Below the trip report with all the gory details … Pictures are at http://picasaweb.google.com/greenfant/NZ10Public. Enjoy!
5/20: Arrive AKL at 5am. Day trip to Tiritiri Matangi. Then drive to Miranda. Overnight at the Miranda Shorebird Center (great place!)
5/21: Miranda throughout most of the day (high tide was at around noon). Mid Afternoon, we drove up the Coromandel Peninsula in search of a small grove of Kauri trees which we finally found near sunset along the Tapu-Coroglen Rd. Overnight at the Miranda Shorebird Center again.
5/22: Drive to Opoutere in the morning and bird/hike at Wharekawa Estuary. Head back towards AKL after lunch. Make a quick stop at the Mangere sewage ponds which are only about 4km from AKL. Fly to Christchurch at around 6:30pm. Overnight at Highway Inn near the airport (ok, but not more).
5/23: Drive to Kaikoura early in the morning and do the pelagic at 9am. After lunch at the cafe at the Albatross Encounter office (pretty good), hike for a few hours at the Fyffe-Palmer Forest Preserve. Overnight at the Willowbank Motel in Kaikoura (another great place!)
5/24: Drive from Kaikoura to Lake Tekapo along the scenic route bypassing Christchurch. Late afternoon, we hiked for just over an hour at Lake Alexandrina. The $5NZ fish & chips at the takeout place at Lake Tekapo was a steal. Overnight at the Tailor-Made-Tekapo backpackers in Lake Tekapo (I can recommend it)
5/25: Drive to Twizel and spend an hour or so around Lake Poaka before driving to Glenorchy. Do the Glenorchy Lagoon Walkway just before dusk. Overnight at Glenorchy Lodge (ok, but that´s about it; stay at Kinloch Lodge if you can)
5/26: Bird Lake Sylvan and the beginning of the Routeburn Track in the morning (by myself). Do the afternoon Lord of the Rings horseback ride with Dart Stables near Paradise. The Buttered Chicken at the Glenorchy Hotel across the street from the Lodge hit the spot that night. Overnight at Glenorchy Lodge.
5/27: Drive from Glenorchy to Milford Sound stopping here and there for short hikes. [It is frustrating that these places are only 20mi or so apart from each other as the Kea flies, but you have to go long the way around] Our dinner at the Blue Duck cafe in “downtown” Milford Sound was great. Overnight at Milford Sound Lodge (simple, but pretty good; also the only busy place we stayed at).
5/28: Drive from Milford Sound to Bluff along the Southern Scenic Route with 2-3 quick stops near the Homer tunnel. Mid afternoon stop at the Fernbird Place at Bushy Point, then take the Stewart Island ferry at 5pm from Bluff to Oban. Try for Kiwi around Traill Park at night. Overnight at Jo & Andy´s B&B (I can recommend it).
5/29: Get a water taxi at 9:30am to Ulva Island and bird/hike for about 4 hours. Then hike towards Acker´s Point mid afternoon, but we had to turn around as it was getting dark. Dinner at the South Sea Hotel in town (good and affordable!). Try again for Kiwi in the evening. Overnight at Jo & Andy´s B&B again.
5/30: Take the 8am ferry from Oban to Bluff and drive to Oamaru. Stop for just over an hour at Tautuku Estuary and then spend the afternoon at Nugget Point for the Yellow-eyed Penguins. Overnight at the Old Bones Backpackers in Oamaru (great place!)
5/31: Spend an hour plus around Bushy Beach in Oamaru and some more time in town. Drive from Oamaru to CHCH with lunch at Monteith´s in Timaru. Fly back to AKL at 6:40pm and then back home to Portland, OR.
After we had cleared immigration and gotten our bags, we grabbed our Corolla rental car from Hertz. There was plenty of time to do some grocery shopping at a 24hr supermarket before our trip out to Tititiri Matangi at 9am (this was at the second roundabout as you leave AKL towards downtown). We immediately got Gannets in the harbor and the first Fluttering Shearwaters started appearing soon after. There were 100s. The Gulf Harbor stop (this is where the Tiritiri ferry briefly stops to pick up more passengers) yielded the only Reef Heron of the trip. There were lots of annoying school kids on the ferry, so we made a beeline for the trails after arriving at Tiri. Stitchbird, Whitehead and Saddleback were abundant, yet we did not find a Kokako. Mid day, the weather started turning and we ended up getting thoroughly soaked by the time we got back. We also didn´t find Spotless Crake by the dam. There was not enough water to support Brown Teal. The Tekahe near the visitor center did not elude us though. There also were tons of Tuis and Bellbirds at the feeders of the visitor center. We checked the penguin boxes, but they were empty. At close to 3pm, we scanned the sea one last time from the dock before the trip back and surely came up with several Blue Penguins in a tight flock relatively close in. They were probably staging to come back in.
This trip was really worth it! You can get really close to most of the birds and there are many birds everywhere …
We started our hike to the Miranda blind (which is about 2km one-way) mid morning to get in position for the high tide at around noon. Unfortunately, the looks at the many hundred Wrybill were not so great. For the most part, they were either far out or just behind a ledge. You really have to have a scope at that spot! Btw, you can rent scopes at the center for a moderate fee. Bar-tailed Godwits and Pied Stilt were everywhere. One or two Curlew Sandpiper and many Red Knot, some in full breeding regalia, were the other left-behind northern hemisphere breeders that we encountered. A very pale NZ Dotterel looked much grayer than shown in the Hand Guide. Figure in a full hour to explore the visitor center and chat with Keith Woodley (author of Godwits – Long-haul champions).
Mid-afternoon, we decided to find a Kauri tree on the Coromandel Peninsula (Square Kauri). The area between Thames and Tapu had many Kingfishers and Pied Shags, a few Little Black Shag and Caspian Terns. The drive along Tapou-Coroglen Rd, a good, yet unsealed road, was beautiful.
In the morning, we took the 1hr drive to the Wharekawa Estuary in Opoutere at the eastern shore of the Coromandel peninsula. It was a gorgeous day and there were many Banded and NZ Dotterel on the mud flats. A Tui, several Gray Warbler and Silvereye were along the trail to the sand spit.
Mid afternoon, we arrived at the Mangere sewage ponds with high hopes of finding Black-fronted Dottered, Brown and Chestnut Teal. We failed on all fronts. The dotterels had been reported from the old tidal storage basin on the NW end of the causeway, but we just didn´t have enough time to walk around it. I´m pretty certain that there were no Brown Teal present. A few NZ Dabchick were there though. Our timing for shorebirds was perfect: Several hundred Wrybills were pushed in by the upcoming high tide and were affording really good views on the NW end of the causeway.
The highlight of the trip was the 2.5hrs of magic on the Kaikoura pelagic. Skipper Gary made most calls with the naked eye; he definitely knew his birds. Spotted Shag, Black-fronted Tern and Black-billed Gull were seen right out of the harbor. Only 3 minutes out, the first Hutton´s Shearwaters started to appear. Once we started chumming, Cape Pigeons and the first tubenoses arrived and soon the back of the boat was swarming with Buller´s, Northern and Southern Royal, Wandering, Black-browed and White-capped Albatross, Northern Giant Petrel and a gazillion Cape Pigeons. Both Westland and White-chinned Petrel made an appearance. On the way back we swung close by the shore and had good looks at Hector´s Dolphins and NZ Fur Seals. We also got on a swimming Blue Penguin. I only realized later on how lucky we were that the day was calm with an occasional glimpse of the sun. A front was predicted for the evening, and later turned into the worst storm of the last 2 years with wide-spread flooding and highway closures.
I was considering a whale watch in the afternoon, but instead we spent an enjoyable couple of hours hiking at the Fyffe-Palmer Forest Preserve. Silvereye, Gray Warbler, many Fantail, Brown Creeper and Bellbirds were had, and many non-natives. A cow got herself trapped within the preserve fence and caused quite a stir among the (few, really) hikers and the farmers from the pasture next door. An enormous hare was near the parking lot.
Going over a river (can´t remember the name of it) in Geraldine, we saw a White Heron feeding at the bank.
After hours of driving in the rain, we arrived at Lake Alexandrina late afternoon with only a light drizzle. There were many Australasian Crested Grebes and NZ Scaup on the lake. A NZ Falcon made a dive at a Dunnock. Gray Warbler and Silvereye were foraging along the shoreline. It was a serene spot with nobody else around.
It was a nasty day with pelting rain and high winds, barely above freezing. An early morning stop at the visitor center in Twizel gave us the lead we needed: We immediately found an adult Black Stilt at the mudflats of Lake Poaka right outside of Twizel. We were told that this was one of the regular release locations.
NZ Pipits were also on the mudflats.
After another long drive, we got to Glenorchy (45min beyond Queenstown) late afternoon and immediately embarked on a 1.5hr hike around the lagoon and town. Not that we saw a whole lot other than Fantail, Gray Warbler, NZ Scaup and Common Redpoll, but it was certainly worth it.
While Samantha was out horseback riding, I ventured out to Lake Sylvan in the morning. Immediately after crossing the bridge from the parking lot, I found a huge mixed flock containing several Rifleman, many Brown Creeper, ~10 Yellow-crowned Pigeon and – yeah – 2 Yellowhead! Bellbird, a few inquisitive South Island NZ Robin, Tomtit and Fantail were also in the area. On the way out, I got a tip about a Blue Duck sighting at Forge Flats along the Routeburn track. I ran up to the flats only to be greeted by a work crew telling me that the duck had left. I heard more Rifleman on the hike down, but did not have time to stop as I had to catch up with Samantha for an afternoon horseback ride near Paradise. Glenorchy is a gorgeous spot and great for birds as well. I considered taking a water taxi over to Pigeon Island (release site of Yellowhead and Buff Weka), but decided that it was too much of a hassle.
We barely had enough time to get in a few spots today, as the first leg, the drive from Glenorchy to Te Anau, was long and we had to get gas and food. Heading north out of Te Anau, the weather started improving. Snow was never an issue on the second leg from Te Anau to Milford Sound. Many Fantail and NZ Scaup were at Mirror Lakes. The next 5min-stop at Lake Gunn yielded Rifleman, NZ Robin and Tomtit. We searched long and hard for Blue Duck at Monkey Creek off a tip by the DOC guys in downtown Te Anau, but failed miserably. The highlight of the day were the 2 Kea waiting for us in the parking lot at the Homer Tunnel. Magnificent birds, indeed! As Keith from the Miranda Shorebird Center put it, they are a class act. We also briefly walked the trail at the south end of the tunnel for Rock Wren, but it was too late in the day. It also was freezing cold with a bone-chilling wind. Working our way down towards Milford Sound, we walked the trail at The Chasm and had 2 more begging Kea. Even the Milford Sound Lodge had a Kea working the parking lot. A brief walk at night yielded no Morepork.
Another long driving day ahead of us. We got an early start and had a Western Weka by the side of the road a couple of miles outside Milford Town. We gave the Rock Wren at the tunnel another try, but it was to early in the day (ok, I´m just making excuses). And too cold and windy anyway. We found out that the Gertrudis Valley trail is not another quick option for Rock Wren; you have to hike in a good amount to get to suitable habitat. We had to pull the plug on that attempt also. 3 quick stops along Lower Holliford Rd for Blue Duck were unsuccessful. Nevertheless, the scenary is breathtaking and is definitely worth the drive.
En route, south of Manpouri, we briefly walked a short trail at Rakatu Wetlands. There were lots of wintering ducks and the place also advertises to have Fernbirds. We didn´t see any there in the 10 minutes spent there.
With time to spare, we pulled into the Bushy Point preserve for Fernbird mentioned in Ombler. This is a private preserve and you now have to pay the owner $20 per person to get to see a Fernbird, so we decided not to do that. The actual Bushy Point along the New River Estuary provides decent habitat, but this habitat is difficult to access and we did not have enough time.
The ferry crossing from Bluff to Stewart Island at 5pm was on the choppy side. :-) Too choppy to use the binoculars anyway. All sightings had to be made with the naked eye. It also was getting dark. It is worth mentioning though that White-capped Albatross were seen from the dock in Bluff.
An evening around Traill Park and along the Fuchsia and Rotua trails was adventurous, but uneventful. There was a good breeze that night. The western edge of the park is good for an occasional Kiwi sighting. We were also hoping for the much more common Morepork. Bring a flashlight and sturdy boots, as the trails are bound to be muddy.
The breeze and a steady drizzle continued throughout most of the day. We took Peter Cox´s water taxi over to Ulva Island ($25 one-way) and spent a fantastic 4 hours on the island. The drizzle and winds hardly affected us in the thick of the Ulva Island bush. Kaka were everywhere, yet somewhat challenging to get onto. The birds were not as plentiful as on Tiri, but there was a steady stream and good variety. Weka were common, especially on Boulder Beach. We found Red- and Yellow-crowned Parakeets, Tomtit, Rifleman, 2 Yellowhead, Bellbird, Tui, NZ Pigeon, Brown Creeper, Bellbird, Gray Wrabler and Fantail. Kiwi is a long shot during the day even though there are around 40 birds on Ulva. We didn´t see any. En route to the island, we had Stewart Island and Spotted Shag, Buller´s and White-capped Albatross, but no penguins.
That changed later when we followed a feeding Blue Penguin on the road out to Acker´s Point for 15 minutes. A Red-crowned Parrot afforded fantastic views feeding at eye level in a large shrub. We got really close to a Pied Shag roosting in a tree along the water´s edge.
I ventured back out along in the windy drizzle to try for Kiwi and Morepork again, but dipped once more.
There is a Kiwi Tour that is run by Bravo Adventures (Philip Smith), but they require a minimum of 5 paying customers. They charge a hefty $120 per person. They also just didn´t seem to want to go out that night, as they had a large group the night before. So, that didn´t happen.
The 8am ferry ride over to Bluff was somewhat calmer than 2 days before. Still, it was very difficult to use the binoculars. White-capped Albatrosses were playing in the waves and 2 Common Diving Petrels were really close to the boat. A tantalizing light small bird, possibly a prion, got away.
We skipped looking for shorebirds at Awarua Bay near Invercargill due to time constraints, but did spend a good hour at Tautuku Estuary (see Ombler for directions). 8 Fantails, several Silvereye and a Tomtit were stationary near the parking area, two Bellbirds were singing en route to marsh. Once we entered the rushes (that´s where the actual boardwalk begins), we immediately had great looks at a Fernbird. A second bird was calling in the distance.
Just past Papatowai, eagle-eyed Sam spotted a black-phase Fantail on the bridge over McLennan Ck.
We hightailed it to Nugget Point where we would spent the rest of the afternoon. Both Spotted and Stewart Island Shag were on the rocks near the lighthouse. Scan the rocks for NZ Fur Seals and Sea Lions. The first Yellow-eyed Penguins came ashore at Roaring Bay at around 3pm. We stayed until 4:30pm watching up to 12 birds simultaneously just below the hide. They were preening and then slowly making their way up the hill into the bushes. This sure was a lot of fun! The road out to Nugget Point is unsealed and slow, but generally in good condition.
We had been recommended to go Moeraki for Yellow-eyed Penguin and for lunch at Fleurs, but that never materialized. So, we briefly went to Bushy Beach in Oamaru (another reliable Yellow-eyed Penguin spot during the right time of the day) mid morning. Yellowhammer, Welcome Swallow and Silvereye were common along the trail to hide. This trail is in real bad shape with mini mudslides making passage difficult, all due to the serious flooding in the area. We were told that the Blue Penguin burrows in Oamaru had been flooded and nearly all of the birds had to stay out at sea.
Then time had come to make our way back towards CHCH.
-Kathy Ombler: Where to watch birds in New Zealand
-The Hand Guide to the Birds of New Zealand by Robertson & Heather
-Colid Reid´s excellent trip report from May 05: http://www.birdtours.co.uk/tripreports/new-zealand/nz9/New-zealand-may-2005.htm
-Postings on http://birdingonthe.net/mailinglists/NEWZ.html
Kiwi, Blue Duck, any rails/crakes, Morepork, Rock Wren
List of species (we ended up with an even 99):
Australasian Crested Grebe (many at Lake Alexandrina)
NZ Dabchick (several at Mangere sewage ponds)
Northern Royal Albatross (2 at Kaikoura)
Southern Royal Albatross (several at Kaikoura)
Wandering Albatross spp Gibson´s (several at Kaikoura)
NZ White-capped (Shy) Albatross (several at Kaikoura; Foveaux Strait, 2 in Bluff Harbor, 1 near Ulva Island)
Black-browed Albatross spp Sub-antarctic (several at Kaikoura)
Buller´s Albratross (several at Kaikoura, 1 near Ulva Island)
Northern Giant Petrel (several at Kaikoura)
Short-tailed Shearwater (1 at Kaikoura)
Fluttering Shearwater (many en route to Tiritiri Matangi)
Hutton´s Shearwater (several at Kaikoura)
Common Diving Petrel (2 in Foveaux Strait)
White-chinned Petrel (1 in Kaikoura)
Westland Petrel (2 in Kaikoura)
Cape Pigeon (many in Kaikoura, 1 in Foveaux Strait)
Yellow-eyed Penguin (~15 total at Nugget Point)
Blue Penguin (about 14 off Tiritiri Matangi, 1 in Kaikoura, 1 in Halfmoon Bay – Stewart Island; all in the water only)
Australasian Gannet (several off Tiritiri Matangi, 2 at Kaikoura)
Black Shag (2 at Miranda)
Pied Shag (relatively common)
Little Black Shag (3 north of Thames, also Opoutere and Twizel)
Little Shag (relatively common)
Spotted Shag (common along the SE coast of South Island)
Stewart Island Shag (several at Oban, Ulva Island and Nugget Point)
Reef Heron (1 at Gulf Harbor off Tiritiri ferry)
White Heron (1 in Geraldine)
White-faced Heron (common)
Royal Spoonbill (5 at Miranda, 1 at Mangere sewage ponds)
Black Swan (common)
Canada Goose (common)
Paradise Shelduck (common)
Grey Duck (common)
Australasian Shoveler (common)
Grey Teal (common)
NZ Scaup (common on inland lakes)
Australasian Harrier (common)
NZ Falcon (1 at Lake Alexandrina)
Pheasant (Miranda, Mangere sewage ponds)
Weka (1 Western near Milford Sound, several Stewart Island spp on Ulva Island)
Takahe (1 on Tiritiri Matangi)
Pukeko – Purple Swamphen (common)
Pied Oystercatcher (common)
Variable Oystercatcher (common)
Masked Lapwing (common)
Pied Stilt (many at Miranda, several near Fortrose on South Island)
Black Stilt (1 adult on Lake Poaka near Twizel)
Banded Dotterel (several at Opoutere)
North Island NZ Dotterel (several at Opoutere)
Red Knot (several at Miranda)
Curlew Sandpiper (1-2 at Miranda)
Wrybill (many at Miranda and Mangere sewage ponds)
Bar-tailed Godwit (many at Miranda, a few at Mangere sewage ponds)
Kelp Gull (common)
Red-billed Gull (common)
Black-billed Gull (several at Kaikoura)
Caspian Tern (several north of Thames, 2 at Opoutere)
White-fronted Tern (common near shore)
Black-fronted Tern (common near shore on South Island)
NZ Pigeon (A few at Tiritiri Matangi and Ulva Island, 1 at Tuatapere, 1 at Queenstown, 1 in Invercargill)
Rock Pigeon (common)
Spotted Dove (2 at Mangere sewage ponds)
Kea (2 at Homer Tunnel, 2 at The Chasm, 1 at Milford Sound Lodge)
Kaka (many on Stewart and Ulva Island)
Yellow-crowned Parakeet (1 on Tiritiri and Ulva Island each, ~10 at Lake Sylvan – Glenorchy)
Red-crowned Parakeet (several on Tiritiri and Ulva Island each, 2 at Oban)
Kingfisher (many near Thames and Miranda – North Island; Tautuku, Nugget Point, Bushy Beach in Oamaru – South Island)
Welcome Swallow (common)
Rifleman (Ulva Island, Lake Sylvan – Glenorchy, Lake Gunn)
Gray Warbler (common in small numbers)
Song Thrush (common)
Dunnock (common on South Island)
Skylark (common near Miranda)
NZ Pipit (1 at Miranda, several at Lake Poaka – Twizel)
Fernbird (2 at Tautuku)
Brown Creeper (many at Lake Sylvan – Glenorchy, a few at Ulva Island)
Whitehead (common on Tiritiri Matangi)
Yellowhead (2 at Lake Sylvan – Glenorchy, 2 at Ulva Island)
Fantail (common, including one black phase at McLennan Ck in the Catlins)
Tomtit (1 near Lake Sylvan – Glenorchy, 2 near Milford Sound, 1 at Ulva Island, 1 at Tautuku)
North Island NZ Robin (several at Tiritiri Matangi)
South Island NZ Robin (a few at Lake Sylvan, Ulva Island)
Tui (a few at Tiritiri Matangi and Ulva Island, near Opoutere, also at Oban)
Stitchbird (common at Tiritiri Matangi)
Saddleback (NI spp common at Tiritiri Matangi, South Island spp 2 only at Ulva Island)
Bellbird (relatively common, also in secondary bush)
House Sparrow (common)
Redpoll (relatively common on South Island)
Greenfinch (relatively common)
Yellowhammer (relatively common)
Myna (common near Auckland and Miranda)
Australian Magpie (common)
Rook (1 only near Opoutere)
-Most fun to watch were the Kea and the Yellow-eyed Penguins.
-If I had to pinpoint a few must-do birding spots, I would recommend Tiritiri Matangi and Ulva Island for enemic passerines and Kaikoura for seabirds. If necessary, Miranda could be skipped if the only target is Wrybill as there are several reliable areas on the NI for them. Otherwise, it is a birdy place with a lot of diversity. As usual, time your visit for the optimal tide.
-The Sperm Whale trip out of Kaikoura currently is $145 NZ. This is a lot of money for one whale (Dusky Dolphin is usually not encounted in this trip), as birds are relative scarce and not the primary focus. I was tempted, but didn´t do it.
-Hotels/Backpackers were mostly in the $60-$80 NZ range (off-season), with the Glenorchy Lodge being the most expensive at $100 NZ. Beware that many places close for the winter. Meal prices for eating out are mostly comparable to the US. The quality of the meals is good. On both the North and the South Island we rented a Toyota Corolla from Hertz, the prices were reasonable. No 4WD or special clearance was needed for our itinerary. Gas was expensive at an average of $1.75 NZ per liter. This added up to roughly $65 NZ for a full tank.
-Roads were in excellent condition. Signage on both roads and trails is excellent also. There are a great number of public restrooms and i-sites (information) everywhere you go.
-The people of NZ are friendly bunch and usually very helpful. At the Old Bones Backpackers in Oamaru we were offered a free bottle of white wine to enjoy in front of the fire.
-Can´t wait to go back!