Trip Report - New Zealand and Macquarie Island

Subject: Trip Report - New Zealand and Macquarie Island
From: Frank Pierce / Janet Mattiske <>
Date: Mon, 05 Jan 2009 16:23:18 +1100
Trip to New Zealand and Macquarie Island - 27 November - 23 December 2008

I went to Macquarie Island on the Heritage "Galapagos of Antarctica" tour from 27/11/08 till 9/12/08. I then spent 2 days on Stewart Island. On 11/12/08 Janet met me in Invercargill. We then toured the South Island in a hire car, returning to Melbourne from Christchurch on 23/12/08.

The Heritage trip visited New Zealand's Auckland, Campbell and Snares Subantarctic Islands as well as Macquarie Island. It was a fantastic trip, wonderfully focused on all the varied aspects of this amazing natural environment, including the flora, geology, history, seals and cetaceans as well as the avifauna. The weather was variable from very good to very bad and the tour leader did a great job in juggling arrangements so that we experienced as much a possible.

There were only 5 Aussie birders on board in contrast to the 25 on last year's trip. The Heritage bird guide had awesome expertise and was a great help in identifying the numerous seabirds seen. New birds for me in the Australian territory were SOUTHERN FULMAR, MOTTLED and KERGUELEN PETRELS, ROYAL, ROCKHOPPER and GENTOO PENGUINS, IMPERIAL SHAG and REDPOLL.

The wildlife experience on Macquarie, with its 1000's of King and Royal Penguins was awesome. Plans are well underway for the eradication of the rabbits, rats and other pests from Macquarie in 2010. Let's hope that this will be successful and that the regeneration is as successful as that on Campbell Island.

The New Zealand Subantarctic Islands were also unforgettable, with amazing megaherbs and wildlife. Birding on these was excellent. Most endemic species were seen and the close-up experiences with the Albatrosses, and many others, were very special. I was lucky to see a NEW ZEALAND FALCON on Enderby Island, as I did not see one on the NZ South Island.

The extended period at sea, with so many pelagic birds, was a great opportunity to improve one's sea-birding skills, when compared with the occasional 1 day pelagic trip from the mainland. I can recommend this trip as a 'must-do' for all with a passion for seabirds and nature in general.

I enjoyed my 2 days on Stewart Island. I spent a full day on Ulva Island; birds seen on this protected island included WEKA, RIFLEMAN, BROWN CREEPER, FANTAIL (including black phase), NEW ZEALAND ROBIN, RED-CROWNED PARAKEET and SADDLEBACK Birds seen on Stewart Island included KAKA and LITTLE BLUE PENGUIN. I also had good views of a (SOUTHERN) BROWN KIWI at night on a secluded beach, thanks to Phillip Smith.

We left Invercargill on 12/12 driving to Milford Sound for the 3.45 'nature' boat trip on the Sound. On the way, after spending time looking for the Blue Duck, we saw ROCKWREN and KEA at the east end of Homer Tunnel. We missed the Fiordland Penguin on the Sound. I later learned that they leave the breeding sites by the full moon in December which was 10/12; this was confirmed by the boat crew who advised that they had been seen regularly until a 'few days ago'. We stayed in a cabin at Gunn's Camp.

The morning of 13/12 was spent continuing our search of the upper Hollyford River for Blue Duck, which we did not see before driving to Queenstown.

On 14/12 we drove to Twizel and eventually found 2 BLACK STILT on a small wetland upstream of Lake Poaka. There had obviously been a lot of rain and the rivers had been in flood. There was a significant flow through Lake Poaka, with the wetland at the upstream end completely flooded. The rest of the day was spent unsuccessfully searching the rivers south of Twizel for Wrybill; the recent high water levels did not help this. We stayed in a cabin at Omarama.

On 15/12 we drove to Hasst Pass where, due to heavy rain, it took me several hours to get poor views of a YELLOWHEAD at the start of the Bridal Track. RIFLEMAN and YELLOW-CROWNED PARAKEET were among other birds seen. We stayed at Hasst for the night.

On 16/12 I checked Munro Beach unsuccessfully for Fiordland Penguin; the rain and high tide didn't help. We didn't see the glaciers due to heavy rain and cloud down to ground level. We arrived at Okarito mid afternoon after seeing a LONG-TAILED CUCKOO at the DOC carpark about 4km east of the town. Following Ian Cooper's advice, I saw a FERNBIRD at the wetland at the south edge of town. A GREAT WHITE HERON was on the lagoon near the wharf. At dusk I joined Ian Cooper and his associate Paul, to search for the local species of Kiwi. The wet weather persisted and although one was detected very close to us we could not hear it in the rain and it eluded us.

On 17/12 we arrived in Punakaiki and the DOC office advised that Blue Duck can be seen near Blackball to the south and north of Karamea to the north. However both sites involved at least day-long tramps to the upper reaches of the rivers, and we did not have time for this. The Great Spotted Kiwi site was not accessible because Bullock Creek Road was cut-off by deep water. I tried at the edge of the water, about 3.5km along the road, for a couple of hours at dusk without result. I did see a MOREPORK at this site.

On 18/12 the water had subsided on Bullock Creek Rd so I made a brief visit to the Kiwi site and good bush birds were seen. During lunch near the docks at Westport we saw an ARCTIC SKUA fly by. We drove on to Blenheim where we stayed for the next 2 nights.

On 19/12 I saw 6 WRYBILL with other waders at Lake Grassmere at dawn. In the afternoon, at Picton, we took the Birdwatcher's Expedition on Queen Charlotte Sound and saw KING SHAG and FLUTTERING SHEARWATER among many waterbirds. Janet saw a SADDLEBACK on Motuara Island.

On 20/12 the trip emphasis changed to wineries for the day- great Pinots!
We drove to Kaikoura late in the afternoon.

On 21/12 the 6am Pelagic was cancelled at 5.45am due to rough weather, so I booked on the 9am and went for an early walk at Mt Fyffe reserve where good bush birds were seen, including BROWN CREEPER and CALIFORNIAN QUAIL. The 9am pelagic gave good views of many birds including WESTLAND and WHITE-CHINNED PETRELS and BULLERS and HUTTONS SHEARWATERS, not to mention the 5 species of Albatrosses. We drove to Amberley for the night and picked up a few more common birds on the way.

On 22/12 we skirted Christchurch and briefly checked out part of Lake Ellesmere, where we saw GREAT CRESTED GREBE, before returning our hire car and retiring to our motel to prepare for a very early morning departure from the airport.

Trip planning was based on advice from Chris Lester, who did a similar trip in 2007, and on information gleaned from the archives of Birding-aus and Birding NZ. Birding in NZ is quite challenging. The density and spread of introduced birds has to be seen to be believed. Some of the NZ endemics are basically 'untickable' in the wild (e.g. Hasst Kiwi, Takahe, Kakapo), and many others are hard to find. All but 4 of the realistic targets that I missed on the South Island should be easier on the North Island.

We found touring NZ to be just as easy as travelling in Australia, but reference to a travel-time chart is recommended. We hired a Rav 4WD and were glad to have the extra comfort and ground clearance. I think our trip was well paced, with time to take in the awesome scenery. As always, a few extra days would have been good to allow more flexibility around wet weather and to cover a few other places. December is a good time, before the main tourist period, but a week earlier probably would have yielded the Fiordland Penguin. Most accomodation was not prebooked, but tours were, and the dilemma between prebooking and maximizing flexibility for bad weather and uncooperative birds always exists.

This was my first visit to NZ and my NZ bird list (including the Subantarctic Islands) now stands at 126 plus 11 additional subspecies,. My list for Macquarie Island and adjacent Australian Waters stands at 34 plus 6 additional subspecies.

Frank Pierce


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