Ending the year with a mega!
The older you get the faster time seems to go.
The weather over Christmas was a bit changeable but November and December have been incredibly warm months on Stewart Island and much of the rest of New Zealand. It seems set to continue for the New Year.
Back in November I headed off to lead another 21-day Wrybill Birding Tour, but decided to leave Stewart Island a day earlier than usual as the weather forecast wasn't great. Connections with the Stewart Island ferry and the Air New Zealand Christchurch flight are tight and I couldn't afford to miss it.
As mentioned in previous news, this Wrybill trip was slightly different as Neil Robertson was joining the tour to learn the ropes, so Neil and I met in Invercargill the afternoon before our flight to Christchurch, which turned out to be highly fortuitous. I happened to be looking at the New Zealand Birding Forum before going to bed that night, and saw the headline "Black-tailed Native Hen in Southland". A local dairy farmer had discovered an unusual looking bird on her farm and had put it in on the interwebs to see if anyone could ID it. A birder from the North Island had identified it and put it on the Birding Network forum.
It was 10.30pm. I decided to text Neil who was in the next hotel room. Should we consider a mad twitch before our 9.30am flight the next morning? Of course we should! 6am the next morning we were dodging piles of cow shit as milking was in full swing at the site where the bird was reported. The farmer said she hadn't seen the bird for a few days but was happy for us to look and told us where she'd last seen it. It didn't take long before we were confronted by a New Zealand tick and lifer for us both - there was the Black-tailed Native Hen. Less than 7 records in New Zealand of this nomadic Australian species and the last sighting was over 10 years ago. Neil got some good video footage and I got some still shots as it fed in the paddock. We thanked the farmer and promised to put her name on the rare bird report. As both ex-pats and both from Kent, it's funny that Neil and I had never met in the UK nor had ever birded together, but we got this lifer together.
We made it to the airport in time for our flight to Christchurch, phew! Freakishly and unfathomably we were the last two, and only birders, to witness this bird. Two birders from Southland visited the site in the afternoon and didn't see it. Subsequently the bird has never been seen again. Definitely a mega to add to my NZ list!
Back to the Wrybill Tour, which was blessed with good weather the whole time. I think we only wore raincoats once in three weeks. All endemic species that we had the opportunity of going for were seen, but we didn't come away with a large total for the trip. As Sav commented, we were lacking "stocking fillers"! No Little Owl, Laughing Kookaburra, Pectoral and Marsh Sandpipers, Rook, or Cape Barren Goose. On the plus side, we had great views of New Zealand Storm Petrel, Australasian Bittern, New Zealand Falcon, Royal Spoonbill, Blue Duck with ducklings, Orange-fronted Parakeet, King Shag plus five albatross species and three penguin species. And we saw four kiwi species, and heard Great Spotted Kiwi.
When the Wrybill tour finished I headed straight back home to Stewart Island and straight into guiding on Ulva Island. Remarkably the first bird I encountered was a kiwi while searching for Morepork! I've had another three or four encounters with kiwi on Ulva Island during December. Unfortunately the hot weather dries the ground so much that the kiwi struggle to find food as the ground is so hard.
I've ended 2017 with only 4 new New Zealand ticks: the Red-footed Booby, Erect-crested Penguin, Northern Shoveler and Black-tailed Native Hen. A Stewart Island tick for me was Pomarine Skua which was seen during a late-December Stewart Island pelagic.
In amongst the Christmas post was a parcel from London. My good friend, Gehan de Silva Wijeyaratne has published "A Photographic Field Guide to the Birds of Sri Lanka" which included a dozen of my photos and he sent a few copies of the book to me. It would make a great companion for anyone travelling to this beautiful island and birding in Sri Lanka.
This morning as I did my first dog walk of 2018 I encountered a handful of endemics: Kaka, Pigeon, Tui, Fantail, Tomtit and Variable Oystercatcher.
As we begin our 11th year on Stewart Island let's see what 2018 brings!