Tuesday 25 February 2014

Those damn yellowhead!

On the road early again this morning, but not before a quick visit to Miles Better Pies to grab lunch and snacks.  Then it was on the road to Bluff to catch the ferry to Stewart Island.  A quick look across the Foveaux Strait from the lookout at Bluff suggested we were going to have a pretty nice run across, with relatively flat seas and a little bit of wind.

We checked in, and then waited for the ferry to depart, getting seats on the back deck to allow us to keep eyes peeled on the way across.  The crossing was pretty nice, with good views of sooty and Hutton’s shearwaters on the way.  Several albatross including white-capped and Salvin’s, and a single common diving-petrel.  As we neared Stewart Island we got our first Stewart Island shags, and then a couple of brown skua, and a tantilising and very brief Fiordland-crested penguin in a cave as we came in to Half Moon Bay.  Fingers crossed it will still be there in the morning when we start our pelagic!

We arrived at the Oban Ferry Terminal and then walked up to checkin to our accomodation, finishing our lunch off and then walking up and over the hill to Golden Bay where we met our water taxi.  Peter Cox took us across to Ulva Island, and although the weather was a little threatening, we hoped we would manage to find our target birds.  However, the island was very quiet, despite a bit of rain the night before after what had been a prolonged dry spell, there was not a lot of bird song at all.  We headed towards Boulder Beach, seeing a few parties of brown creeper, still with begging juveniles, and several groupds of red-crowned parakeets, then some yellow-crowned parakeets.  A few kaka put in an appearance, and on Boulder Beach we found several weka as well.  On the way back it started to spit with rain, then drizzle, and then pour!  Oh dear, it was not looking good for finding our real target species, yellowhead!  We stood in the rain, hoping it would ease off, and after about 10 minutes or so it slowly eased and so we checked out a few more likely spots.  Every now and then we had a snatch of yellowhead calling or song off in the distance, but there was just nothing close, and even after scanning the area off in the distance where these birds were we just couldn’t find them.  We walked a bit more of the island, getting good views of more rifleman, lots of South Island robin, a few tomtit, and more brown creeper, but still no yellowhead.  And so we had to admit defeat and head back to the landing to catch our water taxi.  On the way we had nice views of several saddleback, and a few more parakeets, before heading back across to Golden Bay.  On the road back up and across to Oban we had great views of tui, kaka, and pigeon in the trees alongside the road, giving more fodder for the photographers.

We had dinner and then it was time to head out for our last kiwi excursion.  We met down at the main wharf and headed off with Phillip Smith, out and across Paterson Inlet, and tied up alongside the wharf they use.  On the way we had a taste of what we hoped was to come tomorrow, with several white-capped albatross coming right in close and cutting across our wake.  Pretty nice to have this with the sun setting off in the distance.

We headed up and over to Ocean Beach with our guide Greg, and thankfully the weather had brightened a litle and the surf was gently rolling in.  It was almost dark, but already the kiwi were out on the beach, and within a few minutes we were all standing watching an adult female kiwi feeding on sandhoppers amongst the kelp.  She fed hungrily along the kelp line, seemingly oblivious to the group of people standing littlerally only a few metres away.  It is such a great experience to see them so close, so unobstructed, and be able to watch them actually feeding and going about their business.  After watching her for some time, we moved off down the beach to leave her in peace, and managed to find another juvenile male feeding away.  A little more nervous, this bird fed for a little while before moving off, so we left him in peace also.  We figured we had done pretty well, having watched two kiwi for quite sometime, so we slowly headed back through to the boat, and having a hot chocolate to celebrate.  It was tough not to fall asleep as we headed back towards Oban, but before long we were back alongside, and it was the short walk up to the Hotel before falling into our beds!

Day total – Seen = 60; new for the trip = 4; total for the trip to date = 151

Hutton's shearwater on the crossing to Stewart Island

Pigeon pigging out

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