TRAVELLING NATURALIST TRIP REPORT
5 - 24 October 2000
Neil Arnold - The Travelling Naturalist
Caren Shrubshall - Naturequest
I am glad to have shared the exploration of the scenery and wildlife of New Zealand with you. I'm sure we would have been hard put to it to have experienced such a mix of weather on any other trip. Most of the time the weather was good but when it was bad it was very very bad! We've experienced an 'official' hurricane, what felt like a monsoon and a minor blizzard. We also witnessed a number of small avalanches, fortunately not too near us and were present when an earthquake struck nearby - well not that near really, we had to read about it in the press despite the fact that the epicentre was twenty or thirty K away!
My thanks go to Mark Hanger and his team for organising our holiday and to Caren for bringing it to fruition. Caren thrilled us with wonderful Maori stories and with a learned distillation of every aspect of New Zealand life. The breadth of her knowledge was only surpassed by its depth.
I'm also grateful to you all for your good cheer, especially when the weather forced us to modify our programme.
We travelled approximately 40,000K by air and some 4,660K in the bus. Good old 'Bus-by' !
I hope we'll travel together again sometime.
Neil Arnold November 2000.
THURSDAY 5 & FRIDAY 6 OCTOBER
Flying to Auckland, New Zealand. Despite its length the flight was comfortable, including the brief encounter with Los Angeles airport.
SATURDAY 7 OCTOBER
Cloudy, sunny spells, warm. SE 4-5.
Soon after we arrived we were driven to Gulf Harbour to catch the ferry "Seaflyte" to Tiri Tiri Matangi Island. Most of the birds encountered en route were familiar to us as they consisted of introduced species such as House Sparrow, Blackbird, Song Thrush and Goldfinch!
Even before we had reached the island we had noted New Zealand Pigeon and Variable Oystercatchers. The adrenalin was running.
We were immediately captivated by the beauty of this small island, once dominated by pasture but now developing its native flora. Fortunately areas that were too steep to cultivate still retained a nucleus of indigenous plants. To this has been added a number of endangered indigenous bird species.
Our first encounter with the native woodland birds was with the strident calls of the Saddleback. Soon we were to see them everywhere, together with the equally noisy Bellbird and the more retiring Stitchbird, New Zealand Robin and Whitehead. We were then entertained by a pair of Tui.
One of the commonest birds was the Pukeko or Purple Swamphen. Every time we saw one in the distance we wondered if we were about to find the much sought after Takahe.
Whilst we were eating our lunch, however, we were eventually joined by a pair of Takahe. It is just as well that we weren't encouraged to feed them as there was an obvious shortage of volunteers to put their hands too close to that powerful looking beak!
As we made our way back to the quay we encountered a Grey Warbler.
We were glad to get back to the hotel, eat a fine meal and then retire to bed - at last!
SUNDAY 8 OCTOBER
Cloudy. Sunny spells. Warm. W 5-6 moderating by the afternoon.
Our first port of call was Muriwai on the west coast. Here we were to enjoy fine views of over a thousand nesting Australasian Gannets and wonder at a flock of wheeling White-fronted Terns that must have numbered four hundred.
The afternoon as spent at Miranda, a fine coastal reserve on the Firth of Thames. Initially we searched the shell banks for the elegant New Zealand Dotterel. After some time we managed to obtain good views of a pair.
As the tide rose we moved a few K south to an area famed for its wader roost. When we arrived there was already a handful of other birdwatchers scanning the shell banks. As we quietly approached the bank we were amazed to see another pair of Dotterel within a few metres of the other birders.
As we settled ourselves on the bank we noted that there was a flock of plover within twenty metres of us. They were all Wrybill, the tiny plover with a bill that twists to the right. We had hoped to see this splendid wader but not at that sort of range. There were 101 of them, some of which approached even nearer to us.
As we watched thousands more waders flew in. It was difficult to make meaningful estimates of the numbers because no sooner had they arrived they would scurry down behind the shell banks. There would appear though to have been at least a thousand Bar-tailed Godwit, a thousand Knot, four hundred Pied Oystercatchers and nine Turnstone.
There was also a flock of Black-billed Gulls and a Little Tern.
In the flock of Wrybills was a single Red-necked Stint.
Behind us in a fresh water pool there were more treasures, twenty Paradise Shelduck and eighty Pied Stilt.
What an experience!
We then drove to Rotorua.
MONDAY 9 OCTOBER
Light rain nearly all day W 5-6
Despite the rain and wind our early morning drive to Pureora, a fine Podocarp forest, paid great dividends.
We were soon standing in the cathedral like atmosphere of the ancient rain forest. We were hoping to see a North Island Kokako but the weather was not making it easy. Eventually though a male flew into the clearing onto a tree about eight metres above our heads. It was not to stay though, and flew to the top of a thirty metre tall Rimu tree nearby and, much to our delight, started to sing its strange eerie song. We were given a full recital, an experience that was definitely more Schoenberg than it was Chopin! The male then flew down to a lower level where it proceeded to leap from branch to branch somewhat like a trapeze artist. Eventually it rested on a branch illuminated by the first rays of pale sunlight. At last we could see its colours!
The excitement was by no means confined to the Kokako, however. Nearby was a pair of stunning Yellow-crowned Parakeet quietly feeding on the forest floor. Eventually we all saw then a point blank range.
This experience was soon to be enhanced by a number of flyovers by a pair of noisy Kaka.
Despite the rain we had our reward.
We then drove to Whakamaru where we encountered our first New Zealand Scaup, Grey teal and Coot. Another delight was a duck Paradise Shelduck with eight ducklings.
Our last birding venue was Lake Rotorua where, despite being battered by high winds we found a delightful pair of New Zealand Dabchicks, a variety of cormorants and a selection of wildfowl including Grey Duck, Australasian Shoveler and a flock of eighty New Zealand Scaup.
Some brave souls then stayed out in the rain to tour the geo-thermal sites in Rotorua.
TUESDAY 10 OCTOBER
Clear, gradually clouding over to 4/8 cumulus. Sunny. Calm sea. SW 2 gusting 4.
Soon after leaving Rotarua we called in at the steaming mud pools at Waiopapu. Here we found a scene that reminded us all of how strong the forces of nature are when compared with our small lives.
The long drive to Wellington was frustrated by a detour over the Tongariro National Park Road due to a road traffic accident on the intended route i.e. the Desert Road. This did take us through lovely country in the shadow of the snow-capped mountains.
Caren was sustained through the long drive with a regular intake of Buzz Bars (sticky!) and Dirty Dog (a drink containing cactus, lemon, caffeine and guarana). The latter was carefully hidden when a local policeman said "Hello, hello, what have we got 'ere?"
Ironically, having arrived in good time for the ferry to Picton we were informed that it was to be half an hour late in leaving!
We soon settled ourselves on the open deck at the stern of the 'Arahura' and began our search for seabirds. There were a good many birds in the Cook Strait but few were near enough to identify specifically. We did, however, begin by establishing which family each passing bird belonged to. Eventually we were to gain good views of Fluttering and Sooty Shearwaters, Shy Albatross and a Northern Giant Petrel which followed in the wake for about twenty minutes. About fifty prions were seen at fairly close range but the evening light made it difficult to establish the size of their beaks; it was assumed though that they were probably Fairy Prion.
Having done our seabird "homework" we set off for Blenheim with the boat trips of the coming days focused in our minds.
WEDNESDAY 11 OCTOBER
8/8 cumulus. Driving rain, NW4-5. By the afternoon sunny, dry, NW 4-5, gusting 8 in the open sea.
By 08.30 we were on the "Felix" heading out into the Marlborough Sound. At first the conditions were calm but as soon as we left the shelter of the Sound in our attempt to reach the White Rocks we were hit by heavy, lurching seas. This made life very uncomfortable so, regrettably, we gave up our quest for the very local and endangered King Shag.
There were compensations though for we had good views of Spotted Shag, four Little Penguins, a lone Sooty Shearwater and a raft of some hundred and fifty Fluttering Shearwaters.
The real thrill of the morning, however, was a pod of Dusky Dolphins which ran the bow of the boat enabling us to see every detail.
Once we had shed our waterproofs we had lunch.
Our next aim was to drive to Kaikoura. En route we stopped for coffee at Kerongu on the coast. Here we discovered a group of seven fine Banded Dotterel and a variety of other shore birds.
As we were leaving the beach Caren gave us the bad news that the weather forecast for the following day was appalling but that she had arranged a pelagic trip at Kaikoura at 16.30. Needless to say we drove straight to the hotel, dressed in all our foul weather gear and headed for the beach. Soon we were in the bay.
The conditions were perfect: it was sunny and the sea was moderately calm. Kaikoura is the perfect place for a pelagic seabird trip because unlike most similar venues around the world it isn't necessary to fight your way out to sea for two hours before reaching the deep water of the continental shelf. Here the deep water is less than ten K from the shore. Almost before we knew it we were gathered at the stern watching hundreds of seabirds feeding on the "chum" (fish oil and livers etc), which was being dragged behind the boat in a small wire cage.
At first the flashy Pintados or Cape Petrels were the most obvious feeders but soon they were joined by small groups of Sooty and Short-tailed Shearwaters and Westland Black Petrels. At the edge of the group were a number of Hutton's Shearwaters but they did not come to feed. Suddenly five Giant Petrels joined the fray. On close examination there were found to be four Southern Giants and one Northern. Then the albatrosses arrived, massive creatures landing in the middle of the throng. At first the Black-browed Mollymawk and the Shy Mollymawk were centre-stage, but these were soon joined by a couple of huge Wandering Albatross and then the slightly smaller Royal Albatross. With care we were able to identify two races of Shy Mollymawk and two of Wandering. Then came a bonus, a fine example of the Snowy race of the Wandering Albatross, which at rest on the water showed a totally white back and wings. The reason for this became clear when it was in flight as all the black on the wings was confined to the wing tips, which are hidden when the wing is closed. In the midst of all this bird activity an Antarctic Fulmar paid us a short visit, as did a White-chinned Petrel and two Great-winged Petrels. The feeding was so frenzied that even a handful of Silver Gulls and Kelp Gulls found it hard to get a look in. This was also true of a few Fairy Prions, which were confined to the periphery. At last, though, we were able to see them close enough to establish their field characteristics. This had been the most intense piece of seabird watching I had ever experienced, it was difficult to tear ourselves away. In two hours we had noted twenty species of seabirds.
What would tomorrow bring?
THURSDAY 12 OCTOBER
8/8 cu. Driving rain. South 80 - 120K per hour.
(On the following day the newspaper revealed that the wind had gusted to 122Kph at Kaikoura!)
The whole group had come to Kaikoura in the hope of seeing whales. The sense of disappointment was tangible when we realized that no boats would sail today, especially as we had risen early hoping against hope that the weather forecast might be wrong - no such luck!
It was the sort of day when getting wet was inevitable.
Initially we decided to get wet at the Ohau Fur Seal colony. We succeeded! The seals were very active and there was a light movement of seabirds southward into huge seas.
Our next port of call was Mount Fyffe where we got wet again! Here we walked a forest trail. Caren managed to enthrall us with yet more ecological gems despite the rain running down our necks! Then Ruth spotted a Morepork sitting only a metre or two from the path. It was possible to see every wet feather; it definitely looked how we felt! It was a real privilege to see such a fine owl in daylight.
We then drove to the Kaikoura Peninsula where we got wet again. At least there was some shelter. We must have looked a pathetic sight huddled behind a concrete block on the shore.
The scene that met us when we arrived was truly awe-inspiring: just off the shore was a frenzied mass of swirling shearwaters. There must have been a couple of thousand shearwaters on the water and flying low over the surface. The majority were Hutton's Shearwaters but there was also a scattering of Short-tailed and Sooty Shearwaters. Other petrels were also present but they were refusing to give up their identity. There too were about fifty White -fronted Terns and Kelp and Silver Gulls. In the calmer waters of the bay there were also a number of Pied and Spotted Shags. A lone Turnstone represented sandpipers.
After lunch we took the opportunity to catch up with our laundry, diary writing etc.
The whales were probably thinking "It's a holiday today lads, no humans to watch!"
We are hoping that by some miracle the weather forecast for tomorrow would be wrong and the wind would drop but look at tomorrow's date!
FRIDAY 13 OCTOBER
8/8 cu, dull.becoming 3/8 cu. sunny. S 4-5.
We were all up early. The sea in the bay in front of the hotel was calm but the forecast spoke of a heavy swell out in the open sea. No whale boats today!
An in depth study of all our family trees has established that there are no Murphys in our antecedence so there must be another factor preventing us from setting sail on the whale watching boat!
We were so lucky to have a fine, sunny day to show off the Southern Alps as we made our way to Hokitika.
Our first stop was just along the coast at Barney's Rock. Here the sea was still boiling, the aftermath of the storm. Hundreds of shearwaters were dashing over the sea, as were a number of giant petrels. On the rocks three New Zealand Fur Seals seemed unmoved by the whole event!
We stopped near to Christchurch at St. Anne's Lagoon where we spent some time admiring a variety of wildfowl, including such exotics as Canada Goose and Cape Barren Goose.
As we drove towards Arthur's Pass there were flocks of Black-billed Gulls and Black-fronted Terns feeding in the open fields.
The upland lakes en route held a variety of wetland birds, including Great Crested Grebes.
Seeing the Southern Alps in bright sunlight was experience to lift the soul!
In the forests around Arthur's Pass we marvelled at the delicate beauty of the Rifleman and the subtlety of the Tom Tit. We also had our first prolonged view of the imperious New Zealand Pigeon, surely one of the most attractive members of the family. In no time we had left the mountains and were crossing the coastal plain to Lake Moeraki.
The Wilderness Lodge at Lake Moerraki must be one of the finest venues in the World. It is beautifully situated on the riverside, wonderfully comfortable, has fine food, friendly staff and very rich birthday cakes, as Isobel was to discover!
This having been said, no sooner had we arrived than we prepared ourselves for a walk to Monro Beach, a one and a half hour round trip. Caren had once again out- thought the weather. She had heard the forecast for the next day and decided that, if we were to beat the rain we must walk to the beach that evening.
Once again our luck held for as soon as we arrived three Fiordland Crested Penguins emerged from the sea. In the next half an hour two more penguins appeared. We were elated because the appearance of the penguins is always unpredictable.
SUNDAY 15 OCTOBER
8/8 cu. Heavy rain. NW 6. The rain eventually stopped at about 20.00 !.
Today, having already seen the penguins, we are having a free-for-all.
At 09.30 most of the group braved the rain to walk along the river to witness the daily feeding of the eels. No one fell in the river - quite!
Some stalwarts went to see the waves crashing against the shore, others wandered the grounds and we all went glow-worm hunting in the evening when the rain stopped. The abundance of glow-worm was amazing to British eyes; there is obviously no shortage of this species in New Zealand.
MONDAY 16 OCTOBER
8/8 Cu. Heavy rain. Brief thunder and lightning. NW 4. The rain continued until we were well past the Haas Pass. Beautiful sunshine. 2/8 Cu. over the highest mountains.
We left the Lake in heavy rain. We popped into a number of spots on the coast but the swell was huge, the visibility was very poor at Knights Bluff and the trail at Shipwreck Creek was submerged!
On our way to Hass Pass we stopped at Fantail Falls. As soon as we had left the bus a pair of New Zealand Falcons soared overhead, the male carrying a prey item.
The epiphyte adorned Southern Beech forest at the Hass Pass was a delight. Even in the rain it had a wonderful sense of grandeur. Here we had excellent views of a pair of Riflemen and we heard Brown Creeper high in the canopy.
On stopping briefly at Makarora we encountered another New Zealand Falcon. By this time the rain had eased and soon the sun emerged.
By the time we reached the charming little town of Wonaka it was really sunny but the northwesterly wind was cold.
In the Lindis Valley there was yet another Falcon.
The mountains were lit with bright sunshine but the very highest peaks were still in cloud. Lots of photographs were taken.
A brief visit to Lake Pukaki revealed a number of wetland species but not the Black Stilt we had hoped for. Hopefully we'll see one tomorrow. There was yet another Falcon sighting as compensation!
TUESDAY 17 OCTOBER
Snow on the mountains overnight. Morning at Twizel: 5/8 Cu. down to the base of the nearby hills. Sun. NW 2. As we approached the Mount Cook National Park there were signs of snow on the road from passing cars. Light rain. At The Hermitage there was steady sleet falling on 10 cm. of laying snow. NW 4. Sleet became snow and later, as we left the area light rain. In the late afternoon the road to Mount Cook was sunny and the foothills appeared but the high mountains remained obscured. Whilst in the Hooker Valley we heard an avalanche! This seemed apt in the blizzard conditions!
The day started well at Twizel. The golf course hosted a variety of birds including about thirty feeding Redpoll, three Banded Dotterel, Pied Oystercatchers and a Black-fronted Tern.
We were soon at the lakes adjacent to the canals from Lake Pukaki. Here we found a variety of stilts. Our first discovery was a fine Black Stilt and after some searching we found a second individual. Nearby though there were two hybrid Pied X Black Stilts and six Pied Stilts. A fine old time was had sorting that lot out! After we'd enjoyed watching a few more wetland species we made for the Hermitage.
Before long we came across a pair of Brown Hares dashing across the grasslands.
Despite the steady sleet we enjoyed an invigorating walk on the Governor's Bush Trail. There were few birds but we did enjoy Foxglove (Ourisia caespitosa) and Mount Cook Lily (Ranunculus lyllii) in flower.
After lunch we drove towards the Hooker Valley. We were able to take a short walk to the river in the hope of finding more plants in flower. Perhaps understandably the plants were somewhat reluctant to flower in the middle of a blizzard! Caren pointed out the directions of the Hooker Glacier and Mount Cook just in case we should visit the area on a fine day next time!
As we left the area a fine New Zealand Falcon was seen briefly perched on a roadside shrub.
We had had a most exciting day. We were pleased to see the area under snow, as was Caren who had never seen the mountain in such conditions.
WEDNESDAY 18 OCTOBER
4/8 Cu., sunny,cold, afternoon showers, S3.
The drive to Lake Pukaki was brief. There in all its glory was Mount Cook in the distance, a fine composition in light and newly fallen snow against a background of gathering cloud; wonderful!
We then drove along the beautiful Waitaki Valley to the sea.
After a short walk to admire the Moeraki Boulders we had lunch in bright sunshine; yes bright sunshine!
Soon after we were driving through the grand city of Dunedin en route for the Otago Peninsula. Our first port of call was the Yellow-eyed Penguin Reserve.
After a brief lecture we drove in a vehicle belonging to the reserve to the beach. Here we crept along covered trenches to a series of hides. From the hides we observed nine Yellow-eyed Penguins at nests, which they had built in specially prepared shelters. In most cases the birds were sitting. At one nest though the bird was standing up preening its belly feathers. The pink brood patch and the two eggs could be clearly seen. We watched one of the world's most endangered penguins at very close range. As though the thrill of seeing the penguins was not enough we also saw a Hooker's Sealion basking on the beach. It has to be admitted though that the sealion was far from animated at the time. The occasional twitch of a flipper did however indicate that it was indeed alive!
By 16.30 we had boarded the 'Monarch' and were heading towards the rocky Taiaroa Head. There were shags galore nesting on the cliff and flying in from the sea. We had wonderful views of nesting Stewart Island and Spotted Shags, together with a number of other sea birds. Beneath the cliffs was a small group of resting New Zealand Fur Seals. The climax of the trip was to come; there on the grassy slopes below the radio station were nesting Northern Shy Albatross, the only mainland-nesting albatross in the World. There were ten single birds on nests and one pair together. As we watched two more albatross flew in from the sea and circled the colony. Eventually they settled, one demonstrating the sky-pointing display as it approached its mate. Further out to sea we were able to enjoy a very close encounter with about thirty passing Sooty Shearwaters. As we returned to the jetty we passed a number of Bar-tailed Godwit, Pied and Variable Oystercatchers. This was followed by a grand performance laid on by a flock of fishing White-fronted Terns. On the edge of the flock were two Australasian Gannets which brought the show to a close. What a day, we had progressed from the wonder of Mount Cook to the splendour of nesting seabirds.
THURSDAY 19 OCTOBER
4/8 Cu. Ci. Sunny, W1-2. A lovely day!
Most of the day was spent driving through the Catlins. By mid morning we had reached the dramatic sea cliff, Nugget Point. Both Spotted and Stewart Island Shags were breeding and at least four bull New Zealand Fur Seals had establish territories and harems. White-fronted Terns were also active on the rock stacks and a Caspian Tern was seen sitting on a nearby beach.
As we were passing a bend in the River Catlins we noticed a Royal Spoonbill. As it was distant we stopped and viewed it through telescopes.
We had lunch at Papatpowai to the accompaniment of singing Bellbirds and Tui.
As we approached Tautuku Beach, Caren warned us to be ready for one of the most beautiful scenes in New Zealand. We were not disappointed for the white sandy beach was edged on the one hand with wave cut blue sea and on the other by a stretch of enchanting Podocarp forest. On the short walk to the river we noted New Zealand Pigeons, Tomtit, Bellbird, Tui and Brown Creeper. As we walked the boardwalk we heard the sharp song of the Fernbird. Eventually we saw three birds, one of which was in full song.
After a brief wait at Invercargill Airport we were whisked off to Stewart Island in two "Islander" aircraft.
There was an air of excitement as we landed for not only were we on a fascinating island but we soon to embark on a very special boat trip.
After a somewhat hurried dinner we dressed in our warmest clothes and walked to the quay at Halfmoon Harbour. There we met Philip Smith who soon steered "Volantis" towards a wild headland from which there was access to Ocean Beach.
On arriving at the landing stage we were given a briefing and a torch. As we set off up the steep path that was to take us over the ridge to the beach we resembled a line of glow-worms, although of course we were not confined to silk hammocks but were upwardly mobile. As we walked Philip scanned the sides of the path with his torch. Eventually we reached the beach. We extinguished our torches and carefully watched the path of the one remaining torch as the beam moved smoothly along the divide between the sand and the nearby forest. Eventually we could go no further with safety for we had come across a recently deposited area of pebbles and rotting kelp. Then Philip's torch beam stopped and there was a large female Stewart Island Brown Kiwi feeding at the top of the beach. Unfortunately Philip slipped on the pebbles and the Kiwi quietly hid itself. Nearby though was a small rivulet which was partially dammed by kelp and here was another female Kiwi. This one was busily digging away at the kelp, seemingly oblivious to our party which was only five or six metres away. The atmosphere was electric.
We had had an exceptional experience and still managed to turn in by midnight!
FRIDAY 20 OCTOBER
6/8 Cu. becoming 8/8 Cu. in the afternoon. Sunny spells. NW 4-5 threatening to increase.
Philip greeted us like old friends and we set off from the harbour towards Bench Island. Off the island we enjoyed excellent views of nesting Southern Brown Skuas and then we were shown a pair of Fiordland Crested Penguins in a rock crevice close on the shore. As we moved on out into the open sea Sooty Shearwaters glided past the boat and Shy Albatrosses came close to investigate us. Then came a run of sightings of the Common Diving Petrel. As we ploughed through the waves we disturbed these delightful seabird from the surface of the sea sending them dashing off in all directions. We then spent some time in a cove not too distant from Chew Tobacco Point. We were hoping to see Fiordland Crested Penguins coming to land. Our arrival at the cove was to mark one of the most fascinating hours of our lives. Philip suggested that we watch the White-fronted Terns diving for Whitebait as the penguins sometimes joined in the hunt. This paid dividends as we found a distant group of penguins doing just that. Then near the boat we spotted two Yellow-eyed Penguins fishing. Then there were five. Much to our astonishment three of the birds were Fiordland Crested Penguins and the fourth was Yellow-eyed. It was wonderful to be able to, make a comparison. Eventually we made a move towards Ulva Island but en route we were suddenly surrounded by a group of at least 25 Little Blue Penguins. In an hour we had enjoyed close views of all three of New Zealand's "Mainland" breeding penguins.
As we approached Ulva Island a Northern Giant Petrel approached the boat as did yet more Shy Albatross. There were at least 26 sightings of this albatross during the day.
Ulva Island had all the enchanting qualities of fine Podocarp Forest combined with discrete sandy bays.
We were welcomed to the island by a Weka which couldn't decide who to visit first as we left the boat. Eventually we were to see seven of these strangely inquisitive rails.
The forest walk enabled us to appreciate Kaka in the dark forest in contrast to the ones we had seen all around the town of Oban, of which Halfmoon Bay is the harbour. We were also reacquainted with Brown Creeper, Bellbird, Tui, Grey Warbler, Tomtit and both Yellow-crowned and Red-crowned Parakeets.
"Home James" was the next order: well the skipper's name was Philip but he didn't mind!
SATURDAY 21 OCTOBER
6/8 Cu., dull, 0 becoming a clear, sunny day. Evening breeze.
As we left Halfmoon Bay we were sent on our way by four noisy Kaka.
The flight was exciting, for as we climbed we discovered that the low cloud finished at Invercargill and the mountains of Fiordland, beyond, were sparkling in bright sunshine.
In Invercargill we made a brief stop at the Southland Museum, which, despite not being open, gave us the opportunity to see two ancient Tuatara. These were housed behind glass at the back of the museum and could be readily seen from the outside. It was intriguing to watch these unique reptiles despite their inactivity; well, one did move its head a little while we watched.
Once on our way to Te Anau Down we grew closer and closer to the snow covered mountains. At the River Oreti we stopped to search the gravel river bed. Here we found four Banded Dotterel, Pied Stilts, a couple of Black-fronted Terns and more of Caron's coffee and chocolate biscuits!
Soon we were amongst the stately Southern Beech forests of the Eglington Valley. The walks in the forest were enchanting surrendering a number of bird species including Rifleman, Brown Creeper and Yellow-crowned Parakeet. Search as we might though, there was no sign of the much sought after Yellowhead. Perhaps we'll find one tomorrow?
SUNDAY 22 OCTOBER
TE ANAU DOWNS
1/8 Cu., sunny, 0. W3 in Milford Sound.
Our initial exploration of the Southern Beech forest was brief. At our second stop,Lake Gunn, a male Yellowhead burst into song on our arrival. It was soon joined by three others. This was a nice surprise!
It was not long before we realised that we might be hit by the "Sunny Sunday" syndrome. On arriving at Monkey Creek, where we hoped to see Blue Duck, the place was full of tourists. (It must be understood ,of course, that we were travellers, a quite different breed!) No duck.
We drove further up the Hollyford valley in wonderful sunshine enjoying divine scenery. Then we entered the dank, rather forbidding, Homer Tunnel which brought us through the mountain to the Cleddau Valley and on to Milford sound.
The 'Lady Stirling V' set sail almost as soon as we had arrived. She was to take us the full length of the Sound, an area of outstanding beauty made all the more splendid by such fine weather. The almost vertical ice cut-sides of the fiord rose thousands of metres from the sea bed. One of the waterfalls seemed insignificant until it was pointed out that it was falling 500M into the sea.
On returning to the quay we headed for the turning to Gertrude valley just on the other side of the Homer Tunnel. We had just started lunch when a helicopter landed within fifty metres of the bus; we were not amused, especially as we were about to hunt for the Rock Wren, one of New Zealand's most elusive birds. A determined search took place, but no Rock Wren. We had gained great views of a number of indigenous bird species, including the Rifleman, Tomtit, Tui and Bellbird, so all was not lost.
Once again we went on a Blue Duck hunt but with no success. It would seem that both these mountain species dislike bright days and disturbance so perhaps it was not to be our day.
Nothing could spoil the splendour of the landscape so we returned to the hotel in great spirits.
After dinner we indulged in a unique pastime in the annals of The Travelling Naturalist: we acted out local animal species. An idea of the breadth of the trip can be seen by the choice of animals. Would you believe Springtail and Weka, Long-tailed Bat and Tui. (No, but I'd believe Bald Ibis....Editor)
Some hardy souls then went on a star gazing/ listening to Morepork walk.
What a day!
MONDAY 23 OCTOBER
TE ANAU DOWNS
7/8 Cu.,sunnyspells, W1.
A few of us drove to Monkey Creek in the Hollyford Valley in the hope of finding a Blue Duck. Once again we had no luck.
Our drive to Dunedin was punctuated by lunch at the River Oreti and an ice cream stop in mid afternoon.
Despite having to take a diversion due to a road traffic accident we arrived in time for the local flight to Christchurch and then on to Auckland.
It was in Dunedin that we had to say our goodbyes to Caren whose skills, knowledge and good judgement had made the holiday such a success.
The flight to Auckland was made special by good views of the Southern Alps, including a sunlit Mount Cook, the Malborough Sound and the Cook Strait.
On our arrival at Auckland we had to transport our luggage from the Domestic to the International Airport. We did this by pushing our trolleys on an 800M walkway. The occasion somewhat resembled 'The flight out of Egypt' and I could not expunge 'Chariots of Fire' from my head for the rest of the day.
Thence to London via Los Angeles.
TUESDAY 24 OCTOBER
NI North Island
SI South Island
S Stewart Island
T Tiri Tiri Matangi
Brown Kiwi: Two females, Ocean Beach, (S)
Yellow-eyed Penguin: Nine at the Yellow-eyed Penguin Reserve, Otago and two off Stewart Island.
Fiordland Crested Penguin: Five Lake Moeraki, Monro Beach. Five off Stewart Island.
Little Blue Penguin: One, Tiri, four off Picton. Groups of four and around twenty five off Stewart Island.
Great Crested Grebe: Four en route to Arthur's Pass and two at Lake Ianthe.
New Zealand Dabchick: Close views of two Lake Rotorua.
Wandering Albatross : Four (K) of the three races; Wandering, Gibson's and Antipodean.
Royal Albatross: Two of the Northern race (K). Ten plus a pair of the same race at Taiaroa Head.
Black-browed Mollymawk: Six of the Subantarctic race (K).
Shy Mollymawk: One from the ferry in the Cook Straits, 10th and two of the races New Zealand, White-capped and Salvin's (K). Twenty-six sightings off Stewart Island.
Southern Giant Petrel: Five (K).
Northern Giant Petrel: One on ferry crossing, 10th and one (K). One off Stewart Island, 11th. Giant petrels sp. were also seen on 12 th, 13th.
Cape Petrel: At least one hundred (K).
Great-winged Petrel: Two (K).
Common Diving Petrel: One from the ferry. Eight en route Ocean Beach and at least 100 off. (S)
Fairy Prion: Fifty from the ferry may well have been of this species. At least six confirmed (K).
Westland Black Petrel: Twenty or so (K).
White-chinned Petrel: One (K).
Short-tailed Shearwater: About 20 (K) 11th and a few more 12th.
Sooty Shearwater: Small parties, from the ferry and at (K) 10th and 11th. Thirty or so off Tairoa Head and at least 350 off Stewart Island.
Fluttering Shearwaters: Only noted from Cook Straits and Marlborough Sound. A raft of 150 was seen in the sound on the 11th.
Hutton's Shearwater: Only in the (K) area. Thirty (11th), approximately 2000 (12th) during the storm and large numbers still there (13th).
Antarctic Fulmar: An unexpected record. One (K) 11th.
Australasian Gannet: Noted in all coastal locations.
Great Cormorant: On larger lakes and on the coast.
Pied Shag: Very widespread.
Little Black Shag: Mainly at freshwater sites.
Little Pied Shag: Very widespread.
Stewart Island Shag: Common from Dunedin to Stewart Island.
Spotted Shag: Noted from Cook Straits round the coast to (K). Very common Dunedin to Stewart Island.
White-faced Heron: Very widespread both on the coast and inland.
Great Egret: Close views of a non-breeding bird and a distant sighting of two more, Okarito.
Eastern Reef Heron: One at Gulf Harbour and one near Wellington.
Royal Spoonbill: One, in the distance, en route Invercargill
Black Swan (I): Widespread.
Canada Goose (I): Widespread on open waters (SI).
Feral Goose (I): Widespread
Cape Barren Goose (I): One at St Anne's Lagoon. .
Paradise Shelduck: Pleasingly abundant and widespread.
Mallard (I): Ubiquitous.
Pacific Black Duck: Widespread but only in small groups.
Grey Teal: Eight in the Rotorua area, five at St Anne's Lagoon and six at Lake Pukaki.
Australasian Shoveler: Two at Whakamaru, twelve at St Anne's Lagoon and several Pukaki Lake and Waitaki Valley.
New Zealand Scaup: Common on large open freshwater lakes. Peak count - eighty at Lake Rotorua 9th.
Swamp Harrier: Common and widespread. Peak count 40 on 13th.
New Zealand Falcon: Five records from the Hass Pass area to Lake Pukaki, 16th. One at Mount Cook 17th. Heard at Papatpowai.
California Quail (I): Two at Mt Fyffe.
Brown Quail (I): Three Tiri.
Feral Turkey (I): A handful of sightings (NI).
Pheasant (I): One heard Tiri
Weka: Seven noted on Ulva Island (S).
Australasian Coot: Small numbers on open freshwaters with vegetated fringes.
Purple Swamphen: Very common and widespread. Peak count - 60 on 14th.
Takahe: Two stunning birds Tiri.
Pied Oystercatcher: Coastal and inland. Peak count - 450 (M)
Variable Oystercatcher: Very widespread on the coast but never numerous.
Spur-winged Plover: Very common.
Banded Dotterel: Seven at Kekrongu and smaller parties at a variety of inland sites. One on the airfield (S).
New Zealand Dotterel: Four wonderful birds (M).
Wrybill: One hundred and one (!) at (M). Rarely do we have photographers complaining that the birds are too near!
Bar-tailed Godwit: Approximately 1000 (M). Fifty or so near Taiaroa Head.
Ruddy Turnstone: Nine (M), one (K) and one (S).
Red Knot: Estimated to be 1000 (K).
Red-necked Stint: One (K) with Wrybill.
Pied Stilt: Widespread. Peak count 80 (M).
Black Stilt: Two Lake Pukaki with two hybrids.
Southern Brown Skua: Four off Stewart Island.
Kelp Gull: Numerous and widespread.
Silver Gull: Widespread and numerous.
Black-billed Gull: At coastal and inland sites. Peak count - 75 Kekrongu.
Black-fronted Tern: Small parties in meadows and natural grasslands, inland
Caspian Tern: Fourteen records at coastal sites and on freshwater lakes.
White-fronted Tern: Numerous on the coast. Peak count 400 (M).
Little Tern: One (M) 8th.
New Zealand Pigeon: Scarce in forest and suburbia.
Feral pigeon (I): Widespread.
Kaka: Four at Pureora and several (S).
Kea: Two at the Fox Glacier and three at Mount Cook. In Fiordland, seven on 22nd and five 23rd.
Red-crowned Parakeet: Ten Tiri and two Ulva Island (S).
Yellow-crowned Parakeet: Two Pureora, four Ulva Island (S) and ten records in (F).
Eastern Rosella (I): Two Auckland. (NI)
Shining Cuckoo: Heard at Tiri and at Lake Moeraki.
Morepork: A wonderfully close view on the Mt Fyffe trail. Heard Moeraki and at Te Anau Downs.
Sacred Kingfisher: Several isolated sightings.
Rifleman: Two Arthur's Pass, two at the Haas Pass and six sightings (F).
Skylark (I): Widespread but not numerous.
Welcome Swallow: Numerous and widespread.
Tomtit: Arthur's Pass, Westland, Hass Pass onward into Otago. Noted again (S) and (F).
New Zealand Robin: In forests (NI) and (SI).
Fantail: In forests throughout the trip.
Fernbird: Three at Okarito and three at Tautuka.
Grey Warbler: In bush and forest.
Brown Creeper: Only noted at Tautuka, Alva Island (S) and in the Eglinton Valley (F).
Whitehead: Common Tiri, Pureora (NI).
Yellowhead: Four in the Eglinton Valley (F).
Song Thrush (I): Common and widespread.
Blackbird (I): Widespread and common
Dunnock (I): Widespread but not common.
Richard's Pipit: Scattered records in grasslands.
Stitchbird: Several Tiri.
New Zealand Bellbird: Throughout native forest.
Tui: In the bush throughout the trip.
Silvereye: Large flocks in forest and open bush.
European Greenfinch (I): Noted throughout.
European Goldfinch (I): Common, often in large flocks.
Common Redpoll (I): Common on (SI).
Chaffinch (I): Very common.
Yellowhammer (I): Widespread.
Cirl Bunting (I): Two (K).
House Sparrow (I): Common, especially in urban areas.
European Starling (I): Numerous and widespread.
Common Myna (I): Common (NI).
Rook (I): Seven near Waioura (NI).
Australian Magpie (I): Common.
Saddleback: The northern race is common on Tiri, while the southern race was seen on Motuara Island in the Marlborough Sound
North Island Kokako: Heard on Tiri and seen well at Pureora. (NI)
New Zealand Fur Seal: Widespread on the coast.
Hooker's Sea Lion: One Otago and one (S).
Dusky Dolphin: Ten in the Marlborough Sound.
Stoat: One Lake Moeraki.
European Hedgehog: One near Rotarua.
Brown Hare: Two sightings; a single animal and then a pair Lake Pukaki.
European Rabbit: Widespread.
Eels (either Long-finned or short-finned) were noted at Lake Moeraki.
Brown Trout at Lake Moeraki.
Tuatara was seen in captivity in Invercargill.
Monarch, Painted lady and 'Cabbage White' Butterflies were seen as were glowworms and a Weta sp.