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30 on the 1st

When I lived in the UK, it would be usual to start the birding new year off with a big day. As I lived in Kent, this would normally involve starting at one of Kent's hot spots - Dungeness, Isle of Sheppey, or Oare Marshes - trying to see as many species as possible.  

As it was winter, we would hope to see over-wintering species such ducks, swans and geese, maybe a beautiful drake Smew, Goldeneye, Goosander, Tundra Bean Goose, Whooper and Bewick Swans.  And we might spend the final hours of daylight at Harty Marshes looking for raptors and owls; the sought after Rough-legged Buzzard, Hen and Marsh Harriers, and maybe Merlin, Peregrine, Short-eared Owl, Barn Owl or even find a Long-eared Owl roost.

Northern Lapwing - Vanellus vanellus

Then there's the waders.  European Golden Plovers, Grey Plovers, Lapwings and Redshanks.  If we were near the coast we'd raise our bins onto Purple Sandpipers.  Bushes and hedgerows might hold Tree Sparrows, a stunning Firecrest or even a Blackcap.  Frozen ditches might reveal Kingfishers and Water Rails!


I say we, because most of my birding in the UK was spent with my good mate Pete Moore - his blog is a brilliant read!

Common Kingfisher

I remember once leaving Kent on a 1st January "big day" birding and ended up twitching a Ross's Gull in Suffolk - and we did manage to catch up with this mega vagrant.  On those big days we would see 60+ species.


But now living on Stewart Island, the first day of the year is at the height of summer and smack in the middle of my busiest time of year.  Plus New Zealand does not have as many birds as the UK, especially here on Stewart Island, so I've never really bothered to do a January big day.  But this year, I thought I would keep a record - but without trying too hard - and fit it in around my normal day.  As it happened I had a day off from work on 1st January so the alarm woke me at 7am and the first bird was a singing Tui.  I opened the curtains downstairs the first bird I saw in 2019 flew towards me and landed on the deck; fittingly it was a Kaka, quickly followed by a Red-crowned Kakariki over the house, then an NZ Pigeon and Tui.

Kaka at Stewart Island

As it was a day off for me, I went to Ulva Island!  One of my roles as chairman of the Ulva Island Charitable Trust means I collect funds from the donation boxes.  While I was there I also relocated one the Weta "hotels" that the Trust is responsible for.  I didn't have much time so there wasn't much bird watching to be done but as I waited at Golden Bay Wharf I found Sacred Kingfisher and on Ulva Island I saw Yellowhead, Stewart Island Robin, Stewart Island Weka, Brown Creeper and South Island Tomtit.  On the water taxi between Ulva Island and Stewart Island I noticed a Little Blue Penguin swimming just off shore and on my way home for lunch I passed a Variable Oystercatcher and Paradise Shelduck feeding the beach.


An afternoon dog walk at Horseshoe Beach added White-capped Albatross, Spotted Shag and White-fronted Tern to my list and then I got a text asking if I could work that night as a guide for kiwi spotting …


At 11.45pm I found Stewart Island Brown Kiwi for my clients - and it was species number 30 for my "big day" list!  Just after midnight we got another three kiwis including two of this year's chicks.


Not my biggest ever total to start a year but in the UK I never saw albatross, penguin and parrots on my first day. Horses for courses!

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