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Exciting times for New Zealand seabirds

New Zealand Storm-petrel filmed

Following its sensational rediscovery in 2003, after more than a century without records, a New Zealand Storm-petrel Oceanites maorianus has been photographed in the hand for the first time.

On 4 November 2005, a storm-petrel landed on a fishing-boat in the Hauraki Gulf, New Zealand. The skipper, Geordie Murman, instantly recognised it as the bird causing such excitement in the area recently. It was kept overnight in a box.

"Karen Baird of Pterodroma Pelagics contacted me and told me she believed it was a New Zealand Storm-petrel," says Tony Pym of UK birdwatching tour company Ornitholidays, who was visiting the country at the time [and who also took the photo]. "We chartered a boat to go out to the fishing vessel. Imagine our excitement when we opened the box and first saw the bird and confirmed its identification."

The bird was fully measured, ringed, photographed and a feather sample taken before it was released and flew off strongly. The DNA analysis should help a settle controversy over the species’s precise taxonomic status: with some people unsure in which genus it is best placed.Further trips to the area have attracted birds through chumming and three have been caught using nets and fitted with lightweight transmitters. Several birds were close to Little Barrier Island and this, or the nearby Mokohinau Islands where Mike Imber recently attracted a New Zealand Storm-petrel to light, could well prove to be this enigmatic species’s breeding location.

Meanwhile, the capital Wellington is looking forward to the arrival of the Volvo Ocean Race. With eleven species of albatross, more than any other country, New Zealand is considered the global stronghold for these great ocean travellers, as well as the current capital of ocean racing sailing.

Dr Ben Sullivan, BirdLife International’s Global Seabird Programme Co-ordinator, said: "The importance that New Zealand has for albatross cannot be overstated. One third of the world’s 21 albatross species nest nowhere else."

New Zealand's seabirds also look set to be boosted by a draft Government accord that proposes to close some 1.2 million square kilometres – almost one third of New Zealand's Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) - to bottom trawling and dredging. The proposed area would extend from the subantarctic waters south of Campbell Island to the subtropical Kermadec region. When added to New Zealand deepwater areas already closed, this will make the largest single marine protection measure ever proposed within a nation state's EEZ.

4th July 2014