Up early again this morning, and out the door, but some leaders just can’t get enough pies, and it was too good an opportunity to grab a quick breakfast pie – Apple and blueberry – from Miles Better Pies. So damn good… Then we headed towards Bluff, basically just making a B-line straight there, with a quick stop at the most musical toilets in the land in Winton.
We arrived into Bluff with pretty overcast and cold conditions. Although it wasn’t blowing a lot, it clearly had been as big swells were smashing on the coast and it was looking really rough in the entrance to the harbour, with some tide and current adding to the situation. We stopped to look at a small flock of white-fronted terns roosting on some rocks, and then looked out a bit further to more birds feeding just offshore. It is always worth checking birds in this area, and it paid off again as an Arctic tern came into view. Clearly smaller, more buoyant, and with a smaller black bill, and the birds darker plumage, all combined to make the bird stand out well from the white-fronteds. We watched it feeding, dipping down to the water every now an then, and managed a few photos, but unfortunately the bird was against the light, so not the best.
We headed down to Stirling Point to take at look at the sea, and it didn’t look too bad, with some horrible waves in the entrance, but it looked better once you were out. So we headed to the ferry terminal and checked in, loading our gear into the crates, and then waited. We boarded the ferry shortly after, and sat outside on the back deck as we headed out. At the entrance it was a little lively, with waves breaking over the bow of the ferry, and jolting the little bolt…some were looking a little tentative. We got out through the rough stuff, and although not calm was a little better. Not a lot of birds around, which was surprising considering the conditions and the past southerly blow. We had a few white-capped albatross, a few sooty shearwaters, and then a lot of common diving-petrels as we got closer to Stewart Island. As we go into the shelter of Stewart we saw a brown skua on one of the rocks on the way in, and a few Stewart Island and spotted shags. We checked the boulder shoreline of Stewart to look for penguins, but nothing, but it was nice to be in calmer waters.
We docked and headed ashore, grabbing our gear, and then headed up to the accommodation. We checked in, and then had our lunch in the sunshine outside of the South Sea Hotel. We met Matt Jones, one of the other Wrybill leaders, who will be coming on the pelagic tomorrow, and chatted with him about recent sightings and events. It was then time to head up and over the hill to Golden Bay to meet our water taxi for Ulva Island…a nice calm ride across this time.
We arrived onto Ulva and headed into the forest. It wasn’t long and there were birds around, first tui and bellbird, then a robin (of course). There were lots of spider orchids in flower, and as we admired them we heard yellowhead calling and moved off down the track in search of them. Brief views of a couple of them before they disappeared, but we had nice views of brown creeper as well. We carried on a little way and found a pair of South Island saddleback, our main target for the afternoon, so nice to get that under the belt. Carrying on we headed to a spot where Matt had told us about a roosting morepork…and there it was! Not the best view as it was pretty well obscured up in a tree, but nice to see it in daylight anyway.
We headed to Boulder Beach, seeing a few kaka and several red-crowned parakeet, as well as more robins and brown creeper. Saddleback were a little hard to come by, but we heard a few off in the forest. At boulder beach the tide was right out, and we had a pair of variable oystercatchers and some friendly weka, and a little penguin was spotted from the beach also. Heading back into the forest we saw much the same on the return journey, but got onto a couple more saddleback, including an immature jackbird – showing the overall rusty plumage without a distinct saddle. We also had a couple more weka, and then more variable oystercatchers once we got onto the beach.
Before long it was time to catch our water taxi back to Golden Bay, and we had a nice easy run back, and then walked back up and over to Oban. Dinner was another great meal, with beautiful views over the bay, and then it was off to look for kiwi.
We headed out into the bay and across the entrance to Paterson Inlet. On the way we saw a few little penguins and a few Stewart Island cormorants, plus some distant Fiordland crested penguins. It was a lovely evening as we headed across, with the sun setting behind us. We arrived at a small jetty and Phillip gave us some information on the Southern brown kiwi, and then Greg and Matt took us up and over, through some forest to Ocean Beach. We walked off to the northern end of the beach, and well before reaching the end of the beach we found a female kiwi out on the sand feeding on sandhoppers. Matt used his torch to dimly light the bird, and we all had excellent views of the bird for almost 15 minutes, as it busily fed, probing its long beak into the sand and every now and then puffing up a plume of sand as it blew sand out of its nostrils. Fantastic! Gradually the bird fed back towards the forest and then disappeared. It was clear we had not had any effect on the bird, but the lack of kelp on the beach probably meant not as much food for it as usual, and so it preferred to forage in the forest. But we had had an excellent view, and happily we all headed back to the start of the forest track. There was no more sign of any kiwi, so we headed back towards the boat, seeing a morepork on the way – a great end to another excellent day!
Day total – Seen = 55 + 1 heard (tomtit); new for the trip = 5; total for the trip to date = 157