Tuesday 26 April 2011

When will we get a live record for Manx in NZ?

I'd have to say that I really don't think Manx shearwater is being too optimistic at all.  There are already two beach cast records for NZ (according to the 1990 checklist, in my recent move I can't find my new one!) - 1972 Pukerua Bay; 1985 Waikanae Beach.  Possibly a third specimen found recently (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BIRDING-NZ/message/1077). So they have already been found here.  A live record would certainly be good, but not impossible, and surely on the cards in the next 10-20 years of pelagic birding.  Sav saw what could have possibly been a Manx in the Cook Strait in late 2008 (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BIRDING-NZ/message/3496), as has Roger McNeill (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BIRDING-NZ/message/2250).

Having seen them in both the Atlantic and Pacific (more on that in a minute), I'd have to say there would be no problem separating from fluttering, and definitely no problem separating from Hutton's.  But at a distance little shearwater may present more of a problem.  However, if seen well I don't think they would be that hard at all.  Manx have an almost white underwing, with thickish dark leading and trailing edge, which in my mind would be completely different to the slightly dusky underwing of fluttering and very dusky underwing of Hutton's.  The very white underwing of little could be more problematic, but a combination of jizz and facial and neck pattern (which of course is very variable depending on subspecies, but never with such extensive dusky sides to the neck), and less of a dark leading edge to the underwing would make separation of the two possible at all but distant views (in which you probably wouldn't be thinking about Manx anyway!).

Manx do exist in the North Pacific on a regular basis.  I saw several birds last northern summer off Alaska, and they have been recorded further south along the US coast.  I discussed these records with Steve Howell on our recent pelagics and he also had a feeling they may be breeding somewhere up that way, having somehow made their way into the Pacific (probably around Cape Horn, not via the North-West Passage).

The photo of the Manx shearwater is actually one of the Alaskan birds I photographed, for some reason easier to photograph and get close to up there in amongst all our sooty shearwaters!  So there is the way in which one will be found in NZ, just search the flocks of returning sooty shears in Sept/Oct.

Little shearwater, Kermadec Islands

Hutton's shearwater, off Kaikoura

Fluttering shearwater, in the Hauraki Gulf

Manx shearwater, off Alaska

Wednesday 20 April 2011

And so the tour ends

The morning dawn blue skies and calm...now where was this when we needed it the day before?  We grabbed some breakfast at a nearby bakery and then sat and watched a roosting flock of mainly variable oystercatchers, with a few South Island oystercatchers spread amongst them, on a small piece of grass just up from the rocky shore.  A small group of pied stilts and red-billed gulls was also nearby, and as the pastry crumbs fell, the photographers clicked away.

We then headed south along the eastern side of the Coromandel Peninsula, checking out a few places along the way.  We made a stop to look for kaka, but with not a squeak the area seemed devoid of the species.  We did have great views of banded rail, and heard fernbird.  Then as we left, a car parked on the side of the road and a group of people standing on the side of the road suggested there was something worth looking at.  Slowing down we were told there was a kaka in the tree, so the van came to a screeching stop, and everyone piled out to watch a kaka feeding quietly on the fruits of a puriri tree.  Love it when a plan comes together...

We then continued our trek south, making a few stops to get lunch, and wine and stores for the ship.  As we got closer to Tauranga we still had a little time up our sleeve, so made a stop at the touristy Mt Maunganui for coffee, postcards, and a stroll along the beach.  We arrived at the ship at 1400 hrs, and as we were greeted by the ships staff it was time to say good bye.  All too soon the trip had come to an end, but we had seen most of what we hoped for, and managed to cover a fair bit of ground in our time.

Day total – Seen = 42; new for the trip = 0; total for the trip to date = 109

Tuesday 19 April 2011

"It's supposed to be pretty rough!"

Up and away we headed down to the Stilt Ponds at Miranda again to see whether there was anything new.  We didn’t see the sharp-tailed sands we had seen the day before, but there were still large numbers of pied stilts about, and it was awesome to see the wrybill flock wheeling around over the shellbanks.

The weather was a little breezy, and with a pretty horrendous forecast we started to head across to Whitianga.  We headed through Thames and then up the western side of the Coromandel Peninsula towards Coromandel Town.  We were on the hunt for spotted shags, and after a bit found a nice group roosting out on a rock.  We walked back along the road and had great views of them and a reef egret, before then heading on to Coromandel Town for second breakfast...or was that elevenses?

Crossing over to Whitianga the weather had deteriorated with heavy rain and some pretty strong gusty winds, but we were pretty sure we could still get out on our planned boat trip.  We checked into the accommodation, sorted our gear, grabbed a bit of lunch and then headed to the marina and boarded our boat.  Andy and Ian our skippers gave us the run down and then we headed out.  And surprisingly, despite the gale force winds forecasted it wasn’t too bad.  Due to the direction we had shelter as we headed out along the coast to the south of Mercury Bay and then out.  As we got out from the coast we started to see a few birds, and dragging some chum we soon had a good flock of grey-faced petrels and flesh-footed shearwaters following us.  As we got into deeper water the numbers of birds increased, and we soon had several albatross also following, with at least two white-capped albatross, a black-browed and at least two Campbell albatross (plus an immature black-browed/.Campbell).  At least four different Wilson’s storm-petrels were also see, but no other storm-petrels.  In the end we had at least 40+ grey-faced petrels (probably the best photographic opportunities and light I’ve had with this species), 20-30 flesh-footed shears, 5-10 black (Parkinson's petrels), the odd Buller’s shearwater, and passing fluttering shears and common diving-petrels.  There was a pretty strong 40+ knot SW wind blowing, but the sea was only 1-2m at the most and often it felt like a lot less.  The Campbell and black-browed followed the boat for at least several hours giving awesome views and photographic opportunities, so a very nice display.

We kept eyes peeled for other passing Pterodromas, but only glimpsed 1-2 birds in the distance and nothing significant passing.  We turned back into the wind and headed back towards the land, still towing some chum and keeping the birds with us, but again, even as it got later we didn’t attract any Pterodromas.

As we got into shallower water we headed back in towards Mercury Bay, and as the light started to fade, headed back for towards Whitianga.  We encountered a couple of feeding flocks of white-fronted terns and fluttering shearwaters, with a few little blue penguins, before getting back to the Marina.  All in all a pretty good day considering the weather.

Day total – Seen = 57; new for the trip = 3; total for the trip to date = 109

Sunday 17 April 2011

More wrybill than you can shake a stick at

Today the plan was to head slowly down towards Miranda seeing what we could find along the way.  We left Warkworth and headed through Waiwera, stopping briefly at the estuary where we saw a pair of New Zealand dotterel, before heading to a small freshwater pond.  We had nice views of NZ scaup, dabchick, a couple of Pacific black duck and little black shags, before then heading back to another nearby spot with nice views of shoveler and grey teal.

We then headed on further south to Mangere.  This time it was high tide and we walked along the shore to where the shorebirds were roosting on shellbanks.  There were large numbers of South Island oystercatchers, and quite a few godwit and red knot, but the highlight was surely about 1000 wrybill.  There was also a reef egret which gave great comparisons side by side with the white-faced herons, and a single whimbrel in with the godwit, and a large flock of Royal spoonbill.  Several more New Zealand dotterel were nice.

We watched the flock of wrybill wheel around when disturbed by other birds, truly a great sight.  As the tide started to go out the birds started to move off and so did we.  We grabbed some lunch and then drove around to another spot where we had great views of the wrybill feeding on the mudflats, and a flock of red-billed gulls feeding on the water’s edge with several spoonbill.  Again we found a black-fronted dotterel and had nice views through the scope, and then several dabchick on a freshwater pond.

We then headed south further still on our way to Miranda, making a stop for bittern on the way.  We had views of at least two different birds out on the wetland, with them being pretty active despite the fact it was early afternoon.

At Miranda we checked into our accommodation and then visited the Shorebird Centre.  Then we headed towards the Stilt Ponds, but found three sharp-tailed sandpipers in a wet field nearby.  One of the birds was in absolute stonking breeding plumage.  Really a very stunning bird.  The Stilt Ponds lived up to their name, with a lot of stilts, and on the shellbanks was another flock of around 1000 bwrybill.  So today we may well have seen almost half of the breeding population!  There was also a lot of bar-tailed godwit and red knot, some in absolutely stunning breeding plumage.  A small group of Pacific golden plover with one bird in full breeding plumage was also nice, and several ruddy turnstone and a red-necked stint were also found.  A flock of black-billed gulls and a very large flock of South Island oystercatchers were also roosting on the shellbanks.  So all in all a great selection of birds and a good chance to study them all.

Deciding the sun was definitely over the yard-arm we headed to the local fish and chip shop where we had an excellent meal and a few drinks, before heading back to the accommodation.

Bird of the day – still to come
Day total – Seen = 57 + 1H (silvereye); new for the trip = 4; total for the trip to date = 106

A rough day...but NZ storm-petrel helps!

It was one of those mornings where you felt you were getting out of bed before you had even gotten into bed!  And the nightmare of not finding kiwi the night before was real...

We breakfasted, packed, cleaned and then Dave the ranger took our gear down to the wharf whilst we walked down.  It was drizzling and there was a strong wind so the water was looking a little on the rough side for our pelagic into the Hauraki Gulf today!  The Assassin with Brett Rathe at the helm arrived just after 0800hrs and we joined Sav and the rest of the team (including Steve Howell) onboard and headed out towards Little Barrier.  The sea couldn’t have been more different to yesterday with 2-3m swell and some good chop with 30-40 knot winds from the NW, swinging to the W in the afternoon.  We were in for an exciting ride, in more ways than one.

Banging into the swell we got part way to Little Barrier when a Wilson’s storm-petrel was called and so we decided to stop and chum.  It snuck off, but we had great views of good numbers of grey-faced petrel, flesh-footed and fluttering shearwater, Australasian gannets, and several Buller’s shearwaters.  I spotted a storm-petrel coming in and called it, but it turned out to be another Wilson’s storm-petrel, until Brett casually pointed and said ‘What about that one over there?’....and there was our first NZ storm-petrel.  Awesome, we had at one stage at least three Wilson’s storm-petrels and the NZ stormie side by side and the difference in shape, jizz, and behaviour was just so obvious.  A very nice opportunity and the shutters were clicking.  Several fairy prion made an appearance, as did passing common diving-petrels, but we decided to move on for the sheltered waters of Little Barrier for some lunch.

Lunch was in a nice calm spot with the sound of saddleback, whitehead and bellbird in the forest backdrop, and we then headed around the southern end of Little Barrier and out to the west, into the pounding seas again.  As we got a couple of miles off we spotted an albatross, either a black-browed or Campbell, and shortly after we stopped to chum at our second location, but the bird didn’t reappear.  However, we had a similar assemblage of birds with the addition of several black petrel , a couple of Cook’s petrel, and another NZ storm-petrel.  When it started to rain pretty hard we decided it was time to head in, and with a following sea the ride was a lot better!

We made a brief stop at Kawau for weka (North Island subsp) and also saw a couple of peacock on the lawn, then stopped as we crossed the channel for several more little blue penguins.  A reef egret near the port, and a nice mixed flock of South Island and variable oystercatcher in the carpark provided good comparison.  Then it was off to the motel, dinner, and an early night!

Bird of the day – still to come
Day total – Seen = 48 + 3H (little spotted kiwi, morepork, fernbird); new for the trip = 10; total for the trip to date = 102

Saturday 16 April 2011

Tiritiri - where are all the kiwi?

We were up and away from the Hotel early-ish and heading up to Gulf Harbour, along the scenic Whangaparoa Peninsula.  We caught the ferry across to Tiritiri Matangi Island after seeing a few things including reef egret and pied shag at the harbour.  On the crossing there was little wind and a flat calm sea, but good flocks of fluttering shearwater skimming the surface, the odd Australasian gannet and then a single flesh-footed and Buller’s shearwater.  A single Arctic skua was also seen briefly, and a small ‘pod’ of little blue penguins distantly.

On the island we had our debriefing and then we headed up to the wharf damn to see the pair of brown teal showing well there.  Then it was off up to the bunkhouse hoping to see most of the necessary birds along the way...and we did.  The only misses were a male stitchbird, normally there are more males than females evident, but not at the moment, and kokako.  So at the bunkhouse we settled in, had lunch and then headed out for the afternoon.  We caught up with several male stitchbird, an awesome pair of kokako which sang for quite sometime giving a beaut display, several fernbird (they seem to be all over the island now), and finally brief views of a spotless crake.  By the end of the afternoon all necessary species were checked off...it was just the nocturnal little spotted kiwi to go.

I prepared a pretty good BBQ dinner, we washed it down with some nice Hawkes Bay and Marlborough wines, and then headed out just after dark.  IT was relatively calm and dry, but a big bright almost full moon...and things were quiet!  Not even morepork called for some time into the evening.  We ended up covering a huge amount of the island, had kiwi calling on several occasions – one time from 25-30m away a male called and a female responded.  We could hear him run across to the female...and then they were grunting away in the bushes for ages...but they just wouldn’t show!  Very frustrating.  We did find two tuatara which was a nice consolation, but I’m afraid no cigar.  It was a one of those nights where things just don’t work out, but we gave it a good go, finally getting to bed at 1:15am.  It was a fast sleep!

Photos to come...

Bird of the day – to come...
Day total – Seen = 52 + 1H (little spotted kiwi); new for the trip = 11; total for the trip to date = 92

Thursday 14 April 2011

A fairy tern day

We had a (little) lie in this morning and then left Trounson and headed south.  Our first stop was a to a small farm pond to look for a long-staying pair of Australasian little grebes.  However, a pair of dabchick were present, but the grebes were not.  Seems these birds may actually move on for the winter months – they were there a month ago!  Oh well, with news that there may be a fairy tern down at Waipu we headed down there, grabbing lunch along the way.

We stopped at the Waipu Estuary and started scanning, with Bill picking up the tiny spot of a fairy tern roosting on a patch of sand a ways down the estuary.  There were a lot of other birds present with variable oystercatcher, ruddy turnstone, and New Zealand dotterel being added to the list, and bar-tailed godwit, SI oystercatcher, pied stilt, and banded dotterel, amongst others, also being present.  We ended up walking down and getting a lot closer to the fairy tern, which sometimes woke up and preened, not realising it was the star of the show.  With around 30 birds left in New Zealand, this is one of our most endangered species, and one which really is not afforded the protection or management it deserves.  We may be lucky to still be able to see it in 10 years...very sad!

Having spent a good bit of time studying it and the other birds on the estuary, we decided to continue our travels, and headed for Tawharanui Regional Park.  On the way we managed to spot a kookaburra perched on a telephone pole, and then inside the Park spent some time checking out the environs.  Within seconds we had excellent views of at least two buff-banded rails right out in the open, scope views and nice photos ensued.  We also found a pair of brown teal, lots of pukeko, and then went for a walk through Ecology Bush.  A beautiful spot with some excellent birds, there was a lot of bird song, and we had nice views of tui, bellbird, whitehead, grey warbler, etc.  We searched for kaka, but to no avail...never mind a very nice walk anyway.

We then decided to head on to Auckland to the Hotel, where we met up with the others.  Dinner was a chance to meet and then early to bed in preparation for Tiritiri Matangi Island tomorrow!

Bird of the day – still to come...
Day total – Seen = 51 + 3H(morepork, red-crowned parakeet, North Island robin); new for the trip = 8; total for the trip to date = 81

A long day (but a damn good one!)

Up bright and early again, with a cool touch to the air.  We grabbed some lunch and then headed for the shores of Lake Taupo.  We made a couple of stops seeing various waterfowl, including black swan, NZ scaup, paradise shelduck, etc.  As we were driving to another spot I managed to spot an Australasian bittern standing right on the edge of some raupo reeds, merely 40m off the road.  Jamming on the brakes we had great views of it in the morning light, and Doug was able to get some cracking photos.  A real bonus for the morning, before then getting nice views of fernbird in some small bushes within the reedbed.  There were at least three birds around, with good views of two, including flight views.

We then headed back towards Pureora where I hoped we could track down a kaka for better views.  We again headed to several sites, hearing several kaka at the one place, but not getting them in view.  We did however hear the haunting call of a kokako.  It sounded like it was high in the rimu trees, but it was just a bit too far into the forest and we couldn’t get our eyes onto it.  Nevermind, very nice to hear them in the really primeval forest.

We checked out where we had seen the falcon yesterday, but didn’t see it, but did manage to see a pipit, and had great views of it perched beside the road.

Then it was on for the big drive northwards.  We made a couple of short stops along the way, but our goal was to reach Dargaville in time to grab something for dinner before heading on towards Trounson for our kiwi walk.  We didn’t see a lot of birds along the way, but did add some rather wary peafowl to the list.

We headed out with Herb at Trounson Kauri Park, having already glimpsed a morepork in the carpark.  There was a lot of morepork calling going on, and it wasn’t long and our first male kiwi called a wee way off.  We started the walk and it was quiet...deathly quiet, as far as kiwi were concerned.  No stomping, no snuffling...nothing!  We did here a couple of other calls, but all a wee way off.  We did however get great views of long-finned eel, banded kokupu, freshwater crayfish, cave weta and some cool spiders.  Back at the carpark we decided to give it another go, so around we went again.  This time we heard a bird in the bushes, probably only about 30-40m away, but it headed in the wrong direction and we lost contact with it.  Near the carpark we had awesome views of a morepork, down to about 1.5m!  They are stunning little birds up close and Doug got some great shots.  Suckers for punishment, we decided to do part of the trail again, and then that would be it.  We arrived at the point at which we had decided to turn around, and were just deciding to head back, when a female kiwi called across on the other side of the loop of the trail about 300m away.  Then the male called much closer to us.  I figured the best bet was to try and get over by the female and hopefully the male would end up over that way...or that was the plan.  We got to the other side of the loop where I reckoned the bird had called from, and we almost immediately heard a bird coming down the hill beside us.  At that point almost the worst possible thing happened – I got a view of it but the others didn’t!  However, after a lot of patience, waiting in the dark quietly for probably 30 minutes or more we ended up with stunning views of what was possibly two birds...at one stage as the rustling and snuffling got closer I thought my heart was going to burst out of my mouth.  It was a pretty nerve wracking experience, but persistence paid off, and after great views we left the birds in peace.  To be honest I think they just held out so the first bird (and new bird) Doug saw on his 50th Birthday was a Northern brown kiwi!  Pretty cool!

Bird of the day
Day total – Seen = 73 + 3H (kaka, whitehead, NI kokako); new for the trip = 11; total for the trip to date = 73

Tuesday 12 April 2011

Back to Wrybill Birding Tours, NZ...no rebranding needed!

Well we were up and off through the streets of Auckland this morning bright and early - Day One.  First stop was the Mangere area for shorebirds, and after batting the spotted doves out of the way on the way there we arrived at a very birdy Mangere.  It was low tide, and in front of us at one stage was at least 1000 or so wrybill...spread out over the mudflats, looking like little white cobbles.  Where were these little #$%##@ when I needed them in Christchurch three days ago (stupid question, they were probably here!).  So I can now reinstate ourselves as Wrybill Birding Tours, NZ!  No more Mallard tours, although we did see a few mallards this morning as well.

There were a lot of shorebirds around though, with good numbers of banded dotterel, even a couple of red knot and bar-tailed godwit, and several black-fronted dotterel.  There was also a small group of Royal spoonbill, a single reef egret, and lots of South Island oystercatchers spread out over the mudflats.  Checked the channel for brown teal, but no luck, but lots of mallards, a couple trying to look all the world like grey duck, some nice shoveler and a few grey teal.  In the ponds at the end of the causeway were several dabchick as well.

We then cut a track for Pureora Forest Park, where we basically turned the corner, I said ‘There’s definitely falcon in this area’, and then 100m down the road there was one sitting on a fence post looking at us.  I had earlier said I’d not really seen them sitting on fence posts, so it was obviously there just to prove me wrong.  No matter, New Zealand falcon in the bag again on the first day of a tour before lunch can’t be a bad thing!  We had nice views of it perched, then flying and then perched again, with the possibility of there being a second bird.  We then had some lunch whilst overlooking the forest, getting great views of whitehead, yellow-crowned parakeet, silvereye, grey warbler, tui and bellbird, and glimpses of tomtit.  But shortly thereafter whilst searching for the ventriloquist rifleman, we had great views of North Island robin and North Island tomtit.  Finally found the rifleman in question, and had nice views of ‘her’ as she fed up and down branches.  A fleeting glimpse of a kaka that flew quietly in and then ‘disappeared’ also.

We then drove a few nearby roads searching for more kaka sightings, but no luck, so then headed on to Ruatiti for blue duck.  And we were in luck with great scope views of at least eight different ducks, perched, feeding and doing their thing.  A stoat right by the road bridge was an interesting sighting, showing really well, but obviously we were hoping it then trundled off to the nearest trap-box to ‘present itself’...wishful thinking I know!

We then headed back to Turangi having absolutely stonking views of the mountains with all three in the central plateau showing well with almost no hint of cloud, and a stunning sunset with Mt Taranaki to the west.  What better end to the day...well perhaps the beers enjoyed in the bar were a better end, but it was all good.  A great start!

We can revert to the original name!

Bird of the day – Rifleman x1, blue duck x1
Day total – Seen = 62; new for the trip = 62; total for the trip to date = 62

Monday 11 April 2011

Mallard Birding Tours, NZ??

A day or two late, but here is the blog for 9 April - the last day of our whirlwind Southern South Island and Stewart Island tour.  A full trip report with photos, based on the blogs from here, will be uploaded onto the 'Trip reports' section of our Wrybill Birding Tours, NZ website in the next few days...

Well, things had been going too well to date!  I’m afraid it is all a little embarrassing and we may seriously need to consider renaming ourselves...perhaps Mallard Birding Tours, NZ would be more suitable??!!
We left Oamaru this morning bright and early, heading northwards in search of wrybill.  We had a few hours up our sleeves and no other real target birds, so I thought it worth trying to find a wrybill.  At other times of the year when they are breeding on the rivers around Canterbury this may not be too difficult, but at this time of the year they have all finished breeding and either migrated north or are found at spots along the coast...surely it couldn’t be too hard!

We headed to Lake Ellesmere to a couple of spots, but obviously there had been a fair bit of rain and the lake margins were very wet and boggy.  We couldn’t easily get out to the main part of the lake, and scanning with the scope we could see thousands of ducks, Royal spoonbill, pied stilt, and even banded dotterel...but no wrybill!  We did get nice views of goldfinch though as a consolation.  And even more of a consolation was the fact that several locals, despite seeing wrybill at the site, only got distant views, and they had to walk out through the slush!

I figured perhaps the best bet, based on the water levels, was to head into Christchurch and check out the Avon-Heathcote Estuary.  We seemed to have timed it so perfectly for low tide (dam it!), that everything was spread out over hectares of mudflat, and despite seeing hundreds of South Island oystercatchers, a few bar-tailed godwit, and a few other bits and bobs...still no wrybill.  Right, I thought!  Let’s stop mucking around and head to a dead-cert...the Ashley Rivermouth.  The timing was getting tight, lunch was eaten in the car, and with the state of the Christchurch city roads following the quake, progress was slow (and I had a plane to catch that afternoon!).  We got to the Ashley Rivermouth and looked out over the mudflats...almost the first bird I saw was a black stilt (I think probably a long-staying bird that has been reported there before), then a great egret and several Royal spoonbill...quite a few banded dotterel...but no wrybill!!  We searched and searched, but with time against us had to concede.  We did quickly check out the river near the main road bridge, but nothing there either.  So, we headed back into Christchurch to drop the guys off at their accommodation, and I raced to the Airport to catch my flight home.  Not the end to a successful tour we had envisaged, but I think we had done so well on other aspects our luck had run out.  Still, it was a nice morning and we managed to see a few new birds for the trip and get nice views of a few other things to boot.

The new logo and name?

Bird of the day – definitely NOT wrybill!
Day total – Seen = 47 + 1H (grey warbler); new for the trip = 3; total for the trip to date = 92

Friday 8 April 2011

Heading north

Waking up this morning I wasn’t sure if yesterday had all been a dream...but the photos on my laptop proved it hadn’t been!  We were up early and another venison pie for breakfast saw the chills kept at bay for a few hours.

We left Stewart Island on the 0800 hrs ferry, hoping for more good seabirds.  An early broad-billed prion boosted hopes, but as it turned out this was the best bird of the trip, although good numbers of Buller’s and white-capped albatrosses and sooty shearwaters were also seen.  Towards Bluff several white-fronted and black-fronted terns were seen, and along the shore several South Island oystercatchers.  We left Bluff and headed northwards towards the Catlins Coast.  Our first stop was a short walk through some coastal forest in search for fernbird, but with a stiff breeze still blowing we couldn’t rustle any up.  A nice flock of brown creeper, several fantail and grey warbler and tomit were nice sightings though.  A little further on we tried another spot, but still no luck, BUT, we were finally rewarded at another spot, with cracking views of a fernbird at little over 1m.  Very nice...persistence does pay!

Grabbing some lunch in Owaka we hit a beach and sat watching the waves pumping on the shore as we ate.  After lunch a short stroll and we had eight New Zealand sea lions in front of us, mostly small animals, but one fairly large chap.  Always nice to see these guys.  A little way down the road and our regular little owl spot proved to be fruitful again with nice scope views of the little chap sitting in the sunshine.

Then it was a big drive through to Oamaru where we headed to Bushey Beach for yellow-eyed penguins.  As we got to the first lookout spot a penguin was coming ashore, but a little further along the track a pair were preening each other within metres of the track.  They were obviously nearly at the end of moult, and were looking really stonking with bright yellow faces.  Beautiful birds up close.  We watched them for a little while, and then watched the beach for more birds coming ashore, but with a biting wind still blowing we headed off.  Spotted and Stewart Island shags were passing by as usual.

We checked into the accommodation where the usual sampling of wines were undertaken, with some fresh Bluff oysters to wash it down...or should that be the other way round?

Bird of the day – yellow-eyed penguin x2, little owl x1
Day total – Seen = 52; new for the trip = 2; total for the trip to date = 89

Thursday 7 April 2011


Well many people think I’m mad, and after today you can probably add another ten people to that list!  I’ve been harping on about great shearwaters ever since Sav’s jammy spotting of one off Kaikoura last week, and things got a whole lot jammier today!

It started off rather civilised, with a venison pie for breakfast, then boarding the water taxi to Ulva Island.  The showers held off, and we had fantastic views of everything we needed to see.  We walked across to Boulder Beach, getting great views of yellowhead, both red- and yellow-crowned parakeets, brown creeper, and all the other usual bush birds.  Then on the return we got nice views of several South Island saddlebacks, so all boxes ticked and a nice lunch near the jetty.

We were then picked up by Aurora Charters at 1230 hrs, with Ty Jenkinson at the helm, and headed out towards Wreck Reef, checking out a few spots for penguins etc.  The weather was pretty lively with a good 3+m swell running and probably 25+ knots of wind.  So things were looking good as we arrived at Wreck Reef with clouds of white-capped and Buller’s albatrosses following, and at least several Southern Royal albs.  Almost the first bird to turn up next was a broad-billed prion which showed pretty well, coming in to the back of the boat and making several sweeps.  Then a Southern giant petrel came in, followed by Cape petrels and several Northern giant petrels.

However, the excitement was still to come.  I got a glimpse of something a long way off coming in towards us and called it realising it was something different.  It didn’t need to get very close at all before I yelled ‘white-headed petrel!”.  The bird came straight towards us and made several sweeps, flying around the bow of the boat and then disappearing.  Not long afterwards perhaps another bird appeared also from downwind.  I felt a little better having been the only one to have spotted the bird from the ferry yesterday, but now everyone else had seen it now!  Things went a little quiet for a while until Matt spotted a little shearwater which clearly had to be a Sub-antarctic little shearwater.  Again a bit of a lull until we spotted a bird coming in from downwind again.  This time it was something really good, and glimpsing it over a wave all I got was a dark cap and pale collar, enough to shout ‘GREAT SHEARWATER!’ at the top of my lungs.  Everyone was out and looking for the bird and it came right into the boat, making several passes before heading upwind and landing on the water.  It then ended up doing several VERY close passes within metres of the boat giving extended views.  What a stunner!  I’m afraid that at this point I lost all composure and screamed and yelled at the top of my lungs rather unashamedly!  To think after all the angst that we actually had one in front of us here...man!!  With the multiple Australian sightings there is clearly something going on with this species at the moment.

The bird disappeared, the rain arrived and we decided to head back towards home, but passed another TWO white-headed petrels on the way...ridiculous!  So is there any time better than now to get out on the water...I think not!  A few beers were had in celebration back at the South Sea Hotel, before a cracking dinner!

Albatrosses following

White-headed petrel

White-headed petrel

Southern Royal albatross coming in

Southern Royal alb




Just to prove we were in NZ with a white-capped albert



Bird of the day – ?? (I forgot to ask...but has to be GREAT SHEARWATER!), ha! South Island saddleback x1, little blue penguin x1, white-capped albatross x1 (NO great shearwater??!!)

Day total – Seen = 46; new for the trip = 12; total for the trip to date = 87

Hailing all kiwi

Another brisk but fine morning as we made our way strategically to ‘Miles Better Pies’ to get lunch...it was only 0800 hrs, but you have to have priorities in life.  The smoked chicken and cranberry sandwiches are also pretty wicked!  So laden with more baked goods we headed south towards Bluff – apparently the start of Highway 1, although most people not from Bluff could actually consider it the end of Highway 1...purely semantics.

We made a stop at a wetland along the way, and although there was a biting wind we managed a brief glimpse of a Baillon’s (marsh) crake, some nice views of grey teal and other waterfowl, and heard fernbird.  Further on we started to encounter squally showers and by the time we reached the coast there was a pretty nasty wind whipping the shores.  At McCracken’s Rest we saw thousands of sooty shearwaters moving along the coast, with a brief sighting of a Hector’s dolphin in rough conditions...a good stop for an apple pie though.
We then carried on through to Riverton, where it was high tide, and had our lunch overlooking the estuary.  Black swan and mallards were the only thing close by, but distant Royal spoonbills could be seen sheltering from the buffeting winds.

Near Invercargill we checked out a few estuarine spots with some nice views of pied stilt, South Island oystercatcher, spotted shag, and a couple of flocks of Royal spoonbill.  The weather was getting worse, with heavy squally showers coming through, so we hit another couple of spots around Awarua Bay, getting a black-fronted tern and a few other bits and bobs, but not a lot else.

We checked in for the ferry, and then boarded on time.  It was going to be a little bumpy, and there was plenty of spray which made birding from the back deck pretty difficult.  There were good numbers of Buller’s and white-capped albatross, and sooty shearwaters, with a few fairy prion and common diving-petrel.  However, the bird of the crossing was a white-headed petrel which gave brief views, but was missed by all except Brent...aaagghhh!!!

We arrived in Oban, quickly moved our bags across to the kiwi boat, and headed out with Zane on the kiwi watching trip.  We spotted a couple of little blue penguins on the way, more Stewart Island shags, and arriving at the jetty near Ocean Beach the weather seemed to be holding.  Ha!  It start to hail shortly after we began the walk, but we were rewarded with outstanding views of at least 5 kiwi (including several young birds and two large females) and we even heard a male calling in the forest nearby.  An unbelievable experience even if it was cold, and we hadn’t even had dinner!

We arrived back into Oban, checked in to our accommodation, had some sandwiches and celebratory drinks and then off to bed.

Southern brown kiwi feeding on the beach

Bird of the day – Southern brown kiwi x2, Buller’s albatross x1

Day total – Seen = 57 + 2H (fernbird, South Island tomtit); two Brent only – white-headed petrel, fairy prion); new for the trip = 22; total for the trip to date = 75

Tuesday 5 April 2011

Dirty little robin

After a drizzly night it was a surprise to awake to a promising morning.  Autumn was certainly in the air, but light fluffy clouds clung to the sides of the mountains, and sunshine poked through in places.  More fresh snow was evident, but as we headed to the pie shop we knew it was going to be a great day!  Miles Better Pies in Te Anau really is a great spot to grab some lunch, and with the axles of the Hyundai groaning under the weight of apple pies, we headed back up towards the Homer Tunnel.

It was a gorgeous morning, the cloud, the cool crisp air, and the hope that we may see some more new birds.  A group of bulls were being moved along the road, and with Lily having successfully photographed almost every magnificent animal as we navigated through the ‘flock’ we continued on.  Passing the spot we had seen the falcons yesterday we scanned the countryside, but no luck.

Heading on to Knob’s Flat we again stopped briefly and had bellbirds, rifleman, tomtit and grey warbler right there in the carpark.  A very friendly male robin that was banded even took time out of his busy schedule to perch on my camera, and feeling that wasn’t enough even left his little calling card...guess at least he wasn’t an emu!  Interesting to watch the bellbirds and tomtits feeding on the Coprosma fruits.

Further along we made another stop on the edge of some beautiful forest and had brown creeper, fantail, tomtit, and bellbird, and great views of yellow-crowned parakeet.  It seemed that the forests were even more birdy than when I was last here in November.  We then did the beautiful walk at Cascade Creek, which is like walking through some elfin dream with thick mosses on every tree and stump, lichens, ferns, etc.  Again it was very birdy with rifleman and tomtits everywhere, and lots of yellow-crowned parakeets, and at one stage a bird feeding less than 2m away!  The sunlight filtering through the canopy and warming us as we stood on the shore of Lake Gunn was a nice touch.

Carrying on we then checked almost every section of the Upper Hollyford River for blue duck...not a sausage...not even a duck sausage!  We made a lot of stops and scanned a lot of the river, but the spots I have seen them before were empty, as were every other place we looked at...sometimes you just can’t win!  Nevermind, it was a gorgeous day to be out and the scenery was magnificent with the fresh snow dusting the tops catching the sun.

We checked the Homer Tunnel carpark for any errant kea, but there were none (they must have been reformed), and then headed back down into town.  A fairly uneventful trip, until passing our falcon spot, when Jean thought she spied something...it turned out not to be a falcon, but from that spot I found an adult male, possibly the same bird as yesterday, in the top of a beech tree.  Again scope views of a fantastic little bird, making this the third day in a row we have seen NZ falcon...not too shabby!

We headed on into Te Anau, had a rest before dinner again at the Fat Duck Cafe...another feast!

The dirty little robin...

Looking up from the Eglinton

Looking up from the Eglinton

The beautiful Eglinton Valley

Bird of the day – Rifleman x1, tomtit x1, SI robin x1 (specifically the little guy that pooped on my camera!)
Day total – Seen = 24 + 2H(kaka, dunnock); new for the trip = 3; total for the trip to date = 53

Monday 4 April 2011

Fruiting madness and a double falcon day

So up and off south, with the aim of heading through to Te Anau, seeing what the weather was like and maybe making a run for rock wren if it looked ok.  Leaving a drizzly Omarama things we headed through making a quick stop to check out a local riverbed, before then passing though the stunning Lindis Pass.  Weather was picking up all the time, and with golden tussocks and gob-smacking scenery it was all looking promising.  We made a few brief stops along the way for coffee, fuel and scenery, before taking lunch at the just before Te Anau.

The weather had certainly improved, so I decided it was better to head into the Eglinton and try for the often very weather dependent rock wren whilst it held off from the wetting stuff.  We had hardly entered the Eglinton Valley before a shape on a dead beech tree beside the road caught my eye, and almost pulling a perfect hand-brake turn pulled back alongside a stonking female falcon.  She flew down across the road in front of us, and disappeared into the long grass, before appearing again and flying to a small bush.  Whatever she had gone for she was unsuccessful, but we pulled along parallel with her, and through the scope had really nice views of what must have been another bird of the year.  She was dive-bombed by a small male falcon, who then disappeared off down the valley, but sure gave a great display of the size dimorphism these birds have.

She then did another couple of short flights, before flying across to the other side of the valley, landing in the top of a beech tree.  Not bad, three falcons in the first two days of a tour!

So we headed onwards, making a couple of other quick stops.  One included some superb views of male and female tomtit, black fantail, and grey warbler, and some of the most heavily laden Coprosma bushes I have ever seen.  It seems to be a really good year for fruiting plants!

At Homer tunnel there were no kea in the carpark (secretly pleased based on the hire care insurance excess!), and we headed up the loop track.  After a full circuit and no sight nor sound it was time to settle in.  Part way along the trail I heard the characteristic call a little way off, and after perhaps 8 minutes or so a rock wren finally showed itself.  We had great views of two birds, one a banded bird part of an Otago University study.  In the end both flew right past us, so very happy campers, and we even had a flying kea.  Checking the Hollyford on the way out, no sign of any blue duck, but we will give it a good bash tomorrow as well.
Awesome dinner as per usual at the Fat Duck in Te Anau...

Autumn colours in the Kawerau Valley

Sweet briar 'hip'

Sweet briar 'hip' with rain drops



Bog pine in fruit

Coprosma fruiting madness

Coprosma fruiting madness

Stars of the day...rock wren

Stars of the day...rock wren

Bird of the day – Rock wren x2, SI tomtit (female) x1
Day total – Seen = 24 + 2H(kaka, dunnock); new for the trip = 3; total for the trip to date = 53

Sunday 3 April 2011

Falcon and black stilt on day one of a tour??!!

Well the last week has been a hectic one!  I continued with some of my contract bird survey and report writing work on Monday and Tuesday, visiting some stunning spots in Central Hawkes Bay.  Wednesday through to Saturday morning was spent packing up the house, moving across the road into Mum and Dad’s place which we are renting from them (thanks Mum and Dad!), and packing the rest of our stuff into a shipping container for storage.  My own extremely optimistic target of having everything moved by Friday was never going to eventuate, despite a fair bit of pre-packing by Adel and having Mum and Dad to help!  So we finally finished packing the last of it Saturday late morning, had some meetings midday, and then I flew to Christchurch late afternoon to start a tour the next day....phew!  Will have to remember to never agree to start a tour the day after moving house again!

Anyway, the flights to Christchurch were a good chance to catch up on some sleep, and then spent the evening catching up with Aaron and Sarah in Christchurch.  Thanks for a lovely dinner guys!  I must say despite seeing the footage on TV and knowing what had been happening in the city since the big quake in February, I was still shocked to see Army/Police barricades around the central city, and the degree of damage to house, walls, buildings and roads.

Although the forecast was not looking promising, we left Christchurch this morning with positive thoughts, and someone must have lived a privileged life, as the weather held all day, and was actually quite warm in parts.  We headed south through to Ashburton, and then inland towards Omarama.  Our main targets were the special birds of the Mackenzie Basin, with black stilt of course being the key species.  The Mackenzie Basin has amazing scenery any time of the year, but with the autumn colours coming through it was even more beautiful.  This was to be Day One of a seven day Wrybill Birding Tours, NZ tour around the bottom of the South and Stewart Islands.

We made a couple of quick stops along the way, before grabbing some lunch in Lake Tekapo, and then heading up Mount John armed with enough paper napkins to mop up even the most monumental of food spills!  Despite a cool breeze and predominantly cloudy conditions, the views were stunning.  As we slowly made our way up the road towards the top, scanning for chukar, a bird perched on a rocky outcrop only 50m or so away caught my eye, and at the same time Lily said ‘What’s that over there?’...the answer came pretty quickly...it was a NZ falcon!  Not a bad start to the tour, with a beautiful juvenile female falcon there right in front of us.  We got great views of it perched in the stiff breeze for several minutes, before it took flight and headed out in front of us, giving lovely flight views as well...what more could you ask for, except perhaps a great shearwater (read here)!!!

Heading up the road a little further, within literally 100m we had a small covey of around 8 chukor within 30m of the road.  There were several juveniles still not quite fully feather amongst them, and they feed on the tussock and grass seeds, completely at ease with us despite the close proximity.  They really are stunning birds up close, and especially so with sun peeping through the clouds, with the colours of the tussocks and grasses against their grey and fawn feathers.  Having had great views, we headed to the top, parked in the carpark and admired the views, and then slowly made our way back down, parking with the spectacular Lake Tekapo in front of us as a backdrop for lunch.

After lunch we headed through to Glentanner, with the target bird keenly in our sights.  We had hardly edged through the gate before I had one in the bins, and driving to the edge of the lake we had a pair within 60m.  Several other adults could be seen further around, and after spending around an hour at the site, we had a minimum count of nine birds...probably around 10% of the wild population!  Statistics like this make you a little uneasy!  The initial pair we had seen obviously felt that 60m was a little bit far for us to be admiring them from, and at one stage they moved to within about 20m of us, feeding casually in small pools and lakeside muddy margins – awesome!

We spotted a few more new birds – banded dotterel, NZ scaup, Pacific black duck,etc. and then headed back, and onwards to Lake Benmore.  We made a brief stop at Lake Poaka, seeing huge numbers of Canada geese and another black stilt, and then down to the Lake Benmore where we had lovely views of crested grebe and tried (unsuccessfully) for Baillon’s crake.  We had to miss something I guess!

We arrived into Omarama and checked into the great Ahuriri Motels (Rose and Tom really look after us), before a nice dinner and couple of wines at the Wrinkly Rams.  All in all a very nice first day with some stunning birds!

Merino sheep in tussocks in the Mackenzie Basin

One of the nine black stilt seen at Glentanner

Sweet briar 'hips'

Toetoe along the Ohau channel

Toetoe along the Ohau channel

Toetoe along the Ohau channel

Reflecting on toetoe along the Ohau channel

Bird of the day – black stilt x2, white-faced heron x1

Day total – Seen = 38 + 1H (pipit); new for the trip = 39; total for the trip to date = 39