North Island, New Zealand 2005

by

Tom & Marie Tarrant

 

In January 2005 we decided to escape the warm humid weather of Brisbane and visit the North Island of New Zealand for a brief visit. Unbeknown to us the climate was to be rather similar to the one we had left.

On arrival at Auckland (three-hours ahead of Brisbane) we picked up a rental-car and headed to the Shorebird Centre at Miranda about one-hours drive south. Fortunately we arrived at nearby Kaiaua in time to buy a late-meal at the 'best' fish & chip shop in New Zealand! We certainly couldn't argue with this claim....the snapper & chips was excellent, and wrapped in newspaper (...as we remembered them as children growing-up in the UK!)

Map of Miranda

 

We were greeted by Keith Woodley the warden, who introduced us to the 'Whimbrel Wing', our home for the next couple of nights. 

At first light we headed towards the northern mangrove area, the air filled with the song of the Skylark, despite it being an introduced species still a very evocative-sound.

On reaching the 'Chenier', a dune-system formed by vast-amounts of sea-shells it didn't take us long to find our first new birds for the trip, a small group of Wrybill. This is a unique wader, apparently closely related to the Red-capped Plover of Australia, their bills are always angled to the right. Apparently there were about 150 birds in the area recently returned from breeding on the South Island. Nearby a small group of the endemic Black-billed Gull were roosting with Red-billed Gull, White-fronted Terns and a single Little Tern (quite a rarity in NZ)

Towards mid-morning I headed south from the centre towards the 'Stilt-Pools', this is one of the main roosting-sites for the large flocks of waders such as Bar-tailed Godwit, Red Knot (or Lesser Knot as they are known in NZ) South Island Pied Oystercatcher. In the pools I spotted a group of Paradise Shelduck, a very handsome species and searched in vain for a couple of Pectoral Sandpiper that had been recorded there on the previous day. On the 'chenier' bank I found a pair of nesting Variable Oystercatcher and quickly left the area to minimise disturbance.

As I passed the mangrove 'patch' on the southern end of the pools I heard a song almost identical to our Mangrove Gerygone and after 'squeaking' called out a bird which I would have sworn was that species. A few minutes later whilst watching the pools from the road I met a visiting group of german birders and their tour-leader, an englishman explained that I had just recorded a Grey Warbler. We were to encounter this species frequently in a variety of other habitats such as native-forest and gardens in the next few days.

The german birders were very keen to see New Zealand Dotterel and after telling them that I hadn't managed to find one, looked across the pools to see one accompanied by a Wrybill which they were also after. Sadly the light was poor and photography difficult.

 

Wrybill

Wrybill

Black-billed Gull

White-fronted Tern

View of Firth of Thames

Red-billed Gull

 

After Miranda we drove north through Auckland and after having breakfast at Whangaparoa caught the ferry from Gulf Harbour to Tiritiri Matangi Island. This is a world-renowned spot where a group of dedicated enthusiasts have returned the island to it's natural state by planting native plants and removing introduced vermin. Now many species of native bird (and a few reptiles) can be found. (Day-trips are the norm but overnight stays can be arranged, weekends are often fully-booked so book well in advance) Whilst on the ferry we met an old friend Dr David Stewart, whom I had shared a house with many years earlier.

We had arranged for an overnight-stay and were greeted at the quay by Ray and Barbara who let us know what we could (and could not do) on the island.

Map showing location of Tiritiri Matangi

 

One of the surprises was the advice to stay well clear of Greg the Takahe who had a habit of climbing over sitting tourists, apparently he had scratched one ladies face quite badly. As we were overnighting our luggage was driven by cart to the bunk-house whilst we made our way there by foot. This turned out to be a delightful walk and on the way we saw North Island Robin, Tui, Red-fronted Parakeet (Kakariki) and Saddleback, Unfortunately the weather turned a bit wet but this seemed to bring out the wildlife, as we were informed that the previous day had been windy and birds rather hard to see.

After a quick 'cuppa' Dave, Marie and I set off again down the 'Wattle-track' and as the weather fined-up, new species came thick and fast. We saw Kokako, Stitchbird and lots of Whitehead and Bellbirds, Fantails were common and Brown Quail (introduced) were frequently seen in pairs along the verge of the track. The large New Zealand Pigeon were uncommon and only seen in flight. Later Dave and I joined in a spotlighting-trip to search for Little Spotted Kiwi and although I only managed to hear one, he returned to the 'Wattle-track' and saw one well later that evening.

 

View of Tiritiri Matangi lighthouse

View of Auckland

Saddleback

Tui

Native(?) Butterfly

Adult & Immature Bellbird

Whitehead

Takahe

 

After Tiritiri we made our way to the town of Leigh by the Sea, where Marie has an interest as her family come from Leigh on Sea in Essex, UK. She was also keen to try out her snorkelling skills at nearby Goat Island. We stayed in the Leigh Motel and enjoyed another meal of 'Fush 'n' chups' wrapped in newspaper......it felt very much like Essex!

 

Map of location of Leigh by Sea

Up early the following morning Marie got her wish and we spent an hour snorkelling in the bay at Goat Island, however later when we returned for another swim the beach was jam-packed with visitors.

Later that morning we drove north to Pakiri Beach and Tomaratu Lakes where we had been told Fairy Terns could sometimes be seen, however all we saw of interest was Banded Rail (Buff-banded Rail in Australia) in mangroves near Pakiri Beach.

 

Map of location of Waipu

 

Near Waipu we turned off the main road along Johnston Point Rd and parked near the Ebb & Flo Backpackers Hostel, there is a nice sign here with information regarding the birdlife of the estuary and were amazed to see that the entire NZ Fairy Tern population was less than 50 birds.

Walking north along the estuary we saw at least 5 pairs of NZ Dotterel, several pairs of Variable Oystercatcher with young, White-fronted Tern, Turnstone and Banded Dotterel but couldn't find any Fairy Tern. Assuming that they must have finished breeding and left we headed back to the car, suddenly I caught a flash of white in the distance and saw a small tern fly down and land well south of us. Not wanting to miss a 'lifer' we both decided to traverse the mud (almost losing our sandals in the process!) Then the bird took to the air and approached hovering above the water, I managed to get a few poor shots (but well enough to ID it from Little Tern!)

 

NZ Fairy Tern

NZ Dotterel

Adult & Juvenile Variable Oystercatcher

Variable Oystercatcher

 

From Leigh we made our way south to Warkworth where we had arranged to stay with Karen Baird at Te Kauri Birding Lodge. Karen had organised a pelagic-trip from the Sand-Spit on the following day, which I was eagerly anticipating but sadly Marie had declined due to a lack of 'Sea-legs'. The lodge is set along a ridge backing on to native Kauri Forest, Grey Warbler, Tui and Fantails were seen in the late-afternoon. During dinner we were delighted to see a Morepork visit the balcony and it graciously allowed me to get reasonable photographs of it.

 

Morepork

Grey Warbler

Tomtit

Tomtit

 

The next day was the big one for me, a pelagic trip in the Hauraki Gulf. Initially we had tried to be part of a 2-day trip from Houhora in the far-north but due to a lack of numbers had to settle for a shorter trip closer to Auckland. On the way Karen introduced us to nearby neighbours who allowed me to photograph their tame Tomtit, this bird was one of their main reasons for purchasing the property as they were involved in the re-introduction of the species to Tiritiri Matangi.

At Sand Spit our friends Detlef and Carol Davies were waiting, having driven down from Kerikeri, Quentin Paynter and Dave Stewart had made their way from Auckland and we were also joined by a couple of local birders/fishermen.

Map of location of Sandspit

Karen rallied us on to the 'Assassin' and we set off leaving Marie to spend the day sightseeing and shopping locally.

The journey started with a short trip to a small island in Kawau Bay where Shore Plover could be found, apart from introductions in this area the species can now only be found naturally on the Chatham Islands.  We were fortunate in spotting a single bird, also here where a couple of pairs of NZ Dotterel and many White-fronted Tern.

 

Small island

Shore Plover

 

As we left the island things started to get interesting, there were rafts of Fluttering Shearwaters, small numbers of Blue Penguin swam past and Buller's and Flesh-footed Shearwater flew away from the boat. A pod of Bottle-nosed Dolphin played around it.

As we approached Little Barrier Island I was amazed to see a 10-15m whale surface a few metres from the boat, Karen explained that it was a Bryde's Whale which were commonly seen in the area but seldom as inquisitive as this one seemed to be.

 

Buller's Shearwater

Bryde's Whale

 

In this area the skipper started to 'chum' by throwing pieces of fish overboard, this had the desired effect and brought many seabirds in. Dream species such as White-faced Storm-Petrel, Cook's and Black Petrel, were all around the boat 'begging' to be photographed with my new camera! Then the bird appeared and at first I didn't realise what I was looking at,  it didn't take long to realise though after I heard numerous shouts of "New Zealand Stormy!" This species must be one of the great re-discoveries of our times and has certainly brought birding tourism to the area. Karen explained that it was thought that the bird was brought to the edge of extinction but may have survived by nesting on some of the predator-free stacks in the Hauraki Gulf, now that many of the larger islands have been cleared of vermin it is hoped that their numbers will increase. During the day we probably saw up to 8 individuals.

 

NZ Storm-Petrel

NZ Storm-Petrel

White-faced Storm-Petrel

White-faced Storm-Petrel

Cook's Petrel

Cook's Petrel

Black Petrel

Flesh-footed Shearwater

 

From Little Barrier Island we headed for the Mokohinaus and Maori Rocks where Australasian Gannets were nesting, here there is a small colony of Grey Ternlets (Blue-grey Noddy)

 

Australasian Gannets

Grey Ternlets

Grey Ternlets

Maori Rocks

 

After this great experience we headed to Kerikeri in the Bay of Islands and spent a couple of days with Detlef and Carol. Birding was very quiet here but we managed to hear Brown Kiwi quite close to their home. We also spent some tourist-time and visited Waitangi where the Treaty was signed, there are some nice wooded gardens here but of the native-species we only managed to see Tui.

 

Map of location of Meremere

 

From Kerikeri we drove south to Auckland and spent an evening with Quentin, Janine and Jennifer, Quentin was determined to find a new bird for us and duly came up with the goods in the shape of Fernbird near the abandoned power-station at Meremere. It took some finding but patience finally paid-off.

 

Fernbird

Fernbird

 

So ended another great trip, despite all the ecological problems that New Zealand faces, there are still great birding opportunities there, and it is inspiring to see the efforts that volunteers are doing to return that countries environment back to it's former glory.

Thanks to all that assisted us with the trip, especially Detlef and Carol, Quentin and Janine, Anand and Karen Baird and all the volunteers that we met on Tiritiri Matangi, we will be back.

 

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