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.
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.
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.
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!