Life and death by the coast
Oh dear - six months since my last update, I guess that's why I don't do Facebook, blogs, or Twitter. A hugely entertaining and dedicated blogger is my good mate, Pete Moore - his blog is well worth a read.
But back to my latest news. Just after Christmas I left Stewart Island to lead another 21-day birdwatching tour for Wrybill Birding Tours. It normally takes three days to get from Stewart Island to Auckland as I fly to Christchurch and then drive to Auckland for the start of the tour. I usually try to fit in a bit of birdwatching along the way - past successes have included Hoary-headed Grebes, Australian Wood Duck, Oriental Plover and Brown Booby. This time there were a few rarities dotted around the North and South Islands but twitching requires time and luck and I ran out of both. Even with the help of Stevie Wood we couldn't find the Asiatic Dowitcher that had been seen in Motueka. Next stop, Bay of Plenty for a Laughing Gull, except it wasn't very plentiful for me. This American vagrant had been hanging around two or three sites for a couple of weeks since Christmas. I must have seen every Red-billed Gull and Kelp Gull in the vicinity as they feasted on my bready offerings, but no joy. My final rarity search was at Muriwai Gannet Colony. I arrived at 6.10pm and by 6.25pm I was watching New Zealand's first mainland record and second ever record of a Red-footed Booby which did a flyover and landed on a branch in front of me. One out of three rarities was not a great strike rate and needless to say, two days later the Dowitcher and the Gull were reported at the sites I'd been searching. We had a multi-national group of clients on the Wrybill tour; three Germans, two Dutch, two Americans and one French-Philippino. Overall we didn't have the best weather but the birds more than made up for it and on Tiritiri Matangi we had the best views of Little Spotted Kiwi I've ever seen. Awesome looks at Pycroft's Petrel and further down the North Island a showy Long-tailed Cuckoo, Blue Ducks and Australasian Bittern, never a sure thing. On the South Island we struck a bit of luck with Orange-fronted Parakeet and King Shag. We had to miss out Kaikoura on our pre-Christmas Wrybill tour due to the November earthquake, so there is now an 8 hour detour to get there. It's well worth it though as the Kaikoura pelagic delivered six albatrosses and great views of Hector's and Dusky Dolphins. The bonus bird of the trip was an Erect-crested Penguin on Kaikoura Peninsula, unfortunately not looking its best as it was moulting, but another New Zealand tick for me. Into the Southern Alps with Kea for company and onto the West Coast where we were given the runaround by Okarito Kiwi in the rain. Down to the mountains to find the charismatic Rock Wren, always a firm favourite, and then to the deep south. A couple of nights on home turf for me, it was a successful trip to Stewart Island for Ulva Island endemics, pelagic and kiwi spotting. Northwards for Yellow-eyed Penguins, into the centre of the South Island and crossing creeks for awesome views of the classy Black Stilt. We finished the tour on 150 species - read the full trip report on the Wrybill website
In summer we have a busy work schedule but we always try to fit in a couple of walks with Nonu, our border collie, every day. Horseshoe Beach is the favourite and one day we bumped into a pair of White-tail Deer fawns that seemed oblivious to our presence and allowed me to get a photo. During another dog walk on the beach we came across a Snares Crested Penguin that had just arrived on shore to moult.
As a puppy if Nonu showed any interest in gulls or terns he got reprimanded and now he totally ignores them as well as any oystercatchers and Paradise Shelducks he might come across on the beach. So when we saw the penguin coming ashore, Nonu totally ignored it. Unfortunately the penguin didn't choose a great place to moult. It's a stressful time for these birds who can be ashore for 4-6 weeks, no food, no waterproof feathers, and not in their natural environment. So it was sad to find him dead one morning. The second series of "Coast New Zealand" hosted by Neil Oliver included an episode on Stewart Island and Nonu was invited to feature in it. Dogs on Stewart Island are encouraged to undergo kiwi avoidance training to help reduce the number of birds that are killed by dogs - fortunately a very rare occurrence. Even though Nonu is very good around all birds, we still take him along to reinforce the message. The Coast team wanted to film Nonu getting a short zap from the electric collar used in the training but unfortunately the cameraman missed it and there was no way Nonu was going in for a second sniff! However he had a few seconds of fame following Neil Oliver through the bush and the Stewart Island episode was aired in May. When you see the place you live on the big screen it makes you realise how very fortunate you are to be in this part of the world. Throughout the summer, guiding on Ulva Island continued at a pace with some mega daytime encounters of kiwi, both males and females, that seemed oblivious to us watching them. Autumn seems to bring VIPs to Stewart and Ulva Islands and as Chairman of the Ulva Island Charitable Trust I am often invited to meet them to talk about the work the Trust does. In the past H.R.H. Prince Harry, John Key the then New Zealand Prime Minister, and Bill Oddie O.B.E. have joined us on Ulva Island for informal chats about conservation. This year Australian Governor-General Sir Peter Cosgrove included Ulva Island in his state visit to New Zealand, with his wife Lady Cosgrove. During winter there is less guiding work but I still visit Ulva Island for pleasure and was there recently to install two "Weta Hotels". Wetas are small endemic flightless crickets often seen on Ulva Island - in the bill of a Robin or Saddleback, about to be devoured! The Ulva Island Charitable Trust had two boxes made to encourage native wetas inside and the "hotels" have perspex fronts so that visitors can see them alive and active.
Unfortunately not so alive and active was a recent find on Horseshoe Beach during a dog walk. After a strong north easterly storm we came across a pair of legs sticking up out of the kelp. My first Glossy Ibis on Stewart Island was not in the best shape. Glossy Ibis' are a recent arrival and coloniser in New Zealand with two or three pairs now breeding in this country. However, this one was dead. I took a photo for the records, as it's still a rare bird sighting and completed a U.B.R (unusual bird report) for the OSNZ Ornithological Society of New Zealand. I've done a few of these reports in the past; White-naped Petrel, Nankeen Kestrel, Black-faced Cuckoo Shrike and Far Eastern Curlew, but they've all been alive! It normally takes a few weeks to hear from the panel as to whether the bird sighting has been accepted, but I'm fairly confident about this one! Here's hoping I'm a bit more proactive for the next instalment of latest news and that it's a quarterly edition rather than bi-annual.