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A Report from


Bren and Ruth McCartney

(Bren is the Webmaster of the Berkshire birds Web-pages - see links)

Ruth has two sisters in New Zealand so we had been before, along with our young sons, for family get-togethers. This time we were there on our own for a month and determined to get stuck into birding, once we had spent the compulsory couple of days with relatives. The outward trip had been via Los Angeles where two days visiting Bolsa Chica, Oak Canyon and Huntington Central Park had produced 52 lifers and truly whetted our appetites!

The first few days in New Zealand were spent on the North Island visiting relatives. However, we picked up Grey Warbler, Tui, Bell Bird, Spur-winged Plover, loads of NZ Kingfisher, Rifleman and Eastern Rosella. We also saw plenty of Wild Turkey - not strictly tickable in New Zealand, but they are wild, plentiful and breed so must compare with something like Canada Goose in the UK.

We made our way down to Wellington via Foxton Beach where we picked up Pacific Golden Plover and Royal Spoonbill. From Wellington we flew to Christchurch on the South Island. We had not been there before and had several "must do" notes in our New Zealand Field Guide. We headed straight for Lake Ellesmere, where we saw thousands of Black Swan, Tern, South Island Pied Oystercatcher, Cormorant and Eastern Bar-tailed Godwit (after arriving home in the UK we learned that we had been just a few minutes from a Kookaburra colony - about the only one in NZ. A lifer missed!). Later we headed north to Kaikoura for Hutton's Shearwater, which we had been tipped off about. However, we had not been prepared for a solitary Australian Little Grebe in a small roadside lake on the way south to Timaru. We still lack a New Zealand Dabchick, but the few birders we saw during our trip all expressed envy at the one we got!

After a night in Timaru we headed inland over the mountains for the town of Twizel, which has all the makings of a Swiss skiing resort, complete with "mountain chalets". However, Twizel is also the home of the Black Stilt, of which there are about 120 in the world. Our visit to the captive-breeding facility coincided with a recent release into the wild of a batch of youngsters and we were fortunate enough to see one which had returned to feed in the area. This is a must for any birder visiting New Zealand. A nearby hydro-electric dam provided us with cracking Black-fronted Tern plus the usual Blackbilled and Redbilled Gulls.

Two days later saw us in Oamaru, on the east coast, where we hoped to see Little Blue Penguin. What we did not know was that Yellow-eyed were also possible in the area. We spent several hours in a cliff-top hide, along with some Norwegian birders, before our patience was rewarded and we saw two Yellow-eyeds come ashore and make their way up the100 ft high rock face to their nests. Better yet.. one nest was actually beside the access path to the hide and Brendan got some video of a pair from a distance of about 3 ft. That evening we saw the Little Blues pour ashore at dusk - an amazing sight as they made their way to their burrows and the hungry chicks.

At Taiaroa Head, near Dunedin, the Albatross colony was closed for the breeding season. However, one of the staff, on learning of our 12,000 mile trip to, took us to a remote area inside the old gun emplacement from where we were able to observe a Royal Albatross at extremely close quarters - fantastic. We also saw a large number of Stewart Island, Pied and Black Shag there.

We then headed for Milford Sound, picking up New Zealand Robin (not the ultra-rare Black one, for which a trip to Chatham Island is necessary) and South Island Tomtit, in addition to the usual woodland species. The star attraction of Milford has to be the Kea - a totally insane and amazingly curious parrot which defies belief. Not vicious, but apparently bent on removing windscreen seals, or rubber soles from boots, this bird is a total joy to behold. Confiding isn't the word - it's hardly possible to get far enough away for photography!

So up the west coast of South Island where Munro Beach gave us two examples of the highly elusive Fiordland Crested Penguin coming ashore and the bush walk to the beach provided Fantail, Tomtit and Brown Creeper. Next stop was Punakaiki for the Westland Black Petrel colony. We were led up a 100+ ft rock face at dusk to witness the arrival of the Petrels to feed their young. To have a Westland Black arrive absolutely at one's feet in total darkness after days or weeks at sea, feed it's chick in its burrow, then launch itself off into the darkness is a truly rewarding birding experience.

Back to North Island and Lake Roturua to visit Mokoia Island. On the catamaran we met Isobel, a young Colombian scientist who married a New Zealander and now devotes her life to the birds of Mokoia. When she learned of the purpose of our visit she arranged for one of the wardens to show us the Stitchbird nesting boxes. We viewed one from about 3 ft, resulting is some spectacular video of these endangered birds. We also filmed another rarity - the Saddleback - on Mokoia.

Last point of call was Miranda, on the Firth of Thames. This is probably one of the best coastal birding spots in the whole of New Zealand; trust us not to find it until we were due to leave! We walked among Wrybill (which we had searched for on South Island), rare New Zealand and Banded Dotterel, Rednecked Stint, Far Eastern Curlew, Whitefronted Tern, etc. Unfortunately we dipped on Terek and Sharptailed Sandpipers which were both in the area. However, a brilliant end to a super holiday.

We were there in October/November - late New Zealand spring - but "quantity birding" was disappointing, as had been the case during our previous trip some seventeen years ago.. However, what we lacked in quantity we made up for with quality. Disappointments? We had been faithfully promised Shining Cuckoo at Ruth's sister's farm but we had been just too early. A day-long search for the elusive Blue Duck in a "guaranteed" spot near Mt Ruapehu proved fruitless. The White Heron colony at Okarito was due to re-open two days after we were there but despite much pleading, offers of money and downright physical violence the locals proved far less cooperative than the people at Taiaroa Head and would not take us (a boat journey was required).

After two trips our NZ list stands at 86. Local birders reckon that to be pretty good!

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