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New Zealand: Oct 22 - Nov 3 (1 Viewer)

Tri-Counties Birder

AKA The Portland Naturalist
This was not purely a birding trip (I was visiting my dad), and my travel was limited, as I was depending on my (non-birding) dad for transport. Any of the rarer species were a bonus.

22/10: Touched down at Auckland airport, and on the short walk to the domestic terminal, I saw House Sparrow, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, and Starling. Once landed in Queenstown, Yellowhammer were immediately obvious on the grassy runway aprons. After an emotional meeting with my dad, we drove to his house in Wanaka. I kept my bins on in the car, and soon added Blackbird, Song Thrush and Mallard. Rather depressing that all the birds above are among the commonest birds here! A few Oystercatchers were also spotted. After several probable views of birds of a more Australasian feel, I spotted a Swallow over a river, certainly a Welcome Swallow, and then best of all, my first Australasian (Swamp) Harrier dived down into the roadside bush from up high. The house was in a great location right next to Lake Wanaka, and I couldn't wait to check it out tomorrow.

23/10: The first thing I did when I got up was go out onto the balcony to see what was in the garden. On top of the boring trip ticks of Redpoll, Dunnock, and Chaffinch, several Silvereye trilled about their business, a pair of Paradise Shelduck flew over (my first endemic!), several distant Black-backed (Kelp) Gull flew over the lake, and a noisy Spur-winged Plover was on a garden over the road. Some much better views of Welcome Swallow were also obtained. The plan for the day was to drive up to Haast on the west coast and stay a couple of nights there. From the car, I noticed some New Zealand Scaup by the tiny marina of Lake Wanaka, a few Australian Magpie on farmland, and a single Cormorant (or Black Shag as they call them here), on the way through amazing scenery. We stopped for a short while at Makarora, where there was a lovely DOC (Department Of Conservation) walk through the native woodland by a campsite. I had not properly 'genned up' on NZ bird calls, so this woods' soundscape was rather overwhelming! Luckily, Bellbird, Grey Warbler, and the beautiful Tui all showed themselves well. I also got very brief views of New Zealand Pigeon and a Fantail. One or two (aptly named!) New Zealand Red Admiral butterfly were flying in the sunshine. As we returned to the car, I noticed a racket going on overhead. I looked up to see two raptors having an argument. At first I thought it was two Australasian Harrier, but then I noticed one was smaller, a New Zealand Falcon! It went on to show wonderfully, circling over the forest. I've been proper birding in NZ for a couple of hours, and I've already seen this difficult to find species! After settling in to the accommodation in Haast, we went to the nearby Monro Beach for the evening, which my site-guide suggested was good for Penguins. As soon as we got to the car park, I noticed a Tomtit on a fence. It had gone by the time I got out the car, and this would end up being my only view of this apparently common species. On the walk through the native bush, better views were obtained of NZ Pigeon. As soon as I started scanning the sea on reaching the beach, I noticed distant Albatross. After slightly closer views, and a lot of consulting the field guide (Robertson, Heather, and Onley - Hand guide to the birds of New Zealand [recommended]) I came to the conclusion that they were Shy Albatross (of the subspecies White-capped). An ID that was later confirmed by a DOC ranger. Also offshore were loads of Sooty Shearwater, Red-billed Gull, and several White-fronted Terns. A single close Australasian Gannet scythed by. Suddenly, I noticed something bobbing in the substantial waves. It made landfall further down the beach, a Fiordland Crested Penguin! Another two followed before dusk. I escaped the tenacious Sandflies rather well I thought!

24/10: Today, I was due to go out with a DOC ranger onto their Haast Kiwi reserve as a volunteer. Sadly, despite early suggestions to the contrary, this would not be a day of Kiwi egg removal, or in fact anything to do with contact with the birds. It turned out to be a day of checking Stoat traps. Not quite what I had in mind. In fact it actually turned out rather a disgusting task which included the removal of long-dead rats. On top of that, I didn't see any new birds in the reserve itself, despite its promising-looking quality. The mass of Lichens, Mosses, and Ferns were quite spectacular. Around the visitor centre, and on the drive to the Kiwi reserve, I did have some great sightings, including loads of Purple Gallinule (called Pukeko here), briefly fly-past Variable Oystercatcher, Grey Duck, and White-faced Heron, and a fantastic New Zealand (Sacred) Kingfisher on overhead wires. Seemed to me to be holding the niche more like a Shrike than a Kingfisher. Skylark was added to the trip list. Both Grey Warbler and Fantail responded well to 'pishing', and the perky Fantail emerged as my favourite bird so far.

25/10: This was just a day of travel back from Haast, and a little bit of birding near the house in Wanaka. The only species added was two Great Crested Grebe (of the Australasian subspecies) on Lake Wanaka.

26/10: Another day spent around Lake Wanaka, but this time I took a proper walk along the shore. I quickly spotted Grey Teal and Black-billed Gull on the lake, and I got much better views of the NZ Scaup. Little Pied Cormorant were obvious near the town, and the birds drying their wings on jetties allowed a close approach. I also came across a family of Paradise Shelduck on a small beach. The Black-billed Gull in the town were also very confiding. The final 'tick' was a pair of charming California Quail in the garden. Several of New Zealand’s smallest and commonest butterfly, the Boulder Copper, were seen on the shoreline.

27/10: Today we went on a proper birding trip, to Dunedin to stay on the Otago Peninsula for three nights. My non-birding dad made the fantastic choice to stay in a ‘bach’ (pronounced ‘batch’ - a traditional Kiwi small wooden lodge building) right on the shoreline of Cape Saunders. On the journey down, I added the uninspiring Canada Goose, Feral Pigeon, Greylag Goose, and Black Swan to the trip list. I didn’t have time to take a proper look from the bachs’ balcony, but just the short car journey form the main peninsula onto Cape Saunders, overlooking Papanui Inlet, produced better views of White-faced Heron and Variable Oystercatcher. The best birds however were several Royal Spoonbill.

28/10: I woke up and immediately looked out the bach to see what was out on the inlet. A large flock of waders turned out to be Bar-tailed Godwit, and every time I saw them well I checked for anything amongst them, to no avail. It was great to get excellent views of White-faced Heron, Little Pied Cormorant, and Royal Spoonbill, which roosted on a fallen tree, just down the rocky beach from the bach. The main event of the day was the one hour Monarch cruise round Taiaroa Head. We were booked on the first trip of the day. Before we even set off, I noticed both Spotted, and the rare Stewart Island Shag feeding close by. We went on to see loads nesting on the cliffs. I was rather surprised to find that the large raft of dark birds on the water at the mouth of Otago harbour, were all Sooty Shearwater. They are ridiculously common offshore! We came across several NZ Fur-seal sitting on the rocks, and then a gigantic NZ Sea-lion on a beach. Moving further out, we finally spotted something different amongst the Shearwater, a Cape Petrel, and then a single Northern Giant Petrel lumbered by. Just before we headed back, we had an incredibly lucky encounter with a small pod of Hector’s Dolphin, the rarest marine cetacean in the world, and we were assured an unusual sighting on the trip. It wasn’t till the return journey that I found the famous Royal Albatross sitting on the grassy cliff at Taiaroa Head, but there they stayed. When we got back, the bird guide told us that because we didn’t see any Albatross in flight, we would get a free trip! Bonus! I booked myself on the last trip tomorrow afternoon (we were told this was a better time for seeing flying Albatross, due to increased wind-speeds). I then took a short look at Allen’s Beach, but the only notable sighting was a few Pied Stilt on the marsh nearby. The day wasn’t over, as I was booked on the afternoon guided trip to Penguin Place, near to Taiaroa Head. It was fantastic to see a Yellow-eyed Penguin come in off the sea, and waddle up the beach into the dunes. We went on to get really good views of nesting Yellow-eyes, as well as some Little Blue Penguin chicks and adults in their gloomy nest boxes. The only comment I would make about this trip, is that what with the network of hides and tunnels covered with camouflage netting, and the recently dug out ponds, as well as the nest boxes, it all felt very artificial. The fact that the Penguins all had names didn’t help. It felt like I was looking at them in a zoo. In hindsight, I would have greatly preferred the more natural setting, cheaper, and greater challenge, of seeing them at one of their other nest sites (e.g. Sandfly Bay). Nonetheless, a wonderful day!

29/10: This morning, I went out with the owner of our bach, who just so happened to be a birder, and a top man! He showed me some of the more hidden birding spots, and these included brilliant views of NZ Kingfisher, and my first Australasian Shoveler on the Allen’s Beach marsh. We disturbed an Australasian Harrier as it took a Pukeko chick. The most important excursion though was to Sandymount, where he showed me a patch of native bush, that apparently had Brown Creeper and Rifleman. We stayed for ages, but only heard a few brief calls from the Rifleman. After he took me back to the bach, I went back out there in order to give the birds some more time. I spent two hours in that young woodland, occasionally hearing the very high-pitched squeaking call of the Rifleman, not once seeing one! Luckily, half-way through my vigil, I heard the distinctive song of a Shining Cuckoo (having now familiarised myself with some NZ bird calls on the internet). I scanned the distant pines, and amazingly, I found the bird, with its iridescent green back in the sunshine. They are supposed to be common, but I was not expecting to see one at all. A great bonus. I went on my free trip around Taiaroa Head in the afternoon. This time, I was relieved to see the magnificent flight of three Royal Albatross around their cliffs, as well as a single bird out at sea. A bonus near the shoreline was a small flotilla of Little Blue Penguin. A much more satisfying sighting than yesterday. These were the only species seen that was different from yesterdays trip, but the flying Albatross were an outstanding highlight. Despite the great birds, I can't help but be a little disappointed with the lack of pelagic seabirds (there are several petrel and shearwater species, as well as other Albatross, that are listed as 'common' offshore). Perhaps the weather was against us.

30/10: Apart from all the usual brilliant birds on Papanui Inlet, today’s highlight on the journey back to Wanaka, was a stop-off at Sinclair Wetlands near Dunedin. My site-guide suggested this is the place to see Spotless Crake, Australasian Bittern, and Fernbird. I pretty much expected not to see the first two, but I was hopeful on the endemic passerine. The huge expanse of marsh was very impressive, but the small areas of pools had surprisingly little on them. Just a few NZ Scaup and Canada Goose. Several times, I heard the distinctive ‘chik’ of the Fernbird, but just like the Rifleman, they managed to somehow slip away. I even heard the males ‘dripping tap-like’ call, replied to by the female, but still no sightings. A shame that, but not altogether surprising. A few Common Tussock butterflies were seen here.

31/10 - 2/11: The next few days were just spent around Wanaka, and its usual species. I had a great disappointment, when the weather thwarted our attempts to take a trip into the mountains, where I would have seen Kea at the least. So, nothing new added. I visited 'Puzzling World', which was interesting (thanks Ads)!

3/11: On my journey home to blighty, I had some lucky sightings. I got a brief glimpse of a Black-fronted Tern on a river just outside Queenstown on the car journey to the airport. And, at Auckland airport I spotted a few Pied Cormorant flying over. I finished on 64 species. I amazingly got my Hong Kong list up to six whilst on transit at the airport!

All in all, it was an amazing trip, personally speaking, as well as for wildlife and the inevitable scenery. In the future though, I am definitely going to hire a car rather than depend on my non-birding dad for travel. I’ve saved plenty for my future trip (hopefully sooner rather than later), with Kaikoura, Twizel/Mount Cook, and one of the offshore island reserves (Tiritiri/Little Barrier Island/Ulva) at the top of my list. My favourite birds for the trip: Tui, Fantail, Royal Albatross.

I took loads of footage (birds and landscapes), and once edited, I'll post a link to the final videos here.
 
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dandsblair

David and Sarah
Supporter
Good memories

Sean

Brings back good memories. We also did some checking of traps (on Stewart Island) but fortunately they were all empty. Hence lots of Kiwi and Waka around

On your places to do ( we managed to visit them all on a 4 week trip) but if you have to chose then I would rate them 1) Stewart Island / Ulva Island should get to see Brown Kiwi particularly if you do night boat trip and quite a few other endemics we only saw here, 2) Kaikoura - best short pelagic we have ever done 3) Tiri Tiri - great birds (although does seem a little tame particularly the Takahe) 4) Twizel Mount Cook only trip bird was Black Stilt (KAKi) although great scenery
 

Surreybirder

Ken Noble
Good report, Sean.
I visited NZ in 1987. I was there for about three months but birding was limited. The best experience was the ferry between North and South Island after a storm - large flocks of shearwaters, petrels, diving-petrels etc. and dozens of albatrosses, including wandering. If only I had been better at identifying them! I didn't have a very good fieldguide at the time. It was before giant petrel had been split, and I don't know which I saw - probably both.
Ken
 
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