As the quieter winter months roll over Rakiura, news dominating Stewart Island is the oil company Greymouth Petroleum drilling an exploration well here and maybe the possibility of a rig out in Foveaux Strait in the future. It seems to have divided the community; we all drive cars, we like to fly to nice destinations for our holidays, but it's concerning when an oil company turns up on the doorstep of a National Park.
At the beginning of winter the Ulva Island Charitable Trust met with DOC to review how the re-eradication of rats had gone. Since the poison drops, no rats have been caught in traps on Ulva Island, nor any rat sign seen. Two rats were however caught in traps on The Neck (the nearest part of Stewart Island to Ulva Island) and on a small islet off of Ulva Island. DNA testing proved that these two rats were not related to the original invasion in December 2010. The conclusion is that Ulva Island is now predator free again and we can work towards keeping it that way for the foreseeable future.
With very little guiding at this time of year I don't go to Ulva Island as much as I do in the height of summer but I spent a whole day there by myself at the end of July. The birds were abundant with nice flocks of Yellowhead and lots of Kaka and Kakariki feeding on Miro fruit. Back on Stewart Island I spent some time down at Mill Creek with a couple of very obliging White-faced Herons.
Birding has been pretty quiet with a couple of exceptions, two of mainland New Zealand's more common birds have made an appearance on Stewart Island. The first was a Pukeko, my second ever on Stewart Island. A pretty common bird in New Zealand and the rest of the world, but notable by their absence down here on Stewart Island. This individual was hanging around the Community Centre and allowed reasonable approach for a couple of photographs. The second bird I was quite eager to get onto my Stewart Island list! A month or so prior someone told me they had seen a New Zealand Falcon here but a quick search proved fruitless.
Paul Jacques told me he'd seen it hanging around Traill Park (the rugby pitch!) even though the weather wasn't right for a raptor. Wet and windy with low cloud cover wasn't ideal but I went up there, spending about 40 minutes in the rain checking everything. The were plenty of Kaka as usual plus a few pigeons passing overhead and one lone South Island Pied Oystercatcher feeding on the rugby pitch. Wiping the rain off my optics sensing a dip, I heard the Oystercatcher alarm call and saw a New Zealand Falcon hard on its tail. The Falcon, a first year dark bird, just missed its quarry and landed in a nearby tree. The local Bellbirds were nervous! I got reasonable views given the atrocious weather but the light wasn't ideal for a decent photo - I was just happy to add another bird to my Stewart Island list.
Falcons are meant to breed on Stewart island but this is the first I've seen. Local DOC staff that have lived here for many years agree that the NZ Falcon is not as regular a visitor as field guides would have you believe. I'm sure if they did breed on Stewart Island the village would be home for them with the number of Kaka and pigeons flying around!