I have just returned from a trip to the South Island of New Zealand for some
birdwatching with Philip Griffin. I hadn’t been to New Zealand since I was 10
years old and so I was starting my NZ list from scratch and I ended up with a
list of 66 in just three days.
The main birding aim of the trip was to do the Albatross Encounter from
Kaikoura. The main worry was the weather (being just after the ‘once in a
lifetime’ snow-storm that included snow in Auckland and on the beach).
We started birding at Waikuku Beach on the day before the pelagic and managed
to see some great birds even though the weather was really cold and
occasionally wet. We stayed at Waikuku because it was close-ish to the airport
and because Philip had previously seen a Black Stilt there. We didn't find the
Black Stilt on this visit but we did see a great variety of water birds and I
came away with an NZ list of 42 birds.
Around Waikuku the highlights were Black-fronted Tern, White-fronted Tern
(including a pair displaying), Wrybill, Variable and South Island Pied
Oystercatchers, Spotted Shag, Double-banded Plover, White Egret, Paradise
Shelduck, Pukeko (Purple Swamphen) and Black-billed Gull.
We headed off to Kaikoura after finding a great coffee on the way at a place
appropriately called Pukeko Junction and a birding stop at St Annes Lagoon near
Cheviot. The lagoon was pretty quiet although we did find Cape Barren Geese as
well as some more Paradise Shelduck, Silvereye, Canada Goose and NZ Scaup. We
also added Feral Goose, Swamp Harrier and Sacred Kingfisher on the way in to
At Kaikoura (after absorbing the stunning views of the local coastline, forest
and the snow-covered mountains) we went straight to Albatross Encounter to see
if the weather was looking good for our trip the next day. The forecast looked
alright but they couldn't guarantee we'd go out until the next morning.
We spent the rest of the afternoon checking out the Kaikoura NZ Fur Seal colony
and did a nearby walk yielding birds we had already seen at Waikuku including
Yellowhammer, Skylark, Dunnock, Redpoll, Chaffinch, Goldfinch, Spotted Shag and
some Silvereyes feeding in the long grass.
We were lucky with the conditions on the Saturday morning and our Albatross
Encounter trip was the first in 11 days to go out (with just a moderate swell).
This trip turned out to be the ideal pelagic – beautiful surroundings, plenty
of room (with just two birders and a skipper), a very short boat trip out to a
good assortment of birds and lots of time at each site to take pictures. Our
skipper (Tracy) knew her birds and was great company as well. She took us to
three locations yielding Royal (Northern and Southern), Wandering (Gibson's),
Black-browed (Sub-Antarctic), NZ White-capped, Salvin’s and Buller's
Albatrosses plus Northern Giant Petrel, Great-winged Petrel, Cape Petrel, Fairy
Prion, Little Penguin and Common Diving-Petrel plus a few terns, gulls and
cormorants. The highlights were a single Grey-backed Storm-Petrel and a single
Antarctic Fulmar. We ended up spending 4 hours out there and loved just about
every minute of it. On the non-birding front we also saw some Dusky Dolphins.
We spent the afternoon looking for forest birds near Kaikoura and ended up at a
good site called Mount Fyffe. It was a bit of a surprise to find any NZ endemic
forest birds. In fact this was just about the only place I saw any. At Mt Fyffe
we found South Island Robin, Grey Gerygone, NZ Bellbird and NZ Brown Creeper
(most of these were actually in the car park area). The walk yielded some more
NZ Brown Creepers, Grey Gerygone and Silvereye but was otherwise very quiet. On
the drive back out we spotted an NZ Pigeon beside the road. It was so intent on
eating berries that we were able to get great views of it. After two days my NZ
list was 64.
On the Sunday morning we headed back from Kaikoura to Waikuku adding Caspian
Tern on the way. Unfortunately fine weather (and the fact that it was a
weekend) meant Waikuku had more people (plus dogs and motorbikes) and fewer
birds than last time. Despite this we found most of the same species as last
time. The highlights were more Wrybill, some Variable Oystercatchers
displaying, a huge flock of gulls feeding on shellfish that had been washed up
on the beach and a solitary Black Stilt. While it was sad seeing this rare bird
all alone, it was a great way to cap off the birding trip. We tried to add Cirl
Bunting on the way to the airport by going to locations where they had
previously been seen but it was fitting that the Black Stilt was the final
addition to my NZ bird list of 66.
All the best
PS: I haven't posted the photos from this trip yet but the videos are on the
Internet Bird Collection at
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