New Zealand tours, twitching, Subantarctic Islands, Antarctica, Auckland to Yokohama and birding in Japan! Latest news … well most of this is old news! I’ve been so busy, this is more of a recap from October 2022 to August 2023!
In early October, before the madness of the busy season began, I was walking with Jules and our border collie Nonu at the golf course here on the island, when I noticed an unusual bird trying to balance on the overhead wires. It was silhouetted but looked bigger than a Tui and was longer in the tail. As we walked closer it flew - in that moment I instantly knew it was something different. Very different. Bird of prey … No. A Cuckoo…? But not one of the two expected cuckoos in New Zealand. I did a mad dash home to get my bins and camera and Jules continued on her walk with Nonu - she has witnessed many moments like this and casually rang a friend who’s Dad was a visiting birder from the UK.
Once back at the golf course with my gear I relocated the bird. It was shy and wouldn’t settle but I grabbed a few distant record shots. I was starting to piece it together and thought it looked like a Pallid Cuckoo. I was joined by visiting British birder Phil Burns and we both grabbed photos and views of the bird sitting in an open bush. Boom! An adult male Pallid Cuckoo. A Stewart and New Zealand tick for me, and a lifer for Phil. We celebrated with a coffee and toasted sandwich back in the township! Over the next few days I saw the bird a couple more times. I have submitted a UBR to the rarities committee and am waiting on their decision, but I’m pretty confident about the I.D.
At the end of October 2022 I led my first 21-day Wrybill birding tour of New Zealand since the global pandemic. It was great to be back on the road, not only showing overseas birders New Zealand, but reacquainting myself with parts of the country - and of course birds - that I hadn’t seen for a couple of years. On this tour we had an awesome bunch of folks from the UK, Aussie, USA and Canada.
We didn’t miss much, and there were many highlights; finding a lone Shore Plover in amongst Wrybill at Miranda; eight Bitterns flying over us at a reed bed; close encounters with Blue Duck and Okarito Kiwi; Rock Wren in the rain; Broad-billed Prion and Grey-backed Storm-petrel at Stewart Island; watching a pair of Black Stilts at close range.
We finished up the tour having seen 151 species. We said our farewells and happy clients flew home to the four corners of the globe, with a bag full of lifers and memories, and I flew south from Christchurch to Invercargill.
The birding never stops! The morning after the tour I was up 4:30am and by 5:05am was sitting on a secluded beach watching a very rare visitor to the NZ mainland - a large rotund King Penguin! It waddled towards me and stopped to preen itself - wow! It’s always nice to get a new bird for my NZ list (before breakfast!) and at 6:30am my stomach reminded me it was time for food. I packed my camera away and drove back to Invercargill for coffee and a bite to eat before my flight home to Stewart Island.
I was home a week before heading off north back to Auckland to start my second Wrybill 21-day tour of New Zealand, this time with six Canadians and couple from the UK. Yet again there was plenty of highlights; seven North Island Brown Kiwi on our first night; watching Fairy Terns and a Little Tern squabbling over the same piece of sky; a close encounter with a pair of NZ Falcons; bonus birds were Common Tern and Little Egret on the same estuary; great views of King Shag and Orange-fronted Parakeet; a huge pod of Dusky Dolphins at Kaikoura; great looks at a pair of Rock Wren; 4 species of Storm-Petrel on the Stewart Island pelagic (Grey-backed, White-faced, Wilson’s, and a rare visitor from the south, a Black-bellied Stormie). On this tour we saw a very respectable 154 species.
On both of these Wrybill trips, some of the clients had waited more than two years to visit New Zealand and bird here. It was a pleasure to share the birds of New Zealand with everyone and I hope it was worth the wait!
It was a quick turnaround in between tours - just 24 hours at home which seemed like a good idea on paper! I left Stewart Island on the 8am ferry to join Heritage Expeditions on their new vessel, the Heritage Adventurer at Bluff for a ten day voyage over the Christmas holidays exploring the Subantarctic Islands.
The first morning of the voyage we awoke at a small group of rugged little islands, about 100km south of Stewart Island. The Snares Islands / Tini Heke are a Mecca to birders with the whole of the world’s population of Snares-crested Penguins numbering around 25,000 pairs. These small islands have a big reputation weather wise. But good fortune was on our side as zodiacs were lowered into the sea and we were able to get into the bays and caves. We found the Snares Tomtit, which differs from its mainland cousin as the plumage is black. We also saw the island’s endemic Snares Fernbird, a much gingery looking species to its mainland counterpart, as well as Southern Brown Skuas, NZ Fur seals, NZ Sealions, Cape petrels, Sooty Shearwaters and Antarctic Terns.
A day and half at sea we reached Macquarie Island, the southernmost of the Subantarctic Islands, and governed by Tasmania. Being further south the wildlife is a bit different to the New Zealand subs. An obvious difference is the huge colony of Royal Penguins with 850,000 pairs and 70,000 pairs of King Penguins. There are smaller colonies of Gentoo and Eastern Rockhopper Penguins and a large Southern Elephant Seal population, not forgetting the endemic Macquarie Shag.
Northern and Southern Giant petrels (quite a few of the Southerns are the white morph) and look like a flying Dalmatian. For the big Aussie listers it’s the only place in Australia you can see Redpoll. We had a great couple of days checking out the island, even finding a Macaroni Penguin in amongst the Royals. I believe it’s a place you could take someone that has no interest in wildlife and they couldn’t help but be blown away. Needless to say, plenty of photos taken!
Time to head north for Christmas Day exploring Campbell Island, one of my favourite islands. Breeding Southern Royal Albatross, Campbell Island Shag, Campbell Island Teal to name but a few. The weather was kind and sunny, great for a zodiac cruising and exploring.
Heading north to the Auckland Islands, first into Musgrave Inlet with awesome looks at Eastern Rockhopper Penguins and exploring caves from a zodiac. Then to Enderby Island, arguably New Zealand’s best subantarctic island, sitting at the entrance to Port Ross. We landed at Sandy Bay and were welcomed by a very large New Zealand Sealion colony - male beach masters, very cute pups and sand coloured females. Full of testosterone, it’s the young males you have to watch out for - like typical teenagers they are boisterous, horny, eager for a fight, and get bored quickly! After charging up to you bearing teeth and roaring, if you stand your ground they give up. Lazing in amongst them at the far end of the beach was a lone Leopard Seal. As well as the spectacle of so many sea lions there is much more to see. Just like Campbell Island, the Auckland Islands have its own Shag and Teal. Lots of Yellow-eyed Penguins, Northern Giant Petrels, NZ Pipits, Southern Brown Skuas, Tomtits and Red-crowned Parakeets.
In the hope of finding a Subantarctic Snipe I walked to the other side of Enderby Island using the boardwalk. No joy, but I did see a few Double-banded Dotterels which in my humble opinion are a separate species to the mainland Double-banded as it looks nothing like its mainland cousin, it’s longer legged and always in a scruffy plumage. Great looks at Light-mantled Sooty Albatross and Auckland Island Shags flying along the cliff face before a stroll along the boardwalk to look at some orchids on the way to Sandy Bay. A glance skyward and said to myself, oh there’s a Swift. A Pacific Swift! I took a few quick record shots and kept it in my bins until it went out of view. Strangely at one stage I had a Pacific Swift and a Southern Royal Albatross flying in the same view.
Friend and fellow Wrybill guide, Dave Howes was nearby so I radioed him. About 10 minutes later he had the Pacific Swift flying over the beach. We both saw the bird again sometime later - long winged in appearance, with pointed forked tail in flight and obvious white rump - being chased by a Brown Skua. The Skua had no chance! This bird is more of a common sight around the Himalayas, southern Asia and occasionally Australia, so an NZ tick for Dave and myself, and a nice Christmas present! After we submitted a UBR, with the photos I took of the Pacific Swift and our description it has been accepted by the rarities committee. Probably less than 30 records for New Zealand.
On the way home the Southern Ocean proved it is the seabird capital of the world - we saw White-headed, Mottled and Cape Petrels; Black-bellied and Grey-backed Stormies, Antarctic, Fairy and Broad-billed Prions; Southern, Northern, Wandering, Campbell Island, Black-browed, Light-mantled Sooty, White-capped, Salvin’s and Bullers Albatross!
Back in Bluff, we said our goodbyes. Dave was staying on the vessel for the next journey and I caught the ferry home to Stewart Island. I spent the next 10 days relaxing, walking the dog, doing laundry, sorting through a mountain of images, and having a sleep in!
New year and new trip! Early in January 2023 I left Stewart Island once again, this time to join Heritage Expeditions to guide for a month on a voyage to Ross Sea in Antarctica. Hellos and goodbyes to Dave and other staff disembarking the vessel, we set sail from Bluff around 9pm that night, past my Stewart Island home to head south.
A bit of a sloppy zodiac ride around to the shelter of the Snares Island penguin slide. Great to be back. Next morning we arrived at Enderby Island part of the Auckland Islands, where we spent the day exploring the island in the rain. We still managed to see everything and were met by the NZ Sealions at Sandy Bay. Auckland Island Shag and Teal were seen along with Yellow-eyed Penguins, Light-Mantled Sooty and Southern Royal Albatross, Northern Giant Petrels, Southern Brown Skua, NZ Pipits to name but a few. Amongst the Sealions were three Southern Elephant Seals. The rain eventually eased as we departed Auckland Islands and headed south. As the sun started to set we witnessed flocks of Sooty Shearwaters and White-headed Petrels flying around before they headed ashore to roost.
The next morning we woke to the view of Macquarie Island’s Sandy Bay. It would be a challenge to keep warm driving the zodiacs in the cooler temperatures. Rafts of inquisitive Royal and King Penguins escorted us ashore. As we dropped clients off the penguins would pop up within a few feet of us beside the zodiac. Once ashore we were met by more King and Royal Penguins, and lots of Southern Elephant Seals, snorting, burping and farting. Sandy Bay is quite a small beach but it’s completely full of wildlife. Everywhere you look there are Giant Petrels, Skuas, Penguins and Shags. The noise the smell is just overwhelming. Needless to say I took lots of photos. At Buckles Bay the next morning we did a couple of amazing zodiac cruises and saw Cape Petrels, Light-mantled Sooty Albatross, Royal Gentoo and King Penguins, and great looks at roosting Macquarie Shags. Yet again the camera got a bit of a workout, just awesome!
Leaving this last bit of green land we headed south towards the Ross Sea and Antarctica. The sea swell rose, the temperature dipped, and we didn’t see land for days. We could tell where we were by the changing bird life that came towards the vessel (as well as our phones showing us on a map!). There wasn’t too many birders on this voyage, but lots of photographers and history enthusiasts. Myself and the wonderful Kate Sutherland (another bird guide on the vessel), Dr John from the UK and Yann who’s French but living in Tokyo, spent a lot of time on the back deck watching Albatross, Petrels, Shearwaters and Prions. As well as the bird species changing, the light changed, staying lighter for longer. There was much excitement from passengers and staff alike when we saw our first iceberg. Everyone scrambled to take photos!
As we crossed the convergence at 66 LAT-175 LON we were officially in Antarctica. Icebergs of all sizes, shapes and colours were everywhere. We regularly saw Southern/Antarctic Fulmar and surprisingly there was still Sooty Shearwaters and Mottled and Cape Petrels this far south. We saw our first Antarctic Petrel, looking like a bulky organised Cape Petrel, and then … the stunning all white Snow Petrel. Wilsons Storm-Petrel became the only Stormie we encountered this far south.
Whale species regularly seen were Antarctic Minke Whale and Humpback, then our first Crabeater Seal was seen sitting on the ice flow - followed by another and another.
Our first landing was at Cape Adare, a peninsula sitting at the northern tip of the Ross Sea. It’s a major breeding ground for Adélie Penguins, approximately half a million birds.
We weaved the zodiacs through the moving ice flow and small bergs and found a clearing on the beach to drop the passengers off. I did a few more zodiac shuttles between the boat and land. It was a bit challenging as the landscape was always changing and the route that you took five minutes ago was no longer there when you returned. I got some time on land, which was amazing. Young scruffy penguin chicks chased their parents around begging for food. South Polar Skuas were ever present along with a few Northern and Southern Giant Petrels and a few Weddell Seals.
The next stop was on Foyn Island, part of the Possession Islands. This island was an incredible place - heaps more Adélie Penguin and the landscape was jaw dropping. We spent the next few days stuck in ice. Plenty of Adélie Penguins to keep us amused, but then a major find - even for the non birdwatchers! Our first Emperor Penguin was seen at a distance as it played hide and seek in amongst the ice. We had a very lucky encounter with a Ross Seal - this little known species is very rarely seen. Also seen were a few very impressive Leopard Seals with there dinosaur looking features, one having just finished off an Adélie!
On an ice flow we found a small group of Emperor Penguins so lowered the steps onto the ice. After a couple hundred metres walk it became very obvious that walking on the ice and fresh snow was virtually impossible as we sank up to our knees. Three Adélie Penguins found us strange creatures very interesting and the photographers were happy. Then one of the most amazing experiences happened - out of the whiteout a shape appeared. It slid on its belly towards us and then stood up only a few metres in front of us. An adult Emperor Penguin stood up front of us and made it’s bugle-like call, completely unfazed by us as it preened.
There was a limit on the number of people that could visit Scott’s Hut at Cape Evans and Shackleton’s hut at Cape Royds at one time, so we worked flat out in 24 hour daylight to get everyone ashore. The first of these major historic huts was Scott’s hut which looked as if the inhabitants had just walked out. Around the outside of the hut was mummified huskies. Inside were fascinating albeit grim discoveries frozen in time - dead Emperor Penguins and Seals partially eaten by Scott’s expedition team - and boxes of Adélie Penguins eggs lying around.
With a 10pm to 5am stint behind me I had a 3 hour sleep, ate breakfast, and then it was off to Cape Royds on Ross Island to visit Shackleton’s hut. It was a challenging zodiac landing in amongst large fast moving icebergs to reach the beach site before a bit of a walk to actually get to the hut. I have never - or will never - walk on the moon but if I ever did, this is what I would imagine it to be like. Impressive volcanic black rock, sharp to the touch. It was a crazy 24 hours. Not too many birds at either hut, just a few Adélie penguins and South Polar Skuas.
At Cape Bird, we were overlooked by the steaming volcano that is Mount Erebus. At McMurdo station 77 LAT-166 LON we had great views of pods of Orca feeding in amongst the broken sheet ice. But all too soon we had leave the ice to head north towards the southern ocean and New Zealand; it would take almost a week to get home. With a brief stop at Campbell Island along the way we returned to Bluff after an incredible month exploring the great white continent - the last true wilderness left on this planet, its stunning scenery and unique wildlife. The most frequent question I was asked on my return was “how cold was it?” The weather as a whole was not bad, our coldest day -24! Pretty cold!
I was due to head away to lead another Wrybill Birding tour ten days after returning home, but a fortuitous cancellation meant we avoided Cyclone Gabrielle which hit New Zealand’s north hard. This massive storm affected parts of Australia and Vanuatu but New Zealand’s northern part of North Island took the brunt, with roads and bridges being swept away. Towns and villages were cut off due to flooding and people lost their lives, homes and businesses. It will take years to recover.
Here in the deep south the weather was pretty settled so for a few weeks I guided locally for Ulva Guided Walks at Ulva Island and Beaks and Feathers’ kiwi spotting.
Mid March 2023 I headed north to Auckland to meet the Heritage Adventurer for a one month voyage heading north rather than south this time. The Western Pacific Odyssey (WPO) departs Auckland and calls at Norfolk Island, New Caledonia, Solomon Islands, Micronesia and finishes up in Yokohama, Japan.
We spent a couple of days heading north through NZ waters visiting Great Barrier Island and a couple more days at sea, before arriving at Norfolk Island. This small Australian island, had a few local endemics which made for great birding - the outrageous looking Norfolk Island Robin, Norfolk Island Whistler, Slender-billed White-eye and Norfolk Island Gerygone.
With many days at sea on this voyage we saw plenty of seabirds - way too many to mention - but the Boobies were always a firm favourite. Red-footed, Brown, and Masked Boobies seem to enjoy following the vessel and put on a great show for the photographers, along with Tropicbirds Frigatebirds and Noddys. There was always something to see.
At Noumea at New Caledonia we spent days exploring this wonderful island, the highlight for a lot of birders being the brilliant endemic Kagu. Having birded here independently in 2012, the highlight for me was the New Caledonia Thicket Bird, a bird I had missed on my previous trip. It was wonderful to re encounter Yellow bellied-fly Robin and New Caledonia Crows.
After travelling across Vanautu waters we arrived at Solomon Islands for a week of exploration. A new country for me which meant quite a few new birds. Highlights were Solomon Sea Eagle, Beach Kingfisher, Moustached Treeswift, Blyth’s Hornbill, Ducorp’s Cockatoo, crazy looking Melanesian Scrubfowl, Kolombangara Monarch, Cockerells Fantail, Solomons White-eye and Long-tailed Myna to name just a few! The local people were wonderful and the rainforests were stunning - not to mention the pleasure of birding in shorts and t-shirt as opposed to four layers of merino in Antarctica not that long ago!
We left the Solomon Islands, and crossed the Equator into Micronesian waters. New seabirds were ticked along the way - Heinroth’s Shearwater, Beck’s Petrel. But it was not all birds. We encountered incredible marine wildlife including several species of flying fish, Green Turtles, Hammerhead Shark, and Manta Ray. Cetaceans included Sperm and Humpback Whale, False Pygmy Whale, Fraser’s Dolphin, Indo-Pacific Bottlenose Dolphin, Pantropical Spotted Dolphin and Spinner Dolphins!
There was a slight gear-change when we entered Japanese waters, a major highlight being the circumnavigation of Torishma. This small island is the stronghold of the ultra rare Short-tailed Albatross, once thought to be extinct due to the feather trade up until the 1940s. These magnificent birds now number around 4000 and share their rock with a number of Black-footed Albatross. Closer to shore we encountered a rather small bird, the Japanese Murrelet, flying similar to Common Diving Petrel. Our first gull since Norfolk Island arrived in the shape of Black-tailed Gulls.
It was about 5am when we arrived into the large port of Yokohama accompanied by Eyebrowed Thrush, Black-crowned Night-Heron and Barn Swallow. A vast array of vessels from all around the world were also heading into this busy harbour, some smaller than ours, some a lot a larger, freight and container ships. We birdwatched our way to the wharf seeing Vega and Black-tailed Gulls, Pelagic and Great Cormorants, plus a couple of Japanese Cormorants, Ospreys and Back-eared Kites.
Japanese customs and immigration met us at the wharf signalling the end of our 28 days of travel. We farewelled old friends and new and everyone went their separate ways. Some folks were heading home, some exploring other countries and others staying to explore Japan. Of those staying to explore Japan was myself and two other staff from the voyage who were also Wrybill guides - Dave Howes and Fraser Gurney.
It was too early to check into our Tokyo hotel so we dumped our bags and with bins around our neck headed out to find the nearest park! Even on the busy streets of Tokyo we found Tree Sparrows, Large-billed Crows and White Wagtails. For Fraser in particular every bird was a lifer as he had never been birding in the UK or Europe; and to an extent the same for Dave. In the city’s park we began to add birds to our Japanese list: Little Grebes, Great Tit (Japanese Tit), Eurasian Teal, Grey Heron, a small flock of Dusky Thrushes, and some common Japanese birds - White-cheeked Starling and Brown-eared Bulbul.
We had a bite to eat in park Cafe and practiced our Japanese. Hamarikyu Gardens was a little less manicured but it gave our bird list a serious boost. Wildfowl was found on the small lakes, Common Pochard, Northern Shoveler, Mute Swan, and the very smart Eastern Spot-billed Duck. Common Sandpiper and Little Egret on the water’s edge. Into the wooded areas, Long-tailed Tits, Warbling White-eyes, Bull-headed Shrike, Oriental Turtle Doves, a small flock of Oriental Greenfinch’s, and the tiny Japanese Woodpecker. Along with more Dusky Thrushes we added Brown-headed and Pale Thrush. Leaving the park we walked the busy streets back to our hotel. Time for a quick shower and out for the first of many fine Japanese meals, washed down by a couple of celebratory beers.
After breakfast the next morning we headed out to Disneyland Tokyo!! Well, it was the park next door called Kasai Seaside Park. We spent the morning birding this urban park next to Tokyo Bay.
We shared the park with cyclists, joggers, dog walkers, of all ages. The birding was rewarding with ponds, lakes, wooded areas, reed beds all next to the sea. Plenty of new species - Eurasian Wigeon, Greater Scaup, Great-crested Grebe, Eared Grebe ( Black-Necked). Waders were found on the foreshore - Eurasian Oystercatcher, Whimbrel, Far Eastern Curlew, Kentish Plover, Black-tailed Godwits. Great white Egrets feeding with Little Egrets and distant Black-faced Spoonbills. A new mammal for the list was the Racoon Dog, which was obviously very used people as went about its morning routine. After lunch, we spent the afternoon at Tokyo Yacho bird park. It was a very small park surrounded by a large industrial park and there was plenty of birdlife but a flock of Tufted Ducks was the only species to add to our list.
I had stayed in touch with Yann Muzika who was on the Antarctica trip. Yann is a French birder living in Tokyo, and had offered to show us some birding sites out of the city. We met Yann at 4am outside our hotel, all a bit blurry eyed. We drove south-west out of the city to a largely untouched piece of forest. We climbed the forest trail at Mount Shiroyama and the birds came thick and fast. The highlight was a male Copper Pheasant seen right beside the track. Eastern-crowned Warbler, Asian Stubtail, Japanese Bush Warbler, Asian Brown Flycatcher were seen. A stunning male Narcissus Flycatcher looked as good as the name suggests. Eurasian Jay, Varied and Coal Tit were seen by the summit, which looks across toward Mount Fuji. It was still early and the Cafe at the summit wasn’t open so we birded down the track on the other side adding to the trip list all the way. These include a couple of introduced species - the stunning Red-billed Leiothrix (Peking Robin) and skulky Chinese Hwamei. Other new birds on the descent was a gorgeous Japanese Robin (sounding like a European Robin but looking a bit sharper), Meadow Bunting in an open bit of land (it reminded me of Rock Bunting) and a couple of Ashy Minivet’s. It was great to have local knowledge and was a fantastic morning’s birding.
We drove to couple of different locations near a river and added Asian House Martin, Japanese and Grey Wagtail to the list, along with Blue and White Flycatcher, and a distant Mountain Hawk-eagle. I had seen a different sub-species in Sri Lanka a few years ago. As we drove out of a quiet village we spotted a very smart looking male Green Ring-necked Pheasant right next to the road. The traffic became heavier as we neared the city of Tokyo, no surprise really with a city that size. In the evening we met up with my nephew who is studying for his PhD in Tokyo.
The next morning the alarm went off at 3:30am which wasn’t a welcome sound after saki and beer we’d sunk the previous night! Dave and myself met Yann again at 4am as Fraser was flying back to Auckland later that day. Yann drove us out of the city heading north to a large wetland. We saw a few of the more common birds that were expected still added a few new ones. First up was an Eastern Marsh-Harrier along with a few Reed/Marsh land birds, Zitting Cisticola, Marsh Grassbird, plus Chestnut-eared, Orchre-rumped and Meadow Buntings.
We moved onto the busy working harbour at Chosi & Chosi Port. The fishing fleet was in and there was plenty of human hustle and bustle which attracted the birds. A minefield of gulls! Black-tailed, Herring (Vega), Lesser Black-backed (Heuglin’s), Lesser Black-backed (Taimyrensis) and Slaty-backed Gull were all seen. Great looks at Pelagic and Japanese Cormorant, Reef Heron, plus Common Sandpiper, Little Ringed Plover, a couple of Little Terns, plus Horned (Slavonian), Eared (Black-necked), Great Crested and Red Necked Grebe.
Yann then took us Funabashi Beach, overlooking Tokyo Bay. I will let the numbers do the talking. 200 Greater Scaup, 1 Stejneger’s Scoter, 389 Eurasian Oystercatcher, 22 Grey Plover, 1 Kentish Plover, 1 Little Ringed Plover, 3 Whimbrel, 1 Far Eastern Curlew, 66 Bar-Tailed Godwit, 17 Ruddy Turnstone, 7 Sanderling, 22 Dunlin, 1 Grey-Tailed Tattler, 1 Black-Headed Gull, 4 Black-Tailed Gull, 51 Little Tern, 2 Common Tern, 1 Eurasian Kestrel. A pretty rewarding stop!
As guides ourselves, we appreciate the advantage of local knowledge. Sadly our time with Yann had come to an end. He had driven us around, showed us so many new birds and such a great guide. Thanks Yann, you’re a legend! He wouldn’t even let us pay for fuel so Dave and myself took Yann to a restaurant of his choice for a fantastic meal in downtown Tokyo.
The next morning the alarm went off at a more comfortable 5:30am and at 8am we boarded our (my first) bullet train from Tokyo to Osaka. We watched the Tokyo skyline disappear behind us as we cruised at a smooth 100kph. When we left the city the speed crept up. An app on my phone maxed out at 140kph and Dave’s kept going until 190kph! It still felt like we were only moving at 10kph - amazing! Plus free WiFi! About three hours later and over 400km south of Tokyo we arrived in the city of Osaka. We dumped our bags at the hotel and caught a cab to Osaka Castle. The surrounding gardens had lots of birds we’d already seen - White-cheeked Starlings, Brown-eared Bulbul, White-eyes and Sparrows. More looks at Asian Brown Flycatcher, Narcissus Flycatcher and we added Black-faced and Grey Buntings to our Japanese list. On the walk back to the hotel along the banks of the Yodogawa River we saw our first Crested Mynas and Oriental Reed Warbler.
Most of the next day was spent at Nanko Bird Sanctuary on the shore of Osaka Bay. It was a little disappointing. The hides were a little tatty and the place felt unloved and in need of some money and time spent on it. The park was quite small and was surrounded by a large commercial industrial site, which seemed to be trying to squeezing out the piece of nature. The main hide overlooked a large tidal lagoon which was surrounded by bushes and trees. We had arrived at high tide but stuck with it and as the tide dropped we started to find new birds. We got a few more waders - Eurasian Curlew, Greenshank, Red-necked Stint, Lesser Sand Plover, along with more Kentish and Little Ringed Plovers, more Whimbrel and Turnstone, and also found a smart pair of Northern Pintails. Red-flanked Bluetail and Moorhen joined the list the next day as we ventured to some of the city parks north of our hotel.
After the bullet train the next morning back to Tokyo we did the tourist thing and headed into the city to find the famous Shibuya crossing. We watched humanity do its thing, but being birdwatchers we couldn’t help but spot a Peregrine fly over chasing pigeons in between the buildings! That afternoon we found Little Grebes, Black-crowned Night Heron and a couple of Common Kingfishers at another city park not far from our hotel.
On our final morning in Japan we were up at 5am and managed to squeeze in a final bit of birding in the park. Incredibly we found a couple of new species - a fly over House Swift and Rose-ringed Parakeet!
Dave and myself had been birding, guiding and driving zodiacs since we’d left Auckland over five weeks ago. We flew home to New Zealand that afternoon via Taipei in Taiwan and arrived at Auckland the following morning. We said our goodbyes. Dave drove north and I had another three flights ahead of me. Auckland to Christchurch, Christchurch to Invercargill, a night in Invercargill and then the first flight Invercargill to Stewart Island and home.
Jules and Nonu were happy to see me. The washing machine less so! I was only home for 8 days before Jules headed off overseas. She hadn’t been ‘home’ to the UK for 10 years and had a 5 week catch up with family and friends planned. I had been away a lot this season and Nonu was a bit confused by the change in routine.
While Jules was away I did some survey work, completing my 13th year of SIRCET 5 minute bird call counts, and also guiding the occasional kiwi spotting trip. I even built a rockery in the garden and cleaned the car. Jules returned home mid-June to a mild winter and mostly crisp bright sunny days. We’ve had the odd day of cold wintery blasts with sleet and snow.
In late July I was meant to be away again for five weeks in Northern Australia. Unfortunately that trip didn’t work out so it has given me time to write up a couple of trip reports for Wrybill Birding Tours, as well as writing this rather long latest news for my website.
Next season’s diary is already filling up with guiding for Stewart Island-based companies, Wrybill and Heritage, and a possible new venture … watch this space - and thanks for reading!