Monday 3 December 2018

Day fourteen - shags and kiwi

We had a relaxed start to the day and then started to head south.  We stopped at a couple of spots as we headed south, getting more great looks at Otago shag, and then put in a bit of driving.  As we got further south the sun started to poke through the cloud, and good grief, it actually came out sunny and warm!  We made a stop just before midday and walked along a beautiful beach in the sunshine.  We watched as one and then two male Hooker’s (New Zealand) sea lions came up out of the water and onto the beach.  The one spent a bit of time rubbing itself in the sand and then throwing sand over itself with its fore-flippers.  And then the bigger second one came along and ruined its solitude and they both ended up disappearing back into the water.  There at the right time!
We carried on south and had a nice lunch in a café, and then continued, with spectacular views across Foveaux Strait as we approached Invercargill along the coast. Amazing weather!  We called in to a wetland area and scanned, looking for a couple of vagrant targets.  Within a minute we had a great pair of chestnut-breasted shelducks feeding in the shallows, before they moved out into deeper water.  We searched the area for a Northern shoveler that has been seen there, but to no avail.  Lots of other waterfowl though, and in the sunshine a lovely spot to spend a half hour.
We headed on towards Bluff and to the Ferry Terminal.  We checked in and waited for the ferry, before boarding and then heading a cross a very calm and flat Foveaux Strait.  The seas were all of a foot in height and there was little breeze, so very few birds flying.  As we got closer to Stewart Island we started seeing common diving petrels at a distance, with perhaps up to 20 of these, and about 5 white-capped albatross, all resting on the water.  A single sooty shearwater and a probable Cook’s petrel, plus one brown skua was it. But a lovely crossing none the less. Coming into Halfmoon Bay we had our next cormorant species, with several Foveaux shags on a rock.
We arrived, headed up to our accommodation, seeing NZ pigeon, kaka, and a few tui on the way, and then a beaut dinner in the Hotel.  A quick rest and then it was out for our evening’s activity – kiwi spotting! We headed out with Matt Jones – who is one of our guides, as well as being an awesome guide for Ulva’s Guided Walks, pelagic trips with Aurora Charters and sundry other birding options on Stewart Island.  We got kitted out and then headed up the hill, walking slowly and listening and looking. It was barely 5 minutes and we had our first looks at a Southern brown kiwi.  A smallish male feed towards us, showing all the features we needed to see. Awesome!  It gave us a few minutes of viewing pleasure, before it then stomped off into the undergrowth.  We continued on, keeping eyes and ears peeled, and in the process we managed to see another three kiwi, several of which gave excellent prolonged views.  And then a great morepork to top things off! An awesome night.

Otago shags displaying, with mostly dark morph birds

A Hooker's (NZ) sea lion looks to come up out of the water

After coming out, a roll in the sand is a must!

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