Saturday, 30 November 2019

Day nineteen - shagging about

Up and at’em, another lovely morning on Stewart Island.  Breakfasted, packed and then on to the wharf to check in for the ferry. The crossing looked to be fairly calm and it was, with a bit of a breeze, but not much.  We spotted three Fiordland crested penguins on rocks and one in the water on the way out, and then a couple porpoising all over the place a bit further out.  Now that was a nice start.  A distant perched Southern brown skua, and a few Foveaux shags and then we were in the Foveaux Strait proper.  Light winds, confirmed by the fact that over half of the 10 or so white-capped albatross seen on the journey were sitting on the water.  No other birds of note, except a couple of sooty shearwaters and common diving petrels.  As we arrived back in Bluff, a few spotted shags and white-fronted terns amongst the gulls.
We loaded the van, and then headed north.  It was a beautiful day and the sun was shining, the scenery picturesque.  We made a couple of quick stops along the way, then grabbed some lunch in a town and ate it slightly early at a nice little road side stop.  Mild amusement when a cop stopped a poor elderly lady just near us for speeding.
We continued north, and headed to a location that is quite scenic and has a small number of yellow-eyed penguins.  The wind was fair pumping here – amazing what a few hundred kilometres can do!  We had lovely views of the coastline and got to a good over view to hear a penguin calling.  Moments later we spotted a bird, but it was too far off to have been the one calling.  But we had good views of it as it headed back up to its nest site on the hill.  Then not fair from us another bird called and moments later a bird appeared from the bushes, walked down on to the beach and trundled down to the water and dived in.  Perfect!  Couldn’t have time that any better!  A few Otago shags flew on past, as well as some spotted shag.  Fur seals basked on the rocks nearby.
With the wind the way it was we decided to head off, so slowly headed back to the van and on to the next spot.  Here we were able to watch several hundred pairs of Otago shags at relatively close proximity, with a lot of big fluffy chicks.  A lot of coming and going by adults, and a lot of feeding going on also.  We had the scope on them and able to get some really nice views of these birds, both the pied and the bronze morph.  We spent some time enjoying them, and then decided to continue on.
We headed on to our accommodation, checked in a little early and rested up for a bit before dinner at a nice pub, and an early night!  Tomorrow will be a big day!

Day total – Seen = 45; new for the trip = 1; total for the trip to date = 158

Happy penguins...

Day eighteen: Stew pelagic

So, it seemed that we woke up before we went to bed, or it kind of felt like it!  Short night, but today was looking good for our pelagic.  It had been pretty windy overnight, with some rain, and we were hoping this would have stirred the birds up a little.
We all met up on the dock and boarded ‘Aurora’ with skipper Ian and chum-master Matt Jones…again…he gets around ;). The weather was supposed to be warm and calm, but there was a bit of a breeze running, and we hoped if we got out further we would encounter enough wind to keep the birds flying.  First stop was to check out some sites for Fiordland crested penguins, and we managed to find two adults sunning themselves nicely on the rocks.  Then one of the large chicks we had found yesterday was also visible, so we had a view of that also.  Everyone had nice views and was happy, so we decided to carry on out, hoping that the wind wouldn’t suddenly drop out.
We started to attract a few white-capped albatross as we steamed out, so that started the cameras clicking.  And the light was pretty nice as well.  We carried on out to a couple of islands where we had found yellow-eyed penguins before.  Local knowledge is important with these sorts of things, and so we checked out places we had previously found them.  First beach nothing except a lot of fur seals, including a lot of small pups.  Second beach area, bingo – four birds sitting halfway between the water and the bushes – looking as if they were having a conference!  And they were, they sat there calling to each other and doing a little posturing.  Really lovely to see these birds here, they have had a pretty tough time over the last few seasons, with most of the chicks failing to fledge due to disease.  We spent some time with them, the photographers happily clicking away and everyone else getting really nice views.
But we had places to be and things to see, so we carried on.  Another island and three Southern brown skuas – Matt’s pets – came in to say hello and get a hand out.  Throwing fish scraps into the air, the birds swooped in low and snatched them out of the air.  Fun for all and great to see these impressive birds up close.  They decided they had had enough and headed back to their island roost, and we carried on out to our pelagic destination.  We had just under an hour steaming time to a place we have been many times.  As we got further out the swell started to build as we got away from the shelter of the land, and the winds picked up a little also.  Just what we needed!  There were a lot of common diving-petrels around, and great views of them during the course of the day.
Our first chumming location brought in a bunch of white-capped albatross, a few Salvin’s albatross, several Southern Royals and a couple of fly-by Northern giant petrels.  There were a few Sooty shearwaters also cruising past, and Cape petrels coming in also.  A good number of albatrosses was building, probably 50+, but there was not a lot of other new things coming in, so we decided to move.  We ended up over the course of the day spending time at 5 different chumming spots.  As we got further out, we picked up different things, with a short-tailed shearwater and a bunch of white-chinned petrels coming in for nice close views.  At the later stops we had at least 8 really nice views of mottled petrels and at least ten Cook’s petrels that really came in for great views.  Sometimes this species can be distant brief views, but this was far from that.  And the last couple of stops we managed to get great views of fairy prions as well, but no broad-billed prions showed themselves.  Never mind, we had excellent views of everything seen during the day, which is always a key thing, and by the end of the day had seen well over several hundred albatross!
We decided to start heading back towards Oban, albatross in tow, more common diving-petrels, sooty shearwaters, etc as we headed in.  We stopped at an impressive Foveaux shag breeding site, where there were several hundred pairs and fairly large chicks on show.  Also a few spotted shags.
Back in port it was time for a quick rest before another beautiful dinner, and then a quick walk to see if we could spot some long-tailed bats.  We managed to see one really well, and as the temp was pretty cool we felt pretty lucky!  Of to bed to get some sleep!

Day total – Seen = 33; new for the trip = 2; total for the trip to date = 157

Heading out on the ocean's waves

Friday, 29 November 2019

Day seventeen - last kiwi

Up early again and the weather looked a LOT better than it had been the previous day.  Breakfast and then van packed and on the road.  We were aimed at Bluff for our ferry across to Stewart Island, a pretty special part of New Zealand.  On the way we kept our eyes peeled, making a couple of quick stops along the way.  One was a small lagoon and estuary, where we did a short walk and checked the large numbers of waterfowl that were around.  Lots of black swan, shoveler, grey teal, and paradise shelduck.  Of course this is all nice, but we had a target in mind, and it was spotted almost straight away!  There was a pair of chestnut-breasted shelducks feeding in shallow mud, showing quite nicely.  We walked down to another vantage point, hoping to get the light slightly better, and refound them.  But then found another perched up on a post with a pair of paradise shelducks for comparison.  But then, hang on, there is another pair, sheesh and another.  So, in all we had six chestnut-breasted shelducks, always nice to see.
We looked through the other waterfowl, nice views of everything there, spotted a few bar-tailed godwit on the estuary and several Royal spoonbills, and then headed off.  We carried on our way to Bluff, checking in to the ferry terminal, and scanning for shags out the window.  A few spotted flying past, and then a distant Foveaux shag on the water…more to come.
We boarded the ferry, a light drizzle stopped as we stepped on and positioned ourselves on the back deck.  As we cast our lines and headed out it was looking pretty calm.  And indeed, as we got out further the conditions were pretty light.  We spotted a few more Foveaux shags and then a bunch of common diving petrels.  The numbers of these just increased as we got out further, so a nice chance to see these great little birds flying fast and low to the water with their rapid little wing-beats.  Two sooty shearwaters showed distantly, then a couple of white-capped albatross, and then a single Cook’s petrel whipped past and across the wake.  Was hoping that it was going to be another more exciting Cookilaria petrel, but oh well.
As we got in closer to Halfmoon Bay we scanned the rocks and coastline.  A couple of Fiordland crested penguins showed briefly, again more to come.  The ferry docked, we disembarked, grabbed our bags and up to our accommodation.  A quick lunch and then on a water taxi across to Ulva Island, getting nice views of a perched Foveaux shag on the way.
The weather was certainly better than the day before, with high cloud and a pretty reasonable temperature.  We started our walk, netting weka, red-crowned parakeet, and pigeon pretty quickly, with distant heard saddleback a little tantalising.  We spotted some beaut little spider orchids, greenhood orchids, and a lot of other really lovely forest.  A tip off from Matt Jones had us on to a roosting morepork with really nice views.  Brown creeper, grey gerygone, bell bird, tui, kaka, and then yellow-crowned parakeet and yellowhead.  Really nice views of the yellowhead and lots of calling around the place also.  Then finally we had a South Island robin…yep, it took this long for a robin to come in to view!
We carried on out to a lovely little beach, the tide was right in, but still a couple of variable oystercatchers in attendance, and some weka.  We then wandered back, seeing pretty much the same suite of birds, and then a lovely view of a pair of South Island saddlebacks.  Singing right in front of us, and hopping around and feeding.  Excellent.  We headed back to Post Office Cove, had a look at the sleeping male (!) Hooker’s sea lion on the beach, and then went for a quick jaunt to another beach.  Little penguin off the beach, with a few spotted shags around.  Then back to the wharf, an early water taxi back towards Oban, with a search for Fiordland crested penguin on the way.  We search a few spots, lots of poop, but no birds…good to know where they have been right?!  We then got to a great spot where we had two almost fully grown chicks – looking very blue and with just small smudges of crests.  Probably only a week or so before they will be heading off on their own.  Then we spied a distant adult, and moving the boat we got into a great potion where we had another pair of adults in a cave.  Really nice views of them at pretty close quarters with the diagnostic white striping on the cheeks visible.  Cool!
So, it was beer o’clock, and we headed in, had an hour or so rest, and then dinner.  But that wasn’t it.  After dinner we headed out with Matt Jones who guides for Wrybill Birding Tours, NZ, but also lives on Stewart Island and leads for Ulva’s Guided Walks and does kiwi trips for Beaks and Feathers.  We headed out to a location where they conduct their tours and although it was very windy, the rain was holding off.  We wandered with Matt, looking and listening as we went.  And before long we had our first Southern brown kiwi in view.  Nice close and prolonged views of a female feeding quietly and ignoring us completely.  We had awesome views, as she fed and then raised her bill a number of times to sniff the air.  It was clear with the wind direction the way it was that she was actually smelling something up ahead of us, so we left her be and soon discovered probably what she had smelt, another bird up wind.  We had great views of this also, and then carried on as we could see a black cloud looming ahead and feel the moisture in the air.  In the end we turned and found another bird, and had all three within 50-60m of each other.  Pretty darn nice.  After getting all the views we needed, we decided to head back towards the vehicles.  We got there just as spots of rain started to fall, and as we drove we spotted another bird, bringing the tally to four birds for the evening, and awesome views.  Bed never felt so good!

Day total – Seen = 63 inc 1 heard, (rifleman); new for the trip = 4; total for the trip to date = 155

Glen makes a friend on the ferry

Posing on the beach

The beautiful forest on Ulva with a few hobbits looking on

Wednesday, 27 November 2019

Day sixteen - water, water, everywhere

Up early and on the road through to Queenstown.  We had dry skies until there, but shortly after the odd spot of rain, that steadily set in as the morning progressed.  We did spot another falcon, brief but ok views as it flew across the road in front of us and then out over some fields.
We called in to Te Anau, grabbed some lunch and then started to make our way towards Milford Sound.  It was pretty obvious that today was not going to go to plan, with areas of the roadside closed due to avalanche danger, and the fact that it was tipping it down with rain.  As we drove the road we enjoyed the still stunning scenery and made a couple of stops to enjoy and scan.
We got to the Hollyford area and the rain was torrential and the rivers flowing very fast.  It was clear that rock wren just wasn’t going to be doable in these conditions, so we headed on through to Milford Sound to at least get a look.  And wow, the waterfalls and scenery were unlike anything seen before.  Waterfalls pretty much covered most cliff faces, still large patches of snow clinging to the tops and even down low.  It has been a very unseasonal Spring with much more snow than normal, and then a lot of rain recently also.  Road closures have been fairly frequent, so we were lucky to at least get through and see this part of the World.
At Milford Sound we had a quick stop to peer into the very thick low cloud, unfortunately not a lot on view here, but still worth coming to this spot.  We then headed back up the road, again marvelling at the spectacle that is Fiordland, and then back through to Te Anau.  Again we made a couple of quick stops along the way, a chance to stretch the legs, and enjoy some nice close views of black-fronted terns.  But the rain was still coming down.
We checked in to our accommodation in Te Anau a little early and had a well earnt break.  A chance to catch up on a nap or do some laundry.  Then off to a beautiful dinner, with the rain still coming down!  Our first day without a new bird for the trip.

Day total – Seen = 35 inc 1 heard, (weka); new for the trip = 0; total for the trip to date = 151
Within the rain shadow...

Within the rain - amazing!

Tuesday, 26 November 2019

Day fifteen - coasting

Up a little later after the night out, dreams of kiwi fresh on our minds.  What an awesome night!  We packed the van, nice sunshine with some clouds in the mountains that would hopefully allow views of the big ones later on?  We headed to a nice little forest walk where we had lovely greenhood orchids, filmy ferns, and tomtits.  We even had a male tomtit feeding chicks at a lovely little nest.  Nice views of where the Franz Josef Glacier used to be, and a shining bronze-cuckoo calling and being harassed (as it should) by a pair of grey gerygones.
We then headed south along the coast, beautiful views in every direction, lovely forest with big emergent rimu trees.  Surely there would be a falcon perched in the top…yes, no, no, no…. We made a few scenic stops, got beautiful views of both Mt Cook and Mt Tasman (yes the cloud allowed).  We grabbed some lunch and then continued down the coast.  We stopped at a spot and had an early lunch, and then walked out through spectacular moss and fern covered forest to a beautiful West Coast beach. After just a few minutes a penguin ran down the beach and into the water.  Fiordland crested penguin in the bag.  A little while later another bird appeared and took a more leisurely approach, standing on rocks for a short time, then heading down over the sand to disappear into the rough surf.  A trawler a short way off the coast had a few birds in tow, including a good number of white-capped albatross, Northern giant petrel, and a few Westland petrels.  We headed back to the van, seeing pigeon, more tomtits, and hearing a shining cuckoo or two.  We loaded up and head onwards.
More stunning scenery, a few scenic stops, and then a walk in the forest where we saw more rifleman, tomtits, grey gerygones, yellow-crowned parakeets, and brown creeper.  And off in the distance heard yellowhead…then another group, then another group.  All were a little way off, and then another shining bronze-cuckoo.  We scanned and search the distant tree tops for the yellowhead, and then suddenly heard another group, perhaps the fourth in the area, that sounded like they were near the track.  We headed back up, searching the tree tops, suddenly realised they were almost on the ground just a few metres away!  Beautiful – two males, really nice views as they were low down and easily watched as they busily fed.  They slowly moved off, but great views of these really stunning birds.
Back to the van and then off towards Wanaka.  We skirted some beautiful lakes, changing from lovely temperate rainforest to drier shrubland in almost the blink of an eye.  We kept scanning as we went, and arrived into Wanaka to our accommodation early evening.  A beautiful dinner, a chance to have a few drinks and enjoy each other’s company and do the checklist, and then to bed!  Another day tomorrow!

Day total – Seen = 47 inc 1 heard, (morepork – during the day!); new for the trip = 2; total for the trip to date = 151
Gone...Franz Josef RIP

Mt Cook and Mt Tasman

Monday, 25 November 2019

Day fourteen - ROWI

Up with a leisurely breakfast, after a slightly later night.  And a beautiful sunny day greeted us.  We headed back up to Arthur’s Pass and had a look around, but no kea on show.  We stopped and enjoyed some beautiful scenery and the lovely sunshine, and then headed on over and down to the West Coast.  We were on the scan, looking out for falcon, every snag and tree scanned and every inch of the sky…
We made a couple of quick stops along the way.  Checking out a sewage ponds which didn’t have too much out of the ordinary. A few black swan, some Pacific black duck look-alikes, mallards and NZ scaup.  Then into a town where we grabbed some bits and pieces for the coming days, then scored some lunch.  We drove a short way and enjoyed an early lunch in the sunshine, watching five great egrets in breeding plumage.  Very nice!
We did a short walk in the forest, getting brown creeper, tomtit, some lovely greenhood orchids, and finished off with a rambunctious weka.  All very good.
Onwards down the West Coast, enjoy spectacular rimu forest and beautiful views, and then in to Okarito to meet with Ian Cooper from Okarito Kiwi Tours.  On the way Derek showed his extraordinary talent of sleeping and chewing nuts at the same time, and all whilst looking for falcon from the front passenger seat!!  We checked in with Ian and caught up on the plan for the evening, always great to establish a plan, and working with Ian is always a great honour.  He really does know his craft and the kiwi that we hope to see this evening!
A short walk in some of this beautiful coastal rimu forest had excellent views of South Island robin, more tomtit, and spectacular views out over the coast.  The weather was absolutely stunning and looked perfect for the evening…
On to our accommodation for the evening, checked in, a quick respite and then out for a lovely dinner.  We then headed out, got brief views of fernbird, and met with Ian.  We went through our training regime, got to grips with how we were going to operate, and then got into position.  The bird we were focused on was already up and moving by the time we were in position, well before dark.  So we slowly moved to keep abreast of him, and could every now and then hear him moving in the undergrowth.  A pretty exciting situation, knowing there is a bird right there.  Shortly after that the first morepork started to call, and then as it got a bit more dark, one flew and landed right above us and called, still visible in the fading light.  But our focus was on the kiwi just inside the forest.  It sounded like there was also another bird there nearby, but we tracked our target, and after about one hour in total, Ian had us right in position as BZ walked out right in front of us, paused, posed for us perfectly, and then trod off into the forest again!  Amazing, Ian had positioned us perfectly and all of us had awesome views of a very very special bird!  Job done, we headed back to the van, said a massive thanks to Ian and headed to our beds…I bet everyone dreamt of kiwi!

Day total – Seen = 46 inc 2 heard, (kea, dunnock); new for the trip = 2; total for the trip to date = 149
The West Coast is spectacular

Havin fun in the sun!

Sunday, 24 November 2019

Day thirteen - kea


Out the door, not too early, but not too late.  We headed out for a little scenic look around the area, with a few fur seals, and of course some good looks at European birds…but not the one we wanted.  We had a nice look along the coast, and then decided it was time to head south.  The views of the coast were pretty spectacular as we drove the coast road.  Even spotted a fishing boat washed up and hitting the rocks with a fisherman wearing a lifejacket standing on a rock nearby….hmmm!  That’s not normal!  A quick 111 call, well quick I guess for a Sunday morning as it took the Police a while to answer, and alerted them to the situation.
We carried on south, calling into a small set of ponds on the way.  A few scaup, shoveler, and a pair of Cape Barren geese with a newly fledged gosling.  Nice to see these birds well, as they really are quite stunning.  We then carried on south, making a quick coffee stop, and then calling in to an estuary.  It was pretty darn windy, but the rain was holding off, and so we wandered out to see what we could find.  With reports of a few vagrants in the area we were hopeful we might find something.  A few bar-tailed godwit, pied stilt, Royal spoonbill and banded dotterel showed well.  But no wrybill or black-fronted terns visible which was a bit of a surprise.  We wandered the edge of the estuary keeping a sharp eye, and then spotted a small shorebird.  Thinking it could be the sanderling that has been seen here we got it in the scape.  We then realised when we spotted the sanderling and got some relative size that the first bird was a red-necked stint…in the wind a long way off…ah well.  So that was two new birds for the trip, nothing special, but still nice to see.  We scanned all the terns present, but just white-fronted still.
We scanned out into the distance, but nothing else we could see.  So we started to head back to the van.  Another shorebird flew in that showed really briefly but looked like a golden plover.  It kept flying and disappeared, which was a bummer.  We had lunch back at the van overlooking the estuary, but nothing new.  So afterwards we carried on, this time heading inland.  The wind was still pretty strong, but the warm winds were a lot more pleasant than they could have been!  We stopped at a couple of scenic locations, and everyone (ahem!) was keeping a sharp eye for raptors.  We passed through Arthur’s Pass, making a quick stop and getting great views of a kea, always good to get nice views of these guys.  A walk through the beautiful beech forest here not only examined the botany and mosses, but we had great views of brown creeper (pipipi), both male and female South Island tomtits, both male and female rifleman, awesome views of a yellow-crowned parakeet, and a black and pied New Zealand fantail side by side.  So a really nice afternoon!  The shock was seeing tens of house mice running around on the forest floor, not a good sign for the birds!
We headed on to our accommodation, checked in, and enjoyed the stunning scenery.  We have been really lucky with the weather today…let’s hope it continues!  A beautiful dinner, and then headed out to see if we could hear a kiwi.  We waited for over an hour out in the dark, but unfortunately it wasn’t to be tonight.  Not a sniff from a kiwi.  So, we headed home for a short sleep!

Day total – Seen = 57 inc 4 heard, (Eurasian coot, morepork, South Island robin, dunnock); new for the trip = 7; total for the trip to date = 147
The mighty Waimakariri River

The sun going down on another great day

Saturday, 23 November 2019

Day twelve - Kaiks

Up and off after breakfast.  We did a little stop to check some farmland for Cirl bunting, no luck but a cornucopia of European birds, with skylark, chaffinch, yellowhammer, etc all putting in an appearance.  We then headed down and boarded our boat for the morning with Gazza Melville and Albatross Encounter.  The weather looked a little choppy out there, but not a lot of swell and the winds were not too bad, so off we went.  Of course within a few minutes we had a couple of Northern giant petrels following us, and the game was on.
At our first stop the Northern giant petrels didn’t take long to land and start to squabble as the NZ wandering also came in.  The odd Hutton’s shearwater also passed.  Cape petrels slid in between the bigger birds, and then the first of a handful of Westland petrels turned up.  The odd Salvin’s and white-capped albatross came in too, and before long we had a nice little flock at the back of the boat.
We decided to move out a little deeper, and many of the first birds followed us out, with a sooty shearwater doing a quick flyby as we steamed.  Once we stopped we had a good number of birds, mostly the same, until shortly after a Southern Royal and then a Northern Royal albatross came in.  White-chinned petrels also came in, along with Westland petrels, giving them a chance to be seen together.  A single grey-faced petrel did a brief fly-by, as did a Hutton’s shearwater, coming a lot closer but then heading off.  We did one more different stop, but nothing new or different, and it was time to head back.  A pretty great morning, with some nice looks at things, and a couple of new birds for the trip.  Always nice to get more albatross, and stunning close views.
Back on land we grabbed lunches and whilst some braved the frigid waters and had amazing interactions whilst swimming with dusky dolphins, others caught up on rest, took a walk, etc.  A nice afternoon for everyone and then a lovely Thai meal, before an early night.

Day total – Seen = 37 inc 1 heard, (grey gerygone, bellbird, dunnock); new for the trip = 5; total for the trip to date = 140
Some of the gang looking apprehensive...

Enjoying the birds

Friday, 22 November 2019

Day eleven - parakeets + shoveler!!!

We woke to another beautiful morning.  Almost no wind at all and high cloud greeted us as we headed out on to the water for our morning in the Marlborough Sounds.  Lovely calm conditions and the sun was shining, and our first little penguin was waiting just outside the harbour.  Nice start!
We headed out on to the water, and having not been keeping up with the news, was surprised to see the masts and rigging of the replica ‘HM Bark Endeavour’ ahead.  We closed in on it, and the various other boats around it to have a look.  A beautiful ship, which was built over a five year period from 1988, she is in New Zealand currently for the 250th anniversary of Cook setting foot on New Zealand.  We had a nice close view of her, and then headed off out after our main quarry, the NZ King shag.  In fact, we managed to get a photo or two of our first King shags, with the Endeavour in the background!  We had two King Shags, an adult and an immature, surrounded by about 20 spotted shags, so nice views of them also.  We enjoyed them for a bit, and then headed off in to the outer part of the sound.
On the way we came across a lot of fluttering shearwaters, a few Australasian gannets, and a number of small pods of dusky dolphins.  Great views of them, which is always nice.  There were scattered little penguins along the way, but we pressed on.
We approached a small predator free island, and took the boat in, and disembarked on the beach.  A pair of weka were there to great us and welcome us to the island.  We headed up to a location that we knew had been successful before, and within about 30 seconds of being there had an orange-fronted parakeet in view, but it flew and could not be found.  We waited and could hear them nearby, and then suddenly a bird appeared, then flew out onto some dead branches, but was partly obscured.  It paused there for maybe 20 seconds or so, but then flew off and disappeared.  Most had seen it well, a couple not so well.  So, we stayed put and continued the vigil.  We heard more nearby, but only the odd flight view briefly.  Then it happened, there appeared a pair of them, feeding low in a tutu bush quietly, and we had absolutely epic views of them for about eight or more minutes.  Just spectacular and probably some of the best views I have ever had!  Eventually they moved off, and we headed to the beach a little earlier than our suggested pickup time, so we signalled and the boat came back in for us.  Climbing back aboard, we then headed off to a spot we have been lucky with Hector’s dolphins before, and although this is not a great time of the year for them, why not give it a go.
We pulled up and stopped the boat, and poured so cups of tea, etc.  And then a few minutes later we spotted distant rounded dorsal fins.  There were plenty of dusky dolphins around, but these distinctive Hector’s were our target.  We slowly moved towards them, and got reasonable views, before they all just suddenly vanished.  Not of sign of them again, but everyone had had reasonable views.  We finished our cups of tea, and then slowly started to make our way back to the dock.  On the way another ten or more small groups of dusky dolphins, really amazing to see this number here – and lots more fluttering shearwaters.  We also had another swimming King shag.
Back at the dock the Endeavour was along side a wharf and there were hundreds of people on the shores.  We made a bee-line for the local bakery, grabbed our lunches and then headed off out into the countryside.  We enjoyed our lunch (!) beside a sewage ponds, where we did a short walk and managed to see a lot of Royal spoonbill, and finally one glossy ibis.  Next stop was a small lake, with a big target – Northern shoveler.  This was going to be a New Zealand tick for me, so the pressure was on!  We parked in the carpark, walked 10m and BOOM!  There is was, a stunning male Northern shoveler, in full breeding plumage, paddling amongst the Australasian shovelers.  After so much searching after the last few years, this was almost surreal!  We searched the lake for other birds, finding Australasian coot, Australasian crested grebe and a couple of dabchick, but no hoary-headed grebes which have been here.  Oh well!
We headed on further south towards Kaikoura.  On the way we stopped to look at a massive raft of Hutton’s shearwaters just off shore, clearly feeding in close to the beach.  We were enjoying watching them when Eliot spotted a couple of Hector’s dolphins.  For the next ten minutes or so we had an awesome display of them frolicking in close to the beach and a couple really put on a show with huge leaps from the water.  Very nice!
We carried on, checking in to our accommodation, and then had a beautiful fish and chip dinner in the garden.  Nothing better than massive fillets of blue cod and chips, with a couple of beers and wines.  After dinner as the sun went down, we went out and found a couple of little owls, getting really nice views of one perched on a road-side fence post.  What a great way to end the day, a spectacular red sunset reminding us of the terrible fires in Australia.

Day total – Seen = 54 inc 1 heard, (peafowl); new for the trip = 6; total for the trip to date = 135
HMB Endeavour replica

King shags and old ships

Watching dusky dolphins

Thursday, 21 November 2019

Day ten - crossing

Up a little later, to have a relaxed start to the day.  A beautiful morning as everyone met at the van to start to pack, and we then headed off, back out to the estuary…you never know what might be around, right?  And as the tide was dropping we scanned the mudflats, hmmm… bar-tailed godwits, red knot, pied stilts…bingo!  Pacific golden plover!  Excellent, we had nice views of the bird amongst the other shorebirds, and then out on its own.  A quick scan revealed nothing else of significances, so off we headed, checking another location quickly, before getting on the road towards Wellington.
We had a nice drive down the coast, stopping in at a couple of little spots along the way.  We were able to pick up a few waterfowl, including some nice close views of scaup, shoveler, black swan, and then the target bird – little black cormorant. Funny how things get missed along the way, even relatively common birds that you normally find in a few spots.  So, we targeted this one and it came to us, flying in and landing right in front of us, and feeding right there.  Nice!  Also, nice views of Royal spoonbill as well.
We continued south, grabbing lunch, and arriving at the ferry terminal nice and early had great views of a little penguin just off shore.  We loaded up onto the ferry, and departed around midday, heading out in blue skies and calm conditions.  Another couple of little black cormorants waved at us from the wharf beside the ferry – of course!
We got out into the open ocean and the wind started to pick up, but very little swell.  Nothing really to see except the odd fluttering shearwater, until we got out of the lee of the North Island and really into the windy zone.  And then some great birds – Salvin’s white-capped and a probable Campbell albatross all showed reasonably well.  Probably around 25 Westland petrels, several Northern giant petrel, and a possible Southern giant petrel, as well as a super little Cape petrel.  Not a lot of diversity, but some nice birds anyway, and a few new to the trip and the group!
At the entrance to the Tory channel, we had a pod of three killer whales go past the ferry!  Awesome!  And then a bit further in we had lots of fluttering shearwaters, a very pale Parasitic jaeger (Arctic skua), gannets, red-billed gulls and then some spotted shags.  A little while later we spotted at least four King shags on a rock, so that was nice to get them, although better views desired.  We then had huge numbers of fluttering shearwaters, and a few dusky dolphins, so a pretty darn good crossing.
At Picton we drove off the ferry, setting wheels on the South Island, and headed to our accommodation nearby.  Even a couple of hours to relax before a lovely dinner!  Tomorrow will be a big day!

Day total – Seen = 51 inc 3 heard, (pheasant, bellbird, yellowhammer); new for the trip = 7; total for the trip to date = 129
Bye bye North Island

Hello South Islands

Ferry time

Day nine - fleeting falcon

Up early and off in the search of more waterfowl and a bittern if possible.  We arrived at a wetland area and started our search for creeping skulky things, by being creeping (not creepy) and skulky!  But after a damn good search of the area, there was nothing visible.  A nice assortment of ducks, with grey teal, shoveler, etc, and good views of a few other common things.  Royal spoonbill was also added to the list.
We then headed to a gravel area, and within a few minutes had a nice female banded dotterel in the scope, and then two black-fronted dotterel.  A rather surprising find was some common dolphins going past the beach!  Off we went, heading to a lovely lookout spot, and along the way finding excellent up-close pipit.  We had had distant perched and flight views, but this was beyond comparison.  And a friendly skylark also came in and sat beside for comparison, so that was nice.
A quick laundry collection stop netted clean laundry and a pair of barbary doves.  And we were then off again, with black crows on the mind.  And sure enough a pair were spotted by the keen experienced rook spotting eyes of Jules.  We whipped the van around and had flight views of two as they flew across the road.  A lunch spot was rather windy, but a surprise fly-over falcon caught us off-guard and showed briefly to most of the group.  No second chance was given during lunch.
We then carried on towards our target location, a large estuary on the west coast.  We arrived, and wandered down to an area where the shorebirds usually congregate as the tide comes in.  Tides were perfect, but unfortunately there was not a lot of variety around.  We had nice views of the bar-tailed godwits accumulating, along with some red knot, and South Island pied oystercatchers.  The sunshine was welcomed, and it was nice to enjoy some banter and watch the tide come in.
With no influx of birds, we decided to head to the accommodation before dinner and check in.  Dinner was at a nice little restaurant, and an earlyish night, our last on the North Island.

Day total – Seen = 55 inc 3 heard, (pheasant, Eastern rosella, dunnock); new for the trip = 3; total for the trip to date = 122
Waiting for the tide

Tuesday, 19 November 2019

Day eight - doo duck inn

We were up pretty early, and out the door, with blue skies, but a very crisp feel to the air!  We headed out to a spot where we hoped we might find Australasian bittern.  We parked the van and headed out, and within a short time heard booming off in the distance.  Then a very close boom, including the inhalations at the start of the boom clearly audible.  Very cool.  We were scanning the reeds and looking looking, but nothing obvious.  Nearby a spotless crake called, and fernbird also.  Then all of a sudden a bittern took off from fairly close, only to drop back down into the reeds after about 80m of low flying.  Everyone got onto it, but not ideal views.
We stayed and watched for more action, but nothing, and so decided to try a slightly different vantage point.  We had nice views, but still no more bittern action.  So, we enjoyed great close views of dabchick, scaup, and various cormorants and waterbirds.
We then headed off to find blue duck, a key target of the day, and something that can either be found first off, or absorb a pretty good part of the morning.  We got to a great location and started checking likely spots, but nothing was obvious.  After a good bit of searching still nothing, but then we managed to start adding other things.  Nice views of a couple of dunnocks, lots of finches, a shining bronze cuckoo that did a number of flybys, but never sat still for long, and several more cormorants.
We scanned and scanned likely areas, but nothing of a blue duck.  Until, we came down onto the river bank and there was a pair of blue ducks right in front of us with two small ducklings!  Yes!  Awesome views at very close range, watching them paddle in the fast-moving water, feeding, preening, and going about their business.  Very happy with such lovely views!  We enjoyed the moment, and then headed off, back to the accommodation, packed the van, had a bit of brekkie, and headed off towards Taupo.
A quick stop to look for fernbird, which we had already seen a couple of times, but why not see it again!  And redpoll showed well also.  We carried on through to a forested area, passing through some pretty magnificent scenery.  We had lunch and spotted another shining bronze cuckoo, then went for a walk through the forest.  Great views of tomtit, whitehead, rifleman, and robin, and some nice botany along the way.  Even a NZ red admiral or two.  We posed for a photo, and then head off towards the coast.
In Napier we checked out a couple of sites, finding the long-staying plumed whistling duck (down to just one now), as well as a big little pied shag colony, black-billed gulls, shovelers, and various other waterfowl.  Then on to a wetland habitat, where we quickly got on to several black-fronted dotterel, stunning as always, and then three sharp-tailed sandpipers.  A nice shorebird to claw back!  Perhaps the biggest surprise was a mute swan – where was that from?!
It was then time to head off to the accommodation, check in to the rooms, and then off to dinner, but not before a quick look around the Art Deco sights of Napier.  Another lovely dinner and then a quick nights sleep!

Day total – Seen = 66 inc 3 heard, (peafowl, pheasant, spotless crake); new for the trip = 9; total for the trip to date = 119
Ducks on the water!

Duck watchers!

The crazy group waiting for a kiwi to cross

Monday, 18 November 2019

Day seven - damp

Up and out not too early.  There had been a bit of rain over night, but the morning wasn’t looking too bad, although a little low rain cloud around.  We headed back to the shorebird site and the tide was still quite a way out, but we started scanning the mudflats.  A magic scene of thousands of bar-tailed godwits and red knot out over the mud that remained as the tide crept in.  Very spectacular to see.  A few wrybill out there again, still not close, but a good chance to see them again.  Two whimbrel this time in view.  Then another small shorebird was spotted, roosting beside a wrybill…hmm sleeping, so no chance to see the bill…waiting waiting.  Finally, it showed and bingo, a curlew sandpiper.  Everyone got a look and then a bit more scanning, hmmmm…another small shorebird…even smaller… BROAD-BILLED SANDPIPER!  The little beauty that had been around for a few weeks was there and showing well, and at times was with the curlew sandpiper and a wrybill or two giving nice views and comparisons.
We switched to a slightly different spot, grey teal, at least one brown teal, but nothing else of interest, so we decided to head off.  On the way we had two more scampering buff-banded rails, wow.  This species has been very evident on this trip, not always that way!
We got back to the accommodation, packed the van and then headed south.  A bit of a drive ahead of us, but no worry, it was raining and hopefully would clear by the time we got to our destination.  We made a short stop at a lake on the way, nice NZ scaup, Caspian tern about as far from the coast as you will ever see it in NZ, and our first (!) great cormorant of the trip.  Onwards and a bit later we arrived at out forest destination.  It was raining, a little more than drizzle, so a damp lunch break.  Good kaka flying, and in the trees, and glimpses of flying yellow-crowned parakeets, whilst a male tomtit perched well for us and posed.  We then headed on to do a forest walk.  Beautiful podocarp forest with huge old growth trees in this pocket of forest saved by activist’s who understood the value of it to future generations (of birds and humans!).  We got views of North Island robin, heard yellow-crowned parakeets, as well as whitehead, kaka, and fantail.  We wandered the trail, which just seemed to be longer than last time…. Seems the guide took a slight left and ended up on a different route to usual.  Ah well, still beautiful forest, and a chance to see fuchsia, mosses, ferns and a lot of lovely botany.
We got back to the van and then headed to another spot, overlooking an area, we spent a few moments.  Dunnock was added to the list, as well as a distant perching pipit, and lots of flying kaka.  Then after parking at another spot a long-tailed cuckoo was heard, and then a beaut flyover with excellent views of the falcon-like profile and long tail.  Nice one.  Another short walk in the forest, more nice view of the trees, a few kaka.  And then it was time to head for Turangi.  We took the scenic route, with lots of nice forest, and a yearling red deer standing in the middle of the road!  Not something you see every day!
We checked in, had another great dinner and then to bed, by which time we had almost dried out!

Day total – Seen = 60 inc 1 heard, (grey gerygone); new for the trip = 7; total for the trip to date = 110
Hen and chicken fern in the rain

Tree ferns

Damp and happy people!

Day six - WRYBILL


Up nice and early, the sun was up, but the island was still stirring.  There had been a lot of stirring during the night also, with a lot of nocturnal noises in the bunkroom!  We headed out to see the beautiful light and to look for our last endemic needed, Takahe.  We got a bit of a leg stretch, seeing a number of our species from yesterday, and then started our vigil.  Nothing, nope still nothing, damn still nothing.  The suddenly there they were!  Walking rather quickly down a path, everyone got there only to see them disappear into the undergrowth!  Oh no!  But they were intent on something, and we knew what that was.  So, we got into position and there they were again.  We were able to watch them feed, nice and close and for an unhurried 20 minutes, just enjoying these awesome birds.  The cameras were snapping.
We decided to head back to the bunkhouse, where we packed our gear, got sorted and then headed out again to wander down for our water taxi ride.  We spotted a few things on the way – another fernbird, another rifleman, and lots more saddleback, Stitchbird, etc.
We boarded our water taxi and headed back to Gulf Harbour, loaded the van, and in quick smart time headed south.  Pies and sandwiches along the way, and we were making good speed.  We headed to Miranda to do a spot of shorebird watching, and the tide was already starting to drop, but we had wrybill in the scope pretty quickly.  Not close, but there will be more.  A big flock of bar-tailed godwit and red knot out on the shellbanks, as well as black-billed gulls and pied oystercatchers.  None of the smaller vagrant shorebirds were visible, but we did manage to find a whimbrel (well done Angela).  We went to another spot, more godwit and knot, but couldn’t locate anything smaller there, but some grey teal – surprisingly our first for the trip, and a couple of brown teal.  Kind of backwards when we have had brown teal on four days so far during a trip, and no grey teal, but that is a great sign of the success of brown teal recovery.
We spent some time scanning the birds and enjoying the song of the skylark, before piling back into the van and head to another location.  Loads more godwits, a few know and more pied oystercatchers and pied stilts.  On the way a flock of 5 cattle egret in breeding plumage was a nice sight, and more importantly a small group of Royal spoonbill was new for the trip.  Again no smaller shorebirds, and so off to the accommodation for a rest and then dinner at a local pub.  But not before seeing some black-billed and red-billed gulls at closer range.  Another great day.

Day total – Seen = 55 inc 1 heard, (spotted dove); new for the trip = 6; total for the trip to date = 103
The sunrises on another beautiful day

Happily snapping

iPhone takahe

Sunday, 17 November 2019

Day five - curious kiwi

Up and another beauty morning.  A quick trip to get supplies from the supermarket, repack the van and then off to grab lunch, before heading off down the road towards the Whangaparoa Peninsula.  We were keeping eyes peeled, and the sharp eyes of Derek and Elliot spotted a kookaburra on a powerline.  We spun the van around and got great views of a bird sitting on a powerline.  Although an Australian introduction, this was new for a few people, so well worth looking out for.
We had a quick look around a nice little spot, seeing grey gerygone feeding chicks again, a pair of pied stilts with a youngster, and another (!) buff-banded rail.  We arrived at the ferry terminal with loads of time to spare and unloaded our gear, and got ourselves situated.  The ferry arrived, we boarded and off we headed.  A very calm crossing with no tubenoses, but a very surprising brown (southern) skua flew past giving reasonable views, and then a Parasitic jaeger (Arctic skua) made an appearance as well.  Awesome!
We landed at Tiritiri Matangi, unloaded our gear, had a briefing from the ranger, and then set off up towards to the Bunkhouse.  We got most of the usual suspects on the way, with great views of saddleback, brown teal, a surprise fernbird right in the open briefly singing, lots of whitehead, North Island robins, and always on the lookout for kokako.  We had lots of bellbirds, tui and NZ pigeons, and then a couple of stunning male Stitchbird showed really well.
We made it up to the bunkhouse, unpacked our gear and go situated and had lunch.  A little rest during the middle of the day and then some time spent looking for Takahe.  This time of the year they can be tricky, and today was proving no different.  We headed out after a short respite, and wandered some of the hotspots, looking for kokako.  Excellent views of Stitchbird, more pigeon and bellbird, red-crowned parakeet, and some brown quail.  But not a squeak from a kokako.  We managed to find a tuatara out sunning itself outside the burrow in the afternoon sun, a nice large animal about 2.5 ft long.  Very cool animals!  At another location we waited for Takahe, but nothing!  So we started to head back to the bunkhouse, and it must have been time for the kokako to start up because all of a sudden there were at least two males calling.  Unfortunately, one was miles away, the other was just a touch too far.  So, we decided to carry on, because if a couple were calling, surely more would be?!  And after a bit further sure enough another bird singing right beside the track.  We couldn’t spot it high in the cabbage tree, and then the shape of it gliding out of the back of the tree brought groans…mostly from the guide!  We headed around to another trail we knew intersected with the direction the bird had headed and bingo.  The bird was spotted, moved high up into a small pohutukawa tree and started singing right there in front of us!  Beaut views of the zoro mask, the wattles, and the haunting call of the kokako was ours for the moment.  We all got goo views, before it glided off, and then we realised there was another bird, a female, and her beak was full of nesting material.  We lost her as she bounded along on the ground parallel to the track, but what a cool interaction.
We headed back to the bunkhouse happy, still more searching for the Takahe, and we needed to get dinner on the go also.  Wine, beer, cheeses and sunshine, as the dinner was prepared and the BBQ fired up.  A really lovely dinner with great company, a nice sunset and it was then time to eat NZ made chocolate whilst looking for Takahe and watching the night sky appear.  No Takahe, but the chocolate was great.  So, we started our nocturnal mission.  Only a short way into it several birds called, and the hunt was on.  We had fleeting views of a bird zip across the road a fair way away, and it was excruciating hearing it stamp around in the leaves just inside the forest.  But it was clear the bird was not coming out again, so we moved on.  Another scuffling, and a bird disappeared into the forest…. Damn!  There was quite a bit of calling of both kiwi and morepork, so they were out and about.  We set off in a different direction and a bird zipped up off the track a wee way ahead and into the forest…not again!  We got up level with it and could hear it stomping around, and glimpsed it again, but not enough.  Then it moved to an area where we could see, and as we got into position its curiosity got the better of it and it came running in, sniffing the air and completely giving itself up!  We got amazing views of this often tricky bird at just a few metres, before it turned and wandered off into the darkness!  We floated back to the bunkhouse, and dreamt of kiwi.

Day total – Seen = 59 inc 2 heard, (little penguin, common diving-petrel, and takahe); new for the trip = 9; total for the trip to date = 97
The beautiful Tiritiri Matangi Lighthouse

Sunset over the mainland