Thursday 18 November 2010

They all came back...

So it was another earlyish morning, leaving the accommodation just after seven and heading down towards the coast and then along to Bluff.  The weather looked ok, but was fairly overcast, although with almost no wind.  We kept our eyes peeled for little owl along the way, but nothing, but there were lots of black-billed gulls in the fields beside the roads, and of course the usual introductions.

We made a quick stop on the coast for Hector’s dolphins, seeing at least 5 or so animals out in the waves, with a relatively calm sea.  However, views this morning certainly didn’t beat out ‘flying’ dolphins from the West Coast.  We then headed through to Wakapatu Beach, where there was an errant shore plover several years ago, but it hasn’t been seen for more than a year.  However, we did see about ten banded dotterel, and scanned the small flock of white-fronted terns for any Arctic terns – several were reported from here a few days ago.  Alas, the conditions were very calm, with only about 30-40 white-fronted terns and certainly no Arctic terns amongst them.  Nevermind.

We then made for Bluff, checking in to the ferry terminal, and awaiting the departure of the ferry, which happened ahead of schedule and the ferry actually left port five minutes early!  Don’t be late!  We saw our first Stewart Island shag pretty soon after leaving the wharf, but the calm conditions didn’t bode well for much else.  However, we did start to encounter a lot of common diving petrels, and in the end had a couple of white-capped albatross and several Cape petrels.  As we came through the Muttonbird Islands (taking a detour) we also had several brown skua flying over the islands.

As we slowed and approached Half Moon Bay and the wharf I spied a Fiordland crested penguin on the shore, and most of the group got onto it before it disappeared behind rocks...BVD (better views desired)!  We grabbed our gear and headed up to the South Seas Hotel, checked in quickly, had our lunch at the picnic tables out front and then headed along to Golden Bay.

Our water taxi was there waiting and we zipped across to Ulva Island seeing a couple of little penguins on the way.  The rain was holding off for the moment, and our main target bird was yellowhead.  We headed up through the beaut forest, ears pricked, and within seconds had South Island saddleback, South Island robin, red-crowned parakeet, South Island kaka, and had heard tui, bellbird, brown creeper, etc.  We continued along quietly trying to listen out for the tell-tale staccato call of the yellowhead, but nothing for quite sometime.  I had heard they were being a little difficult out here this summer, so I was getting a little nervous.  They are cracking birds, and efforts to see them in subsequent days would be a little difficult with regards to logisitics.  And then as the beads of sweat were starting to form, I heard the call.  We moved quickly along the track towards where they were calling and ended up with stunning views of at least three different birds, including one stonking male with really ‘glowing’ plumage.  In reality we had probably only be on the island for about 40 minutes, but it seemed like a long time!

We continued to watch these birds and then headed out along the track, and ambled leisurely along a couple of the beaches.  Weka were about, and we found several with tiny chicks, lots of kaka low down and on the ground, and pretty much everything else in abundance.  As the drizzle started we were all heading back towards the wharf anyway, and by 1730 we were all back there as our water taxi arrived to take us back.  Despite all heading off in different directions...they all came back!

We headed up to the accommodation for dinner...what a great dinner.  The South Sea Hotel does an awesome dinner with some really beautiful food – if you are staying on Stewart Island you really need to dine there at least once.

After dinner we jumped aboard Phillip Smith’s boat, to head out to Ocean Beach to see Stewart Island brown kiwi.  Phillip has been doing these tours for many years now and really has it down pat.  It has got to be one of the most surreal and enthralling birding experiences in New Zealand, seeing these birds feeding on the beach on sandhoppers and other invertebrates...and this is exactly how it happened.  Just fantastic.  I took my camera along for the first time, and even at max ISO (12800) the images were not really that sharp, but decided to take some video.  From what I can see I got some superb results, so hopefully can load some of it to this blog when I get some software to edit it.  We saw at least 3-4 birds over the course of the evening before heading back to the boat and homewards...a long day but one that will take some beating!

Distinctive plumage of the juvenile 'jackbird' South Island saddleback

Cute as can be, very young weka chick

Rubbish photo...but we got it!!!

South Island kaka feeding

Boulder Beach, Ulva Island

Hey, what are you looking at?

Feeding Stewart Island brown kiwi (no flash used)

Bird of the day – Southern (Stewart Island) brown kiwi x6

Day total – Seen = 56 + 1 heard (South Island tomtit); new for the trip = 4; total for the trip to date = 154

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