Thursday, 11 February 2016

Kiwi kraziness!!!

Up with the promise of another warm and sunny day.  We quickly called in to grab some lunch, and then one last chance at the elusive kookaburra…and it remained elusive.  No sighting, so we headed off southwards and out along the Whangaparaoa Peninsula, towards Gulf Harbour.  Getting to the ferry terminal early, we checked in, unpacked our gear and had a look around.  A reef egret was located hunkering down amongst boulders, and there were lots of white-fronted terns and a few more variable oystercatchers.

We boarded the ferry and then headed out across to Tiritiri Matangi Island, with pretty flat conditions.  There were a good number of fluttering shearwaters streaming past, so we took some time to watch them.  As we arrived at Tiritiri we readied ourselves, and unpacked our gear and listened to the welcome briefing.  New Zealand pigeon flew overhead, saddleback called nearby, as did whitehead, tui, and bellbird.

We then headed off up towards the bunkhouse, making our way along the trails.  First up was a morepork roosting in a tree, rather active when we arrived preening itself, it soon settled down and assumed its normal daytime posture…hunched up and asleep!  We then carried on up the trail, finding in short order whitehead, North Island saddleback, kokako and robin, and then stitchbird.  We had good views of everything except the kokako, which sat in a tree above our heads and taunted us, but wouldn’t show well.  Further on up we had good views of tui, bellbird, and fleeting views of red-crowned parakeet.

Up at the bunkhouse we checked in, had lunch and then spent a little money at the giftshop, taking a little break in the middle of the day before heading out for some exploration of the island.  We headed to the lighthouse and found a pair of takahe with a half grown chick wandering around feeding on the grass.  We then headed out along the island, bumping into a few saddleback, robins, and other bits and bobs.  We heard a couple of fernbird, but nothing decided to pop into the open, so we focussed on another pair of Takahe, getting some nice shots of them.  They were feeding on grass seeds as well as the stems of grass, so some nice photo opportunities.  We then spotted a few red-crowned parakeets, getting some good views of them before heading to a pond.  Before we had even sat down we had a spotless crake pop out at the far end of the pond, and then moments later it called to another bird that popped out, followed by two little fluffy black chicks!  Awesome!  We watched the adult feed along the back of the pond, coming right out into the open at times.  After a good bit of time with these often very secretive birds, we headed back to the bunkhouse.  Some of us had some good views of rifleman and kokako on the way home, with good views of brown quail also.

Back at the bunkhouse we set about getting a fantastic BBQ dinner on the go, with steak and lamb chops, salad and potatoes.  Of course a few NZ wines were sampled, as well as some fine cheeses…not a bad way to celebrate the day.

After dinner we had a little down time before heading out to look for kiwi.  And it was one of the best nights ever on Tiritiri!  We waited by a good looking spot, and before it was even fully dark there was some rustling nearby.  We tracked it along the trail, and watched as it came out beside the trail, went under the boardwalk and popped out the other side.  It then fed along the edge of the boardwalk right in front of us!  It gradually disappeared into the forest so we carried on.  A bit later a kiwi called, and we waited hopefully, but no sign, so we carried on.  And then a tuatara on the trail, and another, and another!  Awesome views of NINE tuatara!  Carrying on we didn’t hear much – the odd morepork in the distance, but nothing close.  Almost back at the Lighthouse some rustling…damn it was working away from us.  We repositioned and within a few minutes there it was, right in front of us, running along the road!  And then calling at the same time, but not from the running bird!  Moving a little we had awesome views of a male calling loudly with bill wide open as it called!  But wait, there was another bird still rustling behind us…creeping down the trail we had great views of another bird feeding, and then it crossed the trail in front of us!  FOUR kiwi in all and stunning views of each…wow!  We floated back to the bunkhouse for a, hopefully, sound nights sleep!

Day total – Seen = 49 + 1 heard (yellowhammer); new for the trip = 13; total for the trip to date = 89
Bird of the day – Little spotted kiwi x4, tuatara x1

The gang moreporking

Sleepy morepork

Saddleback feeding amongst the leaflitter

A scruffy bellbird

An immature tui

Yawning NZ pigeon in the canopy

A takahe feeding on grass seeds

A saddleback perched looking on

A kokako feeding on the side of the road

Brown quail looking out from the weeds

Chow time!

Now that is a good looking dinner!
Tuatara hiding in the shrubbery

Extinct petrels reunite

Well any day on the water is a good one, especially when it starts with sun shining and no wind.  We drove out to Sandspit after grabbing some lunch at a bakery, and spotted another buff-banded rail on the way.  Boarding the boat and greeting Brett from Assassin Fishing Charters, we headed off out into the channel and then off past Kawau Island.  We kept a keen eye out for little penguins, but alas no sign.  As we came out into more open water fluttering shearwaters started to stream past, and then we spotted a couple of little penguins, but they were feeding and not too keen on being social.

We carried on out a bit further, finding a feeding group of fluttering, Buller’s and flesh-footed shearwaters, but they were very mobile and moving around a lot, so we decided to carry on out.  The sea was pretty calm with less than 1m swell and almost no wind, so we made good speed, soon starting to pass the odd white-faced storm-petrel and then Cook’s petrels.  We decided to stop at a spot we have chummed at before, put down the anchor and started chumming.  Within seconds flesh-footed shearwaters were coming in as well as white-faced storm-petrels, and Cook’s petrels.  And within five minutes we had our first New Zealand storm-petrel!  Fantastic!  Over the next our or so we had up to at least six NZ storm-petrels coming to within just feet of us at the back of the boat.  Loads of white-faced storm-petrels came in as well, and lots of the usual Buller’s and flesh-footed shearwaters, Cook’s and a few black petrels.  A single short-tailed shearwater also made an appearance.

As conditions were so nice we decided to make the most of it and head out further.  So we upped anchor and headed out to Maori Rocks, where we found at least 50+ grey ternlets.  These guys were roosting on the rock stacks, and a few of them feeding amongst schools of trevally just off the rocks.  Having notched them up and had great views, we decided to carry on out further.  We pulled up a little while later at another spot, and chummed for a bit, and although there were not a lot of birds, we did have another NZ storm-petrel and a few white-faced, as well as flesh-footed and a good number of black petrels.  All of a sudden from down wind another bird appeared, and with whoops of joy a white-naped petrel appeared.  It gave several really nice close passes, before gradually heading off away from the bot – a great bird.

We decided to head off out a bit deeper, and chummed again, but with light winds there were few birds.  One of the Cookilaria petrels that turned up however could well have been a Pycroft’s petrel…one to think about.  We decided to head on in and make a couple of quick stops on the way.  And at one stop we had at least another 5 NZ storm-petrels and a few fairy prions.  Gradually making our way in, we called past Kawau Island to see if we could rustle up a rail, and there on the beach was a North Island weka.  Excellent.

Back on land we had a quick stop at the Motel and then on to another beautiful dinner.  Another excellent day!

Day total – Seen = 38 + 1 heard (Caspian tern); new for the trip = 14; total for the trip to date = 76

Bird of the day – New Zealand storm-petrel x3, white-naped petrel x2

A white-faced storm-petrel bounces off the surface of the water

Two New Zealand storm-petrels feeding with a white-faced storm-petrel

New Zealand storm-petrel in beaut light 

New Zealand storm-petrel bashing the water as a white-faced storm-petrel bounces up off the water behind

Roosting grey ternlets

Checking out the rocks for grey ternlets

White-naped petrel swinging past the boat

Brett chumming up a storm

Little Barrier - the known location for New Zealand storm-petrel breeding

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Sunny sunny, fairy terns in the sun

It is always a good feeling getting up in the morning knowing that you have a kiwi under the belt! We breakfasted and then left a little later than normal, based on our late evening the night before.  The sun was shining and all was well in the world.
We drove northwards, heading towards the beautiful Waipoua Forest, home of the giant Kauri tree – Tane Mahuta.  We wound our way through the scenic countryside, and then through the forest itself, stopping to do the short walk to the tree.  What a spectacular tree – over 2000 years old – amazing to think of the bird species that would have been around when this tree was half its current age!  We enjoyed the spectacle, took some photos, and spotted a couple of tomtits, as well as several pigeons feeding on large tawa drupes.
We then headed back to the south, making a quick stop in Dargaville, and then heading east towards Waipu.  On the way we made a quick stop at a small farm pond where we watched a pair of Australasian grebes and a pair of New Zealand dabchicks go about their day.  They seemed to be rather civil neighbours, with no fighting observed, but we know that is not always the case!  A sacred kingfisher also showed well, a nice sunlit specimen.
We then grabbed some lunch at a nearby bakery and headed to a small estuary where we had our lunch in the sunshine.  And it was interesting to note the number of pies had increased amongst the lunch packs!  The word is getting out!  Before the crumbs had even stopped falling, we had spotted two fairy terns roosting on the mudflats, amongst a big number of New Zealand dotterel, variable oystercatchers, and a smaller number of banded dotterel, bar-tailed godwit, and red knot.  We finished our lunch and then walked out to where all the birds were, getting nice views and photographs of everything on the way, before getting really good scope views of the fairy terns.  In fact we found another bird roosting also, so had views of around 8% of the total New Zealand population right there in front of us!  Although they were all adults already moulting out of breeding plumage, they are still stunning little creatures, with the beautiful yellow bill and dark cap, gently receding.  We spent some time observing them, as well as all of the other birds, finding two wrybill amongst the waders, and then decided to move on.
We carried on south along the coast, generally wandering towards Warkworth where we are to stay for the night.  We headed for a spot where we hoped to find buff-banded rail, and had hardly arrived when we spotted on.  As we watched we spotted three walking around on the edge of the pond, and then a couple more opposite.  We also found a few brown teal paddling around, and some preening on the banks and then found another spot to settle in and watch the comings and goings.  The buff-banded rails played hide and seek, giving pretty good views, and other bits and pieces put in appearances.  We then went for a little drive and found one or two pukekos (purple swamphens), and then our first bellbirds.  After a short walk we found a Takahe, and watched this almost prehistoric looking critter feeding on short grass.
We then decided it was time to head for the accommodation, checking in and having a brief rest, before a slap up dinner.  Another great day!

Day total – Seen = 52; new for the trip = 17; total for the trip to date = 62

Bird of the day – Wrybill x3, fairy tern x2

Vertical panorama of Tane Mahuta

"It's behind you!"

Nice light in the forest

Rail stalkers

Brown teal on the water

The sneaky buff-banded rail

Young bellbird looking moulty and ragged

Holiday Monday, and so it begins

Luckily the rubbish weather of late, had decided to take the day off, and it was actually a pretty decent day underway in Auckland as we met, packed the van, and then departed for the western part of Auckland.  Spotted doves seemingly sprang from every telephone wire and fence post as we headed west, and through to a forested area.  With a long weekend in full swing (being Waitangi Day on Saturday and therefore a holiday Monday), we soon found the carpark at the forest fairly full.  However, the New Zealand pigeons and tui didn’t seem to mind, with both putting on good shows.  And even the rowdy Australians put in an appearance with several sulphur-crested cockatoos flying around the native forest.
We then headed on out to the coast, and to a large Australasian gannet colony.  Everything was in full swing, including the surfers relishing the big swells and beaut conditions on a holiday day.  The gannets had chicks of all sizes, and even some late eggs, so there were chicks exercising and looking like they were about to fly, and others that were only about two weeks old.  Evidence of a strange breeding season, with clearly a lot of failures and relaying.  As it was so nice we spent a good while enjoying the sunshine and watching the comings and goings.
We then headed back across to the east coast, grabbing some lunch on the way.  Only two pies made it into the breakfast hamper, but I suspect that percentage will grow and word spreads!  We had lunch by a lovely little wetland area, with nice views of New Zealand grebe, scaup, and other waterfowl.  The best bird was a brown teal, perhaps the same bird (or another) that was seen at a nearby sewage ponds back in November?  Anyway, some good birds, and then nice views of silvereye and grey warbler to round things off.  We crept back past the sewage ponds, but nothing out of the ordinary there, and so called at a small estuary area.  There were several New Zealand dotterel – our first chance to see these – and then several families of variable oystercatchers.  One family had two very small chicks, and we watched as one of the adults ran up and fed them the meat from a cockle it had just taken.  Very cool.
We then headed northwards, making our way towards Dargaville for a supermarket stop (a good sign when these guys headed straight for the beer and wine section), and then on to our accommodation for the night.  Nestled in a lovely picturesque setting, we settled in nice and early, a chance to unwind and enjoy an hour, before then heading out for dinner.  And what a great dinner at the Kaihu Tavern.  Grant and Raewyn again turned on a beautiful meal and great atmosphere.
And then it was off out for our first kiwi mission.  We headed out just before dark to a local park area.  A distant morepork called on dusk, but couldn’t be persuaded to come in, and the Southern Cross slowly burnt into the night sky as darkness fell.  We then headed into the forest in search of our near-mammalian quarry, only to find a brush-tailed possum almost immediately.  We heard and glimpsed a kiwi scurrying off, and several times thought we heard one.  Several pairs called off in the distance, males responding to the calls of what sounded like a very grumpy female.  But after doing a full circuit we hadn’t seen a bird.  We decided to head back in and do the first bit of the track again, and then we heard what could only be a kiwi.  Shuffling in the leaf litter…we waited, and finally were rewarded with pretty good views of a large female feeding in an opening between the tree ferns.  Several minutes of feeding ensued and we all had her in the binoculars, fantastic!  We headed back to the carpark happy, looking at the night sky now ablaze with stars.  What a perfect evening!

Day total – Seen = 45 + 1 heard (morepork); new for the trip = 45; total for the trip to date = 45