Birdorable Guest Blogging Contest: Voting!

125-wren Time to vote for your favorite entry in the Birdorable Guest Blogging Contest! You can view all the entries one this page. When you're done, simply pick your favorite from the drop-down list, enter your name and email address (which will not be sold, rented, given, or disclosed) before Friday, May 22nd at 5 p.m. CST. One vote per person.

Each of the ten entries has already won a Tough Titmice Magnet from Birdorable, and the grand prize winner gets a Birdorable Spotting Scope shirt! The shirt pictured a red-cockaded woodpecker perched on the scope, but they said the winner can choose the bird species. So, if you would prefer something like a Cooper’s hawk, cardinal, or shag, they’ve got you covered.

So, vote away!

Birdorable Guest Blogging Contest #10: Gunnar Engblom

125-wren Time for the final entry: this one comes to us from Gunnar Engblom and details the 11 Peruvian birds you must see. Thanks to everyone who entered; we'll have the voting poll up shortly!

Why Birds?

Birdwatching is a specialized hobby. The birdwatchers aim to see hundreds of birds during a holiday in Peru. However, there are certain birds that transcend to more normal tourists. Some birds that you don't have to be a birdwatcher to appreciate. Those birds that will leave an impact on anyone who lays eyes on them. These kinds of birds become banner species and tourist attractions and could be decisive to turn a non-birder into a birder. They are also important for conserving habitat and supporting local small scale businesses which often give direct revenue to local communities. I hereby present the 11 most important birds in Peru as tourism attractions.


Andean Condor

Emblematic bird of the Andes. 100.000 people travel yearly to Colca Canyon near Arequipa to see the mighty Condor. Kolibri Expeditions have found a good viable population in Santa Eulalia canyon only 3 hours from Lima, which also is a good place to see this majestic bird. You'd be surprised to learn that most tourists that come Peru, and those that do not visit Colca or Santa Eulalia Canyon, will not see a condor in spite it being such a tremendously important symbol of Peru and the Andes. The closest they will get is hearing "Condor pasa" - the Peruvian song Simon and Garfunkel made world famous. At every little coffee shop to every fine restaurant in Cusco you will hear it played with panpipes and charrango. You cannot avoid it - not escape it! Strangely enough Peru has yet to raise the awareness of the importance of the species for eco-tourism in other rural areas. As such it may become an important cash cow for communities. This would change the present situation in many places where the species is persecuted and seriously threatened.


Blue-and-Yellow Macaw & Scarlet Macaw. Photo: Tim RyanThere are two major macaw-licks in SE Peru where these giant parrots descend on sunny clay river cliffs to ingest the clay with thousands of other parrots. The best one that attracts 5 species of macaws is situated in the Tambopata area near Tambopata Research Center.  There is extremely important Macaw research going on here and you can help as a participant volunteer. See Tambopata Macaw Project. The other important one is downriver from Manu at Blanquillo near in vicinity of several lodges.

Andean Cock-of-the-Rock

Andean Cock-of-the-RockWow! Exclamation mark is necessary! This surreal member of the Cotinga family has a wide distribution from Venezuela to Bolivia. It is one of the most colorful birds of the Andes. The males gather in "lek" - displays - where the perform ritual dances and make noisy grunts and shrieks. In many places leks have become tourism attractions. The most famous is perhaps next to Cock-of-the-Rock Lodge, but there are several places in Central and Northern Peru where leks also can be seen. Locally, it has become good incentives to conserve forest. Since the cock-of-the-rock is also un-officially national bird of Peru kids all over the country learn to appreciate it. Only five years ago, when traveling in Central Peru inquiring where I could see it, I was directed to the zoo or a man that allegedly had stuffed ones for sale! Things have changed now.

Inca Tern

Inca Tern


Its coral red bill and feet, and yellow and white waxy mustache on a slaty blackish body makes the Inca Tern the most beautiful Tern of the world.  This specialty of the Humboldt Current is not difficult to see in large numbers. In many places it can be approached for a photograph.  A spectacular event on the Lima pelagics is when the fish scrap leftover that is used to attract seabirds at the high sea is thrown out after the boat and up to a thousand Inca Terns come in to the stern.

Hummingbird feeders

Rufous-crested Coquette. Photo: Alex DuranWire-crested Thorntail

Peru has yet to develop more places with hummingbird feeders, but the ones available are truly spectacular. My favorites are the following.

Amazonia Lodge at the bottom of Manu road, with specialties such as the rare Rufous-crested Coquette, Koepcke's Hermit and Gould's Jewelfront and another dozen of more common hummers such as White-necked Jacobin, Blue Emerald, Gray-breasted Sabrewing and Black-eared Fairy come to the garden with feeders and blue vervain in front of the ample porch of the main building..

Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel the luxurious hotel with precious subtropical gardens decorated with orchids and bromeliads at the foot of Machu Picchu next to Aguas Calientes village. The hotel also have dozens of well maintained hummingbird feeders spread out in the compound open only to its guests. The specialties include Gould's Inca, White-bellied Hummingbird, Long-tailed Sylph, Chestnut-breasted Coronet and Booted Racket-tail.

Cock-of the-Rock Lodge on the Manu road, has a open veranda dining room looking out to the garden where tanagers are fed and Blue Vervain and feeders attract the hummingbirds. The specialties include Violet-fronted Brilliant, Many-spotted Hummingbird, Wire-crested Thorn-tail, Booted Racket-tail and many more.

Marvelous Spatuletail


If I should choose just one hummingbird species in Peru this would be the one. It is the most spectacular Hummingbird in Peru. The male has long streamers ending in blue rackets. It may not yet be a large tourist attraction since it occurs only in Amazonas department and a bit off the beaten track for most general tourists coming to Peru, but it is certainly on the birdwatcher's radar on the Northern Birding Circuit and the principle attraction. Kolibri Expeditions has initiated a project here together with local farmer Santos Montenegro obtaining funds through our clients allowing Santos to buy some land from his neighbors. The idea is to turn the small reserve to a Hummingbird information center.

Chilean Flamingo

Chilean Flamingo Flamingos are big tourist attractions all over the world, and the Chilean Flamingo in Peru is not an exception, especially since legend has that the flamingos San Martin saw in Paracas before leading the liberation from Spain, inspired to the design of the Peruvian flag. There is not a person in Peru, that is not familiar with this story. Unfortunately, many flamingo colonies are well off the beaten track, except that of wintering flamingos still present at the Paracas bay. One may hope however those remote flamingo colonies could be integrated in sustainable tourism packages and this way supply income to local communities at the same time protecting the colonies. The practice common is the past to scare the colony to take flight for a photograph, is fortunately no longer carried out. It seems to me that Peruvian awareness for the well being of the natural attractions has increased in recent years.


HoatzinWithout being a particularly rare bird, the Hoatzin inhabits lake sides. It prehistoric looks, similar to the Archaeopteryx and the fact that the young have claws in the wings, make it a tantalizing. The hisses it makes add to its pre-historic image. It occurs in colonies and is mostly not hunted because its meat is smelly and not good. It has constantly bad breath as its digest is completely leaves which are fermented in the crop. Hoatzin can be seen in many places in the Amazon. Most photogenic perhaps at Amazonia Lodge.

Humboldt Penguin

Humboldt PenguinParacas has been the traditional place where many tourists come in contact with the species for the first time while visiting the sea-lion colonies at Ballestas Islands. In recent years however trips have been arranged to sea-lion colony at Islas Palomino from Callao, Lima, where also the Penguins occur and this is a time effective alternative to Paracas. Recent studies show that Humboldt Penguins are very sensitive to disturbance - much more so - than its close relative Magellanic Penguin that occurs in Patagonia and with colonies that attracts tens of thousands of visitors. Fortunately, there are no colonies in Peru that are accessible to tourists to walk around in. The large colony at Punta San Juan near Nazca is closed to the public.

Other places where one can see Humboldt Penguin include Pucusana and the new San Fernando reserve close to Nazca.

Torrent Duck

Torrent Duck. Photo: Alex DuranA highly dimorphic beautiful duck specialized living its life in streaming water and fascinating to watch. One of the best place to see them is at Aguas Calientes below Machu Picchu. In fact, they can often be seen looking out the window from the train to Machu Picchu.

Waved Albatross

Waved AlbatrossIn spite of being a bird breeding on the Galapagos, practically all individuals of the species will spend considerable time in Peruvian Waters in its lifetime when not breeding. The pelagic birdwatching and whale-watching trips from Lima has made it possible for larger numbers of people to see an albatross at relative ease. Waved Albatross is critically threatened due to high adult mortality in recent years. In spite of being one of the smaller albatrosses, with 2.30m wingspan it is still impressive and a highlight for anyone venturing to sea to see it.

This article was brought to you by Kolibri Expeditions.  Kolibri Expeditions runs tours everywhere in Peru and can take you to all these birds, providing a full-fledged birding holiday or a holiday to culture and nature on a more general level.

Photos by license of creative commons: Ogwen (Condor), Species snob (Chilean Flamingo), OlliethebastardHoatzin), and Inca Tern close up by Suneko (

Special thanks to Tim Ryan of The faraway, nearby blog, for letting me use his Macaw pictures from Tambopata. All other pictures by Gunnar Engblom and Alex Duran (Rufous-crested Coquette and Torrent Duck). GE´s and AD´s pictures may be used under creative commons license. Link and acknowledge this page. Thanks

Birdorable Guest Blogging Contest #9: Laura Erickson


As we close in on the last two entries (one more today) of the Birdorable Guest Blogging Contest, we're happy to present a rather unusual entry from Laura Erickson, written from the perspective of one of our fine feathered friends.

The Original Norwegian Bachelor Farmer

Well, den, I don't know if my ancestors come from Norway, but yah, my mother always said we chickadees are the original Norwegian bachelor farmers. We're very sociable, ya sure, you betcha, but it makes us uncomfortable getting too close to one another. She said we're just naturally reserved.

Well, that leads to pretty peaceable flock relations since no one oversteps their bounds, but like my mother told me, every now and then we have to get VERY close to at least one other chickadee to do what birds and bees and educated fleas do, or there won't be any baby chickadees anymore. Think of the children!

So we have to overcome our inhibitions every spring. But to do that takes a lot of buildup, literally. Our gym teacher told us that every autumn our gonads were going to atrophy. That sounded pretty impressive to me, but my dad said no, we weren't going to get trophies--that's just the technical way of saying that our sex organs would shrink every year. I thought that seemed pretty yucky, but Dad said they're just excess baggage that make us heavier and waste body energy to maintain, which we can't afford in the dead of winter.

But even though they're all shrunken right now, they do need to swell up and be full sized by April or May. To get revved up, we males start singing every January. We try to make it sound as romantic as possible, singing, "Hey, sweetie!" Every time we sing, we feel just a little bit-- well, empowered. And every time our sweetie hears it (and if we sing a whole lot, even some other guys' sweeties!) her heart gets a-thumpin.'

It starts out slow, but by Valentine's Day we're singing quite a bit. With the days getting longer, and sometimes warmer, we have plenty of time for finding food with time left over for romance. By March we'll be singing twice as much as we're doing now, and by April we'll be singing twice as much as we were in March, and by May--well, we'll be so revved up that we won't even need Powdermilk Biscuits to be able to get up and do what needs to be done.

My mate will lay lots of eggs--last year she produced nine! We want to be sure there are plenty of little chickadees to maintain our traditions, but more important, producing such a large clutch all at once ensures that we won't have to go through all that rigmarole again for another year. Black-capped Chickadee nest

Birdorable Blogging Contest #8: Dee Kuder

125-wren Sharon is back, safe and sound, and will have many a tale for you about her adventures in Central Asia.

Today's guest entry is from Dee Kuder, of Crane Lake Nature Blog, writing about the life and habits of  the Spruce Grouse.

Spruce Grouse

This bird is definitely one of very all time favorites! In fact, some of my friends could say that I am totally obsessed with this bird. I was lucky to find a very cooperative male Spruce Grouse the other day on the Echo Trail.

Spruce Grouse

Spruce Grouse

This photo shows the beautiful sculpting of the back feathers. This bird may be just gray and black, but if you look closely the pattern of the feathers on his back side are stunning.

Spruce Grouse in full display

Spruce Grouse in full display

There’s good reason that back in the old days, this Grouse was called “Fools Hen”. They seem to be completely unfamiliar with people. Just imagine living life in the deep forest with an unlimited supply of food - they live off of Jack Pine and Spruce needles. Their predators are probably few and far between, and if they are being hunted by something, the places that they live, in the deep cover of a Spruce swamp, could deter any attacks. Maybe the terrible taste of their flesh is also a deterrent. Spruce Grouse can be legally hunted, and an estimated 20,000 were taken last year in Minnesota, although I don’t know why anyone would want to cook them up. I’ve heard that the taste of pine neeedles is what they’re all about.

Unfortunately, the Spruce Grouse may be taking the same path as Moose in northern Minnesota. For the past 60 years their numbers have been steadily declining. They may be extirpated (species that formerly occurred in the state but have disappeared and aren’t expected to recur) in northern Minnesota in the near future, just as a downturn in the Moose population is feared. I have heard from some of the locals here in Crane Lake that Spruce Grouse were once common. Now they are considered a very rare bird. Only a few pockets of remote forest around northern Minnesota currently hold these birds. I would love to hear some more stories about this Grouse, please contact me with any comments.

The Spruce Grouse is the only Grouse where you can readily tell the female from the male. Some people can get confused when they see a female Sprucey and think they are seeing a Ruffed Grouse. The Ruffed Grouse is the only Grouse that has a crest - Spruceys will always have a round head. The other very reliable field mark is the chestnut or rufous colored tips on their tail feathers. Both males and females have this marking. Of course, the male is unmistakable - they are beautiful birds!

calm Spruce Grouse

calm Spruce Grouse

Notice the calm expression in this photo, the red above his eye is hardly showing…

Spruce Grouse with red eye combs

Spruce Grouse with red eye combs

Now he’s a little more excited with his enlarged red eye combs.

Spruce Grouse with rufous tail tips

Spruce Grouse with rufous tail tips

Now he’s up and displaying, notice the chestnut colored tips on his tail. [youtube][/youtube] The Spruce Grouse in this video was displaying. The most striking thing about this video was the way he was seemingly able to control each and every one of his breast feathers. The way he was moving them around made me think he was trying to hypnotize whatever he was trying to influence. Whether it was a female that he was impressing with his wiley ways or another male that he was trying to prove his manhood to, I don’t know, but this bird is absolutely beautiful! Can you tell I love this bird?

Birdorable Guest Blogging Contest #7: Kirk Mona

125-wrenWe're just about done with the Birdorable Guest Blogging Contest. Hope you've enjoyed it as much as I have. After the final entry is posted, we'll have a poll up where you can vote for your favorite entry. Today's entry is from Kirk Mona, and describes part of the process of identifying a bird's age when banding, something Sharon has tried to describe to me several times. Then my eyes go out of focus and I pass out. It's a strange and complicated science, but Kirk lays it out rather well. You can read more of Kirk's stuff on his blog, Twin Cities Nature Podcast.

How Old's That Thrasher?

It was a beautiful Thursday at the Lee & Rose Warner Nature Center where my co-host of the Twin Cities Naturalist Podcast, Paul and I work as naturalists. One of the fabulous things about being a naturalist is that you get to spend time outside on beautiful days. Many new migrants showed up today and the school group coming out took the Spring Birds class so that means banding! Fairly early on, the banders caught a beautiful large Brown Thrasher. What a gorgeous bird. Check out that gold eye! I usually think of thrashers as desert birds since that's usually where I see them. There are Brown Thrashers at the nature center every year but for some reason I never seem to stumble upon them. It was a thrill to see it up so close. The photo doesn't even begin to do this bird justice.

The next photo gives you a real idea for the size of a Brown Thrasher. This particular bird had an interesting feature that can be used to age the bird. Banders need to know all kinds of tricks to figure out how old a bird is. Look carefully at the tail of the thrasher. Notice anything?

Sometimes banders look at the condition of tail feathers, the fresher and less frayed, the newer. This tail is a little worn but that isn't the important thing to notice. There's a faint light colored band on all of the feathers about an inch or so from the tip of the tail. Can you pick it out? A variation in color on a feather is not uncommon. Sometimes there are series of bands that correspond to feathers growing at night or during the day. In the case of this thrasher though, there is only one band and it was likely caused by a change in diet while the tail feathers were growing. Most likely there was a minor deficiency in nutrients. You see this from time to time on single feathers. The key thing to note, however, is that the band appears on all of the tail feathers in the same location. For this band to appear at the same place on all of the feathers, they would have all had to form at the exact same time. Adult birds don't molt all of their tail feathers all at once or it would be very hard to fly. Unless there is some freak accident where a bird is attacked and loses all of its tail feathers, the only time all of the tail feathers grow in at once is when the bird is born. Since the band appears at the same place on all of the feathers we can tell that they all grew at the same time. Since the only time that happens is at birth, we know that these are the original tail feathers this bird grew. That tells us this is a first year bird that was born last summer.

This young male was banded and released. Hopefully he'll go on to have a long successful life. From now on, even when he gets new tail feathers, if anyone catches him again they'll know when we was born because of his band.

Birdorable Guest Blogging Contest #6: Connie Kogler

125-wrenCounting down the days until Sharon gets back (two!) from the world's largest land-locked country. Haven't heard from her in the last 24 hours, but I believe this is the day she's staying in a "Soviet-style Sanatorium" (their words), so perhaps she's enjoying the facilities too much. Today's entry comes to us from Connie Kogler of Birds O' the Morning, and involves a long hike through some love bits of  Colorado.

Away Out On the Prairie

What's the first thing that comes to mind when you think "Colorado?" Curvy mountain roads? Great ski runs? 14,000 foot mountains? Prairie? Prairie?! Yes, nearly half our amazing state is prairie grasslands and it holds many secrets. My sister Lauren Burke from Broomfield and I went out for a day of discovering a few.

(*Of note; I could not add any info links on the Pawnee National Grasslands from the US Forest Service. Their website seems to be out of commission.)

No long and winding roads here, only long.. .. and straight. We discovered this lovely Mountain Plover while flying along a road like the one above at 55 mph. Had to stop and back up. Kind of amazing we actually spotted it. There was a second one too and both were nearly invisible.Horned Larks were everywhere and thankfully one stayed still long enough to get a few shots of it. Very cool little birds. Note the spiffy little horns, this dude seemed especially proud of.We stopped at the Crow Valley Campground, a well known hotspot for birds. And we found something cool! (Hard to do living amongst all these fantastic birders on the Front Range!) An adult female VERMILION FLYCATCHER. My first great look at this bird. I've only once before seen one, a male, and then only from a car that would not stop. We spent about 20 minutes following her around and taking pictures and even stopped back later in the afternoon on our way home to see her again. She's quite out of her range here in Colorado.. and with the storm we're having she'll wish she was back in Rick Wright's yard in AZ. A lifer for Lauren and a state bird for me.I believe this little guy is a 13-lined Ground Squirrel, though how it sat still long enough for anyone to count them is beyond me! So cute though.Heading down the trail..This is a bit of the face of a rock near the Pawnee Buttes. Amazing colors of lichens! I'll bet someone knows the names and types of these?On the way back from hiking 1.5 miles out to the west Butte the sky was amazing. I took one shot that you need a magnifying glass to verify, but it has a hawk in it! (not this one)Here is our first view of the Pawnee Buttes. Yes, there's two. The second one is behind the first.There were some crazy side canyons off of the wash we scrambled down. Not someplace to be during a flash flood!The second butte! See I told you..Lauren wondering how far we're going to have to walk back to the car.

Birdorable Guest Blogging Contest #5: Christine Kane

125-wrenJust heard from Sharon and she's safe and well and about to board a plane to Almatay, Kazakhstan. She promises lots of great pictures when she gets back. But now it's time to continue the Birdorable Guest Blogging Contest with today's entry, Christine Kane of Let's Paint Nature. In this entry from her blog, Christine lays out how to paint a White Throated Sparrow, a bird which, amazingly enough, is not entirely brown!

Let's Paint a White Throated Sparrow!

Well, I fell in love with these little suckers ever since I saw them the other day. So let’s paint them in watercolors before they’re gone…

Step 1: Start with a simple sketch in graphite. Don’t worry if every shape and line is not perfect. You aren’t obligated to stay in the lines….ever! This isn’t work, this is play.

Step 2:Here I started with a pale blue-gray wash for the belly. I added a darker blue for shadow (under his white throat patch, mid-belly, under-belly, and under his wing. Remember to keep a few highlighted spots bare, allowing the white of the paper to show through. If you do, your painting will not feel “flat” but will have a breath of life and a light feeling to it.

Step 3: While the belly was drying, I started to work on his wing. A light olive green- brown color is the foundation and a more red-brown is added on top. But remember…always keeps some white spots open! Next, I added a few stripes on his head. The color I used is a mixture of blue, green, and red. It only looks black. If you use black straight from a tube of paint, it will always look dull and flat. If you mix the colors together however, you will be surprised at how deep it looks!

Step 4:POW! Let’s add some dimension! It’s as easy as a brush stroke! In this step I added the famous yellow spot on his head. Also, a dark brown to his wing. If your edges seem too hard, while wet, take a clean brush and soften those edges with clean water.

Step 5:For the background, I wanted to represent the pine needles without going crazy on every single needle! I painted blotches of green and while wet, I took the edge of my paint brush and scraped needles into the paper. What happens next is that the green watercolor pigment seeps into the grooves making darker lines…so easy!

Step 6:I forgot one thing when painting his eye! If you do not leave a little white to represent glistening in the eye, your subject will appear dead. What can I do now that his eye is totally black already? No worries, just take an xacto blade and scrape out a little section of light! Nothing to it!

Step 7 Final:Here is the final painting. Gracing me with a visit, my white-throated friend is now forever honored in his very own watercolor painting.

I hope you enjoyed this step by step watercolor demonstration of the white throated sparrow!

Birdorable Guest Blogging Contest #4: Lili Tod McMillan

125-wrenOnce more into the Birdorable Guest Blogging contest! Today's entry is on a subject near and dear to the Birdchick's heart: having dead trees and brush on your property to attract birds. The entry comes from Lili tod McMillan of the Behind the Falls Blog. Take it away, Lili!

Have you hugged a snag today?


Does this image make you want to get a chainsaw or a pair of Swarovskis?

As any bird aficionado will tell you, snags such as this one, do not have to be an unattended issue in your backyard but rather a hidden magnet for all sorts of bird activity. Your neighbors might think you are being rather neglectful allowing a dead tree to stand while shedding its various parts over a long period of time but this is certainly less crazy then constructing an artificial snag.

In North America, 55 bird species are cavity nesters. Besides nesting, birds use dead trees for foraging, domain-watching, hunting and just plain hanging out without the hassles of dealing with leaves. If your dead tree or snag is strategically located, you are pretty much guaranteed a steady stream of bird visitors.


For birding humans, dead trees provide great viewing and photo opportunities.


An ibis "tower" in Sebastian Florida.


Many birds of prey, such as this red-tailed hawk, rely on the unobstructed view that a dead tree provides for finding food.


This barred owl is perched on a man-made snag of cut buckthorn.  Buckthorn is an invasive small tree that is choking the understory of woodlands here in Minnesota. Creating a few of these buckthorn mini-perches is one way to make something positive out of a nuisance situation.


A wildlife pond is not complete without a few horizontal snags.  Ducks love to rest on dead trees by the water's edge.  Seeing the baby wood ducks each summer makes dragging an 100 pound snag over to the water worth all the work.

And for a non-birding use of snags, you have to give credit to Bruce Stillman who designed what I call "snaghenge". snaghenge1

This work of art is part of the amazing Big Stone Mini Golf Course in Minnetrista, Minnesota.

Thanks for the great entry, Lili. And just because I know this is going to come up when Sharon gets home: Buckthorn is a huge problem in terms of native growth trees. Sharon recommends (and is fighting a seemingly neverending battle) against it, and her recommended solution is to try to eliminate it entirely, because it spreads like crazy.

All right, we'll be back tomorrow!

Birdorable Guest Blogging Contest #3: Craig Nash

125-wren Hello, all. NBB here again.

Sharon's off to Kazakhstan (from Frankfurt, where she could not, alas, find a frankfurter, only Viennese sausage), so it's time for our latest Birdorable guest blogging contest entry.

This one comes to us from Craig Nash of Peregrine's Bird Blog, an involves some close encounters with a very large sea bird.

Kaikoura: One of the Best Birding Experiences of my Life with Albatross Encounter

Having left Kapiti Island we stayed in Wellington with my father's first cousin Jan for a few days before we headed to the South Island and went our seperate ways. I wanted to see Albatrosses at Kaikoura and Kea in Arthur's Pass and my father wanted to visit friends and go fishing.

I arrived in Kaikoura and stayed in the Adelphi Backpackers Lodge.I had booked to go out with Albatross Encounter about a week earlier on the internet. I got up on a beautiful morning and headed to the Encounter building. I had made sure I had taken my seasickness tablets the previous night and an hour before we were to leave. At the Encounter centre there is a really nice cafe serving excellent breakfasts and great coffee. so i had a quick coffee before our group of seven were to meet up with our guide Alastair Judkins.

Alastair drove us from the centre around a headland to where we would board the boat. Pretty much the same as Kapiti we got onto boat and it was then reversed into harbour. We made our way out to an offshore canyon which is pretty close to the shore.It is about a mile deep. It is here that two currents converge and forces nutrient rich water upwards which in turn supports a wide variety of fish and marine animals creating a wonderful feeding habitat for many different species of seabird.

The first we were to see were the Cape Pigeon or Cape Petrel. They have a black and white colour and were named cape pigeons because they frequent Cape Horn. They are not a pigeon but a Petrel and in NZ follow fishing boats looking for scraps.

Once we were over the canyon Alastair put a bag of frozen chum overboard and what felt like seconds birds were coming in all directions. There were Great Northern Petrels, Mollymawks, Albatrosses and as they came in Alastair was pointing them out and naming them as they came in, as I was trying to photograph them. Westland petrel, Sooty Shearwater, White Chinned Petrel, Buller's Shearwater, Hutton's Shearwater, Salvin's Mollymawk, Gibson's Wandering Albatross. The shear beauty of these very large birds cleaving the water as they bank over the waves was awe inspiring. Also the backdrop of the Kaikoura Mountains made it all the more spectacular. To me it was one of the greatest birding experiences I have ever had.

Alastair then shouted Chatham Island Mollymawk. This had to be the bird of the whole NZ trip for me. It is critically endangered on the IUCN red list. There are about 4500 pairs in the world and they breed on a rock called the Pyramid 800 miles to the East in the Chatham Islands. They would be a very rare visitor to New Zealand and this was only the third time in six or seven years that Alastair had seen one.It is one of the three sub species of Shy Mollymawk. It flew round the boat before coming into land right next to the chum. It really was a beautiful bird.

It then flew off not to be seen again. I then tried to take photos with my sigma 10-20mm lens with my camera body as low to the water as possible. I got a range of shots. In this one immediately below the tip of his bill is only about an inch away from the lens!!!

Then we were visited by a Black-browed Albatross of the Campbell Island Race. It is one of the most widespread albatrosses. It looks as though it is wearing eyeshadow.

The only other Mollymawk we saw was a New zealand White -capped Mollymawk. This one is immature.

Alastair then headed to show us the Spotted Shag Colony on a rock just a few hundreds from the shore when we stopped at a group of Buller's Shearwaters sitting on the water. We looked and photographed them and then he chucked the remaining chum into the water. The albatrosses and the giant petrels went into a feeding frenzy.It was a pretty noisy affair.

As a photographic experience it was second to none.It had to be one of the best mornings of my life. The next time I am in NZ I will definately go out on an earlier trip in the day to experience the early morning sunlight. I would also love to photograph the birds from an underwater perspective.

I entered this photograph, which I changed to Black and White, into the Birdforum Monthly Photo Competition (In this case the title was Monochrome Birds) and it won so I was pretty pleased with that.