Deep south to the far north
A house move in February (during the height of the guiding season) was a bit challenging but the new garden list started off very well with a Kaka following us from the old house to the new, plus the addition of a family of Weka with three chicks. The adult female had a broken lower mandible but she seemed to be doing a good job bringing up the chicks and they were very trusting, allowing us to get quite close for photographs instead of unpacking boxes that we were meant to be doing.
The beginning of March saw me leave Stewart Island for the far north to Three Kings for a four-day pelagic run by Brent and Sav of Wrybill Tours.
During my travels north I got an email from a mate back in the UK to tell me that Ray Turley had passed away in India. Ray was a cornerstone of the early twitching scene in the UK and in latter years had become a familiar face at Dungeness. His sea-watching skills were second to none and he was the sort of guy who was willing to share his knowledge and passion. I think anyone that crossed his path could only be impressed. I didn't know Ray particularly well but when I saw him last August we watched a flock of Glossy Ibises at Denge Marsh he said to me, "I haven't seen you down here for a while." I replied that I'd been living in New Zealand for a few years and we laughed as he'd thought he'd seen me only a couple of months ago. Such is the passing of time in birdwatching years compared to normal years! It was a great day that day at Dungeness - I jumped in Ray's car because a Hoopoe had been found on the beach and I left Ray stalking some Lapland Buntings that he was determined to get on film. The world's a sadder place without him in it.
The Three Kings Pelagic is THE best pelagic I've ever been on. Eight guys on a small boat in the middle of the ocean may not be everyone's idea of fun but if you're into your pelagic birds this was the muts nuts. Great birds just kept coming and to be honest I can't remember the order they arrived but every day brought a new bird. Kermadec Petrels, White Terns, Grey Ternlets, twenty-plus Long-tailed Skuas and New Zealand Storm Petrels.
The cameras were running hot and you found yourself running to the opposite side of the boat as something else great had been spotted such as White-naped Petrels, Black-winged Petrels, Wedge-tailed Shearwaters and Grey-faced Petrels. As well as the birds we saw a huge pod of 100-plus Short-beaked Common Dolphins that played at the bow of the boat; three Bryde's Whales and while chumming a Shortfin Mako Shark made an appearance in the clear blue water.
The birds kept coming though and a single Sooty Tern was spotted along with a Gould's Petrel. Highlights have to be a Tahiti Petrel, probably the first living bird seen in New Zealand waters, along with a Collared Petrel, another first for New Zealand not forgetting the Flesh-footed Shearwaters and Black Petrels putting your head in a bit of a spin. Thanks to Tank, skipper of the vessel Demelza, Brent and Sav for organising the trip, and the great company of Steve, Igor, Ian and Detlef.
Back home on Stewart Island after a morning's guiding I'd just sat down with a cup of coffee when I got a text from a friend to say that she had a juvenile kiwi in her back garden and did I want to come round?! All the kiwis I've seen in the bush and Ulva Island when I've never had my camera, so I wasn't going to let this opportunity slip by. This was the nearest thing to a full scale twitch on Stewart Island so I threw my camera bag (and Jules!) in the back of the truck and we whizzed round to Sandy's house. Sure enough at 4 o'clock in the afternoon was a juvenile kiwi fast asleep on Sandy's lawn. We sat about twenty metres away and the bird was very relaxed and had a wander around, feeding inbetween kiwi naps. Sandy said she'd heard the parents calling in previous weeks and we were lucky to have spent a couple of hours in its company. Unbelieveable - only on Stewart Island!
Since that day, it hasn't been seen since.
April 7th saw probably the last pelagic of the season with Aurora Charters. I was just along for the ride as the boat had been chartered by Wrybill Tours doing a short southern New Zealand tour. As we jumped on the boat, the discussion between myself, Ty the skipper and Brent turned to what birds we were likely to see. It was blowing about 20 knots and there was a good 2-3 metre swell so I said we were likely to see White-headed Petrel as I'd seen them in previous Aprils from the ferry. Brent said we'd find a Great Shearwater, a bird that breeds in a completely different sea. The nearest population breeds on South Georgia near the Falkland Islands but one or two had been seen around New Zealand in the last week or so.
We arrived at Wreck Reef with the usual suspects immediately on view: Royal Albatross, White-capped and Buller's Albatrosses. The first good bird was a Broad-billed Prion and shortly afterwards a White-headed Petrel came into view and then another one appeared. Northern Giant Petrels and Southern Giant Petrels were in attendance and a brief view of a Sub-Antarctic Little Shearwater kept the momentum going until Brent shouted, "What's this? It's a f*cking Great Shearwater". I got onto the bird and couldn't believe it, it was a Great Shearwater. Probably less than ten records of these birds in New Zealand and probably half of those records this year. The bird circled around the boat, landed on the water and did a few close fly bys allowing us to get some photos. Quite unbelieveable. Brent at this stage lost all composure, shouting and screaming about his find! A great way to end the season. On the way back we picked up another two White-headed Petrels and even though it was 4 White-headed Petrels to 1 Great Shearwater, I think Brent still trumps me.
As we enter May, guiding has pretty much dried up and I've been fortunate to get a few days' work for SIRCET doing bird call counts at Ryan's Creek and Ackers Point here on Stewart Island. Effectively it involves walking to designated spots on a map, standing for five minutes and collecting data on all endemic and native birds you hear and see. Some of the points take you off the walking tracks and deep into the bush but the weather has been kind and I've got to see some parts of the island I haven't seen in a while.