Friday, 1 March 2019

Day seventeen - Stewart Island

A good night’s sleep with rock wren under the belt, and we loaded the van, and headed east.  We basically just headed straight for Bluff, taking the more scenic coastal route.  A few drops of rain, but mainly fine, and the weather and sea conditions looked a lot better than anticipated from the forecast. Nice one!
We arrived at the Ferry Terminal and unloaded the gear from the van into the bins provided.  Parked the van in the secure area, and checked in.  Looked like the ferry was going to be pretty full, but we snagged the seats on the outside as we got on.  Leaving the terminal we spotted a couple of little pied cormorants, and a spotted shag, and then out into the open water where a steady stream of sooty shearwaters started to come past.  There was probably about 1m swell and a light SW wind, so things were moving, but there wasn’t an abundance of birds.  Sooty shearwaters were the main contender, with a few white-capped albatross coming past as well.  Several common diving petrels were seen in the mid-Strait as well.  Getting closer to the island we passed a rock with a number of Foveaux shags roosting on it, with both the dark or bronze morph and the pied morph present.
A bit further in towards Half Moon Bay and we started to pick up a few Buller’s albatross, new for the trip, and some nice views in the end.  The ferry docked and we grabbed our bags and headed up to the South Sea Hotel, checked in, and then had our lunch outside looking out onto the bay. A couple of Buller’s albatross still cruised out over the water, hoping a fishing boat would come in and throw scraps.
After lunch we headed down to the wharf again and jumped onto our water taxi to head out to Ulva.  On the way we checked a couple of spots, hoping to find a late moulting Fiordland crested penguin.  Bingo, there was one in a small cave, peering out at us.  Shiny new crest visible, although it was a little tucked away. Everyone got a look at it, thankfully showing enough of itself to recognisable as a penguin.
We carried on around to Ulva, landed on the island and headed on in to the forest. It was alive with bird calls and we headed off to see what we could find.  Within a few steps we soon had a South Island saddleback nice and close, showing really well.  A bit further down and calls from red-crowned parakeets soon gave way to nice close views. We suddenly got information that there were two female kiwi fighting out on one of the trails, but it was a bit of a hike away.  So, we headed that way, not too quickly, but no messing around.  We got to the source of the information along the way – Matt Jones who guides for Wrybill Birding Tours, NZ and Ulva’s Guided Walks – and he gave us a bit more detail.  So, we carried on towards the area.  As it turned out we couldn’t find any sign of the kiwi…except for a poop!  We slowly walked back the way we had come, scanning and picking up other birds.  Another pair of saddleback showed really well, a small squabbling group of rifleman, tomtit, some brown creeper, lots and lots of robin, more red-crowned parakeets going crazy and chasing each other, and then a group of yellowhead that showed incredibly well.  Awesome!
We carried on out to Sydney Cove, wandered along the beach and enjoyed the views, before heading back into the forest and to the wharf.  A last saddleback fed right in front of us, showing itself off for the photographers.  Perfect. As we met our water taxi at 1700, a couple of little penguins fed just offshore, and we headed back towards the main wharf at Oban.  We checked a couple of spots for Fiordland crested penguin, but no luck, but a couple of close white-tailed deer feeding on a grassy slope were a bit of a surprise!
Back at Oban we had a break, drinks before dinner, and then a lovely dinner in the restaurant.  Just before 2200 we met with Ange our kiwi guide for the evening.  We drove up to a location just out of town, got out of the vehicles and despite the slight drizzle, we all had a good feeling.  We wandered up to the spot, and the drizzle seemed to dry up, and before long we had two kiwi in the light – a juvenile and a pretty small chick of the year chasing each other.  We ended up watching them both for some time, after they had finished their pursuits.  They were feeding vigorously and great to just spend time watching them in the light. We wandered some more, hearing a long-tailed cuckoo calling loudly, then found a large adult male and watched it for a bit.  We then retraced our steps, enjoying more views of the chick, before hearing a pair duetting and probably the adult male we had seen earlier call back. Awesome!  On the way back to the cars we had a large female show herself to just a few in the front of the group.  What an awesome way to spend the evening…

Bird of the day– Southern brown kiwi x8

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