NZ twitchathon

To: birding aus <>
Subject: NZ twitchathon
From: Brent Stephenson <>
Date: Mon, 5 Nov 2001 21:50:17 +1300
Hi all,

Just thought you might be interested to know that several teams competed in the Twitchathon here in NZ. Our rules were slightly different, with any 24-hour period in October being acceptable. This year the event was organised by my co-competitor, Ian 'Sav' Saville. Although the numbers of birds recorded here in New Zealand are far less than in Aus, this almost makes the competition more fierce, as it really comes down to planning and tactics, although a fair bit of luck is also involved! I was interested to note however, despite the relatively large totals in your event, it was a very close game, with only 2 species seperating first and second for the Vic teams!

As far as I am aware, our team has actually managed to win the event this year, with a total of 87 species. For the last two years we have come second, to the 'Plains wanderer's' from Christchurch - their name being a play on the fact that they come from the Canterbury plains in the South Island, not due to the bird... This year we really wanted to give them a run for their money.

Anyway, Sav and I had put considerable thought into planning this years event, and decided that the only way we were going to win was by doing a Pelagic trip, and leaving the event till the last weekend in October, in the hope of picking up a few more waders. So, we set out from Feilding on Friday afternoon and headed down to Wellington, catching the ferry across the Cook Strait, with the aim of starting the clock mid-morning on Saturday. The trip across Cook Strait yielded good numbers of sooty shearwaters, Westland petrels, fairy prions and fluttering shearwaters, so we were hopeful of seeing them on the return trip when the race would actually be underway. We hired a car and drove down to Kaikoura that night.

The following morning we did a little recon around the Kaikoura Peninsula, managing to locate a wandering tattler (very rare in NZ - my first in NZ) and a few other birds (reef heron, turnstones, cormorants), hoping they would still be there later. Thousands of Hutton's shearwaters could be seen streaming past offshore. We then headed up into an area of bush nearby and started the clock at 11:00am - after seeing brown creeper, robin and NZ pigeon. We picked up a few of the more common farmland birds - goldfinch, chaffinch, redpoll, starling, etc and also managed to see Californian quail as we headed back to the coast. Of course the tattler had disappeared, but we managed to see the reef heron again, along with the turnstones, cormorants, and the Hutton's were still streaming past. We then headed out on an Oceanwings pelagic (if you haven't heard about this one then check out - one of the only commercial pelagic trips out of NZ and well worth a visit if you come to NZ.

We picked up a large raft of Hutton's and managed to get excellent views and a few photos. Heading on from here we suddenly saw a large penguin on the surface and actually went past as we were going pretty fast. We quickly turned around and managed to get great views of it not more than 20m away and quickly realised it was a yellow-eyed penguin. The first recorded on an Oceanwings pelagic and a bird well out of its normal range. Heading out further we pulled up beside a fishing boat and easily ticked off Westland petrel, sooty shearwater, Northern giant petrel, and Salvin's mollymawk. We moved on out a bit further and started throwing out a bit of burley (shark livers) and ended up with quite a few Cape petrels, Westland petrels, and black-backed gulls around the boat. We were carefully checking the Westlands for any white-chinneds, some of which had been seen on recent trips. Also the sooty shearwaters were checked carefully to make sure there were no short-taileds, again having been seen recently. Several grey-faced petrels (great-winged) made an appearance and surprised us by feeding at the back of the boat - one of them lacked the 'pale-face' and we suspect may have been a P. macroptera macroptera? A pale phase Southern giant petrel also did several passes - my first pale phase in NZ - a truely spectacular bird, and a wandering albatross also put in an appearance. We then headed back towards the coast, spotting a distant group of dusky dolphins and saw spotted shag and NZ fur seals on the rocks. We docked around 3:30 pm and then headed up to Picton to catch the ferry back across the Cook Strait. On the way we ticked off grey duck (Pacific black) and then on the ferry crossing (having made it to the terminal with about 1 minute to spare!) managed to see little blue penguin and diving petrel and got great views of fluttering shearwater and fairy prions - checking them all for anything looking different, but with no success. Nothing else of note, and surprisingly no mollymawks.

It was dark as we arrived at Wellington and we headed straight back up to Feilding, stopping at a small patch of bush to listen for and tick off morepork in light rain. After a few hours sleep up at 5:15 am to light rain and off to the Pohangina Valley nearby to see sulphur-crested cockatoo (one of the only feral populations in NZ) and Eastern rosella (an escapee steadily expanding its range in several parts of NZ). Also got tui and pheasant, then headed towards Palmerston North, getting a black-fronted dotterel at the Manawatu river and then Mute swan, coot, and NZ scaup at an urban lake. We then headed out to the Manawatu Estuary and quickly ticked off godwit, knot, wrybill and luckily the first curlew sandpiper of the season had arrived - something we hadn't really counted on. By this stage we were nearing 84, which is the total the Plains Wanderers had achieved and so we were starting to feel a little more confident. A quick visit to a local lake saw a couple of surprises added with fernbird being heard in a small patch of swamp, and we managed to call up a spotless crake with a tape. Little black shag was also added before our last stop of the trip, a patch of bush in the Tararua Ranges. Here we managed to get tomtit and whitehead, bringing our total to a triumphant 87 species.

So after travelling well over 1000 kms by car and boat we managed a grand total of 87 species. This may not seem a lot, but as anyone that has birded in New Zealand knows, this is a pretty respectable total. To put it into perspective, after 15+ years of birding in New Zealand, my NZ list stands at 159, so we saw over half of my list in 24 hours!!!

Anyway, yet again we had a lot of fun participating in this event, and saw a lot of countryside and some pretty nice birds. Now all we have to do is start planning next years event.......


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Brent Stephenson
Regional Representative for the
Hawkes Bay Region of the Ornithological Society of New Zealand Inc. (OSNZ)

1A Onslow Road
New Zealand

WebMaster for the OSNZ's Web site

Phone +06 8336931
Cellphone                025 GANNET (426 638)

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