Up and packed the van and walked down to the Picton Marina. It was looking like a beautiful morning, and as we headed out on the boat from Picton it sure was! A little cloud, but relatively calm conditions. And within a few minutes these conditions had allowed us to spot a small maternal pod of bottlenose dolphins. We had fantastic views of them as they came right in to the boat, turning over on their backs to look up at us. It was a case of who was watching who! We cruised with them for a little bit, admiring their movement through the water, and then left them to the day, as we continued to head northwards.
We enjoyed the scenery of Queen Charlotte Sound as we cruised, and then spied an Arctic skua which tracked parallel with us for a little while allowing some nice photographs to be taken. A few feeding fluttering shearwaters, spotted shags and white-fronted terns were also found, and we spent a little time with these before again moving on.
We headed into a couple of small bays, looking for the smallest oceanic dolphin in the World, the endemic Hector’s dolphin. The very calm conditions were in our favour, but the first bay held no dolphins, and as we started to turn and head back out of the second we had a little splash as two Hector’s sped in towards us. Nice one! We had lovely views of this enigmatic little dolphin that came in to investigate us and then gave a great show around the boat. The shutters clicked and more memory card space bit the dust!
After a good few minutes with these guys we decided that the time was right to head off and look for some King shags. And the time was certainly right! Rounding a point we spotted a good number of birds up on a slope. There were several small groups of juveniles on the outer part of the group, containing at least 35 adults. All in all we counted 54 birds, which is probably a record for this location in recent years, certainly for one of our tours. There were some really stunning adults showing beaut blue eye rings and yellow-orange caruncles and glossy plumage, and we had great views. Again, the cameras were clicking!
We then carried on, and decided it was time for land, so headed into a little bay to land. We landed and headed into the forest, after spending a little time with the weka of course! There was a lot going on, with fantails, South Island saddlebacks, grey warbler and a tomtit all being seen within a few minutes of landing. Bellbird, tui and NZ pigeon were also around and making noise. We headed to a spot where we had previously had luck with the rare and sometimes difficult orange-fronted parakeet. There were more calls from saddleback, a black morph fantail which was very nice, and more weka. And then a snatch of parakeet call. We waited and watched, and next minute a bird flew right in to full view, landed on a dead branch in the open and sat there for about 25 seconds. Long enough for everyone to get great views and everyone to snap some pictures. It then turned and disappeared into the trees and never looked back. We did hear the odd call over the next 45 minutes, and a brief view of three flying past was had by Cele, but that was it for the parakeet! Pretty happy though.
We decided to get back on the boat and use the extra time to head slowly back towards Picton and make stops with anything we liked the look of. So, we had tea and coffee as we slowly made our way back. We spent some time at a spotted shag roost, getting really nice close views of them, and then found some more Arctic skua and fluttering shearwaters which we spent a little time with. And then a preening confiding little penguin. So, all in all a great morning!
We made a quick bakery stop and then headed south, through Blenheim and to a sewage treatment facility where we went for a quick walk. We found a male cirl bunting feeding two fledglings which was pretty nice, and a lot of black swan, mallards, scaup and Royal spoonbill. But no glossy ibis, oh well!
Further south with made another stop and found good numbers of banded dotterel, a single pectoral sandpiper and a single red-necked stint, as well as a small flock of black-fronted terns. The heat haze was terrible, but we had reasonable views of all of these birds, before continuing south. Next stop another wetland area where a hoary-headed grebe swam out right in front of us, and then an adult great crested grebe continuously fed a juvenile right in front of us. Nice!
We made a short stop on the coast for the hundreds of NZ fur seals, small pups still nursing with mum on the rocks. The sea looked pretty good for tomorrows pelagic, so here’s hoping! We checked in to the accommodation, had an awesome fish and chip dinner on the lawn (blue cod!!!), and then did a short drive on dusk for little owl. Unfortunately, the drizzle started and seemed to dampen the spirits of an owl thinking of posing on a fence post for us. But, what a great day!
Day total – Seen = 61; new for the trip = 8; total for the trip to date = 123
Bird of the day – King shag x2, hoary-headed grebe x1, orange-fronted parakeet x4, weka x1