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New Zealand, the Final Frontier, 2019-2020

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Old Friday 27th March 2020, 18:02   #26
Jos Stratford
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19 December. Tiritiri Matangi.

Departed Tawharanui early to drive 65 km to Gulf Harbour, a Laughing Kookaburra on roadside wires one of the first birds of the day, nicely offset by three adjacent Sacred Kingfishers.

Today was the day of Tiritiri Matangi, a true jewel in New Zealand's sparkling crown. With mammalian predators eliminated and many species reintroduced or re-established, this island offers an enticing snapshot of what the rest of New Zealand should be like - forests echoing to weird and wonderful bird calls, a whole bunch of native species fairly abundant. From Gulf Harbour, it was a short (basically birdless) ferry to Tiritiri Matangi, and then the birding began - in the kilometre or so walk up to the lighthouse/bunkhouse (the only buildings on the island), it was a native bird bonanza, some of the first birds seen including New Zealand Bellbirds, North Island Saddlebacks, New Zealand Pigeons, Red-crowned Parakeets and, in abundance, highly melodic Tui.

Having checked out the bunkhouse, my new des res, priority number one was to find Takahe - a gawky flightless bird thought extinct for many years until a remnant population was found in a remote area of the Southern Alps. At risk from introduced predators, some were moved to island retreats, including Tiritiri, where they are now doing well. And of the pairs on Tiritiri, one fortunately favours the meadow and bushland behind the lighthouse. So there I went, many Australasian Swamphens plodding about, me giving several a careful look to check I wasn't overlooking the Takahe ...but I needn't have, when suddenly a pair of Takahe strolled out from undergrowth, there was no mistaking - far bigger bird, massive bill. And what crackers they are, top class characters. Not just a pair, but a pair with a well-grown chick, plus an additional adult!

In glorious sunshine, I watched these for perhaps an hour, before deciding it was time to take a walk. Opted for the East Coast Track, a very pleasant and scenic trail - North Island Saddlebacks and North Island Robins at several points, numerous Whiteheads and New Zealand Fantails, plus four Brown Teals on a small pool. Overall, pretty good birding. Later exploration added three excellent Stitchbirds near the lower entrance to the Wattle Track, more splendid North Island Robins and both Eastern Rosella and more Red-crowned Parakeets.

Not bad for butterflies too - added several Rauparaha's Coppers within a coastal colony, three Coastal Coppers nearer the island interior, a couple of Monarchs, several Small Whites and my first Common Bush Blues of the trip.

Soon however, thoughts were turning to nocturnal offerings - Tiritiri Matangi is the easiest place to see Little Spotted Kiwi, the smallest of New Zealand's five kiwi species. After a couple of hours of relaxing to the evening chorus of Tui and associates, I prepared my night stuff, then wandered down to the coast to await darkness.

A half dozen Little Blue Penguins gathering in the bay, three more in viewable nestboxes, plus a few seabirds flying offshore - Fluttering Shearwaters in the main, but also a Flesh-footed Shearwater. And then, as I lost the Little Blue Penguins to fading light, finally it was kiwi time ...and in no time at all, after a bit of rustling in the undergrowth and a ear-piercing screech, I found my first Little Spotted Kiwi - a little corker probing a grassy path just above the quay. Heard several more in the next hour, but failed to see any more. I did however see three very prehistoric looking Giant Wetas!

Night over, back to the bunkhouse.
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Old Friday 27th March 2020, 18:05   #27
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Some birds...
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Old Friday 27th March 2020, 18:05   #28
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Des res of Little Blue Penguin...
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Old Friday 27th March 2020, 18:07   #29
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Giant Weta
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Old Friday 27th March 2020, 18:54   #30
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jos Stratford View Post
Des res of Little Blue Penguin...

The first image looks suspiciously like a cooking setup.
Were the Little Blue Penguins dinner? What did they taste like?
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Old Friday 3rd April 2020, 19:06   #31
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20 December. Tiritiri Matangi.

My second and final planned day on Tiritiri Island, the basic idea was to rise at dawn and listen for the calls of North Island Kokako, one of three main species that I had not encountered the day before. Didn't really work out as planned, but successful nonetheless - in the cacophony of calls along Wattle Track, oodles of Tui and Bellbirds, plus a Stitchbird and a few North Island Robins, but not a single Kokako did I hear!

Undeterred, I wandered past the Wharf, streams of Fluttering Shearwaters offshore, several Grey-faced Petrels in their midst, then headed towards Kawerau Track, another area reputedly good for Kokako. And it was here my luck changed - in fairly short succession, first a Fernbird, then an exquisite Rifleman and, icing on the cake, a splendid Kokako feeding on grassheads at the side of the track! Purple patch indeed, all three of the key birds I had hoped to see this day.

A couple of kilometres further, approaching the northern end of the Island, an even more obliging Kokako, once again feeding on the ground and this time staying for a considerable time. And as I sat on the track and gawked, a pair of Takehe came ambling by, nonchalantly hauling their great bulks less than a metre from me!

So, with success on all the desired birds, I took a stroll back along the East Coast Track, the main highlight being a cracking pair of confiding pair of Rifleman aside a footbridge over a gully, a vivid Stitchbird at the same locality.

Arriving back at the bunkhouse, I was then to discover why I had not bumped into any day visitors - the boat had been cancelled. Well that put a bit of a spanner in my plans, no chance of getting off the island this day! Thereafter, a bit of a lazy afternoon and early evening, basically waiting for dark for another few hours of nocturnal wandering. And excellent it turned out though it took rather longer to connect, the results were worth waiting for, two Little Spotted Kiwi at point blank range on Wattle Track, one almost bumping into me! I also encountered a Tuatara, an ancient iguana-like reptile, and a gathering of Tree Weta, a creepy ten of so huddled in a cavity. Nice night, not bad being stranded!
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Old Friday 3rd April 2020, 19:09   #32
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Some birds...
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Old Friday 3rd April 2020, 19:11   #33
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A night bundle of feathers
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Old Friday 3rd April 2020, 19:12   #34
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Tuatara and Tree Weta
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Old Saturday 4th April 2020, 05:14   #35
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Hi Jos - your Tree Weta is one of the Giant Wetas, not sure what's been put on Tiritiri but I guess its Wetapunga from Little Barrier? They can apparently weigh about the same as a Blackbird!
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Old Monday 6th April 2020, 00:16   #36
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That's a big-ass bug!

Will definitely need to go back for the kiwis and albatrosses.
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Old Wednesday 22nd April 2020, 19:37   #37
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Got a bit tied up, need to get this report going again :)


21 December. Miranda & Pureora Forest.

Picture postcard weather, not a trace of wind. Departed Tiritiri at 10.30 am, the tourist boat arriving to drop off passengers kindly doing a special run to Gulf Harbour. And from there, via Auckland and exotics such as Spotted Dove and Barbary Dove, shot straight down to Miranda to catch the afternoon high tide.

One of the top wader locations in New Zealand, Miranda is pretty amazing on tides that exceed 3.8 metres or so - virtually everything from this part of the Firth of Thames gets pushed onto a shingle bank or pools adjacent to the hides. And so I arrived, an hour or two before high tide, 3000 Bar-tailed Godwits and 1000 South Island Oystercatchers already roosting, plus a nice collection of added extras - 80 or so Red Knot, three Far-eastern Curlews, 20 Pacific Golden Plovers, several Banded Dotterels, a few Ruddy Turnstones and, in pride of place, an impressive 350 Wrybills, amazing birds. Adding to the collection, Black-billed Gulls on the shingle bank, several Caspian Terns, many White-faced Herons and an assortment of cormorants - Great, Little Pied and Little Black).

As the tide rose, suddenly the smaller waders were in the air, a wheeling flock of hundreds of Wrybills. Over my head and to pools to my yonder, down they settled right in front of one of the hides. Taking a wander over, what a treat it was- at very close range, lines and lines of Wrybills in their smart finery, along with three Sharp-tailed Sandpipers and a few Banded Dotterels. As a backdrop, occasional Australasian Harriers quartering, frequently provoking Masked Lapwings and Pied Stilts to set off in alarm.

As the high tide passed, it was time to move on - destination Pureora Forest, a drive of about 2.5 hours. Arrived a little before dark, set up my tent in the Ngaherenga campsite and enjoyed another evening chorus, Tui in full voice, a medley of European flavours added in (Blackbird, Song Thrush, Greenfinch, etc).


22 December. Pureora Forest, Taupo & Jerusalem.

A bit cold at dawn - a mere 5 C! Shivered my way out of the tent, first bird a very nice male Tomtit, a new bird for me! Seeking out a patch of early morning sun, I then tried to soak in a bit of warmth while enjoying quite a bit of bird activity - a flock of noisy Kaka on the forest edge, flyover Yellow-crowned Parakeets, a Sacred Kingfisher, my one and only Pacific Long-tailed Cuckoo and, perhaps less illustrious, my first Dunnock of the trip (a species that would be abundant for the rest of the trip). Many more birds seen as it warmed up among a mix of non-native species, also saw flocks of Silvereyes and Grey Warblers, at least ten Whiteheads, one Rifleman and one female Tomtit.

Becoming quite hot by 10 am, I then thought I could turn my attention to finding a few butterflies ...this being New Zealand, I found a grand total of just six individuals, all one species! Fortunately it was a new species for me - Maui's Copper. Very similar to Coastal Coppers, a line of dark dots on the underwing seemed to be fairly consistent.

Though Pureora Forest really deserved more time, I was acutely aware that I had a ferry booked to South Island next day, the ferry terminal still 450 km away. So, hitting the road, it was time to head south, next stop the Taupo area. First port of call was Wharf Road, a small road 6km north-west of Turangi that crossed a fairly extensive reedbed and ended at Lake Taupo itself. Hundreds of Black Swans and New Zealand Scaup dotted across the water and a very nice place to break for coffee. Black-billed Gulls populated a jetty pushing out into the lake, Welcome Swallows flitted about and no shortage of Australasian Harriers drifting about. And I was just thinking how fine this area must be for Australasian Bitterns at dawn when one did the honours and flew across! A long slow flight from reeds to the west, over my head and off to reeds in the east - given it was now hot, sunny and mid-afternoon, this was luck indeed! Also Australasian Swamphens, Little Pied Cormorants and Little Black Cormorants here.

A mere ten minutes drive away and I was in Turangi, heartland of Blue Duck territory. A curious-looking endemic, this species can sometimes prove rather problematic to find and, except lots of fishermen in the water, indeed I saw nothing at the first site I tried (beneath the main road bridge near town). Looking at the map, there seemed to be a riverside track following the river a few kilometres upstream, so I relocated to continue my search - and almost immediately, bingo! Adjacent to a shingle bank, feeding just off the riverbank, a very fine pair of adult Blue Ducks and a moderately well-grown duckling. Lying on the shingle, slowly the ducks approached, eventually just a few metres away, superb views! Pleased to see them here as my back-up localities all required quite some detour!

With my main target of the day seen, I then decided to try and find Nankeen Night Heron - a relatively recent colonist to New Zealand, the only known individuals are a handful along the Whanganui River near the small village of Jerusalem, a two-hour drive to the south, albeit on pretty rubbish roads. On arrival, I was a bit dismayed to find seemingly endless habitat, a vast number of suitable roost trees and no obvious place they might hang out, or indeed any particular locality I might wait at dusk to see them. With no precise location, I very quickly understood that I was not going to see them and instead turned my attention to a number of butterflies that were active - as well as abundant Small Whites, a whole bunch of Common Bush Blues and, better still, just before the sun vanished behind clouds, two New Zealand Red Admirals, another new species for me.

Then, however, a stroke of luck - seeing a few flowering shrubs across the main road bridge, I decided to potter across to check for butterflies. And what did I find? In a tree next to the bridge, one adult Nankeen Night Heron! Success! With that, with a bunch of Peafowl calling on the opposite hillside, I continued south for another hour or so, eventually turning inland to a nice campsite not far from Otaki.
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Old Wednesday 22nd April 2020, 19:39   #38
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Some of the birds...
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Old Thursday 23rd April 2020, 11:42   #39
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Very weird duck, and very elegant gull!
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Old Thursday 23rd April 2020, 20:39   #40
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yes I was going to say that gull is very smart!
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Old Saturday 25th April 2020, 19:38   #41
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23 December. North Island-South Island.

Ferry day between North Island and South Island, but first a little time to savour the delights of Otaki Sewage Pools. Heaps of birds here, hundreds of Paradise Shelducks, 135 Australasian Shovelers, one New Zealand Little Grebe and oodles of other waterbirds, but also one special species - the main reason for my visit, and not too difficult to find, one smart Black-fronted Dotterel trotting along the water's edge. This was a welcome bird indeed, and it would be the only one I would see on my trip.

With that, it was down to Wellington to await the ferry. Departed under grey skies, already a Fluttering Shearwater or two milling in the bay, White-fronted Terns patrolling the coastline. Not much to report for the first half hour or so as we chugged out through Wellington Harbour, but then we hit the open waters of Cook Strait, now in full sunshine and with a nice southern swell running. And from then on, for the ninety minutes in Cook Strait, birds galore my first albatrosses of the trip (several White-capped Albatrosses, one Gibson's Wandering Albatross, three Southern Royal Albatrosses), plus well over 100 Fairy Prions, often right up against the ferry, as well as numerous Buller's Shearwaters riding the considerable waves. As my first ever venture into New Zealand waters, identification was a bit challenging to say and quite a few more distant birds sailed by without names, but in amongst the above and numerous Fluttering Shearwaters, did pick out at least two Westland Petrels, one Sooty Shearwater and, rather easier, three Arctic Skuas.

All too soon, we entered the sheltered waters of Marlborough Sound, signalling an almost immediate halt to most of the seabirds, though Fluttering Shearwaters remained abundant right up to Picton, along with lesser numbers of Australasian Gannets and plenty of White-fronted Terns. Had hoped to fluke a New Zealand King Shag, but that really would have been lucky. Had to settle for several Pied Cormorants instead.

And so I was now on South Island, part two of my New Zealand adventure beginning. Scheduled for a boat trip from Kaikoura next morning, I immediately headed south, sufficient time for two stops on route - Blenheim Sewage Pools and Elterwater. Effectively twitching local rarities at both, my targets fell with ease - Glossy Ibis at Blenheim (a pair breeding in a bustling colony of Royal Spoonbills), then three cracking Hoary-headed Grebes at Elterwater (a rare vagrant from Australia, though breeders at this site).

I continued to within a few kilometres of Kaikoura, then headed inland to a quaint campsite surrounded by native bushland, sounds of Tui and Morepork ringing out as I pitched my tent.
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Old Monday 27th April 2020, 13:08   #42
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Another solid day - I'd take all those albatrosses and prions in a heartbeat - especially off a regular ferry trip - great stuff!

Cheers
Mike
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Old Tuesday 28th April 2020, 19:08   #43
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And now for one of the top days 0f the trip, the Kaikoura pelagic ...


24 December. Kaikoura.

Warm, still and sunny, a perfect day for playing around on the water. Started the day with an unsuccessful attempt to find Cirl Bunting on the south side of Kaikoura, but I can't say I was too fussed - at 9.00 am, I was boarding a small boat with two others for a trip out to the waters above the Kaikoura Canyon just a couple of kilometres offshore. Here, in waters that plunge from less than 100 metres deep to almost 1400 metres, resultant upwellings bring pelagic birds galore ...and, chugging out there in our little boat, we were immediately met by the first of the mega birds - three Northern Giant Petrels on the water, then a cracking Gibson's Wandering Albatross arching in to greet us. Not stupid these birds, they pretty much understood that we had offerings of fish liver, perfect breakfast for them. By the time we cut the engine, a medley of albatrosses and giant petrels had already gathered. Overboard went our 'bait ball', in came the albatrosses ... totally amazing, a squabbling rabble of three-metre wingspans at barely a metre distant. Mesmerising it was, a constant grunting and gurgling discord between the Northern Giant Petrels and the albatrosses, all to the backdrop of a dozen petite Cape Petrels paddling around.

Initially the albatrosses consisted of three or four Gibson's Wandering Albatross and perhaps six Salvin's Albatrosses, but soon other species appeared too - with massive pink bills, first a couple of Southern Royal Albatrosses, then their close relative, the darker backed Northern Royal Albatross. Fantastic, four species of albatross together ... and then there were five, a smaller White-capped Albatross flying in and settling to bob on the waves just yonder. And all in perfect weather! Spent a couple of hours out here, relocating a few times, each time dragging the albatross posse with us. Added attractions included a fly-by White-chinned Petrel, a smart Westland Petrel at the bait ball, one Sooty Shearwater, one slightly distant Hutton's Shearwater and one Arctic Skua.

After a luxurious fill of albatrosses and petrels, we then chugged back to Kaikoura, Dusky Dolphins and New Zealand Fur Seals en route back, plus common coastal birds, Red-billed Gulls et al. Well, that wasn't bad at all!

Back on dry land, another quick look for Cirl Bunting again drew a blank, so I then headed south to St Ann's Lagoon, sometimes home to Cape Barren Goose. Well, it wasn't home to any on this day, I walked around the entire lake and not a sign of them did I see. It was however a pretty productive walk - not only did I stumble across a nest of an Australasian Harrier, complete with four big hissing chicks and assorted hedgehog skins, but I also found my only Yellow Admirals and Southern Bush Blue of the trip, plus a single Monarch and several Small Whites.

And then to end this Christmas Eve, I drove down to Canterbury, had a quick look at Lake Ellesmere (lots of Wrybills and Banded Dotterels), then continued onward to Twizel, high in the Southern Alps. Arriving a little before dark, I set up camp at a nice place adjacent to a small river. No Santa Claus to report, no calling Moreporks or anything else either.
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Old Tuesday 28th April 2020, 19:10   #44
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Gibson's Wandering Albatross
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Old Tuesday 28th April 2020, 19:14   #45
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Five more species on the pelagic
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Old Tuesday 28th April 2020, 19:15   #46
Jos Stratford
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Hissing things in the grass, note the hedgehog carcase
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Old Tuesday 28th April 2020, 19:18   #47
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If it works, a LINK to the sights and sounds on the pelagic, I just loved this.
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Last edited by Jos Stratford : Tuesday 28th April 2020 at 19:22.
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Old Tuesday 28th April 2020, 19:48   #48
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I particularly enjoyed the sounds!
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Old Tuesday 28th April 2020, 19:51   #49
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Originally Posted by 3Italianbirders View Post
I particularly enjoyed the sounds!
Even better sounds on THIS one :)
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Old Tuesday 28th April 2020, 20:02   #50
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I'm trying to think what they remind me of! Hyenas?
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