Monday 29 November 2010

Stoatally different...

Well another day out on the hill today.  Started off a little cloudy, but was really just humidity based cloud I think and it eventually burnt off around 10am.  So another beautiful day up there.  The counting went well, so day four done.  Probably the most interesting thing today was seeing a little furry blur running along, and realising it was an adult stoat, less than 10m from me.  It was running down through a stream-bed and was carrying something large in its mouth.  It was actually a tui chick, and accounted for the tui alarm calls I had been hearing for the last wee while.  I suspect the bird was an early fledger, it looked about the size that you sometimes see them having left the nest, and perhaps was on or near the ground.  I would have thought tui nests would generally be out of reach to these guys, even though they are incredible climbers.

I watched it head down the stream bed, and go out of sight about 100m away.  It sure could cover some ground on its little short legs though!  Even though they are possibly one of NZs worst introductions, they are amazing little animals when seen this close.

Saturday 27 November 2010

More days in the sun

Just finished another two full days wandering amongst the hills doing bird counts.  Managed to see a couple of Eastern rosellas yesterday, they came in for a look.  Seems they have been gradually spreading, and this may be the second or so confirmed record for Hawkes Bay.  I guess it won't take long for them to get a good grip on the place, and they may actually cause little problem.  The native red-fronted and yellow-crowned parakeets are very unlikely to ever be reintroduced to this area.

It also seems likely that the egg that was being eaten by the shining-bronze cuckoo is actually a silvereye egg.  There has been some evidence that these cuckoos do sometimes parasitise silvereye - they do in Australia - but published information in New Zealand has suggested they don't here.  However, this is another nice little piece of evidence that they possibly do.

Having a relaxing weekend, and trying to catch up on some bits and pieces.  Looks like the weather is going to be nice so hopefully get out on the motorbike and maybe go for a dive as well.

Wednesday 24 November 2010

The sun shineth on the longest name...

Spent the day today down near Porangahau, which is on the coast in Central Hawkes Bay.  The actual site is along the top of the range near the longest place name in the World -

'Taumata¬whakatangihanga¬koauau¬o¬tamatea¬turi-pukakapiki¬maunga¬horo¬nuku¬pokai¬ whenua¬kitanatahu'

Translated this means 'The summit where Tamatea, the man with the big knees, the climber of mountains, the land-swallower who travelled about, played his nose flute to his loved one', and is the name of a 305m hill which is the tallest part of what is known as the Kuru Range.

I am doing bird monitoring for the Hawkes Bay Regional Council at this site, basically doing 5-minute bird counts at a number of sites throughout a really nice patch of native forest, following possum control.  I will also be doing the same at sites on Napier Hill when I get this done.  This is the third year that I have done monitoring at these sites, so it's always nice to get back here.

The weather today was gorgeous - mostly blue skies, and despite the long distances and steep terrain it is a really nice place to be.  Lots of native birds, and had a couple of surprises today.  On two occasions today I heard an Eastern rosella - an introduced parrot from Australia that is wild in several parts of the country.  The nearest site I know is across the Ruahine Ranges in the Manawatu (perhaps about 65 km away), so this might be a range expansion of this species.  I suspect this might be the first record of this species in Hawkes Bay?

The second interesting sighting was towards the end of a 5-minute count when I looked up and about 3m from me was an adult shining-bronze cuckoo with an egg in its bill!  Now these guys are brood parasites, so I'm guessing the bird was a female and had just laid its egg in the nest and removed one of the hosts eggs.  The bird had clearly cracked one side of the egg with its bill, and was holding it upright, with its beak at a 45 degree angle.  It was clearly swallowing the contents of the egg, and once the shell was empty discarded it, then wiped it's bill clean.  Certainly an interesting observation.

From the look of the egg it was definitely not a grey warbler (the most common host), nor a grey fantail (both these species have eggs with speckles).  The only species which springs to mind and matches is keen if anyone recognises the species.  I guess there is the possibility it is a cuckoo egg that this bird has removed from an already parasitised nest?

The mystery egg - intact side

The mystery egg - broken side

My office today...not a bad spot!

Tuesday 23 November 2010

Calling for interest - 4-day live-aboard pelagic - Three Kings March 2011

Had a call from our northern skipper Tank Barker this morning.  We have penciled in a fifth 4-day pelagic for 2 -5 March 2011, leaving from Houhora in the north, and heading up to the beautiful Three Kings Islands.  We generally manage (weather permitting) two nights anchored near them, and head out to different areas near to the Three Kings to chum and look for seabirds and marine mammals.  We have had some excellent trips with some mega-birds for NZ recorded (first live record of Gould's petrel for New Zealand in 2007), and some excellent photographic opportunities.  Each year has been different, and we hope that a slightly earlier trip in 2011 will yield some more of the sub-tropical species, such Gould's, white-naped, and Kermadec petrel.

Trip reports from the previous trips (except the 2010 trip which is due to be posted at some stage soon...woops, bit late!) can be found on our Wrybill Birding Tours, NZ website here.

This trip is strictly a cost-share trip, we basically just split the cost between those on the trip.  It normally runs around NZ$1250 per person for the full trip, including food, and we generally eat very well with a lot of fresh fish.  Depending on how well I go on the diving front we generally also have crayfish for dinner, lunch, and breakfast!

If you are interested, or know of anyone who would be, please get them to email me as soon as possible as we need to confirm with Tank in the next few days.  I've posted a few photos below to whet the appetite and make you drool!

Probable New Caledonia subspecies of Gould's petrel, first live record for the species off New Zealand was during this trip in 2007

Long-tailed skua, a relatively rare vagrant for New Zealand, seen on several of the Three Kings trips we have done

Black-winged petrel, one of the Pterodromas commonly recorded during this trip

Kermadec petrel, again rarely reported for the mainland of New Zealand, but seen on each of our Three Kings trips

The spoils of diving, a couple of good sized crayfish

Eating well, crayfish wraps!

Sunday 21 November 2010

This is the end...

Up and away early, we still had to try for Baillon’s crake again, and further views of black stilt were on offer.  So we left the accommodation at 0700 hrs and headed off towards Twizel.  Some more nice scope views of black stilt, this time without the rain.  It threatened, but thankfully didn’t come.  We then headed to look for Baillon’s crake again, this time without the pouring rain.  However, the early morning and dry skies didn’t seem to make a difference, and trying several spots we had to admit defeat!  So it was then on the road and heading for Christchurch.
We discussed the highlights of the trip along the way, with most agreeing that the Stewart Island pelagic and the clouds of albatross around the boat was a top contender.  Also featuring was the Hauraki Gulf pelagic (with the greater diversity of species, including of course NZ storm-petrel) and the falcon experience at Boundary Stream.  All in all an excellent trip, and I hope one that will be remembered for a long time.

Last night we had all done our top five bird species of the trip (surprisingly no pies made it), but the top contender, well in the lead, was the Southern brown kiwi on Stewart Island.  This had obviously left an impression on all.  Tied for second and third place were wrybill and North Island kokako, with NZ falcon a close fourth, and Southern Royal albatross coming in at fifth place.  All this information, along with the daily checklist, and trip report will be posted on our Wrybill Birding Tours, NZ website in the next few days...when I get some sleep and some time!

As we rolled northwards we crossed the Ashburton River where there was probably about 1000 black-billed gulls nesting just below the SH1 road bridge.  An awesome spectacle, and nice finish to the tour.  We arrived at the motel in Christchurch, checked in, and unloaded the vehicle and said our good-byes.

I then got back on the road and headed through to Kaikoura to catch up with Jo and Alex at Encounter Kaikoura.  Had a quick coffee and caught up with them for a bit and then back in the saddle to get to Picton in time for the 1805 ferry sailing.  Not even any time for Grassmere or the Blenheim sewage ponds!

Spent a bit of time outside on the ferry.  Slight seas with a bit of wind, but not a lot around.  Did see a single Westland petrel, single Cape petrel, small flock of 6 sooty shears, a few fairy prion, a single distant great albatross, and two white-capped albatross...guess that's not bad for half an hour!  Overnighting with friends Nick and Sherylene in Wellington.

Trip total -
161 species, plus heard great-spotted kiwi.

Saturday 20 November 2010

Rain and black stilts

A slightly later start this morning saw drizzly rain as we left Oamaru at 0800 hrs.  We have been incredibly lucky with the weather on this trip, so couldn't grumble too much!  We headed northwards and then cut inland towards Omarama, making a quick stop to see a small flock of black-fronted terns feeding over wet fields.  They were quartering the fields, and dipping down to catch earthworms and other invertebrates on the surface.  Really nice views of these little beauties.

Carrying on we grabbed some sandwiches in Omarama and then headed towards Twizel, stopping to get nice scope views of at least five black stilt.  There were several immature birds still showing a fair amount of white on the face, but at least one full adult and another with just a small patch of white.  The last pressure endemic was in the bag, and what a cracking bird it is too.  They really are a stunning bird, and such a shame there are so few.

We then carried on to Lake Poaka, where we searched for more black stilts, but found none.  However, a consolation was several banded dotterel and a sharp-tailed sandpiper.  Perhaps this was the same bird from Miranda that had travelled south to farewell Art?  Certainly a strange site for this species, which is normally found on the coast in NZ.

Heading still further north we visited Mount John where we looked for Chukar in the rain, finally finding a pair which were rather obliging, as well as a pair of falcon nearby.  At least the rain couldn’t dampen our spirits...although it did a little while later as we search for Baillon’s (marsh) crake in the rain, giving up as the rain got heavier.  We’ll give it another go in the morning.  Forecast looks a little dubious for the morning, but we will see what happens.  Staying at the Ahuriri Motels which are very nice!

Black-fronted tern quartering fields in the rain

One of the hydro canals

Juvenile black stilt

The gang looking at wrybill on the breeding grounds

Bird of the day – Black stilt x3, wrybill x2, chukar x1

Day total –
Seen = 42 + 1 heard (grey warbler); new for the trip = 2; total for the trip to date = 161

A yellow-eyed or two

Yesterday, we said good-bye to Stewart Island on the 0800 hrs ferry, with another very smooth crossing in a very light breeze.  Not an awful lot of birds, but about 8-10 Fiordland crested penguins at the mouth of Half Moon Bay, and then small rafts of little penguins further out.  The odd white-capped albatross flew past, several brown skua, and lots of common diving petrel and Cape petrel.

We arrived back in to Bluff, loaded the van, and then had a quick look along the shoreline at the flocks of terns just in case there was something interesting, before then getting on the road and driving towards Owaka.  We quickly grabbed some sandwiches and headed to a beach nearby to check out if there were any New Zealand sea lions present, and there was a single large sub-adult male on the beach.  He was fairly mobile, and we got good views of him before he disappeared into the surf.  We then finished our lunch and then headed northwards, making a quick stop and finally (!) finding a little owl perched in the sun, obviously enjoying a little bit of warmth.  Great views of it in the scope for Art, as this was a life bird for him.

Continuing onwards we scooted through Dunedin and had a quick look at Tomahawk Lagoon, where a common sandpiper had been seen earlier in the month, but not in the last week or so.  We scoured the edges, particularly around the outlet near the road, but didn’t find it.  Some very confiding Royal spoonbill in breeding plumage were a nice bonus though.

A quick stop for take-away coffee (and slices) before heading through the city and continuing northwards – next stop Oamaru.  We headed straight for the yellow-eyed penguin colony at Bushy Beach and walked along the top to the platform and waited.  The sea was flat calm with very little wind and we could see large rafts of Hutton’s shearwaters feeding offshore, flying backwards and forewards.  There was also at least 2-3 Salvin’s and a couple of white-capped albatross, several giant petrels, and a Cape petrel.  Lots of spotted and Stewart Island shag were flying past and feeding also.  We waited some time, as the numbers of people watching expectantly also grew.  Then finally a bird came swimming ashore, clearly visible whilst underwater in the clear water.  It came ashore, but fairly quickly was out of sight below the cliffs.  Then I found a bird high on the cliff quite a way along that had obviously just stepped out from the bushes and was preening, and finally a third came ashore and stood on the beach preening for some time.  We had excellent scope views of these birds, and decided we had had good enough views and headed for the accommodation, then dinner.

New Zealand sea lion

The beautiful Bushy Point, Oamaru

Yellow-eyed penguin ashore and walking towards home...

Bird of the day – Yellow-eyed penguin x5, NZ sea lion x1

Day total – Seen = 54; new for the trip = 1; total for the trip to date = 159

Friday 19 November 2010

Day of the albatross

Yesterday was a cracker of a day on the water!  We headed out at 0830 hrs on Aurora, with Ty as skipper and Colin as deck-hand (sorry Colin!), with light winds and relatively flat conditions on the northern side of the island.  Our aim was to get around to the South to Port Pegasus, the best spot for Antarctic terns, and to chum out off the island in a couple of places to draw in albatross and petrels and anything else that might be floating around.  Before we had even left the wharf we had a Fiordland crested penguin showing itself right beside the boat...a good start!

We made our way slowly along the northern coast, seeing a few more Fiordland crested and looking out for yellow-eyed penguins.  Stewart Island shags were about the place, and we checked the white-fronted terns carefully for anything showing a red bill.  We spotted some NZ sea lions (Hooker’s sea lions) on a beach a wee way off, and we passed Ocean Beach w here we had seen kiwi so well the night before.

Several more Fiordland crested penguins were seen in the water, and seen really well, before we then spotted a couple of yellow-eyed penguins as well.  They were doing their best to make it hard for us to see them, but in the end everyone had good views.  We ripped out to Wreck Reef, a small reef not far off the island, and chummed for a little while with blue cod heads and frames (we’d probably consumed the fillets last night at the restaurant!).  With a stiff westerly wind, albatross were pretty quick to arrive and we soon had good numbers of white-capped with a few Salvin’s, before the first of the Southern Royal albatross arrived.  They squabbled and fought over the chum and we had excellent views of these birds in action.

After half an hour or so we headed back towards the island and continued around towards Port Pegasus.  A lot more Fiordland penguins were found at a couple of locations, including up on  the rocks giving nice views.  The sun was poking through every now and then and we had beaut views of the island and it’s rugged terrain and thick vegetation.  Heading past The Sisters (incorrectly named the Brothers on charts) we then headed to a spot where Colin has found Antarctic terns many times.  We had about 40-50 white-fronted terns on the rocks in front of us, with several pairs nesting up in the low vegetation.  Scanning, scanning, no red bills...hmmmm!  Then, I spotted a strange tern down low on a rock with several white-fronteds.  Everyone got onto it and the bird was definitely smaller, with long tail and wings, shorter legs, but a black bill and moulting cap.  I called Arctic tern, before we all figured something didn’t quite add up...  The legs were just too long and the bill too long also, and although it had somewhat the right shape, the jizz was wrong.  We realised it had to be a sub-adult Antarctic tern...we’d got our poles wrong!  Still searching for red bills, we came up with nothing, but another small tern was spotted by Matt Jones who was also on the trip.  This bird was a definite Arctic tern, smaller, dumpier, with darkish belly and flanks, very short red legs, and shorter deeper based bill – what a cracker!  We had three species of terns right there in front of us.  We got some photos, soaked it all up and then headed off to another spot to look for more Antarctic terns...this time hopefully an adult.  As we approached a bunch of terns on the rocks I found another Arctic tern amongst a small flock of feeding white-fronteds, and we then got close to the rocks in big swell (great driving Ty) and managed to find a stonking adult Antarctic tern in full breeding with blood red bill and legs.  It had it’s back to us most of the time due to the wind, but every now and then turned it’s head giving nice views.  Hand holding the 800mm in 25 knots of wind in big swell was no easy task (!) but I managed to get a few reasonable record shots.

We then decided to head out into the deep blue, and headed about 18 miles off to the ‘Southern Traps’.  As we got out into deeper water we threw chum overboard and shortly had a cloud of albatross behind the really was a sight to behold.  Mostly, white-capped we also had several black-browed, a good number of Southern Royals and fair percentage of Salvin’s.  Everyone was pretty chuffed with the spectacle, and as we approached our destination the first mottled petrels went past.  We also suddenly got into good numbers of common diving-petrels and fairy prions, with the odd Buller’s shearwater.  We stopped and then chummed for about 45 minutes to an hour, with probably more than 200 albatross around us – up to 12 Southern Royals at one time, and a single Wandering joined us as well.  Mottled petrels continued to pass and good numbers of sooty shearwaters as well, plus several white-chinned petrels.  It was just awesome watching these birds wheeling around the boat and dropping to the water to squabble for the fish frames.  Something not to forget!

Unfortunately, the day was getting on, and with a big run back towards home we started on our way, still throwing chum over.  Lots more mottled petrels ended up going past during the trip towards ‘North Traps’, as well as more fairy prions, and the cloud of albatross followed.  The number of birds steadily dwindled as the supply of chum did, and as we got closer to home.  An absolutely fantastic day, with no real stand-out rarities, but massive numbers of birds more than making up for it.

Fiordland crested penguin looking grumpy (and fat pre-moult)

It really is Stewart Island...honest...and the sky wasn't photo-shopped!

Arctic tern...little stunner!

Beautiful adult breeding plumage Antarctic tern with white-fronted terns

White-capped albatross in flight

Salvin's albatross coming past the boat silhouetted against Stewart Island

White-capped albatross

Salvin's albatross

Mid-air between white-capped (bottom) and Salvin's (top) albatross

Southern Royal, bird of the day, coming in for some chum

Bird of the day – Southern Royal albatross x5, Fiordland crested penguin x1

Day total –
Seen = 34 + 0 heard; new for the trip = 4; total for the trip to date = 158

Thursday 18 November 2010

They all came back...

So it was another earlyish morning, leaving the accommodation just after seven and heading down towards the coast and then along to Bluff.  The weather looked ok, but was fairly overcast, although with almost no wind.  We kept our eyes peeled for little owl along the way, but nothing, but there were lots of black-billed gulls in the fields beside the roads, and of course the usual introductions.

We made a quick stop on the coast for Hector’s dolphins, seeing at least 5 or so animals out in the waves, with a relatively calm sea.  However, views this morning certainly didn’t beat out ‘flying’ dolphins from the West Coast.  We then headed through to Wakapatu Beach, where there was an errant shore plover several years ago, but it hasn’t been seen for more than a year.  However, we did see about ten banded dotterel, and scanned the small flock of white-fronted terns for any Arctic terns – several were reported from here a few days ago.  Alas, the conditions were very calm, with only about 30-40 white-fronted terns and certainly no Arctic terns amongst them.  Nevermind.

We then made for Bluff, checking in to the ferry terminal, and awaiting the departure of the ferry, which happened ahead of schedule and the ferry actually left port five minutes early!  Don’t be late!  We saw our first Stewart Island shag pretty soon after leaving the wharf, but the calm conditions didn’t bode well for much else.  However, we did start to encounter a lot of common diving petrels, and in the end had a couple of white-capped albatross and several Cape petrels.  As we came through the Muttonbird Islands (taking a detour) we also had several brown skua flying over the islands.

As we slowed and approached Half Moon Bay and the wharf I spied a Fiordland crested penguin on the shore, and most of the group got onto it before it disappeared behind rocks...BVD (better views desired)!  We grabbed our gear and headed up to the South Seas Hotel, checked in quickly, had our lunch at the picnic tables out front and then headed along to Golden Bay.

Our water taxi was there waiting and we zipped across to Ulva Island seeing a couple of little penguins on the way.  The rain was holding off for the moment, and our main target bird was yellowhead.  We headed up through the beaut forest, ears pricked, and within seconds had South Island saddleback, South Island robin, red-crowned parakeet, South Island kaka, and had heard tui, bellbird, brown creeper, etc.  We continued along quietly trying to listen out for the tell-tale staccato call of the yellowhead, but nothing for quite sometime.  I had heard they were being a little difficult out here this summer, so I was getting a little nervous.  They are cracking birds, and efforts to see them in subsequent days would be a little difficult with regards to logisitics.  And then as the beads of sweat were starting to form, I heard the call.  We moved quickly along the track towards where they were calling and ended up with stunning views of at least three different birds, including one stonking male with really ‘glowing’ plumage.  In reality we had probably only be on the island for about 40 minutes, but it seemed like a long time!

We continued to watch these birds and then headed out along the track, and ambled leisurely along a couple of the beaches.  Weka were about, and we found several with tiny chicks, lots of kaka low down and on the ground, and pretty much everything else in abundance.  As the drizzle started we were all heading back towards the wharf anyway, and by 1730 we were all back there as our water taxi arrived to take us back.  Despite all heading off in different directions...they all came back!

We headed up to the accommodation for dinner...what a great dinner.  The South Sea Hotel does an awesome dinner with some really beautiful food – if you are staying on Stewart Island you really need to dine there at least once.

After dinner we jumped aboard Phillip Smith’s boat, to head out to Ocean Beach to see Stewart Island brown kiwi.  Phillip has been doing these tours for many years now and really has it down pat.  It has got to be one of the most surreal and enthralling birding experiences in New Zealand, seeing these birds feeding on the beach on sandhoppers and other invertebrates...and this is exactly how it happened.  Just fantastic.  I took my camera along for the first time, and even at max ISO (12800) the images were not really that sharp, but decided to take some video.  From what I can see I got some superb results, so hopefully can load some of it to this blog when I get some software to edit it.  We saw at least 3-4 birds over the course of the evening before heading back to the boat and homewards...a long day but one that will take some beating!

Distinctive plumage of the juvenile 'jackbird' South Island saddleback

Cute as can be, very young weka chick

Rubbish photo...but we got it!!!

South Island kaka feeding

Boulder Beach, Ulva Island

Hey, what are you looking at?

Feeding Stewart Island brown kiwi (no flash used)

Bird of the day – Southern (Stewart Island) brown kiwi x6

Day total – Seen = 56 + 1 heard (South Island tomtit); new for the trip = 4; total for the trip to date = 154

Tuesday 16 November 2010

Rock wren in the rain

Blustery winds and gathering clouds greeted us this morning, so I was keen to get away and get to Homer Tunnel ASAP!  My intention was to head directly there unless we saw something of interest...I had forgotten about the existence of the ‘Kingston Flyer’ steam engine, which was of course noted by Malcolm and John as we approached Kingston.  Suitably hijacked, we quickly headed to the yard to see it and another steam engine (I’m surprised that was not bird of the day for them!).

We then carried on through to Te Anau – a bit of a hike, but the ‘Miles Better’ pie shop was worth it, and we grabbed and ran, heading for Homer Tunnel.  The rain started as we got closer, and by the time we got to the tunnel it was very persistent rain, not looking like easing at all!  Several kea were in the carpark as usual, and three of us braved the elements, whilst the rest digested pies and sandwiches and watched for any wild gesticulations from the safety of the van.  They were also successful in fending off the kea thankfully.

After about an hour and a half, several laps of the track, NO rock wren and a great deal damper, Malcolm suddenly exclaimed “There’s a bird on a rock!”, upon being asked “Where?!” he said there on that rock...  Hmmm...there were probably 389 rocks in the direction he was looking, but the rock wren was luckily pretty obvious and I ran towards the bus waving madly.  The troops ran up to where we were by which time the bird had come slightly closer, and was now joined by its mate.  Everyone got stonking views of both birds, right down to a couple of metres, if that.  They gradually bobbed their way up the slope, and disappeared, having been visible for the best part of almost 10 minutes.  I couldn’t believe our luck, thinking that the rain had snookered us!  Good eyes Malcolm!

So we headed back to the van, removed our wet gear, and then decided to head down towards Milford Sound, as the rain was still coming down, making forest birding a little worthless.  We checked out the misty views and waterfalls around the end of the Fiord, swatted a few sandflies, and grabbed a coffee and then headed back out towards Te Anau.  Wed stopped at a couple of places on the way, with a forest walk with a little less rain.  Managed to get views of rifleman up in the canopy and several tomtits, but the area was fairly quiet with things hunkering down after the rain.  Heard kaka, robin, and yellow-crowned parakeet.  We also stopped further down the Eglinton Valley for a small flock of black-fronted terns hawking over the grassland.  Nice views of them obviously catching inverts.

Then into town and dinner, checklist, blog, and bed!

The wet and bedraggled, but happy, bunch - thumbs up for the rock wren!

Beaut beech (Nothofagus sp.) forest

Moss, moss and more you think it rains a lot here?

The gorgeous Eglinton Valley

Bird of the day –
Rock wren x6

Day total –
Seen = 34 + 6 heard (Kaka, yellow-crowned parakeet, brown creeper, fantail, bellbird, robin); new for the trip = 1; total for the trip to date = 150

Hunting for Hector

Well we had a leisurely breakfast after the late night and then headed up to check out Franz Josef glacier.  Any rain we had had the previous day had well and truly gone with a nice blue sky with some puffy clouds around the tops of the mountains.  Great views up the valley towards the glacier, with a lot of tomtit singing, and fly over kea.  Also a lot of greenhood orchids (Pterstylis sp.) in flower along the sides of the track.

We then headed slowly south through beautiful podocarp forest and along a spectacular coastline.  We made several stops along the way, including one to see Hector’s dolphins.  Having missed them in both the Marlborough Sounds and near Kaikoura, Barbara was beginning to think they were a myth, and upon approaching every body of water (including lakes) has been jokingly asking me if there were any Hector’s dolphins around...ha!  Well, there they were in all their glory finally in front of us.  They were obviously very actively feeding, and were also surfing in the waves and jumping clear out of the water.  So we had really nice views of probably almost 10 of these little guys.

We then headed to Jackson Bay to have lunch.  On the way a road-kill Fiordland crested penguin was a sad reminder that these birds nest in this area, so as we headed along the shore we scanned for our next target.  Having lunch overlooking the bay we had a reef egret fly past and a few spotted shags, but no Fiordland crested.  We enjoyed a cup of coffee/tea as we ate our lunch, and then headed slowly back along the shore northwards, stopping at a few spots.  I managed to see something and stopped the van and malcolm was first on to the penguin...a single FC penguin was feeding and swimming just out from the shore.  However, he was taking quite long dives and being rather unpredictable so we didn’t get the scope onto it.  There will be more...hopefully.

We carried on towardsHaast Pass, making a stop in some pakihi wetland to search for fernbird, had had some really stunning views of a pair which seemed to think they were invisible when perching on bare branches right up out in the open.  Great extended views of these dinky little birds, showing their bedraggled tail and everything well.  A quick coffee to-go stop at Haast and then a quick stop at the Haast Sewage works (still nothing except a couple of grallards and grey duck) and then up to the Pass where we did a short walk through the beautiful beech (Nothofagus sp.) forest.  Heard a lot of rifleman and glimpsed the odd one, and a few brown creeper heard and tomtit heard and seen.

Then carried on down to Wanaka where we overnighted.  Early night for all including me!

Greenhood orchid (Pterostylis sp) were common on the side of the track

Art 'Hunting for Hector'

Beautiful West Coast pakihi swamp...full of fernbird...and mosquitos!

Beech (Nothofagus sp) forest at Haast Pass

Bird of the day – Fiordland crested penguin x1, South Island tomtit x3, Hector’s dolphin x2

Day total – Seen = 40 + 2 heard (Morepork, brown creepr); new for the trip = 1; total for the trip to date = 149

Monday 15 November 2010

Okarito calling

This morning we awoke to rain, good ol’ light wetting West Coast rain!  We had a leisurely breakfast and then headed down to Pancake Rocks, where the rain eased off and we made our way around the walkway looking at the unique limestone formations.  There were lots of white-fronted terns and red-billed gulls nesting out on the stacks, and good numbers of spotted shags roosting on the stacks and fishing out in the waves.  Silvereyes, bellbird, and the odd grey warbler could be seen and heard, and a very friendly weka was acting as usher at the doorway to the information centre.

We then made our way steadily along the coast, through Greymouth, and as the rain came down again decided it really wasn’t worth getting soaked looking for things that would be much more easily seen (and frequently) over the coming days in nicer weather.  So we headed into Hokitika to take a look around, have a coffee, and then lunch.

After lunch we headed southwards again, with the skies gradually starting to brighten, and so we called in to Lake Mahinapua to take a look.  As usual nothing on the lake, but we did have a very curious family of weka (mum, dad and the three kids) and our first brown creeper and South Island tomtit.  As the skies got ever clearer we headed south again, getting nice views of great crested grebe (the Australasian subspecies) along the way.  We arrived into Franz Josef around 4pm, checked in and then headed for dinner, before heading out to Okarito to go out with Ian Cooper from Okarito Kiwi Tours...

I’ve just got in...and boy was it a long night!  In the end we saw several birds REALLY well, but it took a long time.  They were within several metres of the track on several occasions, but just wouldn’t show.  We had calls from both males and females from just 20-25m away several times, and the tension was high.  However, perseverance by Ian and we finally all had excellent views.  Thanks heaps for the hard work and an excellent night Ian!

We headed home knackered, but happy – three out of four targeted kiwi seen, with the fourth being heard.  Not too shabby!  Time for a beer and bed.

Marauding weka about to attack

Young weka looking wet and bedraggled after the wet morning

Bird of the day – Okarito kiwi x6 (for once everyone agrees!)

Day total – Seen = 44 + 2 heard (Morepork, South Island robin); new for the trip = 4; total for the trip to date = 148

Sunday 14 November 2010

Good Will Bunting and Pie-bill Tours!

Well the search for New Zealand’s ultimate pie continued today.  We may have to change our name from Wrybill Birding Tours, NZ, to New Zealand Pie Adventures (or Lynn quickly quipped Piebill Tours)!  Who would have thought that such pastry-cased gastronomic delicacies could shape the face of a birding tour!  All thanks to Ruth.

The morning began with a drive along the Kaikoura Peninsula and a great view from the lookout.  The characteristic song of a male cirl bunting drew my attention, and we briefly had it perched in the top of a pine in the scope – Art was up first being the North American who needed this for his life list.  Luckily Art got the bird before the little devil decided to fly and we lost it, but I managed to find a young male that stayed put for quite some time enabling excellent views, love it when a plan comes together.  We’d spent a bit of time looking for this species, and got it in the end.

We then headed slowly down the coast, a beautiful drive on a perfect sunny morning.  We spotted a small group of dusky dolphins off the coast, but they were a little distant and nothing like we had seen the day before from the boat.  So we carried and probably 10kms before St Anne’s Lagoon spotted a pair of Cape Barren geese in a paddock beside the road.  I turned around and we got a nice view of these birds which seem to be increasing slowly in number and being found further afield each year.  We carried on to St Anne’s and found another five birds, as well as common coot, grey teal, scaup, and shoveler.  No big flocks of Paridise duck yet though.  Along the lake shore we also found a species of dragonfly and red damselfly, and then a little later a yellow admiral butterfly.

Carrying on southwards the tummies were obviously starting to rumble.  Ruth had already been doing her research and realising we were going to be going through Sheffield, started canvassing the others with regards to the famous ‘Sheffield Pie Shop’.  This was despite the fact we had already bought lunch at a bakery in Kaikoura!  Malcolm and Lynn (who are from Sheffield, UK) of course had to have the obligatory photo beside the road sign, and then we rolled up to the pie shop.  I’m sure they must get bus loads of tourists, but the look on the faces of the people serving suggested they hadn’t had ravenous birders descend on them lately.  With the axles of the Ford Transit groaning under the weight of pastry goods, we headed towards Arthur’s Pass.  I don’t think we had even got out of the town limits and all that was left was pastry crumbs.
As we crossed the Waimakariri River a couple of black-fronted terns flew over the bridge in front of us, so we made a quick stop to get a look at them, before headed up to the Otira Viaduct lookout.  We hadn’t even stopped the vehicle and a friendly kea was seen.  So we spent a very enjoyable lunch break watching the antics of this bird, listening to it call, and enjoying the awesome scenery.  The bird eventually flew off and we could hear it and another bird calling to each other up the valley.

We then headed on through to Punakaiki with a quick stop at Rapahoe over looking the sea.  On the way we had a family of weka with about 6 chicks dash across the road in front of us at an intersection, so we got really nice views of them.  At Rapahoe there were a few spotted shags, but nothing out of the ordinary.  However, we were very pleased to see the rain that had been forecast was not in evidence and instead there was quite a bit of blue sky poking through.  Checking into Punakaiki we had a break and then dinner.  Then it was time to head out to give great-spotted kiwi a go – two chances, slim and none.  But we were rewarded with fantastic views of a female morepork that showed evidence of incubation with a worn patch on her belly feathers.  She almost tried to land on my head at one stage!  We did hear a kiwi call about 100m away, but only the once.  Unfortunately, as usual lots of common brush-tailed possums in the area, and we did see a few weka as well.  A big day of driving, but some beaut scenery and nice views of things along the way.

The famous 'Sheffield Pie Shop'...just follow the trail of pie crumbs.

Castle Hill on the road through to Arthur's Pass

Otira Viaduct from the lookout

Lynn getting a good look at a kea

"Cor, look at the bill on that thing!"

A very friendly kea

Time for more food...even though we'd only just gorged on pies an hour before!

Bird of the day – Steak and Mushroom Pie x1 (Ruth oh Ruth...again!), kea x5

Day total – Seen = 52 + 3 heard (great-spotted kiwi, South Island kaka, grey warbler); new for the trip = 4; total for the trip to date = 144