Friday 30 November 2018

Day thirteen - wrybill and penguins

Another early start, and off we headed to a spot where we hoped we might find more shorebirds.  Shorebirds of the endangered, endemic kind.  And we did.  We parked the van (more on that later) and then walked a short way before we had some double-banded plovers nice and close, and then we spotted our true quarry – WRYBILL!  We had seen these guys in the north, but they had not been possible to photograph at close range, and of course those up there were non-breeding birds, most of which didn’t show the characteristic breeding plumage.  So, we approached and sat, and they approached, and got closer and closer, and closer!  In the end too close to focus!  But what a problem to have.  Over the next two hours we had excellent fun with this awesome little shorebird, getting the required ‘full-frontal’ shots.  We enjoyed just watching their antics.  They were feeding rapidly, but were also still maintaining territory, so there was quite a bit of chasing going on, which was all part of the fun.
We then decided it was time to head back to the Motel to pack the van and head to the coast…or was it.  Seems our parking spot had not been the best choice (ahem!), and we had a little difficulty with grip.  Not to worry, there will be someone along soon.  Walking towards the road a 4WD with fisherman was coming in and as luck would have it had a tow rope and snagged us out of our predicament! Awesome – thanks some much to them! They headed off to wage war with the fish, and we headed towards the road, only to find three immature black stilts. So, we couldn’t pass that opportunity up, with beautiful light and reflections, we spent a few moments taking some more images of these magic birds – one of the rarest shorebirds in the World.
Then it was time to head back, pack up, and head to the coast.  We stopped at a pond on the way and found a bunch of very confiding scaup and a pair of great-crested grebes with a chick!  Nice! Then it was lunch time, standing looking for a falcon to rush, past, alas – no luck on that one.
At the coast we headed to an excellent spot to observe and photograph the recently split Otago shag.  Seeing both the pied and the black morphs and able to compare them side by side.  We also were able to spot some recently fledged young, still with wispy down.  Then on to the accommodation where we checked in and had a quick respite, before getting back out there for our target bird for the afternoon – yellow-eyed penguin. So, from one of the World’s rarest shorebirds, to one of the rarest penguins.  We walked along the coast, and the wind was really blowing.  But almost immediately we had three penguins in the scope and nice views.  We decided to wait it out and see if we could get some closer, and at almost the eleventh hour a penguin came up out of the surf, nice light and relatively close, so that we were able to get some nice images and great views.  Excellent!  What a day.
Back to the accommodation, and then off to dinner nearby.  Another great day!

Black-fronted tern in flight

Wrybill posing showing off its bent beak!

Wrybill feeding in a small pool

Male double-banded plover amongst dew covered grass

Immature black stilt with beaut reflection

Immature black stilt feeding in a shallow pool 

Immature black stilt against the bank

Baby great crested grebe

Male NZ scaup

Dark morph Otago cormorant showing iridescence on its head

Day twelve - albatross and stilts

We were up super early this morning.  But my goodness was it worth it!  We saw something we had not seen for a while – sunshine!!!  We headed out to South Bay after hearing the word from Gazza that all was a go, and we were on the boat and off out onto a much calmer see just on 0600. Conditions had certainly ameliorated and the light was spectacular.  A first stop at a fishing boat, where we picked up a couple of wandering albatross, the usual Cape petrels and Northern Giant petrels, and two very beautiful adult black-browed albatross.  Excellent!
We then decided to head out into deeper water and see what we could find.  After stopping with the chum out for a bit we had amassed a nice selection of birds, again with both Northern and Southern Royal albatross, New Zealand wandering albatross, and Salvin’s and a Buller’s shearwater made a nice appearance, as did a Cook’s petrel.  We had good numbers of white-chinned petrels, and a couple of Westland, sometimes side by side which was nice, and a couple of Hutton’s shearwaters whizzed past.  Adding to the list we had a short-tailed shearwater do a couple of nice circuits, and as if then to provide a comparison several sooty shearwaters.
We headed out to another location, where we didn’t see anything different, but more nice views of things, and the light diminished a little, but boy had it been nice.
We decided to head on back in, and arrived back to the dock around 0830, time to head back to the Motel, pack the van, grab some lunch and then get on the road for the day.  We found a couple of big pods of dusky dolphins along the coast which we stopped and watched for a bit.  We also called into a small lake where we had a nice assortment of waterbirds, and then on further to an estuary.  Our target was wrybill, and with the recent (and current) flooding, we figured that many of the birds would be washed off the river and sheltering in the estuary. We were right, but the little blighters were out in the middle of the estuary on small islands, and none were close enough for photography.  Still it was a nice walk and the sun was shining!  We saw a few other bits and pieces, including our first black-fronted terns – such little stunners!  We had lunch in the sunshine and then continued our big drive.
Just on 1800 the light was perfect and we pulled into our first spot for a mega endemic – black stilt!  Would it, wouldn’t it??  There was a pair where we wanted them, and in the end stunning full frame pictures in beautiful light!  Wow! There were a number of double-banded plovers around as well, and they were coming in really close at one stage, so some beautiful shots of them as well.  We spent some time with the stilts, before leaving them where they were. Amazing end to a great day!
Although a nice craft beer and lamb curry was the real end to the day!

A New Zealand wandering albatross glides in on massive wings

A black-browed albatross scoots across the water

A short-tailed shearwater zips past for a look

White-chinned petrel coming past the boat

A Northern giant petrel comes in to land

A Northern Royal albatross with the Kaikoura coast in the background

A Southern Royal (left) and a New Zealand wandering mock display to each other

Black stilt in beautiful light

Female banded dotterel

Black stilt and reflection

Pied stilt, still a beautiful bird in its own right

Black stilt uncertain future?

Wednesday 28 November 2018

Day eleven - albatross!

A little bit of a sleep in, and then we were back out there into a still damp Kaikoura. But the wind had certainly dropped and the seas hopefully with it.  The call from Gazza, our awesome skipper, was that we were going to head out and see what it was like.  So that is what we did.  We slowly made our way out, and it was a little bumpy, but certainly not too bad. And before long there were a few Northern giant petrels and Cape petrels following the boat.  A bit further and our first wandering albatross showed up, and then a bit further and it was time to stop and put out some chum.  We were just at the start of the canyon, so not that far out, but we were already into the thick of the birds!
With the chum out it didn’t take long for a small group of Northern giant petrels and Cape petrels to arrive and settled at the chum – squabbling and arguing.  The first big wandering albatross did a couple of passes and then came in and landed behind the boat.  Over the next couple of hours we had a steady stream of birds to keep everyone interested, with a few Salvin’s and white-capped albatross swinging by (but never landing), at least 5 New Zealand wandering albatross, probably 4 Northern Royal albatross and 3 Southern Royal albatross.  Pretty impressive to see these gigantic birds so close.  We also had good views of both Westland and white-chinned petrel, sometime side by side in flight, which was great.  And Hutton’s shearwaters made moderate to distant passes of the boat throughout the morning.  A couple of other birds new to the trip cruised through as well, with an immature black-browed albatross doing several passes, a single grey-faced petrel taking one pass, and we also had a single Buller’s shearwater and sooty shearwater do a couple of passes.  So over all a great pelagic with some good diversity.
The rain actually eased during most of the morning, and the light and visibility improved. But as we neared time to leave, it closed back in on us.  We slowly made our way back to South Bay, and with our group having not succumbed to sea-sickness, everyone was pretty chuffed with the morning.  We headed to Albatross Encounter where we had a lovely cafĂ© lunch and relaxed for a bit, before heading back to the Motel to await news on our Whale Watch trip this afternoon.  Unfortunately, Whale Watch cancelled their trip – understandable – but not quite so understandable was why they didn’t both to contact us! Grrrrr! So we headed out anyway, deciding to check out the Seal colony.  A few individuals around, but the rain was very wetting and after a few images, it was time to go.
An excellent dinner – this time Thai – before an early night!  Up early for another pelagic in the morning!

An immature Northern Royal albatross comes in to inspect the chum

A Northern Royal arcs up against a cloud draped Kaikoura coast

A Southern Royal angles in towards the boat

A New Zealand wandering albatross comes past for a closer look

A very young Southern Royal albatross (left) and a New Zealand wandering albatross (right) fly past in unison

Tuesday 27 November 2018

Day ten: parakeets and shags

We were up and the rain was easing.  We wandered down to the Picton waterfront, and after a quick introduction to the area and the birds we hoped to see, we climbed aboard our boat with Skipper Andy and off we went.  The wind was much reduced from the night before, but there was a little wind over the water, so we headed straight out to where we hoped we might find some King shags.  The rain had certainly eased off and it was looking a little brighter.
We started to see a few fluttering shearwaters, and then a few gannets, but we wanted the prize, so kept going.  We stopped for a good look and some images of spotted shags that were roosting on a small cliff.  They were all spread out and their chicks had already fledged, but there were a mixed bunch of juveniles, immatures and adults around.  Such a beautiful shag, even in the post breeding plumages.
We then carried on out to where we hoped we were going to find King shag…and bingo! There were eight, mostly adult, with a couple of juveniles.  Andy brought the boat in nicely and we had excellent views of these very stocky and powerful cormorants.  The shutters clicked and we all got some images we were happy with, before we moved out slowly and headed on our way.
There was a bit of wind out in the outer sound as we got close to an island we planned to land on, and certainly although the rain had eased right off, it was going to be tricky to find our target of orange-fronted parakeet.  They can be difficult at the best of times, let alone when it has been raining.  We landed on the beach and a weka was there to greet us, so we spared a moment and took some images.  We then headed up to a location where we had had some success previously, and watched and waited.  We moved around a bit, exploring different corners, and then decided on a little overlook area.  We heard a little bit of chattering, and then an orange-crowned parakeet swooped into view. It landed inside a bush, and was barely visible, then moved to another perch and we could see it jumping around inside the bush.  It paused for a bit and then zipped out the back and out along the coast!  Gone!  It was brief, but everyone had seen it!
We spent a bit more time in the same place, and then check another couple of locations, before it was time to call Andy back in with the boat to board and start heading back.  Andy had heard there was a pod of bottlenosed dolphins so we started to head towards them. Pretty soon we found a large pod of around 50+ individuals, with some huge adults and even a few small calves with mums!  They cruised along the coast beside us, and some even came right in to the boat! Awesome!
We followed them for a bit and then broke off and left them to their thing.  WE spotted another couple of King shags on the way back, and as the light had improved even more spent a bit more time with the spotted shags and then with some little penguins bobbing around in the water. What a beautiful morning!
Back on dry land we grabbed some lunch, and then ate it amongst some vines, with some local fresh cherries to boot!  We looked for the long-staying black kite, but it hadn’t shown after a while, so we continued on our way.  It was pretty windy near the coast, but we did manage to see a female cirl bunting at one location, and then at a lake we had a distant pair of hoary-headed grebes and a pair of great crested grebes.  Of surprise was at least two nests with spoonbills sitting on them! Very cool!
As we hit the Kaikoura coast the weather deteriorated significantly, with very strong winds and torrential rain.  So, we made a bee-line for the Motel in Kaikoura, witnessing the huge amount of destruction and uplift the earthquake a few years ago has wrought on the Kaikoura area. At the Motel we settled in, and then had a beautiful dinner before a good night’s rest.  Hoping tomorrow the seas will have dropped to allow us to do our thing!

A spotted shag looks bored with our attempts to photograph it

King shags roosting

Immature King shag in flight

A weka comes in for a closer look

Bottlenosed dolphins getting playful

Of all sizes

Throwing themselves around

A King shag in the water

Monday 26 November 2018

Day nine - dabchick and Buller's shearwaters

When you hear rain on the roof all night, you know it is probably going to still be raining in the morning…and it was.  Oh well, let’s just get on out there!  We drove back out to the Estuary, stopping at a couple of places and checking things out, and using the van as a mobile hide.  We managed some nice photos of some new species for the trip photo list, and the rain couldn’t dampen spirits!  Now let me just tell you that this is not normal!  Three days of near constant rain at this time of the year is pretty darn unusual, and I have never in 15 years had a streak of weather like this…especially when the forecast for the next week is for constant rain!  Jeepers!
So, the rest of the morning we hit a few good spots down the Wellington coast.  We stopped in at a spot for black-fronted dotterel which we got scope views of, before then doing a spot of shopping! Then a couple of wetland areas where the rain eased a little and we got some nice views of NZ scaup, Australasian shoveler and black swan…all waiting for us to take photos of them.  We searched and searched for dabchick, something we had seen a few times, but not good photo opportunities…and wouldn’t you know with about 25 minutes to spare we had cracking views of a single bird! Excellent!  Shutters were clicking and all was right in the World!
We then headed for the Ferry Terminal, basically drove straight on to the Ferry and it left…phew…Dabchick in the bag!  The crossing was looking pretty good weather wise – some wind, but reasonable seas.  As we left Wellington Harbour a couple of shearwaters flew past, fluttering, and then hang on!  Buller’s shearwater!?  No wonder we didn’t see any in the Hauraki Gulf…they are down here.  We ended up seeing about 6-8 of them on the crossing, so everyone was happy.  A few more fluttering shearwaters and even a few Hutton’s shearwaters for comparison. Looking much darker above and the longer bill obvious with more contrasting underparts.  Excellent.  Also a few Northern giant petrels, our first Westland petrels, and two Salvin’s albatross – our second species of albatross for the trip.  We had a sprinkling of fairy prions and sooty shearwaters to round things out.
Into Tory Channel and the cloud was so low there was no sign of the tops of the mountains. A couple of Parasitic jaegers around, as well as the usual gannets, fluttering shearwaters etc.  And the first spotted shags.  But the most incredible thing was the colour of the water in close to Picton – brown!!! It was the colour of the Amazon – amazing – they must have had some horrendous rain here, and it isn’t letting up.
We docked in Picton, drove off the ferry and 4 minutes to our accommodation before an excellent dinner and then a great nights sleep!

Entering the Tory Channel

Sunday 25 November 2018

Day eight - ducks and drizzle

Up and out the door, with grey skies and rain…boo!  But off we headed and within a few minutes we had one of the same pairs of blue duck as yesterday in view.  They were a little further, so we headed off to look for some others, in the hope that we might get some photo opportunities.
We checked a couple of other locations, the first was again duckless, but the second we found a single bird, perhaps different to those we had seen yesterday. It was feeding and moving around the place, so we took a few photos, and then headed off.  We decided that perhaps the weather was going to be a little better further south (according to the forecast at least), so we headed south early. It rained much of the first part of the drive, but we did manage glimpses of the base of the mountains there in the Central Plateau, and we did get a couple of pipit as well.  As we drove over one of the beautiful mountain streams, we spotted a duck shape.  Stopping, there on a beautiful fast flowing mountain river, was a blue duck standing in all its glory!  Nice one!
We carried on through to the south, arriving to the Manawatu Estuary just before midday.  It was spitting a few spots of rain but mostly pretty good.  The tide was a huge high tide, so we couldn’t access the birds, and changed tack as the rain started to fall.  We watched the birds from another location, managing to spot the curlew sandpiper in amongst the red knot.  Nice views of that, and we then headed on for some gull photography. Nice to have both red-billed and black-billed really close and side by side!  So with a few spots of rain the van made a perfect mobile hide to take photos from!
WE then moved to a few different locations, finding a very nice pair of Australasian shoveler with youngsters, then some scaup with tiny little ducklings that showed off their diving skills.  And then the rain really decided to come down!  So we decided that discretion was the better part of valour and headed to the Motel a little early.  We checked in and got some well earnt rest, did some image downloading, etc.
Despite the easy afternoon in parts, the tummies were still rumbling, and so we headed out for a great dinner at a small local restaurant, adding Royal spoonbill to the day list on the way!  Another excellent day!

A dunnock with a beakful of food for its nearby fledglings

Saturday 24 November 2018

Day seven - bittern and ducks

We were up early to grey skies…bummer, but as per the weather forecast.  We loaded up and headed out to a couple of sites. Aim was to spend a bit of time first thing looking for bittern and other lakeside things, and then look for ducks of the blue kind!
We checked a few likely spots for bittern before Greg said, I’ve got one!  And there it was sticking straight up like a stick, but standing on top of the old dead reedbed.  It was completely out in the open, and literally 45m away!  And it sat there, relaxed and pulled down its neck, and sat there and sat there!  Every now and then as a harrier passed or something got it interested, it would raise its head skywards and peer.  But incredible views and photographs of one of New Zealand’s toughest native birds to photograph!  Whilst all this was going on we had a spotless crake calling nearby, and a fernbird pop up and give itself up as well!  Sensational! In the end a harrier or something agitated the bird and it flew, and the sound of shutters erupted…did we get it?
We moved on a bit and looked for more fernbird, and another bittern flew past several times.  The original bird we had been watching had only flown a short way, but more obstructed, and even gave a number of booms from its new location!
Unfortunately, the weather forecast was accurate, and spots of rain started and steadily turned into pretty substantial rain.  So we checked a couple of places by van for other things we needed, and then searched a little of the river for blue ducks.  Nothing at the first stop.  We headed to another location, where the rain had almost ceased, nothing there, but the sound of a shining bronze cuckoo buoyed our spirits, although it never showed.  We headed back to the original location for ducks, and after a little searching, bingo! There was a pair feeding on the other side of the river.  We spent a bit of time with them, watching them feed in the shallow rapids, completely disappearing as they turned their backs and merged beautifully into the background.
We then decided to head back to town, grab some lunch and have a break during the middle of the day, get some washing done etc, and then head out again in the afternoon. But the show wasn’t over! Arriving outside our rooms a shining bronze cuckoo gave a few calls and there it was, completely showing off for us. Shutters raged into action again, and some nice images of the cuckoo were collected.
We had lunch, downloaded images, did laundry and hoped the weather would improve. In the mid-afternoon we headed out to a forest area, where it was a light drizzle.  But under the canopy it was reasonably dry and we got reasonable views of rifleman and some better views of tomtit.  Also glimpsed yellow-crowned parakeet and heard a number of kaka, as well as seeing fantail, grey gerygone, and a few other bits and pieces.
We then headed to a site for fernbird, but they did not show well, although fantails and whitehead were much more obliging.  Before we then check another couple of sites on the river.  Another pair of blue duck at a different site, this time a little closer, and although they really didn’t want to wake up, they did eventually move off downstream after a brief bit of preening.
It was then time to head back to the accommodation, before another great dinner!
Australasian bittern first looks, it was on alert

Peering our way

Taking flight

A fernbird plays peek-a-boo

Where's the duck!?

Cracking views of a shining bronze cuckoo

Sleepy time

Friday 23 November 2018

Day six - falcon and cuckoos

It was up early and off back to Miranda to see what the morning light might bring us. The tide was well in and the godwit and red knot flock had started to roost in the Stilt Ponds.  We settled in and more and more streamed across with some big flocks pouring in and landing.  There were plenty of wrybill around as well, and four sharp-tailed sandpipers, plus the red-necked stint, and the light was really nice.  We took some photos, and watched, but the flock was too unsettled and so to avoid disturbance we kept our distance.  We found a few Pacific golden plover in amongst the smaller shorebirds as well, and then later as we left about another 25 or so roosting quietly by themselves.
We decided to head back to the accommodations to pack our gear, and then hit the road for Pureora Forest Park.  It was a bit of a drive, but during the middle of the day was perfect.  We arrived to a great spot in the forest around 1300 and munched on our lunches, with close fly-by kaka, a confiding North Island robin and lots of tui, whitehead, etc.  We headed off to do a forest walk, and almost immediately found a group of about 5 yellow-crowned parakeets.  They showed really well and we managed some nice images before they dispersed.  We encountered a few more robins, and there was lots of calling around the forest, with kaka seemingly quite abundant.  We even had copulating kaka!  And a snatch of falcon calling had us peering skywards, but too thick was the canopy and too far the bird.
We headed to another location and went for a short walk, having heard a long-tailed cuckoo on the drive, but failing to get a glimpse – at least they were here! We kept eyes peeled for falcon and then ducked into another forest patch.  More kaka, more robin, and then glimpses of rifleman that just seemed to vanish…damn.
Back in the open we caught a good but brief view of a falcon flying with prey hanging from its talons.  It seemed to land, but we lost it, and looking out over the area where it disappeared we could not refind it.  So we carried on.  A flyover long-tailed cuckoo that was missed by all, and a few distant calling tomtit…sometimes the birds make you work.  Late afternoon we drove some roads looking for pipit, and listening for cuckoos, but nothing.  So we decided it was late and we needed to head for our accommodation.  We traversed a gravel road, windows still down in case, and then the call we had been waiting for – a long-tailed cuckoo that sounded pretty close.  We jumped out, and there it was flying off down the road over us.  It landed again and so we approached, but glimpses only of it moving through the tree, until it flew again and this time landed in a kamahi tree that was open enough to allow views!  Wow, and this bird was fired up, with another calling a bit further away. We watched as it screeched with bill wide open, and then scolded with wings spread and pumping!  In the end we needed to get going, who ever drives away from scope views of a long-tailed cuckoo!!!  Amazing!
We checked into the accommodation, had a great dinner, and then fell into bed!  A long, but amazing day!
Sharp-tailed sandpipers are cracking little things!

Bar-tailed godwit coming in to roost with their friends

Bar-tailed godwits at rest

Just can't get enough of North Island robins

Beautiful yellow-crowned parakeet

Copulating kaka!

Star performer - a long-tailed cuckoo screams at us