In February 2011 I was introduced to Alan and Celia Shaw, UK/NZ residents visiting Queensland for a brief visit. Alan is a long-time videographer of birds and has created film-clips of many of the vagrants recorded in the UK over the past 40 years. Whilst birding with them I mentioned that I’ve always wanted to visit Kaikoura in the Southland of New Zealand (arguably the regions premier pelagic birding-site.) Since they run a guest-house there I was delighted to accept their offer of a short-stay as mutual payment for my guiding-services, however as they were going to return to the UK for their regular summer vacation at the end of March my trip would have to be imminent.
Fortunately I managed to find a fairly cheap fare to Christchurch with Virgin (the downside being that I would arrive at half-past midnight!) Alan kindly agreed to pick me up from the Airport and we proceeded to Waikuku Beach near Rangiora where we slept in the car until dawn. As day broke we walked out to the wetland near the estuary and soon realised that the temperature was twenty degrees cooler than the place that I had come from. However this issue was soon put behind me when Alan pointed out my first Black Stilt, one of the rarest birds in the world! The reserve was teeming with nice species and I also saw two other ‘lifers’ Black-fronted Tern and Spotted Shag. Great stuff!
We then made our way north towards Kaikoura and stopped at St Annes Lagoon near Cheviot where I saw NZ Scaup (somewhat less exciting than the stilt but still my first!) Alan had recently photographed a rare vagrant here (an Australian Reed-Warbler) and noted the difference between the numbers of birders that turned-out for this and any rarity back in the UK!
Eventually we arrived at the Shaw residence, Huia House (10 Whitby Place, Kaikoura, +64 3319 7535) and admired the area and it’s surrounding scenery….snow-covered mountains and sea-views. (How many birders can watch albatross and other seabirds from their kitchen-windows?)
After settling in, Celia and Alan took me down to Fyffes Quay (4kms away), which is a rocky-headland at the end of the Kaikoura Peninsula much-frequented by ‘grey-nomads’ and overseas tourists in their campervans.
Bird-life is prolific here, with rock-loving species such as Variable and South Island Pied Oystercatcher, Double-banded Plover, Ruddy Turnstone and several kinds of Shag, plus many different seabirds such as White-fronted and Caspian Tern, Arctic Jaegers, Kelp, Red and Black-billed Gulls and just offshore, pelagics such as Hutton’s and Buller’s Shearwaters, petrels and quite a few albatross but beware the large brown beasts strewn across the rocks and under the bushes….NZ Fur Seals are easily surprised and can inflict nasty wounds so tread carefully. A short walk above the headland is an excellent lookout where less ‘sea-worthy’ birders can enjoy observing the passage of many species of seabird and cetacean (….with a reasonable ‘spotting-scope’, of course!)
Before leaving I had visited the website of the Kaikoura pelagic-tour operators “Encounter Kaikoura” and had booked a spot on Sunday’s ‘extended’ (4 hour) trip, however whilst there on Saturday morning I couldn’t help myself and booked a place on a standard (2.5 hour) trip too (and to the dismay of my bank-manager did Monday’s ‘standard’ trip as well!)
Three pelagics in three days…..fantastic! The trips themselves were excellent with guides Gary and Tracy using their boating and birding skills to show us many species of seabirds (and a few cetaceans, though I missed a Sperm Whales tail through sun-glare.) The ‘Great’ albatrosses (Gibson’s and Royal) arrived at the back of the boat within minutes of departing from South Bay and we didn’t need to go out far to see most of the available seabirds due to the depth of the ‘shelf’ (1000-1500 metres!) The views were also breathtaking, huge seabirds ‘wheeling’ around with a backdrop of snow-covered mountains.
Species seen by myself over the 3 days:
- Royal Albatross (Northern)
- Royal Albatross (Southern)
- Wandering Albatross (Gibson’s)
- Wandering Albatross (Snowy)
- Campbell Albatross
- Black-browed Albatross (Subantartic)
- New Zealand White-capped Albatross
- Salvin’s Albatross
- Buller’s Albatross
- Northern Giant Petrel
- Westland Petrel
- White-chinned Petrel
- Cape Petrel
- Cook’s Petrel
- Fairy Prion
- Hutton’s Shearwater
- Buller’s Shearwater
- Flesh-footed Shearwater
- Sooty Shearwater
- Pied Shag
- Spotted Shag
- Little Shag
- Black Shag
- Brown Skua
- Arctic Skua
- White-fronted Tern
- Black-fronted Tern
- Black-Backed Gull
- Black-billed Gull
- Red-billed Gull
- Australasian Gannet
- Blue Penguin
On Sunday afternoon Alan and I visited the Kowhai Bush Conservation Area close to Kaikoura (under Mt Fyffe) and we managed to see native species such as Rifleman, Tui, Bellbird, Brown Creeper, Silvereye, Grey Warbler and Fantail amongst the many introduced Blackbirds, Song Thrushes, Yellowhammer and finches. However although we heard a NZ Robin at the main carpark we didn’t manage to see any on the trail.
The following day was very wet but Alan had a tip-off that NZ Falcon could be seen near in the foothills north of Kaikoura however the only new species that we caught up with were NZ Pigeon.
Overall the trip was a great break and the hospitality shown by my hosts outstanding, I will have to return to do another pelagic-trip and see some of the harder species. If you are planning a trip to New Zealand a visit to Kaikoura is a must, Alan and Celia have requested that I promote their accommodation to the birding-community but remember that currently they will only be there from November to April. Have a look at the gallery which follows this.