Tuesday 27 December 2011

Summers over?!

Well summer isn't quite over, but having packed all my warm stuff and wet weather gear for the Antarctic it almost feels like it is...for a bit anyway.  Haven't had a lot of updates lately.  December was busy completing my bird survey work at Napier Hill and down at Porangahau, part of a Hawkes Bay Regional Council contract.  That went well, with mostly good weather allowing it to be completed within the time frame I had hoped.

This then meant that we could head away for a week or so relaxing at Wharekaho (Simpson's Beach), just north of Whitianga.  Was an awesomely relaxing time with friends Phill and Bex and John and Claudia, plus there littles.  No a lot of activity...just nice to sleep, relax and even read a book.

Xmas in Auckland with Adel's whanau and now I'm sitting at the Auckland Airport about to head to Buenos Aires and then to Ushuaia for two awesome cruises onboard the Clipper Adventurer with Zegrahm Expeditions.  Both incorporate the Falklands, South Georgia and Antarctica, so really looking forward to them.  There will be regular posts with photos here, so make sure you check out the blog regularly...

Wharekaho pohutukawa

Saturday 3 December 2011

Happy penguins

Well not much blogged recently.  I've been back and spent another 10 days with the Wildlife Team at the Rena spill and just got home on Thursday.  Long days and some rewarding moments, including being there for the first little blue penguin release, as well as a couple of the smaller ones.  We released 38 penguins a just under a week ago, and really rewarding to see the birds heading back out to sea.

Now home for a few weeks trying to get my local bird monitoring done before some rest and relaxation in Whitianga...can't wait!

Saturday 19 November 2011

Songs about rainbows

Well had a great day out with Scott and Carolyn from Memphis today.  We spent most of the day at Cape Kidnappers, with some off and on weather (and off and on car!), but the photographic results were superb and I hope Scott got some great images too!  Late afternoon light, rainstorms, and rainbows made for some awesome photographic subjects.  This is one of my favourites from the nearly 4000 images taken today...as if I don't already have enough photos of gannets! ;)  I great day.

Pot of gold, a gannet at the end of a rainbow

Friday 18 November 2011

The pud

Well, an awesome two days with David Tipling and Roger Tidman here in Hawkes Bay (more in the next few days).  Yesterday at Cape Kidnappers with a few thousand gannets and other bits and bobs, and today with falcon at Boundary Stream.  Fantastic couple of guys and lots of fun and photos.  Taken around 5000 images in two days, and this one has to be one of the best...

Male New Zealand falcon

Sunday 13 November 2011


So up and packed and off to the 0800 ferry where we had to farewell the beautiful Stewart Island.  It was another lovely sunny day with almost no wind today, and the sea looked flat calm..and it almost was!  Very smooth conditions and it really didn’t bode well for a good crossing birdwise.  We had a couple of little blue penguins as we left Halfmoon Bay and of course some Stewart Island shags, before getting out towards the Muttonbird Islands.  A few sooty shearwaters drifted past, and some good views of common diving petrels.  In great contrast to the day before we had one Salvin’s and one white-capped albatross and a Northern giant petrel crossed our wake, but she was looking pretty quiet...until I spotted a small black bird flying towards and with us.  All dark, white rump, low to the water, WILSON’S STORM-PETREL!  The call went up (sounding a little like something from Castaway, the other passengers must have though me mad, but what's new!) and everyone ran to the port side to get a look as it flew with the ferry for probably more than a minute going in the same direction as us!  Fantastic, a cracking little bird and really good views.

The birds pretty much thinned out after that with just a couple of white-chinned petrels, before getting in to Bluff.  We grabbed our gear, reloaded the bus and then checked out Stirling Point and some of the tern flocks, but nothing different spotted amongst them.  So we headed north, up through the very scenic Catlins.  We stopped at a couple of places to take photos, before grabbing some lunch and then heading to a beach to check out some New Zealand sealions.

Way down the beach we could see a few people near a sealion, so we started to head down there, realising part way down there was actually another animal tucked right up against the hightide mark that everyone else had missed and walked straight past.  So we spent some time admiring this big boy, still a sub-adult though.  He seemed pretty happy dozing and flicking sand over himself.

We left him in peace and then headed off further northwards, with the aim of getting to Oamaru late afternoon, which we did.  We headed straight for a beach to see yellow-eyed penguins coming ashore, and although after an hour or so we hadn’t seen any come ashore we had heard them and had scope views of a bird only 20m or so away.  So fantastic views of this very rare penguin.

We then checked in to our accommodation, had dinner, caught up on the checklist and off to bed!

Bird of the day – Yellow-eyed penguin x7
Day total – Seen = 56; new for the trip = 1; total for the trip to date = 162 (163 inc bittern)

Fat and happy...young New Zealand sealion

Yellow-eyed penguin up close

Having a stretch

Friday 11 November 2011

Records breaking

Well what an unbelievable day!  Nobody ate a single pie today...not even Marvin!  No it wasn’t just unbelievable for that, we had an absolutely incredible day out on the water, and bagged a whole bunch of great birds as well.

We grabbed some lunch and then headed to the boat, the Aurora, skippered by Ty and Colin, and ably assisted by Matt.  We headed out just on 0830 and it was overcast and a little drizzly, but this didn’t dampen our spirits as we headed out to the Muttonbird Islands.  First call was Bench Island to try and find a few yellow-eyed penguins, which we managed pretty easily with two on the rocks not far off.  They gave nice views and we savoured the moment and then headed off, getting a couple of distant brown skua shortly after.  We however got great views of a couple of brown skua that came in to be thrown a few blue cod frames, before we headed off and around towards Wreck Reef.

This was our first chumming spot, and on the way the birds started to come in with albatross numbers increasing as blue cod frames were slowly fed (mostly, thanks Ty!! ;) over the side.  There were literally thousands of sooty shearwaters around and we had great views of these plus the odd common diving petrel and Cape petrel.  At Wreck Reef we chummed for a bit and numbers of albatross steadily increased, with most being white-capped and Salvin’s the odd Buller’s and a good number of Southern Royals of varying ages, showing varying amounts of white in the upperwing.  We also managed at least one, possibly two immature Campbell albatross which are always nice to see.

We then felt it was time to head south further towards Port Pegasus, stopping at a few spots along the way to see Fiordland crested penguins both swimming and feeding and up on the rocks, and checking all the tern flocks we could find.  The scenery was stunning, even in the sometimes drizzly conditions, and the wind rose a little, but was never too uncomfortable.

Near Port Pegasus we finally managed to find one Antarctic tern feeding with a group of white-fronteds, but it gave us the slip, as did a second bird found shortly after.  We never got great views, but enough to see the darker plumage and red bill.  There were however a lot of Fiordland crested penguins around, with rafts of up to 7 or so birds.

We then made a run out towards the Northern traps, where the wind had picked up and there was perhaps 1.5m swell, but still pretty comfortable.  As we neared the chumming location we suddenly started to see mottled petrels, and after a handful had passed decided to stop and chum for a bit.  We had a few more come past, and then decided to continue.  At the traps there were thousands of sooty shearwaters and small numbers of fairy prions, and a lot of albatrosses.  Same mix, although we had a nice adult Campbell albatross, but a lot of white-capped, Salvin’s and Southern Royals coming in for the chum.  The stars however were mottled petrels that just kept coming past singly, with probably close to 100 seen during the course of the day.  Fairy prions were carefully checked, but all seemed to be fairy until not long before we left when we suddenly had a couple of broad-billed come past giving great views.  Just prior to that a fantastic little grey-backed storm-petrel came in and spent a few minutes out on the slick feeding, allowing everyone to get onto it and see it – awesome!  With pretty much everything we had expected and more in the bag, and a long way to home, we decided to head back, staying out wide for quite a bit.  The result was a steady stream of mottled petrels and some really great views of perhaps 10 or more broad-billed prions.  Fairy prions were also still coming past, and I’m absolutely sure a couple of prions that came past were neither...perhaps Salvin’s prions, but too tricky to nail in the conditions and whilst moving...another day!
Clearly the day had been a hectic one and had taken its toll on all involved (some more than others), and whilst they snoozed a black-browed albatross snuck up the wake and had a brief look, being seen by just the wily Bruce and some of the others onboard, but not the main party.  We made it back into Halfmoon Bay just before 1800 in time for dinner and a relaxing few drinks.  What a spectacular day in an incredible part of New Zealand!  Even better is the fact that this is tied with my record for a 21-day trip list, and is dangerously close to Sav’s 165 record!

Bird of the day – Fiordland crested penguin x2, Antarctic tern x3
Day total – Seen = 38; new for the trip = 7; total for the trip to date = 161 (actually 162 inc bittern)

One of the many Fiordland crested penguins seen during the day

Southern Royal albatross underwing 
Southern Royal

...and landing

White-capped albatross and a sooty shearwater in the foreground

Grey-backed storm-petrel skipping along

Fairy prion zipping past

Broad-billed prion, one of several seen really well

Another fairy prion

Another broad-billed prion

It was a long day...

Sunny Stewart

So it was earlyish morning, leaving the accommodation just after seven and heading back to Miles Better Pies for another round of pies...apple pie this time for breakfast and damn was it good.  It was an absolutely gorgeous clear blue sky day so of course all eyes were on the scenery.  We drove through to Bluff making one quick stop along the way to have a look over a wetland area.  There were a few scaup around, plus shoveler and paradise shelduck, but nothing special so we were on the road again.

We arrived in to Bluff, checked into the ferry terminal and waited for the ferry to depart.  The sun was still shining and the sky was clear blue.  As we cruised out of Bluff and into the first part of the Foveaux Strait we could look back on the Southern end of the Southern Alps...something I have never seen before from here as normally it is overcast, raining, or both, perhaps with a little hail mixed in for good measure!  So we had an awesome crossing with lovely conditions and a bit of wind to keep the birds flying as well.  We encountered good numbers of sooty shearwaters, with a few rafts mid-Strait, and had nice views of them and common diving petrel.  We saw a couple of Stewart Island shags at either end of the trip, plus the odd Northern giant petrel, white-capped albatross, and Cape petrel.  There was one possible white-chinned petrel following a fishing boat into Bluff also.

As we came in to Oban we kept an eye out for penguins, but nothing seen.  We got off the ferry and grabbed our gear making the short walk to the Hotel and checking in.  We had a short break and then headed up and over to Golden Bay and grabbed a water taxi to Ulva Island...still with the sun shining...can’t believe it!  At Ulva our focus was very much on saddleback, having missed them on Motuara (only hearing them anyway), so we walked the first part of the track very slowly and kept listening out for calls.  There was the odd one distantly, but our attention was quickly diverted to the flowering spider orchids along the side of the track.  They were pretty much all over the place, with one of the species being in full flower.  It kind of looks like Singularybas oblongus but seems to be more round in shape and doesn’t have such a prominent floral bract beneath the flower and the leaves weren’t normally veined and flecked.  There were a couple of other species of spider orchid we found just finishing flowering and a heap of greenhood orchids most of which were not yet in full flower, but I managed to find one that was.

Meanwhile we had nice close robin, red-crowned and yellow-crowned parakeet, brown creeper and stonking yellowhead.  Eventually we had fantastic views of a saddleback and then managed to find a few other bits and bobs, plus kaka, so everyone was happy!  Yellowhead were actually surprisingly common, and despite the poison drop it was nice to find saddleback, robin, etc.  We didn’t however see a weka, and apparently they are pretty thin on the ground at the moment.

We did a short loop around to Sydney Cove, and then getting back to the wharf just before 5pm, enjoyed the sunshine, before heading back to Oban for a quick break before dinner.  Fantastic dinner as usual at the South Sea Hotel, and then out with Phillip Smith to search for Southern brown kiwi.

Lots of little blue penguins on the way in beautiful calm conditions, and then we headed over to Ocean Beach.  We took the long-way around and halfway along the trail I heard something behind me and turned to see a female kiwi run up right behind me, pause, then run right up to me and tap my boot with her bill!  Ha, that’s a first!  Most of the group got great views of her, and then a short way on we had another smaller male.  Once on the beach we had stunning views of a bird feeding on the beach in the open.  We watched it in the dim torch beam for a good few minutes, simply awesome!  What a night to remember.  We headed back to the boat and then back for a fast sleep before tomorrows big pelagic.

Bird of the day – Southern (Stewart Island) brown kiwi x6, rest TBA
Day total – Seen = 57; new for the trip = 3; total for the trip to date = 154

Leaving sunny Bluff

Sooty shearwater on the crossing

Common diving-petrel
Ulva Island and Post Office Bay on a sunny day

Spider orchids on Ulva Island, possibly Singularybas oblongus 

Up close

Amongst the moss

Up even closer




A different spider orchid

Same as above, very long stalk and much bigger

Rimu leaves

Greenhood orchid sp.

Up close

Most were not fully open except this one

Ponga covered with spider orchids in flower

Amongst the moss

Tree fern frond

Kelp balls on the beach

Crown fern

Crown fern frond

Moon on the way to kiwi spotting

A beautiful evening on Stewart Island

Big ol' moon

Southern brown kiwi (prob imm female) feeding on the beach

Same bird...fantastic!

Thursday 10 November 2011

What a day!

Awoke to a dreary sky and threat of drizzle, but the sun was shining at Miles Better Pies again this morning.  With another truck load of pies and sandwiches we lurched back up the road towards Milford Sound, this time with the aim of going right through to do a Milford cruise.

The drizzle started to fall as we got along the road, but we were still on the lookout for falcon and other things as we headed through.  So spotting the pair of blue duck on a couple of rocks in the river was a definite bonus, and we had a couple of minutes there watching them preening and standing in the river.  Excellent!

At Milford Sound the cloud was pretty low, but we could still make out the top of Mitre Peak, and we boarded our boat and headed out at 10:15am.  It didn’t take long and Marvin pointed to a bird in the sky near the walls of the fiord, and it was quickly apparent it was a falcon!  A really dark individual and we had really nice views of it circling above the fiord before we got too far away.  A great start.  A few minutes more and the first of the Fiordland crested penguins were spotted in the water a wee way off, and then shortly after a small pod of four bottlenosed dolphins cruised past giving really good views quite close by.

The scenery was of course stunning and we soaked it all in, literally under a couple of the waterfalls, and with a couple more Fiordland crested in the water we were pretty happy.  Towards the end of the Fiord we had a penguin up on the shore and the boat skipper took the boat nose in on the beach and we had great views of it hopping around the rocks.  Then shortly after another bird up on the rocks a bit further down.

We neared the end of the Fiord and circled around, and started to rack up a few more penguins in the water, some pretty close and giving great views as they swam about.  Then a few fur seals on a regular haulout, and more penguins.  Then more penguins in the water, then more, then more.  As we neared the end of the cruise by Lady Bowen Falls we were still seeing more penguins, and the last tally was 28 (!) Fiordland crested penguins during the cruise.  Awesome!

So we headed back to the vehicle and made our way back through to Homer Tunnel where we dropped a few more pie crumbs, watching kea through the windows in light drizzle, and then continued on through.  I spotted another ‘ducky’ shape and turned around to find a beaut male blue duck on a rock.  We had absolutely stunning views of it within a few metres, calling, preening and falling asleep!  Stunning...another couple of photos for the holiday album!  Just cracking birds up close.

Heading on through to Te Anau we had a bit of spare time, before some great local wild venison fried up for an entree before dinner.  Lovely!

Bird of the day – Fiordland crested penguin x4, rest TBA
Day total – Seen = 37 + 2 heard (dunnock, brown creeper); new for the trip = 0; total for the trip to date = 151

Fiordland crested penguin on a rock

Blue duck calling

Little stunner!

A relaxed duck

Just keeping my eye on you...in between snoozes!

The beautiful Milford Sound with Mitre Peak in the centre