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  • Matt

Wilderness and Waders

Sitting at the top of the valley looking down into Oban there is blue skies and sunshine which has been a rarity over the past month. We've had torrential rain, biting easterly winds, sleet and the odd earthquake - but today feels like spring and I'm watching Tui and Bellbird feed on the Lemonwood just outside the window.

Wilderness Magazine article by Matt Jones
Wilderness Magazine article by Matt Jones

In late September I had an article published in Wilderness Magazine which is a New Zealand outdoor publication focussed mainly towards trampers (hikers). The editor approached me about writing a small piece about the top five birds to see at Rakiura Stewart Island. It sounds easy but I actually found it quite difficult given that it could be no longer than 500 words, but with Jules' help we managed it.

The birds I chose - in no particular order - were Stewart Island Brown Kiwi, South Island Kaka, South Island Saddleback, Yellow-eyed Penguin and Southern New Zealand Dotterel. My aim was to choose birds in a variety of habitats rather than all seabirds or all land birds, given that the reader base would be mainly trampers. So my top five birds involve a trip to Mason Bay, getting on a boat, going out at night, visiting Ulva Island, and birding around the township. Out of the three photos I supplied I was delighted that they chose my Southern New Zealand Dotterel photo, as this species doesn't receive the level of attention it deserves.

The guiding season has already started with quite a few trips to Ulva Island already and the occasional kiwi spotting trip - the most recent was with a group of Texans during which we saw an amazing seven kiwi. Ulva Island still proves to be a joyful and exceptional place of work - even yesterday in cold damp weather as we watched Saddleback gather nesting material and heard the Yellowhead's flutey oriel-like call.

Royal Spoonills at Stewart Island
Royal Spoonills at Stewart Island

On a recent boat trip in Paterson Inlet I got my first shots of Royal Spoonbills at Stewart Island. I've seen them quite a few times over the years but never had a camera with me. The weather was miserable but at least you can see what they are! We also got great views of Yellow-eyed Penguin and recently returned Fiordland Crested Penguin.

Horseshoe Bay seems to be our go-to beach for dog walks with Nonu. It's roughly a mile long so there and back we get 2 miles clocked up for our active collie. Last weekend I noticed a tiny wader ahead of us. I've seen Double-banded Dotterel occasionally on the beach but this was a smaller bird and as it stopped and faced us I could see the obvious red, white and black face pattern of a Black-fronted Dotterel … the first one I have ever seen at Stewart Island.

Black-fronted Dotterel - a first for Stewart Island
Black-fronted Dotterel - a first for Stewart Island

With the aid of modern technology I sent a couple of messages out to birding colleagues and Phil Rhodes (Southland bird recorder) replied quickly and believed it was a first for Stewart Island. I drove home, exchanged the dog for my camera bag and headed back to Horseshoe Bay. Fortunately the bird was still present. It was very skittish but I was able to get a couple of shots. The following day I completed an unusual bird report (UBR) with accompanying photos for the Rarities Committee to consider. This time next week I will be heading north to Auckland to begin my tenth Wrybill 21-day birding tour - looking forward to it. The diary for the remainder of this season and incredibly into next season already looks busy. Some new possibilities and opportunities arising which is very exciting - watch this space!



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