At this time of year the Pelagic season starts up and Aurora Charters have a new skipper called Ty. He has lots of local knowledge and a fun sense of humour. We've already done a full day trip down to Port Pegasus (the far south of Stewart Island) where Mottled Petrel was seen along with Arctic and Antarctic Tern - probably one of the few places in the world where you'll see these two birds side by side.
Other great birds seen from the Aurora include Cook's Petrel, Buller's Shearwater, White-chinned Petrel, Campbell Island and Black-browed Albatross and last week's highlights were Soft-plumaged Petrel and at least four or five Grey-backed Storm Petrels and a Wilson's Storm Petrel flitting around the boat. Check out the Aurora Charters website for upcoming trips.
Earlier in the month I was invited to a book launch here on Stewart Island. Neville Peat has just released his book in time for Christmas called "Rakiura Heritage" about Stewart Island history and a guide to historic sites. I was going to buy a signed copy at the launch but my money was handed back with a personal note from Neville because I had supplied him with some photos of the local birds for the book!
During December SIRCET asks its volunteers to help with Blue Penguin surveys and Jules and myself were only too glad to assist. It involves walking the path from Ackers Point Lighthouse at 11pm with head torches on and counting the number of Blue Penguins you see for the 30 minute walk back to the car park. We had good views of adult birds coming ashore having spent the day out at sea feeding as well as two very cute fluffy chicks waiting patiently for a feed just off the path. Plenty of rustling in the bushes but we weren't allowed to count those!
That's all my news for 2010. I might grab the camera as there's a Kaka tapping at my window for attention - my most common garden bird, how cool is that?!!
November saw me getting into a bit of a scrap with Sooty Shearwaters! Nothing personal, I was just helping Claire from SIRCET to band them. They do put up a bit of a fight, much to the amusement of the Blue Penguins who sit in the middle of the path just watching the snarling and hissing pillowcase containing a Sooty inside. We spent around three hours catching the birds, weighing them and putting a leg band on their right leg. It's amazing to think these birds were flying off the coast of Alaska or even right around to the UK just a few short months ago.
I'm back on Stewart Island and straight back into guiding. Spring has firmly put her roots down; clear skies, warm sunshine and very little wind to mention. It's a great time to bird watch on Ulva Island as the birds are holding territory and a lot of singing and nest building is taking place - and the bird watchers know this. My first few tours this season were all real serious listers who know exactly what they want to see. Most of these folks were Brits, including one couple from Scotland that I met a couple months earlier at the Birdfair.
We don't often lead one-to-one tours but as the season is building we occasionally make exceptions. Ulva Goodwillie and myself took Sandy, an American birdwatcher, across to Ulva Island with us, and used the trip as a bit of recce to find out what birds were where. Sandy was very laid back and enjoyed viewing flocks of Yellowhead, Brown Creeper and the displaying Saddlebacks. As we found new birds, I picked up on a few things Sandy was saying and asked him his surname. He said, "Komito" and then the penny dropped. Sandy Komito, America's top lister/twitcher from the book "The Big Year" and soon to be made film of the same name. He was a very pleasant guy who said he does not twitch so much these days. A few weeks later Ulva and myself received a parcel from Florida and Sandy had kindly sent both of us a signed copy of his book about the big year, called "I came, I saw, I counted". A pacey good read and if you find it, buy it!
Another trip to Ulva Island produced a daytime sighting of a large female kiwi that stayed with us for around five minutes, which is always such a privilege. On the water taxi crossing to Ulva Island you are pretty much guaranteed to see Blue Penguins but one recent morning there was not a penguin in sight. The answer to this mystery was soon found asleep on Sydney Cove - a moulting Leopard Seal - a penguin's nemesis!
To break up the huge journey from London to Christchurch we decided to have a three night stopover in Singapore. A very modern expanding city, but if you look there are one or two rewarding nature reserves to visit not far from the busy centre.
I spent a day at Sungei Buloh (north of the city) a magnet for waders even though it was not the best of time of year to visit, but I did connect with a few good birds; Marsh Sandpiper, Pacific Golden Plover, Lesser Sand Plover, Curlew Sandpipers, Yellow-rumped Flycatcher, Pink-necked Pigeon and Ashy Tailorbird.
A quick visit to Bukit Timah did not produce a large amount of birds, but the Long-tailed Macaques made up for it and were very photogenic. And I even found time to be tourist and enjoy a Singapore Sling at Raffles.
Returning to Stewart Island was a wee bit colder than Singapore, and it was straight back to work with a few tours on Ulva Island. After a couple weeks at home we were on the road again, with a two week road trip around the South Island. We drove the Catlins route from Invercargill to Dunedin, seeing Yellow-eyed Penguins along the way.
Across to Doubtful Sound to do an overnight trip where the scenery is always stunning and we also got to see Fiordland Crested Penguins and Bottlenose Dolphins. Next was a drive up the West Coast were the weather was playing its part. We spent the night at Arthur's Pass where the Keas were being their destructive selves and enjoyed trying to destroy the hire car. The next morning we awoke to a good fall of snow which was a bit of a surprise, but by the time we arrived at Kaikoura the sun was shining. I quickly got myself onto two pelagics run by Ocean Wings. Brent Stephenson of Wrybill Tours was also in town for a few days. Brent was also present at the British Birdfair. It's a small world these days - one minute you're in a marquee in the middle of England and a few weeks later you're with the same person on a boat on the other side of the world looking at Wandering Albatross.
The first Ocean Wings pelagic produced a Southern Fulmar, Buller's Shearwater, a few Westland Petrels plus a lot of the usual suspects (Wandering, Royal, Black-browed, Salvin's and White-capped Albatross. Also huge flocks of the endangered Hutton's Shearwater. Pelagic number two brought an unexpected visitor in the shape of a Grey-backed Storm Petrel which was probably blown north through the night with a number of Fairy Prions. We viewed a White-chinned Petrel and Short-tailed Shearwater which was a challenge finding it amongst the Sooty Shearwaters. Heaps of Cape Petrels and the always quarrelsome Northern Giant Petrels at the back of the boat. That afternoon with the sun still shining I was on another boat filling up a 4GB card with a massive pod of Dusky Dolphins that were trying to fight evolution as they seemed to spend more time out of the water than in it. Spring was in the air and I'm sure the females were just trying to get away from the advances of the males. Next stop was Twizel where I caught up with the ever delicate Black Stilt as well as Wrybill, Banded Plover and Australasian Pipit.
The middle of August saw us leaving Stewart Island and heading to the northern hemisphere to represent New Zealand islands and the New Zealand Birding Network at the annual British Birdwatching Fair held at Rutland, the UK's smallest county.
This huge three day event is now into its twenty-second year with exhibitors from Alaska to Zambia plus all the latest optics on view for you to salivate over. Heaps of new books are out busily being signed by the authors so you can test the strength of your bookshelves once you get home.
The New Zealand stand was shared by operators throughout the country: Albatross Encounter at Kaikoura, Heritage Expeditions, Wild Earth New Zealand Travel, Kapiti Island Alive!, Wrybill Birding Tours and us guys from Ulva's Guided Walks, down here on Stewart Island. We were very busy for the full three days and got a lot of very positive feed back and bookings. Lots of comments were made that it was good to have all of New Zealand on one stand. We must have done something right as our stand won third best in show.
The Birdfair is always a great place to renew old acquaintances and talk about past trips, twitches and birds and of course to make new friends.
While I was back in the UK for a few weeks obviously there was a bit birding to be done. It was fun to return to old haunts; Oare and Elmley Marshes, Dungeness, Cley, and Grove Ferry to name a few.
I got the grand tour of the county of Dorset with my old birding buddy Pete Moore who moved there from Kent a few years back. It was great to spend time with Pete and his family again but sadly over all too quickly. While I was back in the UK I caught up with a lot of great birds - Arctic and Barred Warblers, Hoopoe, Wryneck, Buff-breasted Sandpiper, Wilson's Phalarope, Purple Heron, Cattle Egret, Red-backed Shrike and a flock of 18 Glossy Ibis. And that's just a few of the highlights!