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Work, but not as we know it

Normally come the first of May on Stewart Island the number of visitors dwindles to zero, but this year they have kept on coming and I've still been guiding trips on Ulva Island, albeit just one or two a week.

April and early May was quite rainy which meant the 5 Minute Bird Call Counts that I do annually for SIRCET took a bit longer than usual.

Bill Oddie and me at Ulva Island, NZ

At the end of May I met one of my childhood idols, Bill Oddie.  Like most people, I first enjoyed watching Bill on the 1970s TV show "The Goodies".  Since then he has presented wildlife programmes and written books, particularly about birds, and is a keen conservationist.  Bill visited Stewart Island for a couple of days and as Chairman of the Ulva Island Charitable Trust I had the privilege of accompanying him to Ulva Island for a few hours.

This was Bill's third visit to New Zealand.  The first time was in 1963 as part of the Cambridge Footlights with John Cleese and Graham Chapman.  His next visit was in the 1980s and only during this most recent visit did he manage to get to Stewart Island and Ulva Island for birdwatching.  


We had a fun few hours on Ulva Island and while Bill was photographing a nice feeding party of Yellowhead and South island Saddlebacks, I mentioned that I could hear Brown Creeper (Pipipi) calling further down the track.  Bill replied that it would be a lifer for him if he saw it.  This small New Zealand warbler is not a creeper at all and looks more like a Chickadee from North America - but a lifer is a lifer and we left the much sought after Yellowhead and Saddleback behind us to get Pipipi onto Bill's life list!  What an honour to find one of my idols a lifer!  Later that evening Bill entertained locals at the pub with tales from around the world.

Early in June I was showing another VIP around Ulva Island.  Minister for Conservation, Maggie Barry and her husband visited Stewart Island for the first time and I had the opportunity to speak with them about the work the Ulva Island Charitable Trust does to support the Department of Conservation.

The unseasonably mild winter has confused some of the birds; Stewart Island Robins have been displaying to each other and South Island Saddlebacks have been gathering nesting material in the middle of June.  I've even seen the Kamahi flowering, which normally occurs in early Spring.

Dog walking and birdwatching don't often go hand in hand - in the UK for example you could be searching a flock of gulls for an over-wintering Iceland Gull when Fido comes screaming up the beach scattering every bird for miles around.  But here on Stewart Island where I'm pretty much the only bird watcher, Nonu and myself don't piss too many other people off when we're walking on Horseshoe Beach.  I've found at least six over-wintering Cattle Egrets and one Eastern Reef Egret, and last week a New Zealand Falcon - only the second one I've found on Stewart Island.  It was a dark looking juvenile and I saw it a few more times during the week harassing local domestic doves.  I'm pretty sure there were a few less doves at the end of the week!  While walking to the post office we regularly come across a showy New Zealand Pipit that chooses to spend winter on the streets of Oban.  

Stewart Island Weka

Birdwatching can be slow during winter here but I quite like it.  Last week I left Nonu at home to spend the day on Ulva Island by myself, well, I saw two other people.  I took my camera and saw every bird possible, including 22 Weka 9 of which were chicks.  This is not too unusual that Weka breed in the middle of winter but I was most pleased to get photos of Brown Creeper (Pipipi).  They can be hard to photograph but with bit of 'pishing' I persuaded one bird to stick around so I could grab a shot or two.  They are quite nice looking birds, related to Whitehead and Yellowhead, and the Pipipi is only found on the South Island and Stewart Island.  I guess it's New Zealand's only LBJ!


At the end of June I finished writing an article about Stewart Island waders for British charity, Wader Quest, which is due to be published in their e-newsletter at the end of July with some of my photos.  Wader Quest is a charity that aims to get more people directly involved in wader conservation www.waderquest.net

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