Wednesday 27 February 2019

Day sixteen - wrens in the rain

It was breezy as we packed the van, and shortly after leaving Wanaka it started to spot with rain, then light rain, and then as we got closer to Queenstown it was really raining quite hard.  This was not looking good!  We had some lovely atmospheric views of Queenstown and surrounds as we wound our way down the Crown Range Road, with rainbows and big rain filled clouds.  We encountered a little traffic as we got closer to Queenstown, and then stopped for coffee and fuel.
As we headed along the shores of Lake Wakatipu it really was raining pretty hard, and the skies were looking pretty black.  Oh boy!  We pushed on, making a few quick stops along the way, then grabbed some lunch in Te Anau, and onwards towards Milford Sound.  Our big focus for the day was rock wren – a sometimes tricky species at the best of times.  Let alone when the sky is letting loose and the wind is blowing.  We had our lunch in the van, donned our warm stuff and wet weather gear and headed out.  We got into position and the rain was pretty steady, it really was not looking good. Why would a bird that has more sense than us, come out of the shelter beneath the rocks to dance around in the wind and rain!  It wasn’t long and the first victims started to fall, heading back to the van for shelter. But the bird was still not seen. We waited, and waited, the stalwarts starting to look a little damp around the edges.  It was cool, the wind didn’t help, but every now and then the rain would ease off a little.
All of a sudden during one of these periods a distinct sound was heard, that of rock wren, the first definitive clue these birds hadn’t gone for vacation in Fiji! The stalwarts gathered, peering up the slope towards where the sound had come from, and another couple of peeps from the bird.  Rick’s sharp eyes detected movement, and there about 70m up the boulder slope was a bird, then two birds, bobbing characteristically on the top of boulders. We yelled at the others in the van who had seen the movement of the stalwarts, and they came running in time to see both birds well.  The birds stayed visible for a couple of minutes, coming closer and standing prominently on the tops of the rocks for all to see.  They gradually disappeared, a few peeps being heard, and then it was as if nothing had happened.  The boulder field looked empty again and the spots of rain started to fall again…
We decided that we had seen about as much as we were likely to see, it had only been 1.25 hours wait, and to be honest with the weather the way it was we had been incredibly lucky!  We headed back to the van, seeing a kea fly high over head, and then headed off towards Milford Sound.  As we headed down to the coast the weather got better anf the rain stopped.  Mitre Peak was sticking its head through a bit, with some atmospheric cloud around, and of course with the rains there were literally hundreds of waterfalls.  Spectacular!
After a scenic stop, we headed back towards Te Anau.  A couple of scenic photo stops, a few stops to check for blue duck (alas none today) and then a short forest walk.  The forest was still dripping, the mosses and ferns swollen with rain, but the skies overhead were clearing and the sun peeping through.  And there were birds!  Rifleman seemed to be everywhere, nice and low down and great views had by all of multiple birds.  Tomtits and several robins were around and the latter bouncing off people’s feet! We had a little flock of yellow-crowned parakeets feeding in the mossy branches of the beech trees overhead – perhaps 6-8 birds.  And then a flock of about 15 brown creeper came in to check us out, with fantails, tomtits, several more rifleman, and bellbirds mobbing and chattering.  About as birdy as the forest could be!
From there it was back to Te Anau, checking into the accommodation and then off for a great dinner.  Hoorah for rock wren!

Bird of the day– Rock wren x8
Rainbow over Queenstown

The search begins

Water water waterfalls

Moody light and mountains

Mosses mosses and more mosses

iPhone South Island robin

Tuesday 26 February 2019

Day fifteen - FALCON!!!!

Up a little later after our kiwi encounter – even though it hadn’t been a late one. The mountains were clear of cloud and it looked like it was going to be a stunning day.  We packed the van and headed to a little forest walk, where we saw a few things like tomtit, grey gerygone, etc.  The views were spectacular, but the glacier was a little on the shrivelled side!  The rate at which it is receding up the valley is truly frightening.
We headed back to the van, and drove towards Fox Glacier.  All eyes were on the lookout for our real target bird of the day – falcon.  Although we still have a couple of excellent days ahead where falcon is a possibility, leaving it to the last day is a little nerve-wracking!  There were a lot of great looking snags for a falcon to be sitting on and looking out for prey, but New Zealand pigeons seemed to be using them, and were often distracting as a flying shape was seen…. Keep looking guys!
We grabbed some lunch in Fox and stowed it in the cooler and then a few minutes down the road, BINGO!  The call went up for falcon and there in a dead tree beside the road was the familiar shape of a falcon.  It looked big, probably a female, and a young one at that.  As we stopped the van and jumped out the bird flew, chasing a sparrow or some small passerine.  But the chase seemed half hearted and she broke away and disappeared into the back of a large conifer.  Damn! But we quickly realised we could drive a little and get a different and closer angle, and so in doing that we got really great views of the bird perched.  We had the scopes on her and watched her for quite some time, before she flew to a different tree, where we again were able to scope her.  Very very cool – and it is not every day you are able to get scope views of a killer bird like this!
We then headed off, grabbed coffee, enjoyed the sunshine and some stunning views of the mountains – Tasman and Cook (Aoraki) both clearly visible.  Heading on further south along the coast we made a little stop to enjoy some Hector’s dolphins frolicking in the surf, and then a lunch stop, enjoying more beautiful scenery and sunshine.  Life was good!
Heading on further we passed Haast township and up into the hills from there, where the scenery became even more impressive.  We took another walk in the forest, finding a very cool harvestman crawling across the path, and lots of mosses and filmy ferns hanging from the beech trees. We found tomtit, grey gerygone, and then heard yellowhead further down the path.  Before long we had some in view, and they weren’t at the top of the beech trees which was nice of them.  They were almost at eye level and about 8-10 individuals put on a really good show.  Awesome little gems of the forest that they are.  We enjoyed them for some time and then set about searching for rifleman. The calls were everywhere, but they were playing hard to get.  But, finally we had a couple in view and had really nice prolonged views.  Let’s hope their cousins play nicely with us tomorrow!
We then head onwards to Wanaka, making some scenic stops along the way.  It sure is a beautiful part of the World.  We checked in to our accommodation and then headed to an early dinner.  Superb meal on the lake shore and then an early night.  It looks like rain tomorrow, and we have a rendezvous planned with a bobbing wren!

Bird of the day– Falcon x6, yellowhead x2

Going, going, gone...Franz Josef Glacier slips away into the valley

Falcon iPhone shot hand held through the get the picture

Blue skies, stunning scenery

Monday 25 February 2019

Day fourteen - ROWI

We had a little lie in after kiwi hunting last night, and then, shock horror!  We had a cooked breakfast and relaxing start to the day!  The skies seemed to be looking a lot more positive, and as we made our way up and over Arthur’s Pass it certainly looked clearer.  We made a stop and found three kea, including a known bird that was rehabilitated after losing an eye.  Unfortunately, some tourists had left a banana and capsicum (!?) for them, so we picked this up and put it in a bag in the van to put in the trash.
We got some photos, enjoyed the scenery and the antics of the kea, and then carried on towards the West Coast.  We wanted to make a bee-line for the landslide that had closed the road for a couple of days, but was now open.  It was between Hari Hari and Whataroa, and we wanted to get it behind us so that Franz Josef and our night with Okarito kiwi was set in concrete.
We stopped quickly at a sewage ponds, where there were a lot of waterfowl – a good collection of scaup, shoveler, grey teal and mallard, with the odd Pacific black duck. Nothing out of the ordinary though. We then grabbed some lunches, refuelled and headed on a little further to a beautiful little spot with a lake and some nice forest.  We went for a walk first, managing to find a couple of weka, tomtit, and our first brown creeper.  Nice views of all, so a decent little spot.  And lunch in the sunshine with spectacular scenery was pretty enjoyable.
We carried on south, checking each and every snag and tree top for falcon.  Eyes were peeled, and not for the lack of trying did we fail.  The landslide was cleared enough to allow traffic through, one lane at a time, and sure was a pretty big one.  A huge amount of rock, mud and debris had been cleared thanks to the local contractors, and work was still underway.  We then carried on out to Okarito, meeting with Toby from Okarito Kiwi Tours, who gave us a run down on the approach for the evening’s kiwi trip.  All very exciting!
We then made a stop for fernbird, but despite hearing them, didn’t manage to see one. So we carried on in to Franz and checked in to our accommodation.  An hour or so to rest up, then a beaut dinner of Asian styles which was really good, and then back out to Okarito.  We met with our guide Mike and went through an intensive training regime, which most of us passed.  As it slowly got darker we moved into place, knowing exactly what to expect.  We knew our kiwi was pretty close, and every now and then could hear him cracking a twig or rustling through a fern.  After about 50 minutes, with some moving up and down with precision, we could hear him coming out towards us.  A pause, and then Mike slowly put the light on and there was an Okarito kiwi (Rowi) literally 4m in front of us all!  He paused, and then moved off along and across in front of us, before re-entering the bush.  A few moments later he let rip with about 15 calls – from just a few steps away from us – AWESOME!  We left him to his night, and headed off.  A massive thanks to Mike for a great bit of work getting us all in to the right position and showing us one very special bird!

Bird of the day– Okarito kiwi x8 (perhaps?!)
A rare bird makes an appearance

Kea playing up for the camera

Sunday 24 February 2019

Day thirteen - stilts

Rain, rain and rain…it hardly stopped all night.  It was still raining as we loaded the van, but as we headed south it seemed to be coming through in waves, perhaps we would push through it!  As we headed down along the coast, some of the roadwork stops gave us the opportunity to spot some dusky dolphins out close to shore. We made a quick stop at a small lake, lots of waterfowl around and also managed to get nice views of redpoll.  Heading on further south we stopped in at an estuary, where the tides was well in.  We searched the shoreline and found a few pied stilts, pied oystercatchers, etc and looking out further there were a few black-fronted terns, gulls, etc.  We relaxed as the tide started to recede and all of a sudden Pierre had a black stilt in the scope!  Excellent.  As the tide was dropping the bird started feeding out from where it must have been roosting, and we all got a good look at this critically endangered bird.  We spent a little more time looking at the stilt and watching godwit accumulate as the tide dropped, obviously coming from a high tide roost further up the estuary.
The weather was holding for us, but as we started to head inland we had more waves of rain come through.  The mountains were certainly not visible as we came to a small place to eat our lunch. The temperature was certainly cooler than we had experienced to date, and with warm layers and wind proof jackets on we munched on our sandwiches.
After lunch we continued inland, keeping a sharp eye for falcon.  We made a few scenic stops in between the showers, and as we got closer to Arthur’s Pass the rain actually eased off, although it was pretty windy in places.  We headed up through the village to a lookout site, where it was really windy.  A scan of the rivers and local hillsides revealed nothing of interest, so we headed back down and went for a short walk in the forest.  A kea did a nice fly-by before we entered the forest.  Beautiful beech forest surrounded us, as we wandered a trail. With the cool condition’s things were a little quiet, but we managed to get looks at South Island robin, tomtit, a glimpse of a rifleman, several fantails and grey gerygones, and bellbird. The forest was full of mosses and was our first introduction into the South Island beech forest, so nice to see some new plants as well.
We then headed back down, through the village and to our accommodation.  We checked in, admiring the spectacular views, and then had an early dinner.  After dinner we headed out in the hope of at least hearing a great-spotted kiwi.  We parked up, waited for it to get a little darker, the rain was holding off.  We headed to a spot, and of course it started to drizzle – and it was cold.  We waited as it grew steadily darker.  After a while the drizzle stopped, and we could see Orion and the Southern Cross.  And then a female started to call, perhaps about 100m away.  She called perhaps 20 times, and we waited, hoping a male would respond.  But after a bit with no response, we decided to head back to the van.  Excellent to have at least heard this very difficult to find bird!

Bird of the day– Kea x4, black stilt x4
The Waimakariri valley

The gang

Saturday 23 February 2019

Day twelve - baby albatross!

Up early, yep early!  It was dark outside, and still dark as we got on to the boat at South Bay.  Gazza was up early and we were out on the water before the sun was up.  With an impending front approaching, it was wise to get out and get a pelagic under our belt before it could ruin our plans.  So we headed out, found a fishing boat pulling in its catch and checked out a few of the albatross around it.  White-capped, Salvin’s and a few New Zealand wandering right there!  Very nice.
We then headed out further, the light was increasing and although the sun was not yet above the horizon we could easily see the birds following us.  Cape petrels, a New Zealand wandering albatross or two, and some Northern giant petrels as well.  We made it to our planned location and set the chum into the water.  Pretty soon the birds were gathering, and the Cape petrels were squabbling!  We had a good number of birds around, with both Westland and white-chinned petrel side by side for good comparisons, a few Buller’s shearwaters flitted past, as did some Hutton’s of course at more distance, but pretty darn close for them, and we also had a flesh-footed and a sooty drift past over the time we spent chumming.  We also had both Northern and Southern Royals, good numbers of New Zealand wandering, and a few each of white-capped and Salvin’s albatross.  But we also were visited by a very special bird – an absolute minter juvenile wandering albatross that looked like it had just flown from the nest.  There was even a wisp of down still on its neck!!! Amazing!  It hung around a little while, and then after not being fed by any adults, or allowed to get to the chum, it decided food had to be somewhere else. What a beautiful bird!
We spent a good bit of time chumming, but it was soon time to head back in.  We had certainly beaten the weather, with pretty nice conditions, and the Kaikoura ranges completely visible and uncloaked by cloud.  Back at South Bay be loaded up and headed back to the Albatross Encounter base, having a quick look around, grab a coffee, and then back to the Motel for a bit. James headed out on a dolphin watch, getting some pretty nice views of dusky, Hector’s and short-beaked common dolphins, and the rest of us took a break to do things at the accommodation.
Later in the morning we headed out exploring the local area, looking for shorebirds and cirl buntings.  We found some banded dotterel and also a female cirl, as well as a few other things of interest.  Then had a nice sit down lunch at the Albatross Encounter CafĂ©, before most headed out on a Whale Watch trip.  Sounds like pretty great views of a couple of sperm whale, so everyone had a great day. The weather deteriorated after that, with light rain and then by the time we finished up dinner it was absolutely hosing it down!  Let’s see what tomorrow brings!

Bird of the day– Cape petrel x3, Wandering albatross x2, Salvin’s albatross x2, Southern Royal albatross x1
Up before the sun has its advantages

Nice and close to the birds

The front approaches, but beautiful scenery

Day eleven - shagging about

The morning dawned a little breezy, but as we headed to the Picton marina and our boat, the wind seemed to drop and the skies look a little brighter. Excellent!  We jumped aboard our boat with skipper Andy and headed off into the Sound.  We cruised out towards to outer sounds, looking for wildlife, and our first planned spot for King shag looked a little empty, until we got the right angle and could see a single bird perched up there!  Andy brought the boat in quietly and slowly, and the bird sat happily as we got great views and photographs.  Nice views of a very range restricted and rare bird under the belt always feels good.  We then headed on further out, checking out some feeding groups of fluttering shearwaters and spotted shags.  Nice to see them actively feeding and doing their thing.  We carried on out, and before long came to a location we have seen King shags roosting at before, and we were in luck again with at least 32 birds present, including a number of juvenile birds in their browner plumages. We were able to again get great views of these, and some nice photographs, before leaving them in peace and heading on with our mornings’ plans.
Next up was a landing on one of the predator free islands here in Queen Charlotte Sound.  The waters were nice and calm, so Andy brought the boat in nicely and we disembarked and headed into the forest.  Weka were on the beach to greet us, but they were not the main target, so off we went. We gathered in a location that had been good to us in the past and waited, and waited, and waited.  Orange-fronted parakeets are definitely not an easy species, and despite the relatively still conditions, ideal for listening for calls, there wasn’t a parakeet to be heard.  We watched and waited, with the sharp eyes of James and Rick being the only ones to latch on to a parakeet that briefly stopped into a bush in front of the group.  The parakeet seemed to vanish into thin air – well the forest at least – and unfortunately for the rest of the group was not seen again.  Very frustrating, but well done to them for spotting the prize.
Our time was up and we needed to get back onto the boat, checking out a bay on the way to see if we could spot a Hector’s dolphin.  Unfortunately, they must have been in the same place as the orange-fronted parakeet (!!) as they were not evident either, and so we headed back down the Sound towards Picton.  Nothing new on the way back, but a great morning in a beautiful part of the country.
We loaded back into the van and headed off, stopping at a bakery in Blenheim to get some lunch and then eating it in the sunshine in the vineyards.  We kept eyes to the sky in the hope of perhaps seeing the long staying black kite, but nothing seen except a number of harriers. We then headed southwards, calling in at some sewage ponds.  Lots of Royal spoonbill and waterfowl, a dunnock for all the group to see, and then three juvenile cirl buntings.  We carried on, stopping next at a large wetland area, and there were a lot of gulls and over 50 black-fronted terns.  Stunning little birds, they were in a variety of plumages, mostly adults already moulted into non-breeding, but a few with a little more black still on the head, and also a few juveniles which is definitely nice to see with this endangered species.
Next stop was a small lake, more waterfowl, and then all of a sudden the targeted hoary-headed grebe was right there in front of us – literally 15m from us! Really nice views of this tidy little bird with its white bill tip.  Carrying on down the coast distant Hutton’s shearwaters were spotted, and then a small pod of around 8 Hector’s dolphins just in the murky water near the shore – nice to get these beautiful little endemic dolphins after not finding them this morning.  Carrying on we had several Northern giant petrels close to the shore, fur seals in their hundreds, and unfortunately cloud!  The cloud was building as we headed into Kaikoura, searching for little owl for a brief bit before checking in to our accommodation.  A lovely dinner of blue cod and chips on the BBQ tables at the accommodation allowed a quick dinner and chance to get out to look for little owl.  This time success as we found a bird perched on a branch, staying there for everyone to get great views and a few photographs!  An excellent end to a great day!

Bird of the day– King shag x6, orange-fronted parakeet x2

Our first King shag

The pickup

Thursday 21 February 2019

Day ten - crossing the Strait

A bit of a sleep in!  What a treat! We were off southwards, our last night on the North Island.  Heading south we stopped in at a lake to see what we could find.  Lots of waterfowl out over the lake and a few cormorants as well. But nothing stuck out as unusual, so it was on to the next spot.
A bit further down the coast we stopped for coffee and then to a sewage ponds – what would a birding trip be with out at least one sewage pond!  Again, a good selection of waterfowl, including a few male shoveler that still had traces of breeding plumage, and our last dabchick (New Zealand grebe), probably for the trip.  Scaup were good to see again, and lots of grey teal.
Onwards and we called into a nice little wetland area, where we had some time up our sleeve, and a few waterfowl.  So we enjoyed the sun and spent an hour at leisure wandering around.  The dabchick at the sewage ponds hadn’t been our last, there were a few more here as well.  Which was nice.
We then grabbed some lunch and headed south, stopping at a little way south where we had nice views of the coast and a pretty decent flock of white-fronted terns. We checked the terns to see if we could find anything different, but a good mix of various aged white-fronted terns. A few juveniles amongst which was nice to see.
After lunch we drove through to the Ferry Terminal where we cued for the ferry, looking out into the harbour.  We boarded, found a place on the ferry as we departed, seeing a few fluttering shearwaters as we cruised through the enclosed waters.  More white-fronted terns, red-billed gulls, etc.  As we came out into open water it was apparent the winds were pretty high, but from the north.  So, we scanned, and started to pick up more fluttering shearwaters, and then a good number of flesh-footed shearwaters as well.  One or two sooty shearwaters as well, and then our first albatross of the trip – distant, but recognisable as white-capped albatross. We did see a couple more over the time in the strait, but hard to ID at the distance they were – certainly white-capped or Salvin’s…more to come!
We also had a couple of common diving petrels fly with us, good to see after the very brief one we had seen on the Hauraki Gulf.  As we entered the Tory Channel we got a little more shelter, with a few gannets and red-billed gulls.  We got a few more spotted shags along the way, and then a brief Parasitic jaeger, before we docked.  We headed into Picton, but a slight hiccup has us in Blenheim, and dinner at a great restaurant before a well earnt sleep.

Bird of the day– White-fronted tern x4, common diving petrel x1, spotted shag x2, white-capped albatross x1
Good bye North Island (in the distance through the gap), hello South Island

Day nine - early bittern

Up early again, and out the door just after sunrise as we headed for a bird we had not seen at two of the three possible spots…Australasian bittern.  We arrived at the location, and got into ‘sneaky’ mode. The wetland was full of ducks, a few black swans and other things.  Scanning bits of the edge through vegetation allowed small parts of the wetland to be searched, hopefully without any bittern that were present seeing us.  And bingo, within a few minutes we had one, skulking along in the open.  The scope was on it quickly and everyone got a look, but it must have seen us at least a bit as it headed back into the vegetation a short way, but then stood there still visible for everyone to get a nice long look.  Excellent – not an easy bird, and certainly one that is tricky everywhere that it exists.  We watched it for a bit longer as it preened, searching for any others around the wetland, but no more were found.
We spent some time checking through the waterfowl, and the bittern slowly moved into the vegetation and out of sight.  So we headed back to the van and made the decision to head to a forest patch, to give it another go for long-tailed cuckoo and falcon.  We arrived and stood overlooking a lookout area. There was a bit of wind and it was much cooler than back in Napier.  We spotted a couple of harriers, but they didn’t elicit a response from any falcon. We hadn’t heard any cuckoos, so headed down and did a short walk, spotting a few robin, grey warbler, and the odd rifleman along the way.  A nice walk, but the wind was making it a little hard to hear things and it wasn’t terribly birdy – certainly our targets were not evident.
We headed back towards Hastings and made a quick stop for lunch and then a great spot for pipit.  We sat eating lunch, hoping for one to appear and a few moments later there was one right beside the van! Perfect, excellent views of this smart little bird.  We spent some time enjoying the scenery, the pipit and our lunches, and then off to the south we headed.  We made a couple of quick stops along the way, heading to the Manawatu Estuary.  The tide was well out, but we scanned and could see bar-tailed godwits, knot, pied oystercatcher and banded dotterel, and also a couple of wrybill.  There were a couple of white-fronted terns as well, with a few other bits and bobs, and then we headed to the accommodations, checked in and had a rest before dinner.  An excellent dinner with some lovely food at a nearby restaurant, before a good night’s sleep.

Bird of the day– Australasian bittern x8
Sunny skies and great views

Pipits sure are hard to find around here...

Tuesday 19 February 2019

Day eight - ducks and crakes

We headed out early to a wetland area, in the hope of seeing Australasian bittern. This species is not that easy to see in either New Zealand or Australia, and so it is definitely on the ‘wish to see list’.  We slowly drove an area keeping an eye out, but nothing except a few purple swamphens (Pukekos).  We stopped the van and decided to stand and keep watch, looking to the skies also in case of a flying bird.
Problem was we kept getting distracted!  There were fernbirds calling all around the place, but none seemed to want to sit at the top of the vegetation and show themselves, and there were spotless crakes all around us as well.  One of them decided to ‘not very quietly’ creep through the reeds at about waist height, showing itself as it went.  Welcome distractions, and as there were no bittern to be seen, very welcome. We decided to head and check out a bunch of black-billed gulls and cormorants – getting nice side by side views of little pied, great and little black cormorants.  And rather convenient was the fact that the little pied seemed to show almost every plumage, from full white all the way down, to just a touch of a white chin.
We also watched scaup, dabchick, and black swan, and then a nice grey gerygone showed itself off well.  We decided to move on, but again a pair of fernbird got us distracted, and this time really showed quite nicely.  So very happy.
We headed back to the accommodation, packed the van, and then headed out to the river in search of our main target – blue duck.  We pulled up at our first spot, and there just a small way down the river was a blue duck – wow!  Sometimes it happens like that, sometimes it definitely doesn’t!  The bird was an immature, but we had great views of it in the water and then perched on a rock.  Through the scope you could clearly make out the shape and structure of the bill, and we all had extended views.  It then flew off up the river, and we realised there was another pair of adult blue duck just a bit up the river, so we headed further upstream and got really nice views of these guys too.
We spotted miscellaneous finches, silvereye and more grey gerygone, before deciding to head back into town, grab some lunch, fuel and then head off towards Hawkes Bay.  The drive was through some spectacular countryside, so we had plenty to look at, before arriving at a forest reserve.  We had lunch and then wandered a trail looking out for some of the forest specialties we needed.  We got good views of rifleman, and then even better views, and then good views of a tomtit, and then even better views.  Great to see these little birds right beside us, really showing themselves off.  There were red admirals around, as well as some nice mistletoes about to burst into flower, and lots of other cool trees and shrubs.  We had more grey gerygones, whitehead, bellbirds, and tui…ears were kept sharp for long-tailed cuckoo, but not a peep all afternoon.  But all of a sudden we did have a burst of falcon call, but from under the canopy couldn’t see anything.  Back at the carpark we kept our eyes skyward…”there’s one…no just a harrier…but there’s a falcon!” as it swooped in to see off the harrier!  A very fleeting glimpse, with hopefully better to come.
We headed on into Napier, stopping quickly at a small park to see two plumed whistling ducks, as well as Australasian coot, grey teal and our first Australasian shoveler.  A lone cattle egret was a bit of a surprise!  We then headed to a wetland area to see what we could find, and there were a lot of grey teal, a small flock of Royal spoonbills, and our first black-fronted dotterel.  These little stunners were relatively common and we had some nice looks at them and banded dotterel.  Down the end of the wetland we spotted two white-winged black terns, and so headed for a closer look, spotting some sandpipers in the process.  But hang on, there’s a spotless crake, out in the open. Our second location for this species today, and third for the trip!  Nice one! We got better views of the white-winged black terns on the ground, and then feeding over water, and then checked the sandpipers, and the first was a pectoral sandpiper!  Excellent, there were a couple of sharp-tailed sandpipers around as well, so pretty good birding.
It was then on to our accommodation, checked in to our rooms, freshened up, and then a lovely dinner near the water.  Life is good!

Bird of the day– Blue duck x5, Tomtit x2, Pectoral sandpiper x1

The gang looking for a kiwi

Spotting shorebirds

Monday 18 February 2019

Day seven - forest birding

The fact that a morepork was still calling when we got up signifies this was an early start to the day!  We had quite a drive ahead of us, and so being up early and on the road just after 0700 was called for.  We grabbed lunch quickly after packing the van, and then headed south from Whitianga. We made a short stop at the same shorebird stop as yesterday after leaving Miranda, and the tides were a bit better and this time there were seven cattle egret (some in breeding plumage and carrying sticks as nesting material!) and three Far Eastern curlew – nice additions to the list, and the latter was a lifer for some.  A wrybill right in front of us was also a treat!
We carried on south, checking out a wetland area, but unfortunately no bittern were evident.  Always worth a try with this tricky bird.  Driving some back roads we managed to find a couple of California quail, and a few ducks and other things, but no bittern.  Carrying on south after a quick coffee and fuel stop, we were really into falcon country and so eyes were peeled.  Especially after all the coffee!!
We pulled into Pureora Forest Park just after midday, and had lunch overlooking a good area of forest.  Kaka fly bys were had, and a couple of yellow-crowned parakeets.  But as we finished lunch we headed in to the forest to do a short walk.  Impressive trees were not the only things to spot, and within a few minutes we had really nice views of kaka, followed by a juvenile shining cuckoo begging and still being fed by two adult (and rather bedraggled) grey warblers.  Poor little guys!  We were then on to a couple of nice yellow-crowned parakeets, and the next thing of interest was a Peripatus!  Cool – not often you get to find one of these, and it was the first log that was looked in!  There were plenty of North Island robins to follow, but no sign of tomtit, although fantail and whitehead were both seen.
After a nice walk we did a little drive and then another short walk.  We spent a little time scanning for falcon also, but to no avail, although the resident pigeons were out in full force still doing display flights.  The walk saw a few more robins, more kaka, and a snatch of long-tailed cuckoo call, but no sightings of the latter.  Next up was a family of rifleman that were clearly feeding juveniles, and kept bouncing around in the branches of a tawa tree.  Not the easiest to see!
We did a bit more driving and a bit more looking and listening for falcon/long-tailed cuckoo, but then it was time to head towards Turangi.  So, we drove some roads through excellent forest on the way, but not a squeak from either.  Ah well, worth a try.  The visibility was great and with very little cloud beautiful views of the mountains as we headed towards Turangi.  A beautiful Italian meal, a few drinks and it was time to rest our weary heads!

Bird of the day– Kaka x5, yellow-crowned parakeet x1, rifleman x2

Guardian of the forest

Looking for rifleman in the trees!

Sunday 17 February 2019

Day six - wobbly seas and Pterodromas

Up before the sun, and headed back down to the Stilt Ponds for a look.  The tides were not quite right, with high tide having been before first light.  But there was still a lot of birds gathered in front of the hides.  We checked out the Stilt Ponds first and found four sharp-tailed sandpipers in nice light feeding in shallow water, and also a curlew sandpiper.  So really nice views of things we had seen yesterday but not nearly so well!  Lots of wrybill in attendance and also a lot of banded dotterel including some still showing good amounts of breeding plumage.
We spent time scanning through the birds, which is always fun, and getting nice looks of the wrybill, seeing the characteristic bent beak.  We then moved slightly and continued to scan more flocks of shorebirds, finding the Pacific golden plover, and checking amongst the godwit and red knot.  Distant black-billed gulls, lots more wrybill, but nothing new, so we headed back to the accommodation to pack the van and get underway.
On the road, we made a quick stop at another shorebird spot, seeing a pheasant on the way, and then finding more banded dotterel, black-winged stilt, and a couple of wrybill.  Also better views of Royal spoonbill and some grey teal, plus a couple more sharp-tailed sandpipers.  Carrying on we got up and over the Coromandel Range and then had a coffee break in Tairua, before heading northwards to Whitianga.  Bakery stop for lunch, which we ate in our Motel rooms, readying ourselves for our afternoon pelagic.  The forecast had not been great, with pretty breezy conditions, but it had certainly dropped off now, and although there was the odd little shower of rain, it looked a lot better than it could have been out towards the coast.
We headed down to the Marina, gathered up, and then headed to the boat, where we were met by our skipper Dawson.  After our briefing we made our way out of the Marina and out into Mercury Bay.  A reef egret was the first thing to get us looking, and then pied cormorants.  As the swell started to pick up we each found a spot on the boat and hunkered down.  It was a little bumpy, but not bad, and we spotted a couple of Parasitic jaegers on the way.  Further out, Buller’s and fluttering shearwaters started to make an appearance, and as we got to our location, a few Pterodroma petrels started to zip past.  Dawson set about getting the chum ready and before long we had a nice slick going. The birds were straight in to us, with Buller’s shearwaters, black petrel, and then flesh-footed shears coming in to feed.  White-faced storm-petrel were not far behind, and then a few fluttering shearwaters, as Cook’s petrels made a near constant stream of 1-2 birds past the stern of the boat. Nice short gaps between each bird, and nice and close, which doesn’t always happen.  Each one was studied as it came past, but it was a near constant stream of Cook’s, showing the longer bills, less bulky body-shaped and more flappy flight.  About an hour into it a NZ storm-petrel showed up, heading up into the slick after a brief appearance, but as is normal the bird reappeared several minutes later as it swung around the bow and back past the stern nice and close for everyone to get onto it!  Awesome! We had good numbers of birds over the slick, lots of white-faced storm-petrels (maybe 25+) and 5+ black petrels, and then the stream of Pterodromas seemed to dry up.  Hmmm…about 15 minutes later they reappeared, but this time they were shorter billed, often darker naped, and had a bulkier chest and short neck…Pycroft’s!  And just like that, the stream of near constant Cook’s petrels changed to Pycroft’s. We had excellent views of 15+ birds as they came past the stern, and everyone was able to see multiple birds, including lighter and darker plumaged birds.  We had several more NZ storm-petrels come in, with two visible for much of the rest of the time.  We also had a brief appearance by a mako shark in the slick, before it disappeared into the depths.
About 1710, the chum had run out, and it was time to start heading back in.  We had a few more likely Pycroft’s come past as we started the journey back in, with more Buller’s and fluttering shearwaters, and closer to home another Parasitic jaeger.
Back on land the legs stopped wobbling so much, and we headed for a tasty pizza meal, checklist time, and then bed.  Tomorrow will be an early start, but journeying to the centre of the North Island is going to be exciting!

Bird of the day– Pycroft’s petrel x6, wrybill x1, sharp-tailed sandpiper x1
Out on the ocean waves

Saturday 16 February 2019

Day five - stonking wrybill

We were up early, still with kiwi fresh in our minds.  The night had been short, and creatures of the night grunted and snuffled nearby… (ahem!).  We breakfasted, cleaned the bunkhouse a bit, and then packed and headed out.  Our aim was to try and get better views of kokako as they had been giving us the run around.  We head on down towards the wharf, and made a few stops along the way, and then found the location we had heard and glimpsed the pair yesterday.  We sat and waited, and waited.  Good numbers of other birds and activity around us – with great views of male Stitchbird, bellbird, red-crowned parakeet, tui, pigeon, etc – but where was the target?!  Finally, after about 1.25 hours a bird showed.  It was glimpsed again and then showed itself reasonably well, but kept moving, making it a hard target for some.  It then seemed to drop to the ground, stopped calling, and completely disappeared!  Never to be seen again, damn!
With time running out we had to head down to the wharf and then found out our water taxi was going to be late due to the fairly strong winds coming from the SW. The ferry made it however, and after a little fancy footwork we were on the ferry back to Gulf Harbour, and had cancelled the water taxi.  It would have been a pretty bumpy and unpleasant ride back in the water taxi, and was much more comfortable on the ferry.
We packed the bags back into the van back at Gulf Harbour, fuelled and grabbed some lunch at a nearby petrol station, and then drove to an estuary area where we sat and had lunch looking out at ducks, cormorants and shorebirds! Excellent.  Our first grey teal of the trip, and another couple of dabchick, paradise shelducks….and then WRYBILL!  Distant out on the mudflats, but there they were in all their splendour! We decided the light was not great and they were distant, and had a good plan for the afternoon.  So off we headed towards Miranda.
We arrived to our accommodation early afternoon, checked in, waited out the heat of the day and freshened up, and then headed out to Miranda in the late afternoon.  Perfect timing with the tide, and it was starting to cool a little.  In front of the hides we had several thousand bar-tailed godwit, and also a good thousand or more South Island oystercatchers. Some of the bar-tailed godwit were in absolutely cracking breeding plumage – a sign that they will soon be departing our shores for more northern climes!  We switched locations and found a large flock of several hundred wrybill and set about searching through them and the nearby red knot flock also.  A number of Pacific golden plovers were found, and then a couple of other small shorebirds.  First off a red-necked stint, then what was thought to be a curlew sandpiper – except it was hard to confirm when roosting sitting and with beak tucked in!  It was confirmed later though, and then a grey-tailed tattler was found also – a rather rare vagrant to these parts.  We had good looks at the wrybill and watched them moving with the wind and whatever else was stirring them.  A great time to stand and scan with binoculars and scopes.
As the evening drew on we decided to move on, and just as we did the birds got up and flew around a bit.  Lovely to see big flocks of birds in the sky.  We headed off for dinner at a local fish and chip shop – beautiful fresh fish and a couple of drinks with dinner!  Now for a restful night.

Bird of the day– Kokako x1, Stitchbird x5, wrybill x2
Checking out the roosting shorebirds

Day four - gotta love Tiri

We were up early, and packing for our overnight on Tiritiri Matangi.  We packed the van and then headed to grab some lunch, before heading to Gulf Harbour.  We spotted a reef egret fly in and land on the rock wall, and then organised our gear, before a last check of shoes, etc.  The ferry arrived, we loaded our gear onboard and off we headed.
The sea was fairly calm and although there was a light breeze, conditions were good. We saw a small raft of fluttering shearwaters along the way, and then a single Buller’s shearwater, and a lone Parasitic jaeger, so fairly quiet.  On the wharf at Tiritiri Matangi we loaded our gear onto the trolley and then headed for the ranger briefing.  There were two short-tailed rays in the sand on the side of the wharf as we walked there, and the bird song was already started to fall upon our ears.  After the briefing we headed up into the forest, with red-crowned parakeet seen well as we walked up the hill, and then of course tui, bellbird, fantail, whitehead, and saddleback.  Next was a confiding North Island robin – the first of many.
Carrying on up the trail we had ears peeled for other needed birds, but there were quite a few school groups being guided around the place, so we tried to avoid them as much as we could.  Great to see our young New Zealanders being shown how amazing a conservation effort like Tiritiri can be though.  We had stitchbirds and bellbirds around one of the feeders and so enjoyed them for a bit, and then heard some snippets of kokako song.  We persisted with kokako for about 45 minutes, getting glimpses of two birds through the foliage and in the distance, but pretty difficult to see. Listening to the song was rather pleasant though.
We then carried on up the hill, seeing brown quail, more saddleback and stitchbird, as well as pigeon nice and close, and a lot of tui and bellbird.  We carried on to the bunkhouse, and then had a briefing, before having lunch and a bit of a rest.
We then headed out to walk the trails and in search of takaha – bingo, that was easy – and kokako, as well as anything else we could find.  We wandered trails and managed to see another kokako briefly as it flew through forest near to us, pausing a couple of times, but again not playing the game!  Stitchbirds were more cooperative, and then at a small pond we had two very cooperative juvenile spotless crakes, feeding on the edge of the pond in plain sight. Much easier to see than the glimpse of one running through the forest earlier!  We also then had views of another couple of adults, but not such good views – but thankfully today it wasn’t a crake-less spot!
Heading back towards the bunkhouse we had another singing kokako, but just couldn’t see it in through the foliage – frustrating, but that is birding.  We did have great views of a female great eggfly or blue moon butterfly which was pretty cool!  Back at the bunkhouse preparations for dinner got underway, whilst cheese and crackers were demolished, and BBQ lamb chops and beautiful steak, freshly tossed salads and boiled potatoes with butter were washed down with beer and wine!  After a quick bit of chocolate for dessert it was time to head out for our evening walk. After a stunning sunset we managed to find two tuatara which gave really good views, and then after two hours of walking trails and listening for kiwi in the very windy conditions, we found one right near the bunkhouse!  It gave great views for about 10 seconds, and then strutted off into the bushes!  Bed time to dream of kiwi!

Bird of the day– Little spotted kiwi x 3, tuatara x1, spotless crake x2, kokako x1, Stitchbird x1
Don't even need binoculars for that one!

Scanning the seas - what a spectacular place!

Mural on the toilets at Tiri

Dinner in style!

Beautiful sunset before kiwi spotting

Thursday 14 February 2019

Day three - pelagicing we will go

The skies were clear and the winds calm as we headed out towards Sandspit to start our Hauraki Gulf pelagic, after grabbing lunch of course!  We hopped onto the boat, Piers gave us the run down and safety briefing, and then we were off!  We pulled away from the wharf and a couple of minutes later a reef egret was spotted, so we slowed for everyone to get on to that as it flew past and then landed on the shore.  Out a little further we spotted South Island oystercatchers on the mudflats, and then a small pied cormorant colony.
We got out into the Kawau channel and on the search for little penguin. Surprisingly it took a while, but we then came across a couple of small groups rafted up on the water and good views were had by all.  Carrying on we started to see a few fluttering shearwaters, and then into the open ocean which was pretty darn flat!  There was a light south-westerly breeze and very little swell, so conditions were looking good…perhaps too good!
Small numbers of fluttering shearwaters came past, and then we started to see our first Buller’s shearwaters, and then the odd flesh-footed shearwater.  But we kept focus and carried on out to our first chumming spot.  The only loss of focus was for a couple of bottle-nosed dolphins that came past us, and then appeared to be having a little bit of hanky-panky…hey it is Valentine’s Day!
We arrived at a good location we have been to before and as we arrived we found a number of Cook’s petrels rafted up on the water.  The lack of wind was definitely having an effect on the birds, with many deciding it was too calm, and that sitting on the water was the best plan. We hauled up and started to chum, and after about 10 minutes we had three flesh-footed shearwaters at the back of the boat…hmmmm.  But after a bit of chumming we started to gather birds and slowly and surely started to see our other targets.  Rather surprisingly the first storm-petrel to turnup, after about 30 minutes was a New Zealand storm-petrel!  No complaints there, but still a bit strange.  The NZSP showed well and then a couple of white-faced storm-petrels arrived also.  Over the next couple of hours we had growing numbers of white-faced storm-petrels, flesh-footed, Buller’s and the odd fluttering shearwaters, and then our first black petrel.  Excellent!  We hung out and chummed away, with pretty reasonable numbers of birds based on the light conditions, and at least 5-6 New Zealand storm-petrels passing and at least 2 in view at once.
Around midday we then decided to head out towards the Mokohinau Islands, with the wind having dropped even further.  Glassy conditions almost and small schools of fish on the surface as we went, even a couple of penguins visible.  Approaching the Mokohinaus we had a small school of fish and then a single fairy prion flew in and landed nearby – nice one!  Approaching Maori Rocks we could see some small grey shapes on the side of the rock in the shade, and getting closer we could see they were grey ternlets.  In all an estimate of 35-40 birds was made, and we saw a few in flight and some coming to and from the rock.  Nice to see these little summer visitors.  About 100+ fairy prions were also roosting on the water nearby, most looking a little ragged from their breeding exploits.  We spent a little time cruising this very scenic area, before heading back towards Little Barrier, this time passing to the east of Fanal Island.  We stopped at Simpson’s rock and the conditions were so calm there were even white-faced storm-petrels sitting on the water!  There were also schools of fish feeding around the rock, and more white-faced storm-petrels and fairy prions feeding with them.  We decided to stop and start chumming, and in short order had several black petrels at the back of the boat.  Numbers of white-faced storm-petrels increased and then a shark was spotted – wow a nice big 7-9ft hammerhead!  It cruised past slowly and off and away from the boat.  A New Zealand storm-petrel was then spotted, and then another shark…hmmmm!? Different species!  This one was a quite large bronze whaler, probably 7-8ft long! Nice one…and then things got ridiculous as a blue shark [EDIT: we believe it was probably a mako] – also around 6-7ft came right in and swam through the slick a number of times giving really good views and actually nosing up to black petrels that were on the water.  Eash time the bird would be peering into the water and decide to make a break for it, with the shark really quite intent and almost lunging at the bird.
In the end we spent almost a couple of hours and had a number of NZ storm-petrels really close to the boat, and also white-faced dancing and feeding right beside the boat, with 5-6 black petrels around most of the time.  Late afternoon we decided we still had a way to go to get back, and so it was time to leave.  A lovely ride back towards Sandspit, with flat conditions and beautiful seas.  A lot of Cook’s petrels on the way back to keep us amused as well.
We did a quick swing by Kawau Island to look for weka, and found two very easily, and then headed back across to Sandspit, passing a big flock of feeding fluttering shearwaters with a few white-fronted terns and an Arctic skua (Parasitic jaeger).  Back on dry land we headed back to the accommodation for a nice dinner and well earned rest!
Little Barrier Island in the sunshine

A day to sit out and enjoy

There be grey ternlets on that rock!

Bird of the day– White-faced storm-petrel x5, New Zealand storm-petrel x3