Thursday 22 November 2012

Off to Stewart Island

On the road early this morning, but not before a quick pie run. We grabbed some more pies and sandwiches from Mile’s Better Pies and headed through toward Bluff. We basically headed straight for the Ferry terminal in Bluff, not seeing much of interest on the way.

At the Ferry terminal we checked in, loaded our bags into the bins, and then boarded the ferry. There was a bit of wind and it looked like it would be a good crossing, albeit a little bumpy. There were a few Stewart Island shags in the harbour, and more as we headed out, along with spotted shags. As we headed out into the open water the bumps increased, but quite surprisngly there weren’t a lot of birds. We did pick up the odd sooty shearwater, a few white-capped albatross and some common diving petrels, but that was about it. As we came into Half Moon Bay there were a few more Stewart Island shags and a little penguin or two.

After docking we grabbed our gear and headed up to the South Seas Hotel to checkin, before then getting ready to head to Ulva Island for the afternoon. We walked up and over to Golden Bay where we met our water taxi and headed across. With a pretty stiff breeze blowing, but a fairly clear sky we had a good ride across and were soon heading off down the tracks on the island. Of course having seen almost all the birds present on the island already, our target bird was rather embarassingly yellow-crowned parakeet! We were also after good views of yellowhead and whatever else we could find. A family party of weka were nice, and as we scoured the undergrowth we found some nice spider and greenhood orchids in flower. There was a fair bit of birdsong around, with brown creeper, kaka, and saddleback calling frequently, and we had great views of several rifleman as well. We gradually tracked down good views of kaka, brown creeper, yellow-crowned and red-crowned parakeet (yay!), but were still missing yellowhead, although we had heard a few parties of them off in the distance.

However, we continued on around the tracks and eventually had a pair of yellowhead calling just off the track and they showed themselves pretty well, with an immature saddleback also coming in for a look. A bit further down the track with had another group of yellowhead, this time three birds which fed and sang right in front of us, literally at arms length! Brilliant, they are such stunning birds, and seeing them this close was just fantastic! Even managed some nice photos!

Pretty happy with our views of everything we finished off the loop track and then headed back to the shelter to wait a few minutes for our water taxi, which soon had us back in Half Moon Bay. With no time to lose we hurried over the hill, and then had dinner, before getting ready for our evening excursion…the show wasn’t over yet! We headed down to the wharf and met with our guides Phillip and Greg, and then chugged around to Glory Cove where we learnt a bit about the kiwi as the last rays of sunshine disappeared. We then headed off over the peninsula with Greg to find our Southern brown kiwi…and it was hardly even dark before we encountered our first one on the beach! In the end we had three birds in view for prolonged views, and a fourth that was a little shy. But the views were absolutely awesome – stonking even! Down to just a few metres as the birds ignored as and fed closer to us as we stood quietly. An incredible experience and one that will be hard to forget.

We walked back to the boat, almost floating along the track, and the boat trip back seemed faster with a hot chocolate in hand. It wasn’t long and we were tucked up in bed, another great day over!

Bird of the day – Southern brown kiwi x7, yellowhead x2
Day total – Seen = 54; new for the trip = 2; total for the trip to date = 150

A pair of South Island kaka perch together in a tree.

South Island kaka pausing between tearing branches apart to look for grubs.

South Island kaka preening on a sunny perch.

Beautiful spider orchids flowering amongst the mosses on the forest floor.

Yellowhead up close and personal.

Yellowhead perched right beside the track - what a stunning little bird!

Poised and feeding.

Variable oystercatcher feeding on one of the beaches.

The happy team heading back up the hill from Golden Bay.

Southern brown kiwi feeding on sandhoppers on the beach.

Southern brown kiwi having a bit of a stretch.

Shadow of a kiwi.

Luck is with us

Up and off towards Queenstown, through some stunning scenery on another clear blue sky day! We passed through a lot of very beautiful scenery as we gradually made our way past Queenstown and Lake Wakitipu and headed further south towards Te Anau. We made a couple of quick coffee and fuel stops along the way, but anted to press on to Te Anau and the Eglinton Valley as quickly as possible.

In Te Anau we stopped to grab some lunch at Mile’s Better Pies – the favourite lunch stop in Te Anau, and although it wasn’t officially lunchtime, as we headed towards Homer Tunnel the sound of pie crumbs flying was almost deafening! We passed several fields which were being cultivated and saw a lot of black-fronted terns feeding over them, but pressed on and got to Homer Tunnel where our target was rock wren. With blue skies and sunshine this should be easy!

We headed off and staggering ourselves along the track, waited for a sound or flash of movement. Nothing…several groups of tourists passed us wandering off and coming back, but we still hadn’t seen anything. Then another couple of birders came along and headed past us, and about 10 minutes later yelled and indicated they had something. We ran up and discovered that they had found a nest in a crack and both the male and female were about and we had great views of them as they flew to the nest with feathers and other nesting material and fed nearby. The female then entered the nest and the male disappeared, and that was it for another 40 miutes or so, when she came off the nest again and showed briefly. Brilliant, but just proves that with this species the most important thing is patience, as even when right beside a nest they do not necessarily show themselves very often.

We then decided to head on through to Milford Sound to check out the river along the way for blue duck, and also view the Sound from shore. Heading through we scanned as many places as we could, with a lot of really lovely habitat, but no blue ducks!

At Milford Sound we took some photos and then drove back through Homer Tunnel and towards Hollyford to try and find these very elusive blue duck. With the two brief views we had had in the North Island we were keen to see them again, and so spent a bit of time searching, and it paid off. At one spot Lee cried ‘There’s a blue duck, I can see one!’, as it headed acros the river to join another on the river bank. We parked, jumped out, but they seemed to have vanished. Damn! Then one flew down the river, coming from well upstream, and some careful searching found another bird still perched on the side of the river on a rock. We set up the scope, but in the end stood just 30m or so away as it fed contentedly in the rapids, showing exactly how it uses that big bill in the fast flowing water. We watched it feeding and doing its thing for about 20 minutes, just brilliant. Stonking views!

With time ticking and the road closing at 6pm due to the big rockfall, we headed off towards Milford, making a quick stop at one of the view points, and then trying several spots for long-tailed cuckoo. This species had somehow eluded us in the north, with only the one heard calling the entire time. They seemed to be eluding us here in the south too, with no calls at all, and it was looking grim. Then on the last piece of road where there is beech forest on both sides a cuckoo flew over the road with a tui chasing it! Nobody else saw it, but coming to a stop we piled out and waited. No response to a call or two, until suddenly the bird called nearby and then flew over the road again for everyone to see! It perched in a tree nearby, calling incessantly, but took about 15 minutes to finally find, and with the scope on it, the tail and body, and occasionally the head were visible as it called and moved in the top of the tree. Wow, our luck had really been in today!

Continuing on to Te Anau, we pulled in to our accomodation pretty late, and then had dinner, before our headed hit the pillow to dream of blue ducks!

Bird of the day – Rock wren x6, long-tailed cuckoo x2, blue duck x1
Day total – Seen = 37 + 2 heard (Canada goose, South Island tomtit); new for the trip = 3; total for the trip to date = 148

The alpine zone whee rock wren live.

Rock wren perched on a boulder near the nest.

Mountain daisy (Celmisia sp) in flower.

Mount Cook lily (Ranunculus lyallii) flowers up close.

Mount Cook lily (Ranunculus lyallii) in flower on the side of the trail.

Mount Cook lily (Ranunculus lyallii) flower up close.

Mount Cook lily (Ranunculus lyallii) with alpine scenery in the background.

The team looking at the rock wren.


Blue duck feeding in the river below us.

Showing off how it can keep in the rapids.

Moving across white water with ease.

Feeding with head submerged.

A happy group watchs and takes photos of the blue duck.

Photo of the day, a blue duck perched on a rock with the fast flowing water surrounding it.

Tuesday 20 November 2012

The sunny West Coast

What a beautiful morning, crisp and cool, but clear blue skies as we made our way up to the glacier at Franz Josef. We took a short walk and had stunning views of the scenery, plus tomtit and other common forest birds, plus some nice greenhood orchids which were just coming to to flower. Not hard to see that this temperate rainforest gets a LOT of rain with all the mosses, filmy ferns and lichens adhering to every surface.

We then headed south, grabbing some lunch on the way, and the making a couple of stops in the beautiful podocarp forest that drapes the coastal zone of this area. Magical scenery in clear blue skies, who could ask for more. A little further south we then stopped, had our lunch and then walked out to the coast through a beautiful walkway, again through stunning podocarp forest. At the carpark a falcon had been glimpsed, but didn’t show itself again, but tomtits, fantails, grey warblers, and silvereyes were common and the walk through the mossy forest was very enjoyable. When we reached the beach we scanned the sea for our target bird, the Fiordland crested penguin. There was a fair bit of wind on the water, so large chop and spray and no penguins were visible, but within a few minutes Phil spotted a penguin that had just come up out of the water. We quickly had the scope on it and enjoyed pretty good views of it walking, then taking back to the water for a brief swim and then hauling out again, before disappearing up into the boulders. Nice!

We watched and scanned some more, enjoying the sunshine, before then retracing our steps through the forest, hearing a shining cuckoo on the way…there have been plenty of them! We then hit the road again, following the coast, making a couple more quick stops for scenery and photos, and then into Haast where we made a bee-line inland. Following the mighty Haast River inland we wound our way higher and higher, again through stunning scenery. As we neared the top we went for a walk, and after a few minutes had great views of rifleman, then a couple of brown creeper, but yellow-crowned parakeet gave chatters but kept hidden. Then we had a brief but good view of a real gem – a yellowhead showed itself well, but briefly, coming in towards us but seemingly vanishing. Strange how a bird so bright and strident can just completely disappear when it wants to! So that wasa fair introduction to them, but we all want more!

We carried on through another couple of spots, hoping to see more, but brown creeper, rifleman, grey warbler and bellbird were all that came forward. Some beautiful Nothofagus beech forest though, and a nice opportunity to again stretch the legs and have a look through this beautiful part of the world. We then piled back into the van and headed on towards Wanaka. On the way passing a seemingly invisible barrier from the wet West Coast with mosses and lichens, to the dry interior that surrounds Wanaka.

Bird of the day – Firodland crested penguin x8, yellowhead x1
Day total – Seen = 42 + 3 heard (kea, yellow-crowned parakeet, shining cuckoo); new for the trip = 2; total for the trip to date = 145

Male chaffinch in the glacier carpark, they really are stunning birds in breeding plumage.

Male chaffinch pauses whilst singing.

Franz Josef glacier…retreating.

Southern rata trees silhouetted.

Greenhood orchids flowering on the side of the track.

Lichens abound.

Mosses with the sun shining through them.

Lichens on tree roots and rocks.

Closeup of the greenhood orchid.

Sunshining through mosses and ferns.

Closeup of mosses.

A penguinless beach, but not for long.

The forest and beach interface.

Searching for Fiordland crested penguins.

Happy with the views of Fiordland crested penguins.

Kidney fern and lichens.

Tree fern fronds in the sunshine.

Treefern fronds up close.



Lichens up close.

Sunday 18 November 2012

Soggy kiwi

A drizzly morning didn’t bode well as we headed back down the coast. We made a quick stop at Pancake Rocks, walking around the circuit and luckily the rain held off. There was quite a few white-fronted terns nesting on some of the stacks just off the mainland, and checking these there were no vagrants, but interesting to see birds with a variety of leg colours as usual, most tending to be black, but some with blackish red legs. Several spotted shags were also around.

As we headed south we had pretty heavy rain most of the way in to Greymouth…and then a funny clicking noise started in the back of the van. Saturday morning in Greymouth, chance of a workshop being open…NIL! Luckily the AA were at hand and with a quick call somebody was with us in about quarter of an hour. Seems the clicking is just to do with the air vent director in the back, so we disconnected it, and no more clicking. Thankfully not a major operation, and with it raining like it was we hadn’t missed a thing.

Continuing south we decided to have an early lunch in Hokitika and see if the weather let up. So we had a cafĂ© lunch, a quick wander of the streets of Hokitika, and then on the road again. The rain continued for a bit, but then gradually it got brighter and brighter. With patches of blue in the sky, I’d just mentioned to Mike, who was in the front seat to look out for falcon, and bingo. A rimu snag looked a little strange, and we stopped and realised it was a falcon sitting on the top! Falcon, falcon! Everyone scrambled to get out, as a couple of tui dive bombed the bird, but there needn’t have been the rush as we soon had it in the scope and everyone had ample time to study the bird. It was trying to dry itself in the sun, and eventually after a couple of stretches flew off calling loudly, sending several pigeon and tui into the air. It then appeared a bit later off in the distance, spiraling up into the clouds. Awesome!

Continuing on we stopped for some nice scope views of Australasian great crested grebe, and then decided to head towards Okarito. We stopped and had great views of an obliging male South Island tomtit who was collecting food along the roadside, and then finally managed to get good views of a fernbird that was also feeding young. It climbed up into a manuka tree and called with its beakful of insects, before fluttering across the road.

We headed out to the Okarito lagoon and snagged a couple of great egrets and saw a pair of paradise ducks with two ducklings. Apparently there had been eight, but only two are still alive, I wonder if they will make it!? We then went and met with Ian Cooper from Okarito Kiwi Tours and had a run down on the evenings kiwi hunt, before then heading to Franz Josef to check into the accomodation and grab some dinner.

As we left Franz to head back out to Okarito it started to drizzle again…damn it! But at Okarito it was looking ok, and we met with Ian and then got our gear together and headed out. As the light started to fade we took our positions and waited…soon the morepork started to call and we knew it was time! The odd little skiff of light drizzle came through…nothing too bad and we waited, changing positions a few times as Ian kept up with where the birds were. Then we could hear it coming, what had to be a massive rain shower gradually grew closer, and hit with a real wallop just as the male BZ was about to come out in front of us. Thorugh the pouring rain we got a pretty good view of him running off down the track, but if only the rain had held off! In the end we also saw his mate Beaumont pretty well, and then managed to glimpse him a couple more times as he fed in the shrubbery. It was a hard work night, but thanks to Ian’s skill and patience we managed to get some pretty good views of New Zealand’s rarest kiwi species. Damp clothes were draped around rooms as bodies hit beds!

Bird of the day – Okarito kiwi x8, falcon x1
Day total – Seen = 50 + 1 heard (morepork); new for the trip = 5; total for the trip to date = 143

Falcon stretching just before it flew off calling.

Miro leaves in the sunshine.

Rimu leaves with rain droplets still hanging.

Fernbird perched with an insect for its chicks.

Male South Island tomtit perched on the side of a manuka trunk.

Male South Island tomtit showing the yellowish tint to the breast.

Male South Island tomtit with an insect for its chicks.

Paradise duckling with the female in the background.

Paradise duckling walking through a puddle.

And side on.

The last of eight ducklings apparently.