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  • Matt

Highs and Lows

Let's start with the lows. I was offered a couple of weeks work on Codfish Island with the Kakapo Recovery Programme but had to turn it down due to other commitments - which eventually fell through, so a double whammy. It's the second time I've had to turn down a trip to Codfish Island, so all in all not good.

The next low was a bit of a body blow. While I was away from Stewart Island two visiting Japanese birders/photographers saw a bird at Traill Park that they couldn't identify. They saw the bird briefly in the morning - and got a couple of photos - but couldn't locate it later that day. To cut a long story short the bird was a Dusky Woodswallow which is a first for New Zealand. One photo shows the bird feeding on a worm; the second photo shows the bird looking very bedraggled with droopy wings. It didn't look particularly healthy and I think when they spotted it, it had just turned up. All species of woodswallow I've seen seem to hunt and feed on the wing so for this Dusky Woodswallow to be feeding on the ground is quite unusual behaviour.

When I got back to the island a couple of days after the initial sighting, I spent the whole day trying to locate the bird but without any joy. It could have moved on but personally I think it may have sadly perished. Bugger! I hate missing out on a bird - especially a first for New Zealand on my local patch. Ouch that hurts!

The smiling assassin - a Leopard Seal at Stewart Island
Leopard Seal, Stewart Island

On to the highs. I made a reconnection with an old acquaintance, Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne. Gehan contacted me out of the blue to ask if he could use a couple of my photos for his latest book on Sri Lankan birds. Jules and myself first met Gehan in 2004 when he was Managing Director of Jetwing Eco Tours in Sri Lanka and we had an amazing month of wildlife watching with them. Gehan is an exceptional photographer and now based in London, having really put Sri Lanka on the map as a wildlife hot spot with leopards, sloth bears, elephants, blue whales and of course the outstanding bird life and friendly people.

Other highs include work moving from neutral to first gear with regular trips to Ulva Island where the Yellowheads and South Island Saddlebacks have shown really well along with the supporting cast of Yellow-crowned Parakeets, Brown Creepers and Robins.

Spring must be in the air as Shining Cuckoo has been singing and seen in the garden and on Ulva Island and a few pairs of Weka already have fluffy chicks demanding food. Yesterday I watched a pair of Paradise Shellducks with ducklings battling the waves at Horseshoe Bay (although normally half the brood succumb to being tasty snacks for the local Kelp Gulls!).

Not to be left out, Halfmoon Bay had a very large bull Hooker's Sealion using the middle of the road as a place to relax. It's the nearest thing we have to a traffic jam on Stewart Island! A couple of days ago near the boat slip a Leopard Seal spent the whole day on the beach. It was quite a small skinny individual but on the whole looked a lot healthier than the leopard seals that usually visit us.

My first kiwi spotting trip of the season was a little slow in the beginning but I found a very confiding female, later joined by her mate who gave us a fine demonstration of his call as we left them to feed.

Broad-billed Prion, Pachyptila vittata
Broad-billed Prion

Our pelagic season has begun with two very successful trips: five albatross species seen including a superb Campbell Island Albatross - definitely one of my favourites!  On both trips we've seen White-faced Storm Petrels, a Short-tailed Shearwater amongst the Sooties, White-chinned Petrels plus a very showy Broad-billed Prion. We can also boast a new bird for the Aurora Charters boat list and for Ty the skipper; a fine looking Westland Petrel. This individual was a bit camera-shy but I'm surprised we've not seen one until now.

This brings our boat list to 63 bird species of which 35 are tube-noses.

The birding season ahead looks very busy - bring it on!

As I write, the wind outside has abated so I'm just going to check how my freshly planted veggies are faring ...



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