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  • Matt

Garden Birds

A long gap since my last instalment which is mainly due to being busy at work, leading tours on Ulva Island and deep water pelagics - which is no bad thing as it's traditionally our busiest time of the year.

We've been in our house just over a year now and like most birders I like to keep lists; world, county, year ... and of course a back garden list.  Our tiny little handkerchief-sized garden has produced some really good birds.  In total 30, which may not sound particularly high, but when you take into account 12 of those are endemics, another 14 are natives and the rest are made up of introduced species.  

Kaka in my garden
Kaka in my garden

Kaka are probably the most common endemic in the garden followed by a family of Weka that visit fairly regularly.

As New Zealand goes, to include Tui, Bellbird, Wood Pigeon, Red Crowned Kakariki, Fantail, and Tomtit on your garden list is pretty phenomenal.  One of my garden highlights was in January.  I'd been working on Ulva Island in the morning, and my ears had become accustomed to the background noise of Brown Creeper (if that doesn't sound too blase!).  I got home and opened the back door and started making dinner, and I could still hear the background noise of Brown Creeper ... but hold on, this is my back garden!  So I rushed outside to see a pair of Brown Creeper flicking through the bushes at the back of the garden.  I have seen them on other parts of Stewart Island but never in the township, and certainly not in my garden, so it was a good tick.

Other notable birds seen from, in, and flying over, the garden are Long-tailed and Shining Cuckoo, Cattle Egret, Brown Skua and I've heard Kiwi and Morepork.

February was a particularly good month for the birds as we had two stonking daytime viewings of Kiwi on Ulva Island, one was a male that we watched for 20+ minutes at 10.30 in the morning - at times he was only a couple of metres in front of us, foraging in the undergrowth.

Snares Crested Penguin (Eudyptes robustus)
Snares Crested Penguin

Wildlife is never predictable.  While I was guiding a pelagic for Aurora Charters, where we generally hope to find rare seabirds, to then get a text message from my girlfriend to tell me a rare Snares Crested Penguin had turned up at the main ferry terminal was a bit surreal!  This would have been a lifer for me, so I tried to hurry Ty the skipper into getting back into Halfmoon Bay quicker - for two reasons.  One, to get it on my list, and two, to make sure that I didn't have to put it on Jules' list instead of my own.  (Jules has a very good list, but doesn't know about it and doesn't care!).

Shortly after I'd viewed the bird, the Department of Conservation moved it to a new location for its own safety and wellbeing.  It had picked one of the busiest places on the island to moult, in full view of arriving ferry passengers and some were over eager with their camera lenses.  We saw this bird from a boat about a week later, looking a bit sorry for itself, and there was a report of a second bird which I didn't see.

A weekend trip to Dunedin (via the Catlins) produced another New Zealand tick for me in the shape of an Eastern Curlew, a bird that I had seen in Australia, but it was good to get onto my New Zealand list.  And back to that list thing!

Since the poison drop last year to eradicate the rats that invaded Ulva Island in December 2010, the birds seem to be doing OK.  Robins have bounced back strongly with over 200 chicks fledging on the island this year and also a good number of jackbirds (juvenile Saddleback) still hanging around with their parents.  

The high canopy species such as Brown Creeper, Yellowhead and Kakariki seem to have had no obvious impact but the biggest casualty was unfortunately Weka, down by about 90%.  However, things are looking more positive and most trips recently we have been seeing Weka so they are returning.

We've had run of good fine weather and not much wind, so pelagics have been ticking over.  Most trips we've been able to pick up Mottled Petrel, Cook's Petrel, as well as the regular four species of Albatross.  Good birds of note have been a White-headed Petrel and Wilson's Storm Petrel, which I got some photos of.  When inspecting the photos later I saw that the bird only had one leg.

As the guiding season slows down, a few holes begin to appear in the diary, and one such "hole" was nicely filled watching Paul Hopkins' DVD of his bird watching trip to New Zealand in October/November 2011, which he had kindly sent me. 

As we head into April and Autumn comes to Stewart Island, I am due to begin the 5 minute bird call counts for SIRCET which tracks the number of bird species in two locations here on Stewart Island; one location is actively pest controlled and the other isn't.  Looking forward to getting stuck into that!



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