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Endemic and scarce birds in New Zealand, December 10th 2006 to January 7th 2007,
This report covers a four week holiday in New Zealand leaving the UK on December 8th 2006 and returning on January 8th 2007. The holiday was not wholly birding related and my wife and I also found time for some horse riding, white-water rafting, jet-boating and walking in the mountains. Rather than provide details on all the birds seen, this report is intended to provide an update on already published material related to finding endemic and other scarce bird species on the main islands.
Having trawled the internet for trip reports and site guides I relied on four main references for the holiday:
Where to watch birds in Australasia and Oceania by Nigel Wheatley 1998
A Complete Guide to Antarctic Wildlife, Hadoram Shirihai, 2002
Birds of New Zealand Locality Guide by Stewart Chambers, 2000 edition
Finding New Zealand’s landbirds by Drewitt, Brown and Saville, Birding World vol 18, 2005
Newman’s report proved to be the most useful of the various trip reports available on the internet as it provides many useful site references and not just general “what we saw” information.
We flew from Manchester via Heathrow and Los Angeles into Auckland and returned from Christchurch via Auckland and then again Los Angeles and Heathrow. Long haul with Air New Zealand was reasonably comfortable compared with most other airlines. We followed the following route covering North, South and Stewart Islands:
Auckland – Mangere Inlet – Sandspit – Kawau Bay and Island – Waipu Cove – Whangaparaoa Head – Tiritiri Matangi – Miranda – Lake Hakanoa – Lake Rotorua – Craters of the Moon – Opepe Reserve – Lake Taupo – Lake Rotopounamu – Tongariro National Park – Maunganui-Ateao River at Ruatiti – Manawatu Estuary at Foxton Beach – Wellington – Cook Strait – Marlborough Sounds – Queen Charlotte Sound – Blenheim – Ohau Point – Kaikoura – St.Anne’s Lagoon – Lake Tekapo – Lake Poaka near Twizel – Glentanner – Mount Cook National Park – Bushy Beach at Oamaru – Taiaroa Heads on Otago Peninsular – Awarua Bay near Invercargill – Bluff – Foveaux Strait – Oban, Stewart Island – Ocean Beach - Paterson Inlet – Ulva Island – Foveaux Strait – Howell’s Point, Riverton – Te Anau – Cascade Creek and Lake Gunn – Homer Tunnel – Milford Sound – Mirror Lakes – Queenstown – Glenorchy – Lake Sylvan – Haarst Pass – Knight’s Point – Fox Glacier – Lake Matheson – Franz Joseph Glacier – Okarito – Hokitika – Arthur’s Pass – Akoroa Harbour – Christchurch.
We hired a motorhome which proved to be a convenient way to travel around the islands and stop overnight at some of the key birding localities. It is expensive and travel is slower than by car but the flexibility was worth it. We didn’t stay every night in the van, spending nights on Tiritiri Matangi, Stewart Island Lodge (2 nights), and Milford Sound. Petrol was reasonably cheap compared to the UK.
The weather would best be described as unreliable. The first three days around and north of Auckland were fine and sunny, thereafter we didn’t have one day where the sun shone all day. We saw nothing of Tongariro National Park and little of the west coast glaciers due to rain and low cloud and worse still spent three days at Kaikoura during which time not a single whale watch or albatross tour went to sea. Global warming is certainly having an impact and southerly gales were still persisting in what was supposed to be mid summer. Conversely Christmas Day morning at Mount Cook and New Year’s Day on Milford Sound (both areas where we expected bad weather) were clear with little wind.
As Steve Newman also found, we had some difficulty contacting Pterodroma Pelagics for a trip around the Hauraki Gulf. They operate to a strict schedule which didn’t fit with ours and seemed to lose interest once this became apparent. There are other operators in Sandspit with whom a trip could probably be organised at relatively short notice and with some forethought this would have been a good alternative option. We took a two hour water taxi into Kawau Bay but saw no seabirds of note. We were unfortunate to arrive at Kaikoura during a severe gale and even putting three days aside we missed out on any trips. The only consolation was some superb seawatching from the eastern end of the peninsular above the fur seal colony and also from headlands north and south of Kaikoura. These seawatches produced 7 species of albatross (depending on taxonomy), Northern Giant, Westland and Cape Petrels, Sooty, Flesh-footed, Hutton’s and Fluttering Shearwaters, and Antarctic Fulmars. A hastily organised trip on a fishing boat into the outer reaches on Paterson Inlet on Stewart Island provided many White-capped Albatross within touching distance of the boat but I’m sure this doesn’t compare to the real Kaikoura experience.
The ferry trips across the Cook and Foveaux Straits were rather disappointing though the former produced the only Fairy Prions of the trip and the latter good views of Common Diving Petrels and the only Grey Petrel. Boat trips were also taken around Marlborough Sounds (King / Rough-faced Shag) and Akaroa Harbour (White-flippered Penguin).
Based on my experience this section provides an update on finding some of the main target species during a New Zealand birding trip. Endemic species are in bold. Although some of the albatross forms, shearwaters and petrels below have a breeding range endemic to the New Zealand region they can also been seen elsewhere around the tropical and southern oceans:
North Island Brown Kiwi, Apteryx (australis) mantelli: We didn’t try for this species but there are tour operators now offering kiwi-spotting night trips in Northland and the Bay of Islands. Trounson Kauri Park (contact email@example.com), Aroha Island, Waitangi Forest and Puketi State Forest would appear to offer the best opportunities, although they are apparently present in similar numbers around Hawkes Bay, the Bay of Plenty, the East Cape, Taranaki and Tongariro.
Okarito Brown Kiwi, Apteryx (australis) rowi: Treated by some authorities as a separate species confined to the Okarito and Waiho River area on the west coast of South Island. There was a local operator offering kiwi-spotting tours out of Okarito but we decided to try our own luck around the Pakihi Trail along the road a few kilometres inland of Okarito. One was heard but none seen – maybe the guided tour was the better option after all.
South Island Brown Kiwi, Apteryx (australis) australis: There seems to be little information available on finding this species but its strongholds appear to be the Haarst Range and largely inaccessible areas across Fiordland.
Stewart Island Brown Kiwi / Tokeoka, Apteryx (australis) lawryi: The easiest to see of the “Brown” Kiwis thanks largely to Phillip Smith’s Bravo Adventure Cruises which run from Oban to Ocean Beach on Stewart Island. We saw 2 extremely well, a female on the track across to the beach and a male on the beach itself. Up to 6 individuals have been seen on some nights. Other alternatives are Mason Beach on the west coast of Stewart Island, which is difficult to get to but where the kiwis often venture out during the day, and Ulva Island where during our stay one bird was apparently being seen during the day around Boulder Beach.
Little Spotted Kiwi, Apteryx owenii: Tiritiri Matangi offered our best option but despite an overnight stay and night time walk we didn’t connect. It was quite windy and we didn’t even hear any calling. The Wattle Track appears to be the most regular location though they are also seen along the Kawerau Track and even around the lighthouse and bunkhouse. Kapiti Island north-west of Wellington is another good option but overnight stays require a either a special permit or accommodation at the relatively expensive Kapiti Nature Lodge (www.kapitiislandalive.co.nz). Furthermore sailings to and from the island are prone to cancellations. The Karori Reserve on the outskirts of Wellington is a relatively new predator-free inland reserve and has this species (plus others such as Brown Teal, Kaka, N.I. Weka, Saddleback and Stitchbird) which can be seen on organised night walks (www.sanctuary.org.nz).
Great Spotted Kiwi, Apteryx haastii: Would appear to be the most difficult of the kiwis to see. We planned to try around Arthur’s Pass where they are apparently occasionally found along the footpaths around the village, but atrocious weather put paid to that plan. Some of the other most likely sites are the Bullock Creek Track in Paparoa National Park, Lake Brunner, and the Heaphy Track north of Karamea, all in the vicinity of the north-west coast. It is worth contacting local Department of Conservation offices for up to date information before trying any of these locations.
Fiordland Crested Penguin, Eudyptes pachyrhynchus: None seen as our visit to Fiordland and Stewart Island coincided with the end of the breeding season. They can be seen along the shoreline and on the water at Milford Sound (Anita Bay and around Harrison Cove) from July to early December and sometimes return here to moult in February / March. Doubtful Sound offers similar opportunities. Birds also breed around Stewart Island and a mini-pelagic from Oban probably offers the best opportunity of finding them during the summer months. Other breeding sites include Jackson Head, Murphy’s Beach near Knights Point (seek local advice) and Monroe Beach, all in the vicinity of Haarst. Monroe Beach is a famous locality but apparently in recent years they have proved hard to see here even during the breeding season.
Yellow-eyed Penguin, Megadyptes antipodes: Proved easy to see at Bushy Beach, Oamaru. Just follow the “Yellow-eyed Penguin” signs from the town centre. We saw one bird with a chick nesting alongside the track, one on the hillside directly in front of the beach lookout and one crossing the beach during a late afternoon visit. There is also a Little Penguin locality at Oamaru near the harbour, but an evening visit is required to see them. Another Yellow-eyed was surprisingly seen near the salmon farm during a boat trip around Akaroa Harbour. We did not visit Penguin Place at Taiaroa Heads but they would appear to be easy to see here as well. Chambers provides other sites for this species, often quoted as being the world’s rarest penguin.
Little / Blue/ Fairy Penguin, Eudyptula minor: Seen at Tiritiri Matangi in nesting boxes along the track from the wharf to Hobbs Beach and coming ashore at Hobbs Beach at dusk (E.m iredalei), roosting on rocks near the landing site and in nest boxes on Motuara Island in Queen Charlotte Sound (E.m variabilis), in Halfmoon Bay and at Ulva Island on Stewart Island (e.m.minor), and finally at Akaroa Harbour (also E.m.minor) – see White-fippered Penguin below.
White-flippered Pengiun, Eudyptular (minor) albosignata: Only found on the Banks Peninsular south-east of Christchurch. Of 12 “Little Penguins” seen on the water on a trip around Akaroa Harbour, 3 were positively identified as being of this form with white edges to the flippers and snowy white underparts visible when preening, and 2 were definitely of the nominate form. The remainder couldn’t be positively assigned to either form. The fact that both forms are found here would appear to add credence to the treatment of the White-flippered form as a separate species. There a numerous operators who run wildlife trips out of Akaroa and around the harbour – ensure the trip goes to the outer reaches of the harbour and particularly to Cathedral Cove. The rare Hector’s Dolphins are also relatively easy to see here and you can even swim with them.
New Zealand Grebe / Dabchick, Poliocephalus rufopectus: 1 bird was seen immediately on arrival at Lake Rotorua near the boat ramp behind the gardens and the Tudor Bath House, and another was close to the shore at Sulphur Bay. 5 more were seen off Frethey Drive on the south-east shore of Lake Taupo with 7 on Lake Rotopounamu (along SH47 between Lake Taupo and Tongariro National Park). If you don’t see them at these sites then Lake Rotoiti north-east of Lake Rotorua and Lake Kario south of Ohakune along SH49 are other regular localities. Chambers lists other sites. Only found on North Island.
Gibson’s Albatross, Diomedea (exulans) gibsoni: Breeds on the Auckland Islands. 1 with a distinctive small white patch at the elbow and black markings on the tail was seen from a seawatch off Kaikoura. This form is commonly seen on the Kaikoura albatross trips. Nominate Snowy Albatross and Antipodean Albatross can also be seen from these trips.
Southern Royal Albatross: Diomedea (epomophora) epomophora: Breeds on Campbell Island and on Enderby Island in the Auckland group. 1 was seen from a seawatch off Paia Headland south of Kaikoura. Often seen from the Kaikoura albatross trips though not as regularly as the Northern form.
Northern Royal Albatross, Diomedea (epomophora) sanfordi: Breeds on Chatham Island and at the famous mainland colony at Taiaroa Heads where 7 were viewable from the observation hut, including 3 soaring around the headland. Strong winds late afternoon provide the best chance of flight views. The nest sites can only be seen by joining an organised tour. Was also seen offshore from headlands around Kaikoura and from the Foveaux Strait ferry and is regularly seen on the Kaikoura albatross trips.
White-capped Albatross, Thalassarche (cauta) steadi: Shirihai believes this form is virtually impossible to distinguish from nominate Shy Albatross which breeds off Tasmania. White-capped breeds on the Auckland and Antipodes Islands and sightings were therefore deemed to be of this form. Proved to be the commonest albatross seen during seawatches off Kaikoura and is another regular species on the albatross trips. Was also common in the Foveaux Strait, the outer reaches of Halfmoon Bay and Paterson Inlet on Stewart Island, following our fishing charter boat. Also seen in the outer Milford Sound and off Knights Point on the west coast.
Salvin’s Albatross, Thalassarche (cauta) salvini: Breeds on Crozet, Snares and Bounty Islands. Appeared to be fairly common off the Kaikoura headlands and again is a regular on albatross excursions. 1 was also seen in the Paterson Inlet on Stewart Island but there were no others amongst the throng of White-capped following our boat.
Chatham Albatross, Thalassarche (cauta) eremite: Breeds on Chatham Islands and now believed to winter mainly off the coast of Peru. 1 of this distinctive form was well seen during a seawatch from Kaikoura headland. Rarely seen on the albatross excursions.
Black-browed Albatross, Thalassarche melanophrys: Not seen during any of the seawatches though the Campbell and more typically the Sub-Antarctic forms are often seen during albatross trips off Kaikoura. As its name suggest the Campbell form breeds only on Campbell Island.
Buller’s Albatross, Thalassarche bulleri: Breeds on Solander and Snares Island (Northern form) and Chatham and Three Kings Island (Pacific form). 1 was seen well close to shore during a seawatch from Paia Headland south of Kaikoura, with 2 off Knights Point on the west coast, all probably of the southern nominate form. The northern form, referred to as Northern Buller’s or Pacific Albatross would appear to be rare off the New Zealand coast (Shirihai, Complete Guide to Antarctic Wildlife, 2002). Becomes commoner around the east coast of South Island (and therefore off Kaikoura) and Stewart Island from the end of January, generally preferring colder waters.
Mottled Petrel, Pterodroma inexpectata: Not seen. Breeds in Fiordland and Stewart Island. Sometimes recorded from the Foveaux Strait ferries and is also seen on pelagic trips from Oban.
Cook’s Petrel, Pterodroma cookie: Not seen. Breeds on Little Barrier and Great Barrier Island off North Island and Codfish Island off Stewart Island. Only likely to be seen on pelagics around the outer Hauraki Gulf, Foveaux Strait and Stewart Island.
Pycroft’s Petrel, Pterodroma pycofti:. Not seen. Breeds off North Island on Mercury, Hen and Chickens and Poor Knights Islands. Very similar to but rarer than Cook’s Petrel and only likely to be seen on Hauraki Gulf pelagics.
Westland Petrel, Procellaria westlandica: Breeds in the Paparoa Ranges south of Westport on the west coast of South Island. Small numbers were seen from the Cook Strait ferry, on Queen Charlotte Sound, off the Kaikoura headlands and off Knights Point, with much larger numbers evident off Hokitika which is not surprisingly nearer to their breeding range. This species is regularly recorded on the Kaikoura albatross excursions. Paparoa Nature Tours who operate out of Punakaiki organise trips to breeding sites in season.
Parkinson’s / Black Petrel, Procellaria parkinsoni: Not seen. Breeds on Little Barrier and Great Barrier Islands. Only likely to be seen on Hauraki Gulf pelagics and more occasionally from the Cook Strait ferries.
Buller’s Shearwater, Puffinus bulleri: Breeds on Poor Knights Island off North Island. 2 showed well during a seawatch from below the lighthouse on Tiritiri Matangi and 2 were with a raft of Fluttering Shearwaters seen from the ferry back to Gulf Harbour. 2 were also seen from the outer reaches of Milford Sound. Uncommon on the albatross trips out of Kaikoura.
Hutton’s Shearwater, Puffinus huttoni: Breeds in the Seaward Kaikoura Mountains. Was abundant off the Kaikoura Headlands, though appears to be rarely seen elsewhere.
Fluttering Shearwater, Puffinus gavial: Breeds on islets off North Island and in the Cook Strait. Seen off Waipu Cove, Tiritiri Matangi, Howell’s Point at Riverton, Knights Point, and in Marlborough Sounds (where approachable on the water), plus a few identified amongst the Hutton’s Shearwaters off Kaikoura.
New Zealand Storm-Petrel, Oceanites maorianus: This recently rediscovered species is only likely to be seen by the organised birding tours which visit the outer Hauraki Gulf. Try Pterodroma Pelagics at www.nzseabirds.com or Wrybill Tours at www.wrybill-tours.com.
Spotted Shag, Phalacrocorax punctatus: This attractive shag can be found along the coasts of all three main islands but is less common around North Island. My only North Island record was from Wellington Harbour. On South Island there are easy to see breeding colonies at Queen Charlotte Sound, on the roadside at Ohau Point north of Kaikoura and at Taiaroa Heads. The form P.p.steadi found in Southland, Stewart Island and West Coast is sometimes treated separately as Blue Shag. This form was seen in Halfmoon Bay and off Ulva Island on Stewart Island and was numerous at Howell’s Point near Riverton.
King / Rough-faced Shag, Phalacrocorax carunculatus: Breeds only in Marlborough Sounds. Can be seen on the so-called “Birdwatching Expedition” run by Dolphin Watch Ecotours operating out of Picton (www.dolphinwatchmarlborough.co.nz). The nesting colony here is on White Rocks in the outer sound and poor weather can hamper trips that far out. Luckily I saw 2 well in flight on our trip near to Motuara Island.
Stewart Island Shag, Phalacrocorax chalconotus: A breeding colony is easy to see on the cliff below the Northern Royal Albatross nest sites at Taiaroa Heads, but can only be viewed from the observation hut on an organised tour. Was also seen in Halfmoon Bay, Paterson Inlet and off Ulva Island on Stewart Island, plus a few seen at Howell’s Point near Riverton.
Paradise Shelduck, Tadorna variegate: An abundant species on both North and South Islands, sometimes seen in flocks of hundreds.
Blue Duck, Hymenolaimus malacorhynchos: We followed Steve Newman’s advice and concentrated efforts to find this often elusive species along the Maunganui-Ateao River between Raetihi and the Ruatiti Domain. Turn off SH4 4km north of Raetihi west onto Ohura Road and follow the signs to Ruatiti. At the first white bridge over the river by Blue Duck Cottage we immediately found a pair, but they quickly disappeared from view. At the main bridge over the river just before the road becomes a dirt track leading to Ruatiti we then had prolonged views of an adult with 2 juveniles. The weather was drizzly which apparently is helpful when searching for these birds. Chambers lists other sites in both North and South Island (each island has a separate sub-species) but this site would be appear to the primary stake-out.
Brown Teal, Anas chlorotis: Introduced birds were seen on Tiritiri Matangi Island – 2 on the small pool above the wharf and 5 at night feeding around the lighthouse. Purists may wish to focus on the Northland sites covered by Chambers, all of which appear to produce regular sightings, particularly at Helena Bay (see Steve Newman’s report).
New Zealand Scaup, Aythya novaeseelandiae: Common on the lakes of central North Island, with for example a flock of over 250 in Sulphur Bay on Lake Rotorua. On South Island seen on St. Anne’s Lagoon, Lake Tekapo, Mirror Lakes and Lake Gunn on the road to Milford Sound, and Lake Sylvan north of Glenorchy.
New Zealand Falcon, Falco novaeseelandiae: A difficult species to track down. 1 was seen extremely well as it flew over our heads at the Tasman Glacier lookout at Aoraki / Mount Cook. Constant calling suggested breeding in the vicinity. 1 or 2 were seen in flight over the car park and trail up to Fox Glacier and 1 flew over Lake Matheson. We didn’t visit the Waitomo Caves but the nearby site at Ruakuri Caves mentioned by Drewitt, Brown and Saville would appear to be the most regular locality for seeing this species.
Weka, Gallirallus australis: The North Island form G.a.greyi is rare and can best be found on Kawau Island, Mokoia Island on Lake Rotorua and Kapiti Island. We saw an adult male by the Mansion House on Kawau Island. The South Island form G.a.australis can best be seen along the Queen Charlotte Track, fairly commonly on roadside verges between Karamea and Punakaiki on the west coast and along the walking tracks of Fiordland. Our only sighting was of 1 at the Otira Gorge lookout at Arthur’s Pass. The Stewart Island form G.a.scotti is probably the easiest to see, being particularly common on Ulva Island where they harass picnickers. We saw up to 13 here.
Banded Rail, Gallirallus phillippensis: The only record was of an individual seen well at the small pond at the Miranda Shorebird Centre, where according to the warden they are regularly seen. Searching the mangroves at Miranda can also pay dividends.
Baillon’s / Marsh Crake, Porzana pusilla: 2 were seen in the marshy pools at the west end of Lake Poaka (see Black Stilt).
Spotless Crake, Porzana tabuensis: 1 showed well for about 15 minutes at the small “Brown Teal” pond above the wharf at Tiritiri Matangi. This appears to be a regular site for seeing what can otherwise be an extremely elusive species.
Takahe, Porphyrio mantelli: Birds introduced onto Tiritiri Matangi were often be encountered along the open trails and around the lighthouse. They could just as easily be missed however on a day trip and an overnight stay is recommended to be certain of a sighting. Introduced birds can also be seen on Kapiti Island on North Island, and on South Island on Maud Island in Pelorus Sound where visits require special permits from the Department of Conservation. They can also still be found with luck in the Murchison Mountains of Fiordland, where they were originally rediscovered.
South Island Oystercatcher, Haematopus finschi: On the North Island flocks of over-summering birds were seen on the Mangere Inlet and at Miranda, and a few were on the Manawatu Estuary at Foxton Beach. Generally common on the South Island on fields, wetlands and braided rivers.
Variable Oystercatcher, Haematopus unicolor: Common around the coasts of North, South and Stewart Islands. The only birds seen showing variable amounts of white in the plumage were at Waipu Cove.
Black Stilt, Himantopus novaezelandiae: Our first attempt at seeing this species was at the stunning Lake Tekapo where the Cass River delta is a regular locality. As mentioned by Steve Newman this site is difficult to access (unlike references to it elsewhere) and given our late arrival at the site we soon gave up. The next attempt at Lake Poaka was more productive. Steve Newman’s directions are excellent, however it is worth mentioning that the unsealed track running along the north side of the canal connects with SH8 to the east of Lake Poaka and can just as easily be accessed from there. The marshy pools immediately to the west of the lake held 2 adult and 2 immature Black Stilts, although they initially took some finding and can easily disappear behind vegetation. A couple of Baillon’s Crakes were an unexpected bonus here. The gravel pools further west also produced a distinctive hybrid Black x White-headed Stilt. Further north towards Aoraki / Mount Cook 3 more immature birds were seen on the marshes at Glentanner. Again Newman’s directions are fine, however we didn’t venture down the track after the airfield as the birds were easily visible by pulling in to the track entrance from the main road. We also tried for Black Stilts at the Ahuriri River bridge north of Omarama but the area was busy with day-trippers and looked unlikely to produce anything.
New Zealand / Red-breasted Dotterel, Charadrius obscurus: 5 were present on the spit in front of the hide overlooking the Mangere Inlet. This site was accessed by following signs for Ambury Regional Park from Mangere Bridge township accessed off SH20 south of the Mangere Bridge (www.arc.govt.nz/auckland-regional-parks). From the park, walk towards the inlet and turn left to follow the track to the hide. 5 were also seen on the Waipu Estuary (see Fairy Tern), 5 at Okoromai Bay at Shakespear Park on Whangaparoa Head and finally just 1 in front of the hide at Miranda. Wenderholm Regional Park near Waiwera north of Auckland is another regular breeding site. I searched for the nominate South Island form at Awerau Bay south of Invercargill and at Riverton without success.
Double-banded Plover / Banded Dotterel, Charadrius bicinctus: Proved to be fairly common though nowhere numerous, seen at the Waipu Estuary, Miranda, Manawatu Estuary, Kaikoura South Bay, Lake Tekapo, Lake Poaka, Howell’s Point at Riverton and the Rees River north of Glenorchy.
Black-fronted Dotterel, Elseyornis melanops: We didn’t really try for this species hence there were no sightings. Both Chambers and Newman reference sites for this species near Incercargill though it is not clear whether they are one and the same. On North Island the Tuki Tuki River at Hawkes Bay appears to be a regular locality.
Shore Plover, Thinornis novaeseelandiae: This rare species can be found on Motuora Island where birds have been transferred from Chatham Islands. We searched the shoreline by boat on a trip from Sandspit (also visiting Kawau Island) without success. Birds have also been seen occasionally on nearby mainland bays.
Wrybill, Anarhynchos frontalis: Proved to be easier to find than expected at over-summering localities on North Island. 81 were on the shingle spit in front of the hide at Mangere Inlet (see N.Z. Dotterel), 170 were in front of the hide at Miranda, and up to 4 were on the Manawatu Estuary at Foxton Beach. Despite searching likely breeding sites such as braided estuaries at Lake Tekapo, Lake Pukaki and on the Rees River north of Glenorchy, none were seen on South Island.
Red-billed Gull, Larus scopulinus: Treated by some authorities as a race of Silver Gull. Common and easy to find around the coasts of North, South and Stewart Island and also inland at localities such as Lake Rotorua.
Black-billed Gull, Larus bulleri: On the North Island only seen at Miranda, Lake Rotorua (both breeding sites) and on the Manawatu Estuary which are the expected localities for this species. Much commoner on the South Island, seen around Picton Harbour, Te Anau waterfront, Lake Sylvan and more generally inland and east of the Southern Alps.
White-fronted Tern, Sterna striata: Away from New Zealand only breeds off Tasmania. They are common around all coasts of North, South and Stewart Islands.
Black-fronted Tern, Sterna albostriata: Behaves and looks like a marsh tern and variously treated as a member of either the Sterna or Chlidonias genus. Like the Black-billed Gull breeds on the South Island and disperses to the North Island. Only North Island sightings were of a flock on the Manawatu Estuary. Chambers lists other wintering locations. On the South Island sometimes encountered when travelling inland and east of the Southern Alps and more specifically at Lake Poaka near Twizel, a small lake just north of Lake McGregor on the west shore of Lake Tekapo (breeding here), the Eglinton Valley between Te Anua and the Homer Tunnel and the Rees River north of Glenorchy.
Fairy Tern, Sterna nereis davisae: The New Zealand form numbers only around 30 breeding pairs confined to the coasts of Northland on North Island. The most regularly visited site is Waipu Cove, accessed from Johnsons Point Road just to the north of Waipu Cove township. We actually used the camping park further south, which seems to offer easier access across the tidal stream but requires a longer walk north to a fenced off area on the east side of the sand-spit where the terns breed. 2 were present, 1 on the nest. The estuary to the west of the sand-spit produced N.Z. Dotterel, Banded Dotterel, Royal Spoonbill and Caspian Tern.
New Zealand Pigeon, Hemiphaga novaeseelandiae: Proved to be widespread (more so on the South Island) but nowhere common. Sightings were from Shakespear Park on Whangaparoa Head, Tiritiri Matangi, the Opepe Reserve, Maunganui-Ateao River, Oban, Ulva Island, Milford Sound and Haarst Pass. 5 perched together in a dead tree behind the Lake Matheson restaurant was the largest single count.
Kea, Nestor notabilis: Sightings of this species can be very hit and miss, despite its penchant for alpine tourist sites. The aptly named Kea Point at Aoraki / Mount Cook and only a short walk from the camping ground produced birds regularly flying around the valley, as well as providing stupendous mountain views. At the Homer Tunnel a pair were attacking cars left by walkers (destroying an aerial and even puncturing a tyre on a motorhome) on our first visit there but none were seen next day. Also seen at Milford Sound, behind the wharf and terminal buildings and also with Kakas around the village, at Haarst Pass and in the Franz Joseph Glacier car park. They can also be seen around Arthur’s Pass village, although bad weather disrupted any attempts at birding here.
Kaka, Nestor meridionalis: Our only record from the North Island was of at least 1 calling at the Opepe Reserve near Taupo though none were seen. None were seen or heard at Lake Rotopounamu which is supposed to be a regular site, although it rained heavily throughout our visit. The best place for seeing the North Island race appears to be Pureora Forest which we didn’t visit - reports show this to be an excellent site for North Island forest birds in general (see Wheatley for a good map of the area). By contrast the nominate South Island race was common around Oban and on Ulva Island on Stewart Island. On the mainland they were also seen at the Lake Gunn Trail at Cascade Creek in the Eglinton Valley, at Milford Sound and at Lake Matheson. The forests of the west coast and Fiordland offer the best chance of seeing this species on the South Island.
Kakapo, Strigops habroptilus: Only likely to been by spending a few weeks working for the Department of Conservation on one of the offshore islands to where they have been transferred in attempt to save the species from extinction. These islands are Little Barrier Island in the Hauraki Gulf, Maud Island in the Marlborough Sounds, Codfish Island off the west coast of Stewart Island and more recently Chalky Island in southwest Fiordland. It is possible that some still survive in the wilderness areas of mainland Fiordland and Stewart Island.
Red-crowned / fronted Parakeet, Cyanoramphus novaezelandiae: Away from New Zealand and its outlying islands only breeds on New Caledonia. Occasionally seen in the forests of central North Island but most likely to be seen on offshore islands. Was easy to see on Tiritiri Matangi and was also common around Oban and on Ulva Island on Stewart Island.
Yellow-crowned / fronted Parakeet, Cyanoramphus auriceps. Chambers lists a number of North Island sites though our sightings were confined to the South Island and the forests of the Eglinton Valley (particularly the Lake Gunn Trail), Lake Sylvan and Haarst Pass. Can also be found on Ulva Island (though we only encountered Red-crowned Parakeets) and West Coast forests.
Malherbe’s / Orange-fronted Parakeet, Cyanoramphus malherbi: Not tried for due to poor weather in the Arthur’s Pass area. Very rare (and sometimes treated as a race of Yellow-crowned Parakeet) and only likely to be seen in the southern beech forests along the Hawdon Valley where it can be found alongside Yellow-crowned birds.
Long-tailed Koel / Cuckoo, Eudynamys taitensis: The only record from the entire trip was a brief and unsatisfactory sighting of one on Ulva Island. We didn’t visit key habitats until the middle of December which may be one explanation for the lack of sightings (spring being better) however I didn’t expect them to be quite so diffucult. Apart from Ulva Island other sites visited which regularly record this species were the Opepe Reserve, the Lake Gunn Trail at Cascade Creek, Lake Sylvan, and Haarst Pass. Pureora Forest on North Island regularly produces sightings. Generally, any forest with either Whiteheads, Yellowheads or Pipipi present should have Long-tailed Cuckoo. Interestingly we neither heard nor saw any Shining Cuckoos either.
Morepork, Ninox novaeseelandiae: This New Zealand race of the Southern Boobok is sometimes treated as a separate species. We had no sightings though birds were heard calling tantalisingly close at Sandspit, Waipu Cove and the Pakihi Trail at Okarito. Supposedly easy sites such as Oban on Stewart Island and Cascade Creek in the Eglinton Valley didn’t even produce calling birds despite overnight stops.
Rifleman, Acanthisitta chloris: We found the North Island race to be reasonably easy to find at the Opepe Reserve and Lake Rotopounamu. The Opepe Reserve is about 15kms (depends where you start from!) from Taupo along SH5 towards Napier. There are lay-bys on either side of the road with boards providing information on this historical site. The native forest on the north side (the left arriving from Taupo) seemed to provide better habitat and had a good loop trail. Pureora Forest is another good site in the North Island, although they probably occur in any good native forest habitat from Rotorua south. The nominate South Island race was seen on Ulva Island, despite Chambers’ reference that they don’t occur here. Proved to be common in the forests in the south-west of South Island which Clements suggest are of a separate sub-species A.c.citrina. Good numbers were seen at the Lake Gunn Trail at Cascade Creek, the Lake Sylvan Trail north of Glenorchy and along the Historic Bridle Track at Haarst Pass.
South Island / Rock Wren, Xenicus gilviventris: Most reports indicate the east side of the Homer Tunnel to be the prime locality for finding this gem. From the large parking area on the north side of the road immediately before the eastern entrance to the tunnel a short trail (Homer Alpine Nature Trail) leads towards the imposing cirque. Just before the trail spits into a loop there is a large and well vegetated rocky hollow on the right. We saw a pair on two visits here. The best approach is to just sit and wait, looking for movement in the small bushes. If they are not here try the scree slopes opposite the weather station a little further back down the road or the slopes on the western side of the tunnel. We had good weather on both visits here which is apparently an important factor when searching for Rock Wrens. We also searched similar habitat without success at the Fox and Franz Joseph Glaciers but the weather here was poor. Chambers lists other sites around Arthur’s Pass and the start of the Routeburn Track north of Glenorchy.
New Zealand Pipit, Anthus novaeseelandiae: Usually treated as a race of Australasian Pipit. Drewitt, Brown and Saville reference the Craters of the Moon thermal site north of Taupo and we saw 2 here on the surrounding moorland. A few were also seen on the roadside when driving through Tongariro National Park. Also seen at Miranda near the hide and on the Rees River north of Glenorchy.
Grey Warbler / Gerygone, Gerygone igata: Common in forests and scrub habitat on North, South and Stewart Islands, though usually far more heard than seen.
Fernbird, Megalurus punctatus: Proved to be a tricky species to track down. Inexplicably we failed to hear or see any at the regular site at Frethey Drive along the south-east shore of Lake Taupo. Poor weather then prevented a visit to the Sinclair Wetlands (signposted south of Dunedin from Sp). Strong winds at the Bushy Point Reserve south-west of Invercargill run by Ian and Jenny Gamble (see Chambers for directions) also seemed unpromising until their Corgi flushed one from beside the boardwalk. Apparently this is not unusual as she can either hear or smell the birds when they are invisible to us humans. Finally, excellent views were obtained of 3 Fernbirds at the Okarito site mentioned by Steve Newman. The small pool can be found by walking south-east along the beach embankment from the car park or camping area. Search the sedges and long grass inland of the pool.
Tomtit, Petroica macrocephala: As with New Zealand Robins and Grey Fantails, Tomtits can be very inquisitive when walking through native forests on all three main islands. The North Island race, sometimes referred to as “Pied Tomtit”, was seen at both the Opepe Reserve and at Lake Rotopounamu. Pureora Forest also has them. Surprisingly attempts have been made to introduce them onto Tiritiri Matangi without success. The South Island form or “Yellow-breasted Tomtit” was seen at Mount Cook (campground and Tasman Glacier car park), at Oban and on Ulva Island on Stewart Island, the Lake Gunn Trail and Mirror Lakes in the Eglinton Valley, Milford Sound, the Lake Sylvan Trail, the Historic Bridle Trail at Haarst Pass, and Lake Matheson.
New Zealand Robin, Petroica australis: Extremely confiding, they will follow you along forest paths. Scrape the leaf litter with a stick and they will feed at your feet. On the North Island we only saw them on Tiritiri Matangi and surprisingly not at either the Opepe Reserve or Lake Rotopounamu. The nominate race found on the South Island seemed much commoner with for example 11 counted along the Lake Gunn Trial at Cascade Creek and 16 along the Lake Sylvan Trail. They were also seen on Motuara Island in Queen Charlotte Sound, at Haarst Pass and Lake Matheson. On Stewart Island the local form P.a.rakiura was seen on Ulva Island.
Whitehead, Mohoua albicilla: Restricted to the North Island where fairly common in native forests and for example believed to be the commonest species on Tiritiri Matangi where noisy flocks were regularly encountered. Also seen at the Opepe Reserve and Lake Rotopounamu.
Yellowhead, Mohoua ochrocephala: Replaces the Whitehead on South Island and can be one of the trickiest of the endemics to find as numbers are diminishing. They have been introduced onto Ulva Island but we didn’t see any there. We did see them however at both the Lake Sylvan Trail and at Haarst Pass and one was heard along the Lake Gunn Trail at Cascade Creek. To reach the Lake Sylvan Trail follow signs for Routeburn from Glenorchy north of Queenstown. The scenery here is quite outstanding. The Routeburn road turns left just after the bridge across the Rees River and then right after crossing the Dart River. The road becomes a dirt track and after about 21kms from Glenorchy the Lake Sylvan trailhead is signposted on the right. Follow the track for another kilometre until a parking area and campground is reached. Cross the suspension bridge to enter the forest and the trails. We had 4 separate feeding parties containing adults and juveniles here. The Historic Bridle Track at Haarst Pass is another regular site and we had 4 here within 50 metres of entering the forest. They were still present when we returned having followed the track south to a lookout. The track is signposted from a lay-by on the east side of the road just south of the highest point of the pass. Interestingly whenever we saw Yellowheads they were in the company of Yellow-crowned Parakeets, so it is worth looking out for flocks of parakeets when in these forests.
Pipipi / Brown Creeper, Mohoua novaeseelandiae: Closely related to the Whitehead and Yellowhead and as with the latter not found on North Island. Proved to be very common on Ulva Island but more difficult to see elsewhere, with the only other records from Lake Sylvan and the Historic Bridle Track at Haarst Pass (see Yellowhead above). Should also be relatively easy to see in the forests of the Eglinton Valley but we saw none on the Lake Gunn Trail.
Stitchbird, Notiomystis cincta: Restricted to four predator free islands – Tiritiri Matangi, Little Barrier Island, Mokoia Island in the middle of Lake Rotorua and on Kapiti Island. We only visited Tiritiri and they were reasonably common along the Kawerau Track and were also seen along the Wattle Track. Special feeders have been put up along both tracks but at this time of year they are not well used.
New Zealand Bellbird, Anthornis melanura – A common bird of forests, scrubland and even gardens at all elevations. Particularly easy to see on Tiritiri Matangi, Motuara Island in Queen Charlotte Sound, around Oban and at Lake Gunn.
Tui, Prosthemadera novaeseelandiae: Abundant in lowland habitats across all three main islands though much less common at higher elevations.
Kokako, Callaeas cinerea: Best seen on offshore islands such as Tiritiri Matangi, Kapiti and Little Barrier Island. We saw them along the Wattle Track and also drinking and bathing in birdbaths near the lighthouse on Tiritiri. Day visitors here should concentrate on these two areas, although an overnight stay is recommended to be sure of a sighting. Still found on the mainland but reports from formerly regular sites such as Pureora Forest Park and Trounson Park appear to becoming fewer. The orange wattled South Island race is now believed to be extinct but may still survive in remote regions on the west coast or on Stewart Island.
Saddleback, Creadion carunculatus: Another species restricted to predator free islands. On the North Island they can be found on Tiritiri Matangi, Kapiti Island and Mokoia Island in Lake Rotorua. They were quite easy to see on Tiritiri, more usually in scrub, beach or forest edges rather than the forests themselves. The South Island race was seen on Motuara Island in Queen Charlotte Sound and on Ulva Island, again preferring forest edges and beach scrub. These are the only two islands where this form is likely to be found, although there are plans to attempt to re-introduce them to Oban on Stewart Island.
Rare in New Zealand terms, Great Crested Grebes were seen at Lake McGregor on the west shore of Lake Tekapo, and Great White Egrets (White Heron) were seen distantly on Okarito Lagoon from Okarito without needing to take one of the organised tours to the breeding colony. An Australasian Bittern was flushed from a tiny marsh at Awerau Bay south of Invercargill. Royal Spoonbills are fairly common at coastal lagoons and estuaries on North and South Island. St. Anne’s Lagoon, signposted about 5 kilometres north of Cheviot between Kaikoura and Christchurch on Sp, produced 4 Cape Barren Geese and seems to be a regular stake-out for this albeit introduced species. This was also the only site where I saw Australasian Shoveler. Pukeko (a race of Purple Swamphen) were abundant in wetlands and fields, more so on the North Island. Brown Quail proved easy to see along the trails at Tiritiri Matangi. Swamp / Australasian Harriers were abundant.
Visits to the main North Island wader roosts (Mangere Inlet, Miranda and Manawatu Estuary) produced Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, Curlew Sandpiper, Terek Sandpiper, Red-necked Stint and Far Eastern Curlew. Other Artic migrants are often encountered at these localities. Masked / Spur-winged Plovers were common at any wetland site and often found inland. Brown Skuas were breeding on some of the small islands in the Paterson Inlet on Stewart Island.
Sacred Kingfishers were common and easy to see north of Auckland but became steadily less common as we moved south. Welcome Swallows were also much more common in the north than the south. Silvereyes can be encountered anywhere with scrub or open forest habitat. Grey Fantails were common in forests on all three main islands, although we only saw one of the black phase from the roadside near Whanganui en route to Foxton Beach from Tongariro National Park.
25th January 2007