Wednesday, 13 November 2019

Day One - Kiwi cocktail

The first day of a tour is always fraught with a mix of excitement, nerves, terror…well maybe not terror…. And when you pull back the curtain first thing in the morning and see big rain drops hitting the window pane, perhaps with a mix of hail in there, yeah that’s terror!  But that’s the weather in Auckland, you just can’t judge what it’s going to do in the next hour.
So, we all met down by the van, everyone looking chipper and ready for a great adventure together.  The small amount of luggage that was stowed in the rear compartment of the van had me slightly worried that perhaps we were missing half the group, but actually everyone was there, everyone was travelling light, so off we went.  We had a quick chat in the van first, introductions, plan for the day, all that sort of thing, and then off we headed.  First stop was a across the city, and to a spectacular gannet colony.  There were spots of rain on the way, and it really didn’t look good.  But we got there, jumped out and walked to the viewpoint and the sun came out.  On the way we had views of silvereye, grey gerygone, tui, and lots of blackbirds, song thrush, and the introduced but beautiful Eastern rosella.  We had spectacular views of the gannets nesting, with small chicks just visible occasionally below the adults.  There were also nesting white-fronted terns, their chicks small and fluffy enjoying the sun after the rain.
We enjoyed the views, the birds, watching out to sea as a big surf rolled in, the odd pied cormorant flying past.  A few variable oystercatchers on the beach, and kelp and red-billed gulls rounded things out.  Back in the van not a moment too soon as it started to bucket down!  Phew!  Off to a nearby bakery, first training run, and pretty good time, with three pies in the first lunch…. These guys are going to embrace the kiwi pie I feel!
Across some rolling landscape with a mixture of native and introduced vegetation, and on to a nearby estuary.  Within a few moments we had beautiful views of a hovering feeding fairy tern – the target bird – and then some nice views of a range of other species including NZ dotterel, white-faced heron, masked lapwing, paradise shelduck, black-winged stilt, and a glimpse of a buff-banded rail.  Several more nice close flight views of fairy tern, then we headed to another location nearby, another fairy tern, so roughly 10% of the NZ breeding population…not a good thing!  We picked up ruddy turnstone, a few more bar-tailed godwit, and a lot more NZ dotterel and variable oystercatchers.
Northwards and a stop at a small lake brought incredible views of at least four nesting Australasian little grebes, several pairs of NZ grebes, a pair of NZ scaup, several Pacific black duck, and a couple of Australasian shoveler!  Not a bad haul on waterbirds, plus a bunch of pukeko (purple swamphen), masked lapwing, a couple of black swan and more black-winged stilts.  Excellent!
We checked in to our accommodation in Kerikeri, did a little grocery shopping, and then to dinner.  After dinner we headed out for what we hoped would be the star of the show, and we were not disappointed!  Five Northern brown kiwi, one within a few minutes of parking the van, and then two birds that absolutely gave themselves up!  A male bird which fed and mooched through the grass for about 10 minutes right in front of us, until we left it be.  Only to find what was probably its female 30m away right in the open.  We watched her with her massive bill for about 10 minutes as she fed and pottered about right in the open, fully showing off every angle!  There were loads of birds calling, both male and female, and we then had beautiful views of a morepork just a few metres away, sitting right out in the open – there had been a lot of calling activity and this one gave great views.  It was all capped off with the fifth kiwi that showed well, and then crawled into the shrubbery and gave an absolutely honking series of calls, a female that was giving it heck!  Amazing!
Dreams of kiwi and morepork tonight, and the pillow never felt so good!
Day total – Seen = 51 + 2 heard (ring-necked pheasant and fantail); new for the trip = 51; total for the trip to date = 51
An incredible landscape

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