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New Zealand, the Final Frontier, 2019-2020

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Old Wednesday 29th April 2020, 09:21   #51
foresttwitcher
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Good stuff, Jos, really envious of the Kaikoura experience - I've developed a taste for pelagics after Madeira a few years ago and my first three Albatross species from the Izu ferry early this year.
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Old Wednesday 29th April 2020, 12:01   #52
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Excellent report, just what is needed in these lockdown days - dreaming of albatross-filled pelagics!
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Old Thursday 30th April 2020, 20:50   #53
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Thanks all, appreciated ...feels like an era long past :)
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Old Thursday 30th April 2020, 20:54   #54
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25 December. Twizel & Omaru.

Merry Christmas, I woke just after dawn and was rather pleased to see blue skies and promise of sun. In the absence of offerings by Santa Claus, I decided it only fitting to target one of the rarest birds in the world on this day - the enigmatic Black Stilt, global population 130 individuals. Unlike its cousin, the abundant and widespread Pied Stilt, Black Stilts are restricted to a few braided streams in the heights of the Southern Alps. And Twizel is just about the heartland of the restricted range, most of the remaining pairs on shallow streams nearby.

So it was, I drove down the length of Lake Pukaki and to the maze of streams that enter from the north. At my intended destination, just beyond Glentanner airstrip, heavy rain in the preceding weeks had left the streams totally flooded, the shallow shingles flavoured by the Black Stilts totally submerged. No big issue, I merely relocated a few kilometres upstream and began my exploration - Black-billed Gulls and Black-fronted Terns along the river, Australasian Harrier flying over.

Quickly found South Island Oystercatchers and Banded Dotterels, then about a half kilometre down I spied my target, one Black Stilt. One problem, it was rather distant and on the opposite side of a rather deep river! Failing to find any further individuals on my side of the river, I decided to wade across. Bad move! Fast flowing and cold, I got about midway and realized the current was seriously pushing my legs from under me, I began to predict an icy plunge and a goodbye to my optical equipment. Fortunately, having had the good idea of taking a sturdy stick with me, I gingerly edged the remainder of the way across and reached the opposite bank without incident. I was not looking forward to crossing back!

Of more immediate concern was that the Black Stilt was no longer on the stream where it had been, it had disappeared! Fortunately, a few hundred metres further, I found another individual quietly feeding on a backwater. Cracking views of this one, feeding on its chosen pool not caring in the least about my presence. After a half hour or so with the bird, it then suddenly decided enough was enough and flew off, landing on another pool some hundreds of metres away! I decided it was time to cross the river again – opting for a deeper crossing place this time, I reckoned the current would be less with greater depth. And fortunately it proved so, I crossed without problem.

With the sun still shining, it was now time to turn my attention to butterflies. Having seen a few coppers a little earlier, I set off to search them out and, in not much time at all, I was watching them - quite a few Coastal Coppers and, better still, a couple of colonies of the tiny Boulder Coppers, the exquisite males a glorious purple colour as they catch the light while sunning on rocks, the females a little drabber. In their midst, another new butterfly in the form of a Common Tussock, a butterfly that flies a lot, but lands very clumsily.

I had hopes of further butterflies, but sadly it clouded over in the early afternoon, so I decided to quit the mountains and head down to the coast at Omaru for the evening, one more Christmas Day treat possible there. On route out, passing the flooded streams at Glentanner, I thought it worth a quick scan - and indeed it was, five Black Stilts paddling around in a patch of waterlogged grass! One adult, four immatures.

At the coast, my first stop was in the harbour in Omaru - upon an old jetty, a mass of breeding cormorants, a line of Spotted Shags along one edge, then a packed mass of Otago Cormorants occupying the main part of the jetty, at least 300 in all. Not only a new species for me, but actually a new species completely - a result of a recent split of Stewart Island Shag into two separate species, namely Foveaux Shag and Otago Shag. It has to be said, however, they both look very much the same!

I then relocated to Bushy Beach, a half dozen kilometres away, there unfolded my Christmas night - a clifftop overlooking a beach, damp and chilly, a grey sea, a couple of Fur Seals in the surf. An hour and a half of peering at an empty beach, two fellow observers to keep me company, nothing much seen. But then it happened, just as the sun went down, out of the sea waddled four Yellow-eyed Penguins, right crackers. One by one, they waddled up to an area of pebble beach, then paused 15 minutes or so, each engaging in a bit of display and squawking near non-stop. Too distant for photographs, but as they vanished into the shrubbery at the base of the slope, I departed only to find two more hanging out in the bushes at the top of the slope - absolutely superb, classic penguins and just a couple of metres away!

And so ended Christmas Day, or almost so, I then not very cleverly went through a speed camera to conclude the day. Camped a few kilometres south.
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Old Thursday 30th April 2020, 20:56   #55
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Black Stilt
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Old Thursday 30th April 2020, 20:58   #56
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Boulder Copper, Coastal Copper, Common Tussock
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Old Thursday 30th April 2020, 21:00   #57
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Yellow-eyed Penguin
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Old Thursday 30th April 2020, 23:21   #58
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Yellow-eyed Penguin
A wonderful report, further enhanced with really fine shots.
Love the penguin, clearly a bird with NY attitude.
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Old Friday 1st May 2020, 07:41   #59
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Those Boulder Coppers are amazing!
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Old Friday 1st May 2020, 11:28   #60
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Nice way to spend Christmas Day!
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Old Friday 1st May 2020, 19:25   #61
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Those Boulder Coppers are amazing!
Indeed they were, tiny little things packed with character
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Old Friday 1st May 2020, 19:25   #62
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Nice way to spend Christmas Day!
I thought so too 😊
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Old Friday 1st May 2020, 19:37   #63
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26 December. Otago Peninsula & Nugget Point.

Fairly easy-going day, mainly seawatching at Taiaroa Head on the Otago Peninsula and at Nugget Point, dodging showers and getting a few butterflies in the occasional sunny spell.

Taiaroa Head, best known for the only mainland colony of Northern Royal Albatrosses in the world, was excellent - a mass of breeding Red-billed Gulls all around the car park, then a treat of albatrosses offshore, a grand total of six species, I managed both Northern and Southern Royal Albatrosses (six and 14 respectively), plus three Gibson's Wandering Albatrosses, a bunch of White-capped Albatrosses, one Salvin's Albatrosses and, new for the trip, three Buller's Albatrosses. Not bad! Also one Northern Giant Petrel, one Hutton's Shearwater and moderately common Sooty Shearwaters further offshore.

About 120 km to the south, seawatching at Nugget Point got delayed by a half-hour spell of sunny weather on arrival ...signal for me to look for butterflies. Not bad results (for New Zealand) - four species, plentiful Coastal Coppers on the cliff edge, a dozen of so Common Tussocks on grassy slopes, one fly-by New Zealand Red Admiral and, completing the set, one Small White.

As cloud returned, back to birding I went - colonies of Otago Shags, Spotted Shags and Royal Spoonbills on rock stacks, plus a reasonable bunch of birds on the sea, not least a minimum of 25 White-capped Albatrosses, one Gibson's Wandering Albatross and two Southern Royal Albatrosses, along with masses of Sooty Shearwaters, one Hutton's Shearwater, singles of White-chinned Petrel and Cape Petrel and, rather pleasing, seven Little Blue Penguins bobbing about and an impressive 30 or so Northern Giant Petrels. Eight Arctic Skuas also.

To complete the day, I popped down to the hide overlooking a beach just short of Nugget Point - as the sun set, Yellow-eyed Penguins up onto the beach and one Pacific Reef Heron on rocks at the edge of the bay.
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Old Friday 1st May 2020, 19:38   #64
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Love the penguin, clearly a bird with NY attitude.
👍👍👍
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Old Saturday 2nd May 2020, 13:16   #65
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I've wanted to visit Taiaroa Head since reading Gerald Durrell's book in which covered his visit to New Zealand, but there are so many highlights. Hedgehogs and harriers, the stunning Black Stilt plus the Kaikoura pelagic all in just a couple of days. Think I'd have blown a fuse!

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Old Sunday 3rd May 2020, 11:31   #66
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I've wanted to visit Taiaroa Head since reading Gerald Durrell's book in which covered his visit to New Zealand, but there are so many highlights. Hedgehogs and harriers, the stunning Black Stilt plus the Kaikoura pelagic all in just a couple of days. Think I'd have blown a fuse!

Cheers
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Copy that (Gerald Durrell). I was lucky enough to go to New Zealand inc. Taiaroa although I never saw all the riches listed here (and this was long before many of the albatross splits). A highlight for me was meeting Don Merton. Alas, it was the wrong time of year for butterflies
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Old Sunday 3rd May 2020, 20:52   #67
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27 December. Invercargill.

Didn't have much planned for this day, did even less due to rain for half the day! Started on a high however, with a speculative trip to Awarua Bay producing a hoped-for Australian Gull-billed Tern. First ever breeding record for New Zealand, I didn't know the locality, but did know they were located on the edge of a Kelp Gull colony – 'find the gulls, so find the tern' was my reckoning. Needed a bit of luck given the vastness of Awarua Bay, but it seems the Gods of Fortune were smiling down – tucked in at the end of the first Kelp Gull colony I found, there was a Gull-billed Tern! A smart bird indeed, even nicer for a Caspian Tern alongside.

Nearby, Turnstones and Variable Oystercatchers on the mudflats, several Banded Dotterels on the shingle, including one bird incubating on a nest. Royal Spoonbills and Australasian Harriers completed the line up.

With that, so started the rain, a gusting wind picking up too. Popped into Invercargill on the off-chance that a party of Australian Shelducks reported a couple of weeks earlier might still be lingering. They weren't, but Tip Lagoon, their chosen home for a few days, was pretty productive nonetheless – hundreds of Black Swans, a mass of assorted ducks (Paradise Shelduck, New Zealand Scaup, Grey Teal, Pacific Black Duck, etc). Also checked the adjacent estuary, still no Australian Shelducks, but before rain stopped play, did note 35 Royal Spoonbills, 150 or so South Island Oystercatchers and a few dozen Bar-tailed Godwits.

By now, a fairly impressive storm was brewing, the wind blowing stuff sideways. Got a phone call that my scheduled pelagic off Stewart Island in a few days was likely cancelled, so sat in my car and sulked till the rain stopped. But stop it did, so I then headed for Bluff Point to see if I could find a few seabirds in the buffeting wind. Bit too windy and very little cover, but did find one little nook to watch for a couple of hours – not a patch on Otago or Nugget Points, but did notch up about 360 Sooty Shearwaters per hour, plus about 15 White-capped Albatrosses and, a nice surprise, one Subantarctic Little Shearwater motoring through at close range.

With the wind showing no sign of abating, quite the opposite, I decided against camping and stayed very close to the Bluff ferry terminal, hopefully my ferry to Stewart Island wouldn't be cancelled next morning!
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Old Thursday 14th May 2020, 19:24   #68
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28 December. Stewart Island & Ulva Island.

Given the state of the sea, I was pretty impressed that the ferry was running – this was no large boat, but a small catamaran! But gee, it was a memorable crossing! Had hoped for high winds to bring birds into the Foveaux Strait, but this was really over the top …with waves crashing right over the stern and the boat plunging and rocking, I simply couldn't use binoculars for the first 20 minutes or so, rather frustrating as heaps of birds were battling the sea! About half way across, now slightly sheltered by Stewart Island, it was just about possible to use binoculars by bracing against metal uprights ...and fantastic it was, thousands of Sooty Shearwater effortlessly cutting over the waves and a good bunch of albatrosses likewise looking quite at home (at least 40 White-capped Albatrosses, a single Salvin's Albatross and my only Black-browed Albatross of the trip). Though conditions left many birds unidentified, there were no problems with Common Diving Petrels - wonderful birds, like little humbugs whirring through the great troughs, an absolute minimum of 18 seen. Also three White-chinned Petrels, one Cook's Petrel and, highlight of the crossing, one superb Mottled Petrel right adjacent to the ferry.

Arriving on Stewart Island, a considerable number of passengers looked none too well, but I was well-chuffed. Ever the glutton for punishment, I decided to immediately take a water taxi across to Ulva Island, another very bumpy crossing, albeit a mere 15 minutes.

And so it was, I was now on Ulva Island, quite possibly the single best birding locality in New Zealand in terms of native land species. South Island Robins hopping around my feet, flightless Weka equally tame, flocks of mixed Red-crowned and Yellow-crowned Parakeets, four noisy Kaka ...and this was just the first quarter hour or so! Spent about five hours on the island and it truly was a most enjoyable experience - in dense forest draped in mosses and enhanced by enormous ferns, it was non-stop excellent birds, South Island Robins alone numbered at least 35, while the two parakeets topped minimums of 40 and 10 for Red-crowned and Yellow-crowned respectively. Continuing, it was top quality birds everywhere - flocks of Yellowheads and New Zealand Brown Creepers, several South Island Saddlebacks, a few South Island Tomtits, one Rifleman and, among the more common birds, plenty of Tui, New Zealand Fantails and New Zealand Pigeons.

A pause on a beach not bad too - as well as two inquisitive Weka and a male Tomtit at the beach edge, also had a pair of Variable Oystercatchers with a chick, one Little Blue Penguin offshore and, on the non-bird front, one very impressive New Zealand Sea Lion dominating the sands!

Crossed back to Stewart Island late afternoon, an impressive number of White-capped Albatrosses as I did so. On Stewart Island, having checked into my accommodation, I was now turning my thoughts to evening activities - the hope being my third kiwi species of the trip, Southern Brown Kiwi. At sunset approached, I started off with a quick visit to the town wharf, where Little Blue Penguins promptly performed, clambering up boulders to nests in crannies right adjacent to the jetty. From then on however, things went rather downhill - from darkness at about 10 pm till long into the early hours, I wandered the hinterland of Oban in search of my target. Heard a presumed individual rustling in the undergrowth along Hicks Road, saw both introduced Wild Boar and White-tailed Deer, even had a friendly encounter with the local police at 1.00 am on a lonely road far from town, but as for a kiwi sighting, not even a glimpse! Finally gave up at 2.00 am, returned to my accommodation, zero Southern Brown Kiwi.
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Old Thursday 14th May 2020, 19:25   #69
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An idea of the ferry - THIS LINK was a relatively calm patch, for the first ten seconds of the video :)
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Old Thursday 14th May 2020, 19:29   #70
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Ulva Island:
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Old Thursday 14th May 2020, 20:25   #71
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An idea of the ferry - THIS LINK was a relatively calm patch, for the frst ten seconds of the video :)
Quite a ride!!
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Old Monday 18th May 2020, 20:17   #72
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29 December. Stewart Island.

Mist and gloom for much of the morning, clearing only in the afternoon. No big deal however, today was really planned as a day of relative leisure before heading out after dark again. Did take a long walk out to Ackers Point, partly to see if any seabirds offshore (highlights a Grey-faced Petrel and a Common Diving Petrel), partly also to recce for my night wanderings, then also walked to Horseshoe Point (pleasant scenery, ten Kaka, two Yellow-crowned Parakeets, several New Zealand Bellbirds, etc). One New Zealand Falcon also seen, flying across the main bay in Oban.

An easy day over, so evening arrived, time for attempt number two on Southern Brown Kiwi. Was determined to have better luck this evening, so started with a 4km walk from Oban town out to Ackers Point. Masses of Sooty Shearwaters offshore and as darkness fell, so they came ashore, the tip of Ackers Point an active breeding colony ... truly remarkable to have Sooty Shearwaters flopping through the tree canopy and crashing onto the ground, the eerie wailing of many more birds emanating from slopes all around. A bit noisy to hear kiwis here, so I slowly wandered the coastal path a few kilometres to Golden Bay, fantastic habitat all the way. Several Little Blue Penguins wandering through the woodland, but not a squeak of a kiwi. Checked the golf course, nothing. Checked trails beyond Golden Bay, classic kiwi habitat, but also nothing. It was now approaching 1.00 am and a sense of dιjΰ vu was setting in, a repeat of the night before!

Checked the town's rugby field and the forest trails beyond, nothing. Oh groan, I wandered roads west of Oban, 2.00 am came and went. I decided to check one last area, the road up towards the airfield, got a fair way up and nothing, but then a loud characteristic screech - a Southern Brown Kiwi in dense cover right next to the road, three metres distant at most. But invisible! I waited patiently, fully expecting the bird to emerge to feed on the grassy road verge, but I could clearly hear it trudging the opposite direction! And so went my closest encounter with my bird.

That was quite enough for me, I decided it was time to call it quits, turned and started back to my accommodation ...but there, a mere few metres back, bold as brass, one fantastic Southern Brown Kiwi feeding out in the open on a garden lawn!!! It was now 2.45 am, I finally had my reward after two nights of searching - and an amazing reward it turned out to be, it simply wandered around at a distance of just a couple of metres, first on the lawn, then shuffling around at the base of a hedge. Best views I would get of any of New Zealand's kiwis!

I left the bird after 3.00 am, very pleased indeed. Back to accommodation I went, sleep well deserved.
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Old Monday 18th May 2020, 20:19   #73
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2.45 am bird!
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Old Tuesday 19th May 2020, 07:58   #74
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Awesome! So it's a lawn bird?
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Old Tuesday 19th May 2020, 15:58   #75
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It looks like some creature out of Fantastic Beasts!
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