28 Mar 2009

Kapiti Island

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Having travelled South from Hawkes Bay and spending a night at Herbertville further down the coast. We then visited Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateaturipukakapikimaungahoronukupokaiwhenuakitanatahu the longest place name in the world!!! Not alot to see apart from a hill after which this is named.

We then went across the North Island and stayed a couple of nights at Foxton Beach adjacent to the Manawatu Estuary. I had heard this was one of the best spots for waders on the West Coast of NZ. It is a RAMSAR site. The Manawatu estuary is a large coastal inlet in the lower half of North Island. It is a site used by migratory waders mainly from Alaska and Siberia during their winter. Here I saw Bar-Tailed Godwit, Red Knot, Wrybill, Pacific Golden Plover, NZ Dotterel, Caspian Tern, Pied Oystercatcher and Pied Stilt but not the Royal Spoonbill that I was told were there.

I also met an American guy who was studying the Bar Tailed Godwits and was noting all their plumage changes especially in the ringed birds.

We then left to go to Paraparaumu Beach where we were to collect the ferry to Kapiti Island. Kapiti Island is about four miles from the South-West Coast of North Island New Zealand. It is about 6 miles in length and about a mile wide. The west coast of the island has precipitous cliffs and at the highest point is 521metres or 1700ft.

It is one of New Zealand's top publicly accessible Nature Reserves. Well having said that you do have to get permits to go on the Island infact you have to have two one for each end of the Island. These can be obtained in Wellington at the Department of Conservation or DOC as everybody in NZ knows it. I had pre-booked my stay on Kapiti with Minnie at Kapiti Island Alive Kapiti has the largest single area of lowland coastal forest that is free from introduced animal herbivores and predators. It took nearly a hundred years to eradicate the possums that were introduced in the 1890's and until as recently as 1996 to eradicate all the rats on the island.It now is the home to about 65 species of bird including a number of relocated endemics. The Brown Teal(Pateke) Kokako, Stitchbird (Hihi), Takahe, Saddleback (Tieke). Of which I didn't see the Kokako or Stitchbird.

You get onto the ferry on the beach and it is then reversed on its trailer by a tractor into the sea.
Then once it is afloat off you go! We were staying the night on the North end of the Island so didnt visit the South end of the Island. We dropped off about fifteen people and then headed upto the other end where we were met on the beach and had our luggage taken upto the lodge. Meanwhile we went to a covered building near the Okupe Lagoon. It was here we were given a talk about the birds and the history of the Island. As we were being lectured there were birds everywhere. It was my first sighting of the Weka.

There are four subspecies of Weka of which most disappeared before 1940 in North island . There are only very small populations remaining on South island. They are quite an endearing bird and you have to watch your lunch as they are always on the lookout to see if they can pick up a scrap. The other problem with introduced birds such as these is that they prey on some of the native animals. They will also eat nesting groundbirds lizards and giant land snails. We were told how some birds will try and force the Long Tailed Cuckoo into the ground where it has difficulty taking off and the Weka will get them.

The other bird that was everywhere particularly feeding on the pollen from the New Zealand Flax was the Bellbird (Korimako) anthornis melanura

The yellow on their heads is the pollen.

After the lecture Daddy and I made our way to the Lodge where we were going to stay the night.
It was here that we met Amo Clark and Rodney who it turned out were absolutely wonderful hosts:we were to have an absolutely wonderful 48 hours in their company.,
Amo along with her brother and sister in law are the owners of Kapiti Nature Lodge. Amo is a Maori and her tribe or (iwi) have been living on Kapiti since the early 1800's and have great knowledge of the Island's history and flora and fauna.
We were the only visitors to be staying the night. The remainder of the visitors would be leaving the island at around three thirty.

I decided to go on a walk and see what birds I could see and photograph. One of the first ones I came across was this Keruru or New Zealand Pigeon that was eating berries from a tree right in front of the Lodge.

It was a beautiful afternoon and I made my way towards the lagoon on the island where I came across the New Zealand Pipit.

I have to say I find pipit identification quite difficult and was glad there was only one species in NZ. As I walked along this track I saw a Whitehead and then a New Zealand Robin appeared. They are a lovely little bird and virtually unafraid. They will perch within a few feet of you infact I found they were almost too close to photograph.

My eldest son Jeremy who went on the Outward Bound Course at Anikiwa in the Marlborough Sounds in March said that when he was doing his solo a NZ Robin landed on his foot. (Solo is when the participants have to spend three days and three nights in the bush in a 10m square area on their own)

The other bird one heard and saw alot of was the Tui. It is a NZ endemic and one of the largest of the Honeyeater family. Early New Zealand emigrants called it the Parson Bird as at first glance it looks black with a bit of white around its neck. They feed on the pollen of the New Zealand Flax.

Another bird that was fairly common was the Silvereye or Waxeye. a small passerine native to Australia, New Zealand and some pacific islands.

One of the other birds that was everywhere was the Red Crowned Parakeet. There are three species of Parakeets in NZ. The Red Crowned,Yellow Crowned and the critically endangered Orange Fronted Parakeet.All of which have become endangered because of habitat destruction and nest predation by introduced species.

Having walked quite along way in the midday sun I headed back to the lodge for a cup of tea. As I was having the tea outside a Takahe walked past. There are a number on the island that have been introduced here. The Takahe is a remarkable bird.The Takahē is the largest living member of the Rallidae or Rail family. It is about 2 foot long and can weigh upto 6 lb's. It has a massive bill it reaches up and feeds on the seeds of grasses. The amazing thing about this bird is that it was thought to be extinct in 1898 after the last four known remaining birds were taken. However in 1948 more were found by Geoffrey Orbell in the Murchison Mountains near Lake Te Anau!!! There are at present only about 250 birds remaining.

As I was sitting outside the lodge a Kelp Gull ( Larus dominicanus) kept on landing on the roof and I liked this shot I got of it as it came by.

Daddy and I were shown to the hut
we were going to be sleeping in by Rodney, the brother of Amo's sister in law . He was also to take us out to look for Little Spotted Kiwi later. We had a really good supper with Amo and Rodney. Rodney then produced an envelope of Kiwi feathers. They were very soft indeeed. Then we went with Rodney to look for the Kiwi. We went round the back of lodge and sat on a bench and listened while Rodney with his red torchlight searched for them. We heard one and then a little later finally saw one. It was bigger than I expected about the size of a small chicken. Even though the Little Spotted Kiwi is the smallest of the Kiwi species. They have powerful legs and it wasnt long before it ran off into the grass.

I was really chuffed as this was my third visit to NZ and I hadn't seen any on my previous visits. We then continued to look for them further away from the lodge and the one sound that penetrated through the dark was the sound of the Morepork (Ruru). It is a small brown owl and it sounds exactly as it is called. Then one called very close by and Rodney shined the torch up into the branches and there it was. It didnt seem concerned by us and we were able to get pretty close. It was really exciting to get so close to an owl.

Then we went back to our hut and went to bed. In the morning the weather had changed and was very grey and drizzly and Rodney told us that the ferry had been cancelled. We of course didn't believe him. It had been and we tried to see if we get a helicopter of the Island but the cloud level was too low. So we spent a highly amusing extra 24 hours being entertained by Amo and Rodney.

Out in the bush there was a bird that made quite a racket which I learnt was a Long tailed Cuckoo and it made the noise just before flying off from where ever it was. I got this distant photo of it.

That evening Amo treated us to the Maori delicacy of Paua. It is a mollusc found on New Zealand shores. In other parts of the world it would be called Abalone. Well it was a revelation to me it has to be one of the best seafoods. It was absolutely delicious.

Just before I went to bed I thought I would try and see a Kiwi again. No further than 30 yards from our hut there was one and I got to look at it for alot longer than the previous evening. Brill!!

In the morning I heard some birds right beside the hut that I didnt recognize and was glad to catch up with the Saddleback.
After breakfast we made our way down to the shore along which was walking a White faced Heron.

The ferry appeared and Amo and Rodney came to see us off.

I would heartily recommend Kapiti to anyone remotely interested in birds. It was one of the highlights of our trip. I cannot wait to go back and hopefully I will be in November 2010 this time accompanied by my wife Penny.

16 Mar 2009

Cape Kidnappers Gannet Colony

My father and I left Miranda and visited the Coromandel Peninsular before heading south via Tauranga, where my father used to go on holiday as a child. He reckoned that the place he used to stay was now a ten story block of flats. We walked round the Mount a strange hill virtually surrounded by the sea. We then stayed a night at Whakatane before heading further south to Gisborne and then onto Hawkes Bay. The weather at this stage was amazing.

One of the bird hotspots that I wanted to visit was the Cape Kidnapper's Gannet Colony. It is one of the only mainland Gannet colonies in the world.There are three species of Gannet in the world. There is the Northern Gannet Morus bassanus which is based in the North Atlantic. There is the Cape Gannet Morus capensis from South Africa and then there is the Australasian Gannet Morus serrator known in Maori as Takapu.

They are usually found in large colonies on offshore islands around New Zealand and southern Australia and have been nesting here at Cape Kidnappers since the 1870s. There are around 6000 pairs here. The lifespan of the Gannet can range upto forty years. When the young gannets learn to fly they take off on a journey of about 2000 miles across the Tasman sea to Australia. Here they will stay for a few years before returning to breed at around five years old and then from then on spend their lives in New Zealand waters.

The Cape Kidnappers Gannet Reserve is managed by the Department of Conservation to protect the gannet nesting sites. the reserve covers about 30 acres, which includes the Saddle and Black Reef colonies both of which are closed to the public.It is the Plateau colony that is the main viewing area on this headland.

We spent the night in a fairly decrepit overflow camp at Clifton before taking a tractor tour to the Cape Kidnappers Colony. We went with Gannet Beach Adventures which is eco-friendly beach tour to the foot of the gannet sanctuary. You travel on cushioned trailers pulled by these vintage tractors along the beach below these towering cliffs at low tide.

Meanwhile the guides stop regularly and point out the various geology and earthquake faults.

My father and I thought the commentary was going to be dreadful as when we got on the trailers Colin the owner said "Good Morning" and virtually nobody responded and in good pantomine style he said he was going home. He then said "Good Morning" again and everybody answered this time. However we were wrong the whole trip was really professional and loads of information was given to us. Every now and again we would stop and Colin would tell us another snippet of info whether about the Gannets or the Geology of the area. And here he is below teaching us to count Australian style!!!!

You spend about one and a half hours at Cape Kidnappers which leaves ample time for a swim or a picnic but not enough time in my mind to visit the Gannet Colony which is a 25 to 30 minute walk uphill to view the Saddle and Plateau colonies .You only get about 30 mins to photograph the birds. On the return journey, a brief stop is made at the Black Reef Colony.

The Gannets can be viewed from a very close distance.

At the end of the beach and before you climb upto the plateau colony there is a Department of Conservation rest shelter which provides information boards on geology and Gannets. The shelter also provides fresh water, along with picnic and toilet facilities.

The photographic opportunities are excellent and I would have loved to have more time.

Excellent opportunities for flight photography at close range.

You can watch the adults preening

and there are lots of juveniles in their soft downy plumage

A nice danish couple were interested in me photographing the birds and asked if I wanted a portrait with Gannets in the background.

When we got back to the campsite we made our way to a Te Awa Winery for a fantastic lunch.

1 Mar 2009

Miranda Shorebird Center New Zealand

I Left Ireland on a pretty chilly, windy and wet day. My Father and I flew from Dublin to Copenhagen then to Bangkok and then onto Auckland. It’s a bloody long way is all I can say.

We arrived in Auckland on a beautiful sunny afternoon and waited and waited to be picked by our rental which did not come so we eventually took a taxi and picked up our Maui Campervan. At the airport there were numerous House Sparrows, a few Welcome Swallows
and a Red Billed Gull.

Our initial plan was to to drive to Gulf Harbour and then get a ferry to TiriTiri Matange Island, however when my father made plans he had not factored in the fact that the ferry was not running on Mondays and Tuesdays.

So it was decided to head to Miranda instead. We stopped off at a supermarket and filled the campervan with water, wine and a bit of food. It was a very pleasant drive from Auckland through Cleveden and onto the coast. Trying to drive and birdwatch at the same time isn’t easy. There were lots of European introduced birds such as Starling, Goldfinch and Skylark. From America the Wild Turkey. Myna birds from Asia and from Australia the Australian Magpie, Black Swan and also an Eastern Rosella flew across the road in front of us..I also saw the Rare African introduction the Barbary Dove. I saw Yellowhammer, Song Thrush and of the Native new Zealand birds a couple of Tui and pleasingly a Kingfisher, infact I saw Kingfishers all over NZ, also a Pukeko, Paradise Shelduck, Pied Shag and Grey Duck. There were also Australasian Harriers working the margins between the shore and the road.

After about an hour we got to the Miranda Shorebird Center a little after five and it was closed . So we headed back down the road a few kilometers and parked right on the shore with a number of other camper vans. On the beach there were some Black Backed Gull, Red Billed and Black Billed Gull. Quite a few Pied Stilts making a racket , a few Bar Tailed Godwits, Pied Oystercatcher. And not much else.

My father and I then headed up the road for Fish and Chips in Kauaia We had snapper and it was very tasty along with some very nice NZ wine. Infact had to be one of the best fish and chips I had ever had.

Then it was off to bed.

Miranda Shorebird Centre.

After a pretty bad nights sleep I got up and was getting a bit frustrated with the campervan as we weren’t sure where half the switches were. Like the waterpump for example to enable us to get some water for tea and coffee; eventually we looked in a few cupboards and found the necessary switches.

It was a nice sunny day but with lots of cloud in the sky. You can see why New Zealand’s Maori name is Aoterea. Which when translated means the Land of the Long White Cloud.

Miranda is at the bottom left of the Firth of Thames between Auckland and the Coromandel Peninsula. At low tide there is about 20,000 acres of mudflats which makes a great feeding ground for the Arctic nesting waders over the northern hemisphere’s winter. Every year New Zealand has about two to three hundred thousand waders arriving in September and leaving again in March. There are Bar Tailed Godwits,
Red Knot, Pacific Golden Plover, Sharp Tailed Sandpipers, Turnstone and a few numbers of Red Necked Stint, Eastern Curlew, Pectoral Sandpiper and the even less common Terek Sandpiper.

I was getting worried that we were going to miss high tide when the waders are pushed up towards the shore.

When we arrived at the centre we were told that high tide was 1.00pm so had at least a few hours to wait. I was relieved that they rented out scopes. $10NZ for the day. A bargain.

The one bird that I had really wanted to see on my previous visit to NZ was the Wrybill,and having not done so was very pleased to see them here.The Wrybill is a rare endemic and there are only about 4000-4500 birds. The really strange thing about this wader is its bill bends to the right. The only bird in the world to do this.

Father and I made the 2 kilometre trek to the hide .

Passing a dried out pond where another birder had just seen a Banded Rail. It decided not to appear for us though.(I saw it a day later) It was a nice walk predominantly through flowering fennel. So there was a really nice scent in the air. I still hadn’t at this point not really seen any waders. Then about a hundred yards from the hide a few wrybill flew very close by
and I could see a large amount of Bar Tail Godwits out on the mudflats. At this time of year there are between 10,000 and 15,000 Bar Tailed Godwit and 7000-10000 Knot. 500 Wrybill . We arrived just after 10.30 and I started chatting to this Swiss Birder who was with his Girlfriend. He had just seen a Sharp Tailed Sandpiper amongst the Wrybill. This was the first of 6 Lifers all of which were waders. Pacific Golden Plover, Wrybill, NZ Dotterel, Banded Dotterel
and the Sharp Tailed Sandpiper. The other American Migrant was a Pectoral Sandpiper which I have seen a few times at the Belfast Harbour Reserve.

The view from the hide was towards the Coromandel Peninsular.

It looked over a small bank made from thousands of shells. On it were Caspian Tern ,Varied and Pied Oystercatcher and Royal Spoonbill.

Photographic opportunities are excellent and would be exceptional if the high tide were at an hour before the evening golden hour. As the sun was straight overhead at 1.00pm .

Every now and again an Australasian Harrier would fly overhead and all the Godwits and Knot and Wrybill would explode upwards .
It was quite exciting to watch. I reckon if I spent a week there I could get some stunning images.

After I had spent about 3 hours in the sun I was feeling decidedly hot (Stupidly with no suntan lotion I was later to suffer) We headed back to the Miranda Shorebird Centre.

It was here we met Keith Woodley the Centre Manager
and expert on Bar Tailed Godwit. He had recently taken a sabbatical and had followed the path of the Bar Tailed Godwits to their breeding grounds in Alaska. On his return he wrote a book about that is to be published by Penguin in September 2009.

He is also a talented Bird Artist and this was the A-Board out on the road.

The Bar Tailed Godwits here at Miranda are remarkable. Over the previous few years they have been satellite tracking a number of birds and one called E7 had her whole migration monitored by satellite. She first of all flew 6500 miles to Yalu Jiang in China where she remained for five weeks before flying another 3000 miles to Alaska . Then four months later she made her way back to New Zealand over the pacific on a non stop flight of 7500 miles.