Not sure if this ended up on Birding-Aus earlier in the year or not (I
tried to post a version of it).
We have visited the North Island twice, in January 2017 – mainly the
southern half – and in late January–mid February this year, when we flew
into Auckland and centred our activities north and south-east of there.
I think the island you're thinking of is Tiri Tiri Matangi, which is a
quite remarkable example of island restoration, (re)turning a largely
cleared and grazed island, with a little forest remaining in some of the
gullies, to the reverse, a largely forested island (albeit, largely, in
early stages of recovery) with a few maintained patches of grassland.
The island restoration extends to the avifauna, and it is probably as
close as you’ll get to what a NZ bird fauna once sounded like. The
island has an abundant population of North Island Saddlebacks, Tui and
Bellbirds and a number of other species have been reintroduced or
translocated there, including Kokako, Stitchbird, Little Spotted Kiwi,
Brown Teal and Takahe (a couple of small groups and which is why they
keep some areas of open grassland). What you might decide to 'tick' or
not is up to you, but it is great seeing and hearing all these birds.
It is run as an open sanctuary, with daily ferry trips from Auckland
(via a place called Gulf Harbour, north of Auckland) that arrive at the
island about 10:15 and then take passengers back in the afternoon,
departing at 3:30 (and doesn’t run Mon and Tue). There is also a small
army of volunteers that travel out daily to lead tours of the island,
which can be quite worthwhile. It is also possible to stay overnight
(booking via Department of Conservation), in shared bunkrooms, which
gives you the chance to go out looking for Little Spotted Kiwi and
Moreporks. BUT, as happened to us, you can get stuck out there for more
than a planned stay if the weather deteriorates and the ferry doesn’t
run. We were warned of this possibility on arrival and had to make a
decision whether to risk it (we had enough spare food to get by over a
few nights), but one family with small kids who were going to stay
decided not to. In the end we did manage to get off after only one extra
unplanned night, but we had fun, and time to enjoy the island and relax.
We also visited the Firth of Thames and stayed in the accommodation at
the Pukorokoro Miranda Shorebird Centre. There is great wader watching
very close to the centre – check out their website for recent sightings
(e.g. 7100 Bar-tailed Godwit, 1870 Red Knot, 1740 Wrybill, 2000 SIPO).
It is possible to see New Zealand Dotterel there as well (I only saw
one) but we had great views of nesting Dotterel on the eastern beaches
of the Coromandel Peninsula.
While probably a bit hard for you to fit into a short trip, we also went
out to Great Barrier Island, flying from Auckland (it is expensive to
get to and from Auckland Airport; Cheap Taxis worked for us). We did the
Aotea Walk on the island and stayed a couple of extra nights. Lots of
Brown Teal out there, and more New Zealand Dotterel. Another place where
we nearly got stuck, and we abandoned our return flight to get on a
3-hour ferry trip to make sure we got back to Auckland and then home
(pressing need to do so). That did provide some good seabirding though.
We've also had a couple of trips to the South Island, but I'll post
something else on those if I can get organised and find some time.
Hope you have a good time. Peter
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