Monday 24 February 2020

Day twenty-one - homeward

Out the door early again this morning, and another cool morning but beautiful clear sky.  As we headed north the sun was just peaking over the mountains, and the first rays of light hitting Mt Cook (Aoraki) which was completely clear.  Stunning views of the peak in the morning alpenglow.  A quick photo stop was necessary!
We continued on, grabbing some lunch on the way, Fairlie Bakehouse it was.  And then on towards Christchurch.  We made a short stop to see what shorebirds were around at a location just south of Christchurch.  A nice chance to stretch the legs a little and enjoy the sunshine, before everyone was dropped at their respective locations.  We checked for the recently reported tree martin, but amongst all the welcome swallows there were only….well more welcome swallows!  Ah well.
We dropped off around the city, and then the airport, saying our good-byes.
Day total – Seen = 32; new for the trip = 0; total for the trip to date = 154

Sunday 23 February 2020

Day twenty - stilts in sunshine

On the road and heading inland.  There was an almost clear blue sky, and the temps were a little cooler, but signalled a beautiful day.  As we headed inland there was a bit of fog and low cloud around, but it was pretty clear this was going to burn off.  We all had eyes peeled and were excited for our last day in the Mackenzie Basin.
We made a quick stop for coffee along the way, and carried on.  Our first stop was to look for the introduced chukar, but the views weren’t half bad.  And the sun was shining beautifully with no wind, so what could be better.  We checked out a few spots, but no chukar, and enjoyed the scenery, and then headed to another spot.  This was our first location to look for black stilt, our main target for the day.  And bingo, as we pulled up we spotted one, and then another two flew in shortly after.  Awesome!  We spent a good couple of hours enjoying this spot, with everyone spending time photographing this rare endemic.  There were other things of interest around, including a rare bumblebee (Bombus ruderatus) which was all black, and even an escaped hind red deer with fawn.  A few waterfowl around as well, so plenty to enjoy in the sunshine, including our lunch.
We then decided to head off, and checked out another location, but the water levels were very high and there were no black stilts.  But the scenery was stunning.  So we headed into the mountains, all the time keeping eyes peeled for a falcon.  We enjoyed spectacular views of Mount Cook (Aoraki), as were many other people.  We then headed to our last location for the day to look for Baillon’s crake.  Although the habitat looked perfect – and it is – they are there!  We didn’t manage to see any.  We spent a good bit of time walking and scanning, but nothing.  Oh well, can’t win them all!
We headed to our accommodation, checked in, and then had a superb last dinner.  We looked at the birds of the trip, with Okarito kiwi storming ahead as the top bird of the trip, well ahead of some other very worthy opponents!  It has been an awesome tour, we’ve seen almost all of our targets, and had a great amount of fun.  We have been lucky with weather, on the whole, and many stories to tell!
Day total – Seen = 37 inc 1 heard (grey warbler); new for the trip = 1; total for the trip to date = 154
Bird of the day – Black stilt x8


Happy birders!

Saturday 22 February 2020

Day nineteen - shagadelic

We all headed to the ferry terminal early, boarding and enjoying the sunshine as we cruised out of Halfmoon Bay.  Not too far out we had a glimpse of Fiordland crested penguin, and then the first sooty shearwaters as we got into open water.  We only had a few white-capped albatross on the crossing, and nothing like the day before.  A few Foveaux shags, a couple of common diving petrels, and then two Cook’s petrels.  As we got close to Bluff a couple of Buller’s albatross made passes.
WE docked in Bluff, grabbed bags, repacked the van and off we headed.  A couple of quick stops yielded a lot of waterfowl, but no chestnut-breasted shelducks.  Oh well!  Coffee, fuel and onwards, we needed to put a few kilometres behind us, today is a big travel day.  We grabbed some lunch late morning, and then ate it at a bay, overlooking the shoreline.  Hoping for an ever more elusive penguin.  And bingo – contrary to the advice of a very ‘helpful’ tourist – there was a penguin coming ashore in the middle of the day.  It came ashore and stood there preening for about fifteen minutes, giving us all a great view, before it decided to head on up the beach and into the shrubbery.  What a great bird!
We decided that was about as good as it got, and slowly made our way north towards Dunedin, then a quick cafĂ© stop on the coast, before cruising to a spot to see Otago shag.  We had awesome views of the late-breeding stage of this bird, with large almost fledged juveniles.  There were a few spotted shags around as well, and some nice close white-fronted terns also.  Lots of things going on to take photos of, so we spent a bit of time just enjoying the spectacle.  Not a bad day with six species of shags in one day!
We headed on, checked in to the accommodation, and then a great dinner in town.  An early night, for tomorrow is the big day…
Day total – Seen = 51 inc 1 heard (dunnock); new for the trip = 1; total for the trip to date = 153
Bird of the day – Yellow-eyed penguin x8
Star of the day...

Day eighteen - windy windy

The weather was looking pretty good for a pelagic, so everyone was smiles as we left the dock.  We were lucky enough to have Ty as our Skipper and Matt Jones joined us as ‘Chum-meister’ extraordinaire.  We headed out in sunshine, our first stop to find a Fiordland crested penguin…and that was probably the easiest thing we did all day!  Straight on to three birds in a cave out and around the coast, and then another two at another spot nearby.  Really nice views of these great crested penguins, and some pictures added to the collection.  We then headed off towards some islands to see if we could find another penguin…and spotted one on the way in the sea, but as we turned the boat it disappeared, and despite searching for 10 minutes or so, it was never refound!  Damn!  But a Buller’s albatross – the first of the trip – landed nearby and was a nice consolation, and several white-capped albatross came in to join it.  An excellent start!
We checked the shoreline of some of the islands, but no penguiny shapes, although lots of fur seals and a few wekas were spotted.  Tomtit and bellbird were heard in the forest and a Northern giant petrel was feeding on something in the waves crashing on the shore.
We carried on our way, spotting a couple of brown skua, and they came in for a look at the boat and us, as did more white-capped and Buller’s albatross.  We decided to continue on, with a fairly calm sea, just a slight NE swell.  We soon started to pick up good numbers of sooty shearwaters, passing several large rafts of these birds feeding on the surface, and then a few common diving petrels as well.  Nice to finally get these little guys, as we had failed to find them at other pelagic locations on the trip thus far.
We got out to our chumming location and started with a bit of salmon burley in the water and some cod frames, and before long good numbers of white-capped albatross, with a few Salvin’s, Buller’s and Southern Royal albatross were at the back of the boat.  The wind was almost nothing, but after about 30 minutes started to pick up a little.  We started seeing Cook’s petrels, and these made good passes of the boat, with a fairly constant trickle of birds passing by.  A call went up for mottled petrel, and two distant birds showed, but not as well as we would have liked.  Then a storm-petrel appeared, nice!  A grey-backed storm-petrel, and before long a second bird, then a third, and we probably had up to five, along with a few white-faced storm-petrels as well.  The surprise of the morning however, was a subantarctic little shearwater which whizzed in and out, showing reasonably well to those looking that way.  A white-chinned petrel came in and circled the boat for a bit as well, but by then it was starting to get really windy, and the predominant swell from the NE was starting to be added to by the swell and wind from the west.  So it was getting a little uncomfortable.  We decided that is was safest to head in to shelter and see if it dropped off a bit later, in which case we could come back out.
We bumped slowly in towards the island, directly into the ever increasing chop.  In the shelter of the island we checked out a number of bays and beaches, looking for penguins, but coming up blank.  The scenery was stunning though, and the little beaches and coves a pleasure to cruise.  We also picked up some Hooker’s sea lions lazing on beaches, nice to see this marine mammal.
We cruised slowly along the coast, and the wind was still blowing over 35 knots, whipping up the water in places.  We poked our nose a little out from the island and did a bit more chumming, bringing in a good number of albatross, but just the smaller white-capped, Buller’s and Salvin’s.  Great light and beautiful views of them.
We then decided to continue along the coast, checking out a couple more beaches.  More sea lions, a white-tailed deer, but no penguins!  We headed back in to Oban in the late afternoon, checked out a few Foveaux shags, and docked.  It was definitely beer o’clock, and then dinner.  After dinner some of us headed back out to look for long-tailed bats, and had pretty nice views of one very close to us, so well worth it!  A kiwi calling in the distance was a nice end to our wonderful day on Stewart Island!
Day total – Seen = 48; new for the trip = 5; total for the trip to date = 152
Bird of the day – Buller’s albatross x4, common diving petrel x3, grey-backed storm-petrel x1
On the way out

Thursday 20 February 2020

Day seventeen - the last kiwi

Up and away and off towards Bluff.  The light and scenery was beautiful as we headed east and then down towards Bluff Ferry Terminal.  We made a quick stop in Winton on the way, and then through to an estuary stop near Invercargill.  The light made things tough, it was actually shining in Invercargill, so we shouldn’t complain.  But it made the birds tough to scan.  We found a good selection of waterfowl, and there were also godwit, oystercatchers, a lot of Royal spoonbill scattered over the mud flats.  A nice chance to stretch the legs before getting to the ferry terminal.
We unloaded bags, set them ready for the ferry, and boarded around 1100.  The weather was pretty nice, too nice for seabirds apparently!  On the crossing we had a couple of white-capped albatross, maybe 30 sooty shearwaters, and then towards Stewart Island we had three fairy prions.  Nice to finally pick that one up!  We also had two fly over brown skua during the trip, which was interesting, and a bunch of Foveaux shags on a rock as we got close to Halfmoon, with another skua.  A single penguin that had to be a yellow-eyed was spotted in the water and then three Fiordland crested penguins on the shore near the wharf.  Nice one!
We arrived, grabbed bags and then checked in to the accommodation.  We had lunch and then jumped on our water taxi to head to Ulva.  But our skipper Chris had other plans and forced us to enjoy awesome close views of Fiordland crested penguins on the way!  Thanks Chris!  Beaut views of these guys as they neared the finish of their moult.
On Ulva we started with some awesome views of yellowhead, then parakeets – both yellow-crowned and red-crowned seemed super abundant today.  We heard rifleman in a few places, and saddleback, but nothing close.  We carried on, hoping for a kaka, as we needed to get some good looks.  Lots of weka around and robin of course.  We had awesome close encounters with a friendly weka on a beach, and then back in to the forest.  And finally got our kaka, a nice close pair of birds that showed relatively well.  More parakeets, more robins, more yellowhead.  We also got some nice close brown creeper, a noisy little youngster amongst them.
We checked out another beach, but no sea lions, although we did find a small group of white-fronted terns feeding just offshore, with at least five penguins below them.  Nice one!  We got some views of rifleman, and then a brief glimpse of a saddleback, and then it was time to head to the wharf for our pick up.
We headed back to Oban, a nice white-capped albatross on the way…more of them to come!  A rest, a beer and then dinner.  We wandered out to look for long-tailed bats, but the odd spot of rain and cooler conditions seemed to keep them away.  A tantalising glimpse was all that was had.  But we headed out for kiwi with our good friend Matt, and although a few spots of rain we had beautiful views of three kiwi and a very small chick.  All busily feeding out for all to see.  Incredible views of this enigmatic endemic, topping of our very successful run of four kiwi on the tour!  Everyone slept well dreaming of chubby happy kiwi!
Day total – Seen = 58 inc 3 heard (morepork, tomtit and dunnock); new for the trip = 5; total for the trip to date = 147
Heading to Ulva

Livar and the weka

Photo photo