Saturday 23 February 2019

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

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