Thursday 11 November 2010

The King of Shags!

A late start this morning to head out on the Dolphin Watch Ecotours trip out onto Queen Charlotte Sound.  It was a little cloudy to start with, but I knew that wouldn’t last long, and sure enough within an hour or so there was a beaut blue sky.

Our skipper Joe pretty quickly directed the boat towards the first little penguins of the day, and we then had excellent views of more and more of these little guys with fluttering shearwaters as we headed out.  Before too long an Arctic skua flew past the boat, a dark morph and probably the same bird I had seen in close to Picton on the ferry yesterday evening.  Off to a good start.  We headed to a couple of the usual spots for King shag, including past the point I had seen one in the water from the ferry, but nothing, until a little while later an immature bird flew past us in the opposite direction.  We had brief views and decided to head out further, past Tory Channel and out towards Motuara Island.  A quick stop for some spotted shags on a roost, and fur seals nearby, and we then headed onwards, until we got to a spot I had seen King shag before, and sure enough there was a group of about 25, with a couple of really stonking birds in breeding dress, with the yellow caruncle and blue eye.  Nice.  We had excellent views of these birds, with them being rather settled at this site.

We then headed out again trying to search for some Hector’s dolphins – one of the smallest of the dolphins and endemic to NZ.  We all scanned as we slowly motored along, but not much to be seen.  I managed to spot a dorsal and Joe headed towards it, but this was obviously not an animal in a playful mood and we failed to refind it.  Carrying on slowly we kept scanning, but didn’t manage to find our dolphin.  We headed across to Ship Cove – a place famous due to the fact the Capt James Cook spent a lot of time here on several of his voyages.  Weka were there to greet us in their usual curious manner and we had great views of them, a brief pitstop, and then across to Motuara Island.

We headed straight up to the pool and within seconds had a pair of South Island saddlebacks right in front of us, drinking, bathing and preening.  Awesome, wish it was always that easy.  We also had great views of bellbird, yellow-crowned parakeet, and South Island robin.  We decided that having had great views of the birds, our time was best spent on the water again looking for dolphins, with not only Hector’s possible, but dusky and bottle-nose also possible.  A quick cuppa and scone on the run and we soon had a big pod of bottle-nose dolphins passing us on either side of the boat, heading out towards the open sea.  Many of them passed us really close, porpoising as they went right up out of the water, showing just how big some of the individuals were.  Not bad at all!

We then gradually headed back towards Picton, seeing a couple of King shags in the water, on the way, as well as more spotted and pied shags, white-fronted terns, gannets, fluttering shears and another Arctic skua.  Back at Picton we headed straight for the Village Bakery to see if anything was left for lunch, and thankfully we were in luck.  It is a pretty popular stop so you can’t get there too late!  Then it was a short drive to Renwick to the home of the long staying black kite.  Although most of us had seen this species before, it was a lifer for one, and so worth checking...not to mention another one towards beating Sav’s record of 165!  We arrived and had our lunch and waited, a cup of tea, and waited, another cup of tea, but nothing.  So after half an hour I decided we should head off, but went down the road about 2 kms to turn around.  We pulled up, did a brief scan and spotted a harrier over the ridgeline, and then watched as another bird suddenly appeared into my view – the kite!  We had great views of this bird, even getting the scope onto it and had excellent comparisons with the accompanying harrier.  Unfortunately, no falcon like the last time I was here, with 3 species of raptor in view at that doesn’t happen in NZ very often, if at all before!

So pretty happy we headed through Blenheim to Hardings Road and the Blenheim sewage ponds (number three on the tour – what would a birding tour be without sewage ponds!).  No glossy ibis on the road in, but we had a good look over the ponds, checking amongst the Royal spoonbills.  Lots of birds on the ponds, including probably almost 200 Royal spoonbill, some of them nesting in the Ngaio shrubs on the islands.  There were quite large chicks visible in some, begging for food, so nice to see this.  Lots of grey teal, shoveler, black swan, etc.  But, no glossy ibis.

We continued south and stopped at Lake Grassmere to see what we could find.  There was a single banded dotterel and two wrybill, which we got nice views of again, as well as six red-necked stint.  Amongst them was the bird reported as a possible little stint on recently.  However, although the plumage is very unusual, the bird was a red-necked stint in all other ways – shape, size, jizz.  I think in the end it just has to be a red-necked stint in strange plumage – perhaps an old breeder that has moulted the throat, but still has a pronounced breast-band.

We carried on south to Ohau Point, stopping for the spotted shag colony and NZ fur seals, getting good views of both of these.  The spotted shags had young in the nest, ranging from fairly small chicks to almost ready to fledge.

We checked into the accommodation in Kaikoura, had a bit of a break then dinner, and then headed out to look for little owl...however, nothing stirring tonight.  It’s albatross day tomorrow...can’t wait!

Bird of the day –
Spotted shag x2, King shag x2, South Island saddleback x1, black kite x1

Day total – Seen = 53 + 3 heard (dunnock, grey warbler, common redpoll); new for the trip = 4; total for the trip to date = 136

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