Hoiho, Hoiho, it's off to work we go ...
The first half of 2018 was incredibly busy, albeit slightly different this season as I didn't lead a Wrybill Birding tour during January and February. These months were unusually hot and sunny on Stewart Island which lead to quite a few day time kiwi sightings - the birds, particularly juveniles, struggled with the dry baked ground to forage for food.
Work mostly involved guiding on Ulva Island with the occasional kiwi spotting and pelagic trip but early in February I was invited to assist the Yellow-eyed Penguin Trust with their monitoring program.
The Trust monitors Yellow-eyed Penguin (Hoiho) breeding sites on Stewart Island and Codfish Island to ascertain population of this endangered bird and isolate possible reasons for its decline. With good friend Sandy King, representative of the Yellow-eyed Penguin Trust and advocate for conservation work, we headed out to the Bravo Islands group to search for YEP nest sites. For two days we tackled steep bush and rocky terrain - it was very physical work. Once a nest site was located and YEP chicks found, I was surprised at the speed with which they could run, usually into dense cover. My old rugby playing days came in handy, except that usually the rugby opposition didn't bite, scratch or shit on you when tackled!
The Maori name, Hoiho, translates as "noise shouter" and it's not difficult to understand why! Once the bird is in the hand so to speak, to minimise their stress they were put into a drawstring bag, and for us they were easier to handle, weigh and measure quickly. Sandy also inserted a microchip into the fatty area at the back of the bird's neck before releasing it after a quick health check. Most of the chicks we found were underweight, parents obviously struggling to find enough food.
It was incredibly hard work but also very rewarding to get up close and personal with one of the world's rarest birds.
In mid-February Ulva Island was reported to have a rat incursion. Five rats were found in coastal traps and the Department of Conservation's response was very quick and decisive, after learning a great deal from the 2011 incursion. Multiple man-hours to check rat traps and rodent-detecting dog were used and thankfully the rats did not establish themselves on Ulva Island. DNA analysis of the rats was carried out in the North Island and it was confirmed that the five rats were not related. One female was among the five rats and it was determined that she had not given birth, thankfully.
Ulva Island continues to deliver and is one of the best places in the world to see Mohua (Yellowhead), Tieke (South Island Saddleback).
On the seabird front, 2018 Stewart Island pelagics have regularly produced six albatross species, three penguin species, and two storm petrel species. Other notable birds were a showy White-headed Petrel, Sub-Antarctic Little Shearwater, two Snares Crested Penguin, juvenile Southern Giant Petrel (surprisingly a bird I didn't connect with the previous year), and in amongst the local population of Sooty Shearwaters were Hutton's and Short-tailed Shearwaters. And only my second Westland petrel off Stewart Island.
As we head into the winter months I've encountered birds around the village - at least three New Zealand Pipits, an unusual visitor in the shape of a Pukeko (Swamp Hen), and a single Double-banded Plover at Horseshoe Bay Beach. Winter can bring the occasional visitor from the mainland - at Butterfield Beach I've seen one of the rarest gulls in the world, the Black-billed Gull. These gulls breed inland on braided rivers along with Black Stilt and Wrybill. And thanks to a Eurasian Skylark flying over, I've added a new bird to my garden list.
In April I completed the Five Minute Bird Call Counts for SIRCET (Stewart Island/Rakiura Community & Environment Trust) for the eighth year running and happily the numbers were up on last year's count. I also added a new bird species to the count in the shape of Brown Creeper (Pipipi) when I saw a pair at Acker's Point.
Sadly in May a deceased Yellow-eyed Penguin was found by Sandy King on Ulva Island. Sandy and I returned to Ulva Island with the microchip wand a few days ago to scan the emaciated juvenile bird and found it was one of this years' chicks from the Bravo Islands group.
In other (non-birdy) news, Nonu our Border Collie passed his Kiwi Avoidance Training again and if we come across a kiwi footprint or kiwi feather during one of his favourite bush walks, he does a big swerve around it.
A summertime pop-up art gallery called Art in the Boat Shed was set up on Stewart Island by artist Janet Malloch and I sold four of my framed Albatross photographs. Commission from sales was donated towards building our new museum, the Rakiura Heritage Centre Trust.
At this time of year many tourism operators get the chance to take a holiday themselves and a few days ago I had the pleasure of taking a couple to Ulva Island, who had been working at the Wilderness Lodge Lake Moeraki for the season. On the way to Ulva Island we encountered a pod of Bottlenose Dolphins that jumped alongside the water taxi, we had great views of all the birds, including a large male kiwi feeding beside the path, and also had an encounter with a female sealion pup hiding in the forest.
Sealions are becoming a more common sight and Stewart Island recently became the first mainland breeding colony of New Zealand Sealions as most of the sealions in New Zealand breed south of Stewart Island in the Sub-Antarctic islands.