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From: "Sean Dooley" <>
To: "Birding-Aus" <>
Subject: A weekend in New Zealand
Date: Fri, 3 Sep 2004 01:23:57 +1000
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Back in February I was part of the highly successful international 
twitch to
New Zealand for the recently re-discovered New Zealand Storm-Petrel. It 
such a great weekend that I thought I must do it again sometime. So in 
following months I kept an eye on the net, and managed to find a 
airfare with Qantas ($88 Melbourne to Christchurch) leaving Melbourne 
night and flying back Monday morning for the same price. Even with 
taxes the
fare was still under three hundred bucks. So I jumped at the chance.

I arrived in Christchurch after midnight on August 21st. I hadn't 
booked a
motel that night, and had brought my sleeping bag along in case I had to
sleep in the rental car, which came in very handy because temperatures 
down to freezing that night. Half an hour out of Christchurch, driving 
looking for a suitable quiet spot to sleep, I saw something brownish and
oddly shaped dash out beside the road. As I wheeled the car around, my 
was in my mouth. I'd heard how insanely difficult it was to see a Kiwi 
the wild, but I couldn't think what else this thing could have been. But
then my headlights picked it up and it turned out to be a bloody 
Yet another mammal species introduced to the country, yet another 
factor in
why indigenous species have done it so hard over there.

I'd been told how strangely bereft the New Zealand countryside can be of
birds, so the next morning I wasn't expecting the cacophony of dawn 
that greeted me as I awoke. The trouble was, there wasn't a native 
among them. It was more England than England with fields, hedgerows, 
and Sparrows,  Blackbirds, Song Thrush, Chaffinch, Dunnocks (or Hedge
Sparrows as the Kiwis call them), Yellowhammers and Greenfinch all 
out song. Big flocks of Starlings, Goldfinch and Redpoll flew about

But I didn't have the same sort of revulsion to these "plastics" that I
would have in Australia because some of them (Dunnock, Yellowhammer,
Chaffinch and Redpoll) seemed pretty exotic to me and the reality is, 
birds probably haven't displaced any natives. If the introduced birds
weren't there, there would have been no birds at all. In fact I think 
after all (or most) of the natives had disappeared after habitat 
and the introduction of mammalian predators, the settlers had to 
import some European birds to deal with the ensuing insect infestations.

Driving north along the coast from Christchurch I at least was able to 
up some native coastal species such as Variable Oystercatcher and 
Gull (very like our Silver Gull but possibly a separate species). There 
a few familiar birds like Masked Lapwing, Swamp Harrier and Purple 
(called Pukeko locally) and even Australian Magpie, another 
The NZ Sacred Kingfisher is still pretty easy to find as you drive 
particularly near the coast and there were plenty of Paradise Shelduck
scattered throughout the farmlands. These birds have the aspect of our
Australasian Shelduck but the female with her snow white head is a
particularly stunning bird.

A brief stop at St. Anne's Lagoon brought my first native bush bird- the
Grey Warbler, not dissimilar to our Western Gerygone, feeding in 
Birch and Oak trees! There were also Silvereyes about. They arrived
naturally from Australia in the 1850s and are now the most common bush 
On the lake itself were a number of waterfowl including Black Swan, New
Zealand Scaup and the New Zealand race of the Australasian Shoveler. 
Just to
make things more geographically weirder, in a paddock nearby were three 
Barren Geese.

I was heading north to the famous birding hotspot of Kaikoura. A small 
on the coast, it was up until fifteen years ago a sleepy crayfish town. 
because the Continental Shelf comes within a couple of miles of the 
here, mixing deep, cold waters with the shallow coastal waters, it 
brings in
a lot of deep water species you don't often see near land. They have 
watching trips but for birders the temptation is the pelagic birds,
especially the albatross.

I was able to simply rock into town and get myself booked onto that
afternoon's birding trip with Oceanwings. The great thing about the 
being so close is that you can be out there in about twenty minutes, 
in Aus where you have to chug out for hours across "the abysmal plane"
before you get to the deep waters off the shelf and all the juicy 
There were seven of us on the boat, only one other a serious birder and 
we set off from the Harbour we passed White-fronted Terns, Pied and 
Pied Cormorants (the Little Pied Shag as it is known over there has a
distinctive nearly all dark race as well as birds like ours). 
Red-billed and
Kelp Gulls were about and some began following the boat out. Not far
offshore I spotted the only Hutton's Shearwater of the day and had been
diverted by a very close Kelp Gull when suddenly at eye level a Cape 
flew alongside me. We were still within swimming distance of the wharf 
here was this totally pelagic species eyeballing me.

And so began one of the most sensational birding experiences of my life.
While I have been on pelagics off Australia where we have seen more 
the sheer numbers around the boat and their closeness was astounding. 
the next two hours I was to get within touching distance with over two
hundred Cape Petrels, 25 Northern Giant Petrels, and five types of
Albatross. There were 15 Wanderers sitting right behind the boat, 
for a feed, and on the second day (it was so good that afternoon I went 
again the next morning) we had views the classic plumages of the 
Snowy and Antipodean Wanderers. Similarly we saw at very close quarters 
White-capped and Salvin's Albatross, side by side as well as 
Bullers and a more distant Southern Royal. About 120 Fairy Prion hung a 
further away from the boat.

On the way back, the boatmen took us in to some offshore rocks to look 
New Zealand Fur Seals and Spotted Shags. He was hoping for a few Dusky
Dolphins, the common dolphin of the area but instead we came across at 
six of the extremely rare Hector's Dolphin which lazily followed the 
giving us crippling views of their masked faces and rounded dorsal fin.

Next morning we had much the same species with the added bonus of a 
Giant Petrel, the endemic Black-fronted Tern and even more Wanderers- 
25 to
be exact and it is possible they were all newcomers and the birds the 
before had moved on. Some of these birds were breeding and would have 
in from their Sub-Antarctic breeding grounds to feed up on the squid 
that is
brought to the surface and return a couple of days later a thousand
kilometres away to feed their young. They are absolutely sensational 
and to see them this close and in such numbers is simply awesome.

As an added bonus, on the second trip a Sperm Whale surfaced a couple of
hundred metres from the boat and loafed around for ten minutes or so. 
experience is made all the more gobsmacking because the whole time the 
drop is the snow-capped Kaikoura Mountains some of which are higher 
than any
mountain in Australia. Stunning scenery, stunning birding.

On coming back to shore I thought I'd try my luck with a bit of bush
birding. The nearest bush I could find is at the foothills of the 
the Mount Fyfe Conservation Reserve. There was a nature trail looping
through the forest. The walk is quite eerie and not because of the 
Gondwana feel to the forest. Once you get a few metres in, where the 
becomes too dense for the Dunnocks and Chaffinches and even Blackbirds,
there is simply no bird sound. All the native species that should be 
have been wiped out by introduced mammals that they in their millions of
years of isolation were not equipped to deal with. They've got all the 
suspects that we've got in Australia: Foxes, cats, rats and mice; but 
clown even went and introduced weasels and stoats! On both islands!

In forty minutes the only birds I got onto into the forest were  a few
Silvereyes, several Grey Warblers, a Fantail or two and two small 
groups of
the indigenous Brown Creeper. This is one of the few indigenous birds 
has survived the furry predators and may in fact be holding their own, 
by all reports they're not that common. They kind of reminded me of a 
between Brown Gerygone and Scrub-tit.

For the rest of the day I headed back to Christchurch, dropping in 
again to
St. Anne's Lagoon where I added my only Canada Goose for the weekend. 
In the
late afternoon I visited Lake Ellesmere south of Christchurch where I 
the endemic Black-billed Gull and two Australasian Bitterns.

My flight back left at six o'clock New Zealand time, Monday morning 
was 4 AM Melbourne time! The flight got me back in time for work and 
when a
work colleague commented on how it looked like I'd had a big weekend, he
didn't realise how spot on he was. Another country, 57 species for the
weekend, fourteen of which you wouldn't see in this country, as well as 
sensational selection of seabirds, and all for less than it would have 
me to fly to Sydney!

But after two visits, there is still heaps I haven't seen of New 
Zealand and
its birds. And those airfares are still pretty cheap...

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