Monday, 2 December 2019

Day twenty-one - peepless

Up and out the door pretty early, with a lovely sunny but crisp morning.  The weather yesterday had deposited some new snow, but the peaks were now clear and visible, so beautiful views of Aoraki – Mount Cook as we drove past.  A couple of quick photo stops and then on through to Fairlie.  A quick bathroom break and then a stop at the Fairlie Bakehouse, home of the most amazing pie in the World – the Salmon and Bacon pie!  Delicious.  The shop was almost bought out of pies as we headed off towards Christchurch.
We drove on towards Lake Ellesmere, our planned stop for the morning.  There had been recent sightings of little stint and a range of other vagrant shorebirds there, so what better way to finish the trip than with a new shorebird?  There was not a lot of wind and conditions were nice, so we checked out a couple of locations.  We found good numbers of black swan, pied stilt and more skylarks than you could shake a stick at!  There were a few shorebirds, and the first we looked at was a Hudsonian godwit!  Wow, that was a good start.  We kept scanning and found a few bar-tailed godwit, wrybill, banded dotterel, but nothing smaller.  Then a small tern was found amongst a group of roosting bar-tailed godwit, a common tern – a strange place for this bird, but we’ll take that as well.
Time was ticking, but no small peeps could be found, so we headed for the city to start our good-byes.  We dropped everyone at various locations around the city and said our good-byes.  It had been a great three weeks together, we had seen almost all of the endemics we hoped for (and perhaps a few more), and on the whole had encountered pretty amazing weather.

Day total – Seen = 38; new for the trip = 2; total for the trip to date = 162

Sunday, 1 December 2019

Day twenty - stilted

Up and on the road early with overcast conditions, but hopefully some good birds ahead.  We drove straight through to Omarama where we picked up some coffee, lunches, etc.  We had been on falcon squad red alert the whole way, but only a couple of false alerts with harriers.
We headed on and suddenly spotted a black shape as we drove.  Whipping the van around we scanned a small pond and bingo! The prize was there in the form of two adult black stilts in all their glory!  We got the scope on them and everyone had a look, before they suddenly took flight and flew directly across the road and out of sight…. Wow!  Beautiful views of our target bird for the day and it wasn’t even 0900!
We carried on, stopping at some ponds for nice views of several Australasian great-crested grebe chicks, as well as several others and a lot of scaup.  Several coot also in evidence.  Carrying on we drove to a spot where we searched for more black stilt, a false alarm with several pied and then a single black object squatting in a field.  Hmmmm.  Looks kind of like a black stilt, but strange posture.  Several pied oystercatchers around also, so out with the scope.  Indeed, it was a black stilt, but it seemed to have sprouted two small pairs of legs from its breast as it squatted low over the ground!  It ended up standing up and showing off three tiny little chicks!  Super cute, as the bird moved off the tiny little chicks followed and then fed in a nearby bit of water.  Very nice.
We carried on to another location, and the wind was absolutely honking by this stage.  The weather was closing in a little and the views of the mountains disappearing.  But we came across three juvenile black stilt that were super confiding and gave excellent views and photo opportunities.  And then went for a bit of a walk, more a side-ways shuffle in the wind, and found at least four wrybill that also showed really well.  Our best views of these great little birds to date, and on the breeding grounds with nice plumages as well.  There were several banded dotterel also that posed nicely.
We decided the wind was going to beat us, so headed back to the van and headed on to our next stop.  This was a little more sheltered, but only just.  And a great place for lunch as we watched yet another pair of adult black stilts.  Superb!  Some took a chance to get some photos of the adults, to go with those of the juveniles, and just a lovely setting to enjoy our lunch.  We then retraced our steps, checking all likely areas for falcons, but falcon squad was still drawing a blank.  We bounced down the road, with the wind buffeting the van, and called into a wetland area to look for skulky crakes.  We ended up hearing a Baillon’s crake, and searched and searched, but nothing showed.  So, it goes on the list as a heard only, rather underwhelming…
We headed to the accommodation, checked in and then on to a lovely last dinner.  Some of us started to formulate our top five birds of the trip, we all had a lovely dinner, and then celebrated Romania’s Independence, 101 years to the day!

Day total – Seen = 37 inc 1 heard, (Baillon’s crake); new for the trip = 2; total for the trip to date = 160
Juvie black stilt out the window

Derek enjoying a juvie black stilt, no pressure Derek!

Mountains out there somewhere

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