Trip to NZ, North Island - 7 to 22 January 2006 (Long)

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Subject: Trip to NZ, North Island - 7 to 22 January 2006 (Long)
From: "Tom and Mandy Wilson" <>
Date: Fri, 10 Feb 2006 22:34:57 +1100
some of you may recall my RFI from mid December about my upcoming trip to NZ - 
the results of that are set out below.  I hope this may help the other RFI 
requesters.  My trip was a family holiday, with hopefully some birding thrown 
in.  We had 2 weeks in the south and central areas of north island, travelling 
roughly: Sydney-Wellington-Napier-Gisborne-East Cape-Rotorua-Lake 
Taupo-Auckland-Sydney.  I work for the Australian arm of an NZ based company, 
so have made a few trips before, but I am primarily acquainted with Wellington 
(Airport-City mostly), but I have previously squeezed in trips to Karori 
Sanctuary, the area just to the north of Wellington (Porirua, Judgeford where 
we have some friends) and Marlborough Sound.  Thus, I have already seen some of 
the endemics, especially the easier ones!

I referred heavily to Heather and Robertson in drawing up my list of possibles. 
 Info on sites to visit was obtained from several sources, including the 
responses to my RFI - many thanks to all those who did.  (I may not have 
thanked you personally - if I neglected to do that, apologies - it was the 
result of my PC losing power in late December and I only got up and running 
again just after New Year.)  I worked out that (excluding seabirds) my 
itinerary could score me up to 15 new endemics and a whole lot of non-lifers 
for my NZ list - however, the new endemic list included 2 species of kiwi, 
Kokako, Blue Duck, NZ Falcon and 2 parakeets, so it wasn't going to be easy.  
In the end I got 8 endemics, plus 1 that I only heard, and I added about 30 to 
my NZ list, but quite a lot of those were introduced species such as Rook, 
Pheasant and Myna, with an overall count of 90, plus a few possibles that I 
couldn't be sure of.

Probably one of the most common native birds of the trip was the Australasian 
Harrier - they do seem to be just about everywhere and have clearly adapted 
very well to being the most common diurnal raptor - one sees them not only in 
the areas one would expect to see them in Australia, but also cruising over 
forested hillsides (much as I have seen Red Kites operate in the UK), estuaries 
(Whistling Kite or Osprey), open farmland as well as swamps and reedbeds.  One 
of my research sources commented that if the UK ever runs out of finches, they 
could get some from NZ - I'd add Song Thrush and Blackbird to that too as they 
seemed to be everywhere we went.  The other common natives which I haven't 
picked out specifically below are Grey Warbler, Fantail and Tui as I did seem 
to see or hear them in most places I went.

We arrived in Wellington on the afternoon of 7 Jan, and were ferried to our 
friends' house in Judgeford, arriving at about 4pm.  First NZ bird was - (drum 
roll......) House Sparrow (bit of a let down), followed by Starling (even 
worse!), then Black Backed and Red Billed gulls.  We spent 4 days using this 
house as a base and visiting Wellington. It is on a bush/lifestyle block and 
has good birds - plenty of Tui (at least 5 feeding on the flax plants), NZ 
Pigeon, Fantail and Grey Warbler, Harrier, Pukeko, Masked Lapwing, Kingfisher, 
Shining Cuckoo (seen several times) and a large colony of House Sparrows.  What 
I thought was interesting about the sparrows was the fact that they had 
eschewed the house itself and had built a large communal nest (which looked a 
bit like a soccer ball made from grass) in the top of one of the trees on the 

I managed an early morning visit to Pauahatanui Inlet where I was dive bombed 
by Pied Stilts, and saw a pair of Banded Dotterel, a pair of Shoveler, plenty 
of shags and a good selection of "english finches".  The main estuary itself 
harboured a large flock of Paradise Duck (I counted 50 one day), loads of Black 
Swans, about 15 Royal Spoonbill and at least 6 Caspian Tern, both sorts of 
Oystercatcher, some Canada and Feral Geese.  I found it odd to look out at this 
(and several similar, likely looking estuaries) and not see many waders, 
although Ohiwa and Miranda made up for that.

On 10 January, we spent the afternoon at Karori Sanctuary.  I have been before, 
but it was a good intro to NZ birds for my wife and kids as, although wild, the 
birds are used to people.  They have successfully introduced Hihi (Stitchbirds) 
and we saw a good number (tick), although only a fleeting glimpse of a male.  
The feeder at the start of the Beech Track seemed very popular.  Further up 
this track (the easy option, not the steep one) we got very good views of an NZ 
Robin, and at the hairpin bend on this track was a parent Robin with a begging 
fledgling.  We also saw more Hihi on this track.  There were plenty of Kaka at 
the feeders, and a pair of Saddleback on the gentle track that leads down from 
the dam; Brown Teal at the upstream end of the lower dam and NZ Scaup in 
several places, including one with 6 ducklings at the top dam.  This was my 4th 
visit (in daylight) and I still haven't seen one of their Weka (nor did I see 
one during the rest of the trip.)  Someone had reported a White Heron on the 
wetland, but all I saw was a White Faced, so I wonder if there had been a 

11 Jan - drove from Wellington to Napier, getting to Napier early evening.  Not 
much seen in transit except my first Rooks, Barbary Doves and Mynas (boo!) for 
NZ. Spent plenty of time checking out terns at the docks and beaches, but I 
think that they were all White Fronts.  I suspect that it was a bit early for 
Black Fronted Terns to have moved up from South Island.

12 Jan - morning on the Cape Kidnappers trip to see the Gannet colony. We did 
the trip that goes along the beach by tractor.  There were a few adventures 
with this (a couple of recent landslips to be negotiated) but we still had 
plenty of time with the gannets and their delightful smell!  Also saw plenty of 
WF terns, a Reef Egret and Variable Oystercatcher during the drive and communed 
with a very inquisitive NZ pipit as we waited for the tractors to clear a 
particularly rough patch at one point. A fascinating view of some live geology 
as well as seeing the gannets up close.

We were later back into Napier than planned, so I couldn't fit in any time at 
Ahuriri Wetlands - they looked quite good as we drove past, but we wanted to 
get to Gisborne in good time that afternoon as the forecast was not enticing 
and it's a windy old road.  I got a glimpse of NZ Dabchick (would have been a 
tick, but not a good enough view) at Lake Tutira.  Near Gisborne, I saw a male 
Pheasant and Peafowl (the latter just grubbing about on the wooded margin of a 
paddock away from any settlement, so I presume that they were feral).

13 Jan - to Eastland for 2 days, staying at Hicks bay.  Stopped at Tolaga Bay 
for lunch, where I saw a Whitehead (tick) in the bush area near the very long 
wharf.  There was a largish pond at Te Puia Springs that was seething with 
Paradise Shelduck - well over 100 - plus 2 NZ Scaup, lots of Shoveler, Grey 
Duck and Mallard. An NZ Pigeon sat above our heads eating berries as we had 
afternoon tea.

Around the Hicks Bay Motel were plenty of Tui, and a very tame Bellbird.  On 14 
January we went to East Cape and climbed up to the lighthouse (736 steps 
according to my daughter!)  I had a good look at East Island, but it was 
mid-afternoon and there wasn't much about apart from gannets, a few "Fluttons 
"shearwaters, one largish pteradroma petrel (presume Grey Faced as East Island 
is a breeding station) and a grey/white petrel that was too far off to even 
think about an ID - much as I would have liked it to be a Black Winged or Cooks 

That evening, there was a big feeding flock of seabirds just off Hicks Bay, 
where we were staying.  Putting the 'scope onto this group, I could easily pick 
out more Gannets, WF Tern and Common Diving Petrel - the latter just bombing 
into my field of view and plunging in to the water - very spectacular.  There 
were a three Jaegers harassing the mob - one looked like  Pomarine to me - very 
much more thickset than the other two, which I took to be Arctics.  Heard my 
first Moreporks calling that evening (four from various directions, but not 
close enough to find with a torch)

15 Jan - to Rotorua along the coast road.  We stopped for lunch at Ohiwa 
Harbour, where there were loads of waders - Bar Tailed Godwit, Pied Stilt, a 
couple of Turnstone, one Golden Plover, Double Banded and several NZ Dotterel 
(tick).   I got good views of these as they came quite close to the shoreline.  
There was also a Black Billed Gull trying (with its Red Billed mates) to cadge 
a few crusts from our lunch. There were also three or four Caspian Tern, a very 
busy Kingfisher and plenty of duck.  I didn't have time to walk along the spit 
to get a better view of other waders in the roost, which looked well populated 
so probably hid a few more goodies as well.   There was one bigger looking bird 
at the back, but had its head well hidden - so possibly a curlew, probably not! 
and several very small birds at the front of the pack - possibly Red Necked 

When we arrived at Rotorua, there was a strong SWly blowing, so lots of the 
waterbirds had got themselves tucked in tight against the lee shore.  We saw 
loads of NZ Scaup, plus I got a very good look at an NZ Dabchick (definite 
tick), which cleared up the one I thought I saw previously.  Spent 16 Jan doing 
Rotorua touristy things, but I did see a very well marked Redpoll as we walked 
around the pools of boiling mud and steaming water!

17 Jan - That morning I got up early and visited Lake Ngahwena (on Hwy 5, where 
Hwy 30 joins) which was a recommended site for Fernbird - I was there (in the 
mist) by 6:10 and within 10 minutes I had seen three Fernbird (tick) making 
their rather funny hollow sounding chip call from inside a straggly shrub at 
the south end of the car park.  Not long after that, they disappeared back into 
the reeds so I could hear but not see them .  I walked up the track to Rainbow 
Mountain (opposite the car park for the lake) and saw the more common bush 
birds, plus a Whitehead - the mist got thicker so I headed home for a cuppa and 
breakfast.  We visited Rainbow Springs, which has some nice captive birds and 
then Okere Falls (very scenic and I think would be good early morning) before 
heading on to Taupo, where we spent 3 nights.  From our Taupo unit, we could 
see lots of Black Swan, Scaup and various colour phases of Little Shag, ranging 
from the normal Pied colour scheme we see in Australia, to birds with just a 
white face.  NZ Dabchick appeared every so often in the bay near our unit and I 
also saw them near where the Waikato River drains out of the lake.

Visited Whakapapa NP and Mt Ruapehu on 18 Jan - it started off started alright 
but by the time we reached the cafe at the top of the chairlift it was a total 
white out, so we didn't stay long.  We went back and did a couple of short 
walks around Whakapapa village, where we saw a family of Rifleman 
(Riflemen?)(tick), which are delightful little birds.  My wife saw the first 
and said "I've just seen a very small, round bird in that bush" - one doesn't 
realise quite how small they are until you see them against a "regular" small 
bird - in my case a Silvereye.  I scanned the Whakapapaiti Stream at several 
locations around the village and on the road back towards Taupo for Blue Duck 
(which the ranger said have been on the stream in the last few weeks) but no 
luck there.  At a waterfall on the road out (forgot the name!) we did see a 
Tomtit.  We also looked at several sites for the Duck on the Tongariro River on 
our way home, but not a sausage.

19 Jan - it rained quite heavily in the morning, but we did a Taupo lake 
cruise.  The plan was to visit Pureora Forest Park that afternoon (the forecast 
was for clearing weather) but as we drove in that direction, the weather got 
worse, so we pushed on to Waitomo Caves and a walk around the Kiwi House at 
Otorohanga.  This was very good as we got a good look at some of the harder to 
see birds and saw some South Island species, watched them feed the kiwi (a 
delightful looking mixture including shredded ox heart (in convenient worm 
shaped strips!) and tofu.)  Great fish and chips at Te Kuiti on the way home.

20 Jan - to Auckland, the long way, via Pureora Forest Park and Miranda.  At 
the former, we did several short walks (including the Forest Tower and Totara 
Walk (near the Ranger station) at which we saw NZ Pigeon, Whitehead, Rifleman, 
NZ Robin, Kaka, and Yellow Crowned Parakeet (tick).  At the tower, I could hear 
what I assume were Long Tailed Cuckoo - there were several birds calling loudly 
but none seemed to want to move from their hiding spot, (so that's 1/2 a tick). 
 Several covey of California Quail were running about on the road near the 
Buried Forest, but there was no sign of the Kokako that has a territory along 
that road (per the rangers).

After a longish cross country drive, we arrived at Miranda at about the worst 
possible time - a pretty warm afternoon and the tide almost right out, but as I 
only had one shot at this site, we went to the hide anyway.  Grubbing about 
just in front were 2 Wrybill (tick) and a Terek Sandpiper.  There was a Banded 
Rail in the mangroves next to the gate that leads from the road to the hide and 
a Sharp Tailed Sandpiper on the ponds next to the road.  Lots of birds, but all 
way off and difficult (impossible) to ID with the heat shimmer coming off the 
mud unless one could get a bit higher up.  From a slightly more elevated 
position to the north of the Shorebird Centre, I picked up a Golden Plover, 
lots of Pied Stilts and Oystercatchers, Bar Tailed Godwits, Lesser Knot, Banded 
Dotterel, Caspian and WF Tern.

We spent the last 2 days around Auckland but did not have enough time to visit 
Tiritiri Matangi (I'm saving that for another visit!) - in particular we 
visited Rangitoto Island, for an interesting 1/2 day tour around the volcanic 
rubble that makes up the island.  From the ferry, I saw several Blue Penguin on 
the way out and back in, and also a dark phase Arctic Skua harassing a Black 
Backed Gull - the skua looked as big as (or even slightly bigger than) the 
gull, so I initially thought it was a Brown, but then I realised that Brown 
Skua don't occur that far north in summer and the bird was a dark chocolately 
colour with a darker cap, so that Arctic was more likely.  Plenty of terns 
around, but again all seemed to be White Fronted apart from one noticeably 
smaller individual with a yellow bill, but it was gone before I got a good 
look. That was it for birding - we flew back to Sydney on Sunday afternoon 
after going up the Skytower and doing a bit of shopping in the morning.

All in all, I had a good trip both as a tourist and birding wise.  My future 
trips to NZ will only get harder from a birding perspective I suspect, but I am 
already looking forward when I can start planning a visit to South Island for 
Kea, Rock Wren, Yellowhead and various penguins!

Tom Wilson
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