New Zealand South Island trip report

Subject: New Zealand South Island trip report
From: Glenn Ehmke <>
Date: Mon, 19 Jan 2009 00:43:28 -0800 (PST)

Spent 15 days travelling around the south island - 11 of
them aboard the Orion, an expedition/cruise ship in early December 2008. Spent
no time inland, but saw most of coast from Nelson to Fiordland as well as
Stewart Island and the sub-Antarctic Snares Islands (albeit briefly).


Good birdwatching is sparse on the east coast of the South
Island, pretty much the entire coast has been cleared at some point and even
the large areas of sub-tropical rainforest such as Able Tasman NP and
Marlborough Sounds are secondary re-growth. Step into forests in the south
island and things are very quiet - due mainly to predators (Stoats, Ferrets,
Weasles and Rats). There are however a few dedicated conservation areas where NZ
has removed predators and native species have been highly successful
re-colonising them


Able Tasman NP - Lots
of Variable Oystercatchers around as well as Reef Heron (Eastern Reef Egret in
Australia) with a nest in a cliff cave on one of the small islands. Caspian and
White-fronted Terns, Gulls - Black-backed (Kelp) and Red-billed (Silver),
Spotted, Pied, Little Pied, Black and Great Shags. Didn’t venture into the 
there, but there wasn’t much calling that I could hear from the coast. Kererū
or New Zealand Pigeon were
common though.


Marlborough Sounds -
Ships Cove and Motuara Island - Motuara Island is a real conservation
success story - the NZ dept. of conservation have completely removed all
predators (including rats) and the island functions as a nursery for Brown Kiwi


The island itself is small (approx. 60ha) and consequently
the island is saturated with endangered birds. South Island Robin and
Saddleback (both all but extinct on the mainland) approach within inches as do 
and Bellbird. There is a small pond about 100m or so up the only track on the
island which birds will come to bathe at. The Kiwi conservation areas are not
accessible, so you won’t see them here (Stewart Island is the place for that).


Ships Cove is adjacent to Motorua Island on the ‘mainland’ and
the difference is palpable - no Robins, Saddlebacks or even Fantails. However
South Island Weka will come and say hi, they’re very tame. Coastal birds incl.
Paradise Shellduck, Variable Oystercatcher White-fonted Terns also.


Kaikoura -
pelagic birding is the main attraction here (see other reports). Albatross can
sometimes be seen from the coast and coastal birds such as Herons, White-faced
and Reef, Oystercatchers, Terns and Gulls around the Peninsula.


Banks Peninsula -
saw a small part of the peninsula around Akoroua briefly. Almost completely
cleared of native vegetation, gorse is rampant and introduced predators are
highly abundant. Despite this there are some good bird attractions here. A
White-flippered Penguin colony in Flea Bay is managed by a private landholder
who does all her own predator control (over a massive area!) and nest boxes.
Tours of the colony are available and there is also a Pied Shag colony right
nest to the Penguins. Variable Oystercatcher, Paradise Shelduck and Canada
Goose also benefit from the lack of predators around the penguin colony and all
had eggs or young when I was there. There are also a few small gullies where
remnant vegetation and some good bird life persists along the Banks Peninsula
Track which you must book to walk.


Dunedin -
Apparently some good shorebird spots around (although we didn’t get to them),
but again a heavily modified coastline in general. The only mainland Albatross
colony (Southern Royals) and Yellow-eyes Penguin colonies are big tourist
draw-cards and well worth a visit - not cheap, but your money is going to a
very good cause. There is also a large Spotted Shag colony near the heads. 


Dunedin to Snares
- Heading south from Dunedin the seabirds started to appear far more regularly.
Until now Cape Petrel, a White-capped Albatross or two and the occasional Giant
Petrel were all we’d seen (apart from Royal Albatross at the Dunedin colony)
were all we’d seen off the back of the Orion. From Dunedin to Snares we saw
Salvin’s, White-capped, Royal, Wandering, Bullers, Black-browed and Grey-headed
Albatross. Also Cape Petrels incessantly following the ship and Northern Gaint
Petrels, smaller petrels and shearwaters became more and more common.


The Snares - Then
next stop for the boat was the Snares Islands some 200km off the southern tip
of the south island of NZ. The Snares are amazing granite structures climbing
to approx. 400m straight out of the southern ocean. Landing on the island is
prohibited, however we had an afternoon in the Zodiac’s around the shoreline. 
thousands of (Snares) Crested Penguins coming in and out of the water and
climbing massive, steep rock faced to their burrows (presumably), all the while
dodging cantankerous NZ fur seals and the occasional Sea-lion. Brown Skua were
also abundant around the coast and a pair of Antarctic Terns appeared to be
breeding nearby (they were flying back and forth with fish). Few Buller’s
Albatross to be seen, although the Snares is home to one of the largest
breeding colonies in the world. Common Diving Petrels were also around, and
late in the day thousands of Sooty Shearwaters approached the islands (~3
million nest there).


Had a brief glimpse of a Snares Island Robin (one of the
endemic land birds on the islands). The Snares (along with other NZ
sub-Antarctic’s e.g. Auckland, Campbell Islands) are free of introduced 
(unlike Macquarie), so land birds have a chance there.


Snares to Fiordland
- from the Snares we headed north through what the captain described as
respectable swell (up to 8m) to the Fiordland coast. The shelf is very close to
the shoreline in SW NZ and seabirds can be seen regularly right on the coast
(literally within meters of it!) Albatross make for a spectacular sight against
the backdrop of the enormous Fiords (incorrectly referred to as sounds). 
White-capped and Salvin’s Albatross along with Shearwaters, Prions and Northern
Giant Petrels were all seen against the spectacular coastline which
occasionally peered through the low cloud.


Fiordland, Millford,
Dusky and Doubtfull sounds - (Fiordland) Crested Penguins can be seen in
the Fiords, although they’re by no means common as well as shags (Spotted
mostly), Gulls and Terns (mostly White-fronted). A Variable Oystercatcher with a
chick was also seen on a small island in Dusky Sound. There are numerous
islands in Fiordland and predators have been eradicated from some of them
allowing a number of endangered birds to return, but they’re difficult to get
to in general in this part of the world.


There is some spectacular scenery in the Fiords and some
really nice rainforest, but unless you’re on one of the predator-free islands 
birdlife is sparse.


From Fiordland we headed to Stewart Island - NZs third
largest island - (accessible by a short ferry ride from Bluff on the South


Stewart Island
itself is famous as the best spot in NZ to see Brown Kiwi (or Kiwi of any kind
for that matter). The island is currently Mustellid-free (i.e. no stoats,
ferrets or Weasels) and there are serious plans to have a crack at getting rid
of rats as well. We didn’t get to look for Kiwi unfortunately, however there
are operators who run tours specifically to see Kiwi. Even without seeing Kiwi,
Stewart Island is a fantastic birdwatching experience and a fascinating
conservation story.


Ulva Island is a small satellite island, easily accessable
from Oban Village on Stewart Island and is an absolute must for any birdwatcher
in southern NZ. In half a day there we saw Kaka, Tui, Bellbird, Saddleback, Red
and Yellow-crowned Parakeet, Stewart Island Robin, Rifleman at an active nest, 
Brown Creeper, Fantail, Bellbird, Variable Oystercatchers with chicks, Stewart
Island Weka with chicks, White-fronted Tern, Little Penguin and Black-backed
Gull. We didn’t see Yellowhead but they’re also around on Ulva. Water Taxis are
easy to get pretty much any time and there are also guided tours which are very
worthwhile. Take a guided tour in the morning then go for a wander by yourself
is the best thing to do - the guides we had were excellent. Most of them are
actively involved in conservation work rat trapping, researching breeding or
re-introducing birds such as Rifleman to the island. 


Highlights of Ulva island were Stewart Island Robin feeding
dependent young on the ground 4 feet away and Weka Family coming straight up to
us and allowing us to take pictures of them about 10cm away. Seeing Rifleman
(NZ’s smallest bird) up close was also fantastic. They are one of the more
furtive NZ passerines, generally high up in the forest canopy. We happened
across an active nest this time (one of the benefits of getting a guide) and
were able to sit quietly and wait for the birds to come in and out of the nest


Although most of the threatened endemic avifauna is on Ulva,
the township of Oban on Stewart Island is a great place to see Kaka and Tui
(better then Ulva actually) and Stewart Island Shag can also be seen around the
harbour and coastline along with Terns, Gulls and Variable Oystercatchers 
actively 50m from the main pier). 


A few of the images from the trip can be found at ;

PS if you’re a photographer, don’t bother taking anything
more than a 200mm into a forest - shows why. 

      Stay connected to the people that matter most with a smarter inbox. Take 
a look

To unsubscribe from this mailing list,
send the message:
(in the body of the message, with no Subject line)
<Prev in Thread] Current Thread [Next in Thread>

The University of NSW School of Computer and Engineering takes no responsibility for the contents of this archive. It is purely a compilation of material sent by many people to the birding-aus mailing list. It has not been checked for accuracy nor its content verified in any way. If you wish to get material removed from the archive or have other queries about the archive e-mail Andrew Taylor at this address: andrewt@cse.unsw.EDU.AU