk. In the video below, you can learn more about this project, the Million Dollar Mouse.
In the air, Light-mantled albatrosses (Phoebetria palpebrata) flew in coordinated flight (their nuptial display) or alone.
On the zodiac, I would have really liked to have a wider lens at my disposal, to shoot the incredible rock formations we saw on the coast. The spray from the ocean prevented me from changing lens, and so I worked only with the telelens, but I didn’t point it only towards the birds. Once back onboard the ship, I took some larger sceneries, but they don’t have the impact a close shot would have had. Should I go again? 😉
Previously in the SUBANTARCTIC series:
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