New Zealand Highlights Nov 25—Dec 12, 2017
Posted by Dion Hobcroft
What a fantastic country is New Zealand. The friendly and stout-hearted folks of this South Pacific nation do so much so well. It is always a pleasure to visit. Teaming up with my good friend Mark Ayre, this is the way we saw the tour.
Quickly amongst the birds, our group convened efficiently and had the scopes out on the wetlands of Mangere. Our first surprise of the tour was a pen Mute Swan, rare in New Zealand and starkly contrasting with the abundant Black Swans. This is a great spot to see a host of waterfowl close-up including Paradise Shelduck, Australasian Shoveler, and Pacific Black Duck. Black-billed Gulls are a delicate larid, a term not usually associated with gulls. Crossing the metropolis of Auckland, we dropped the trailer and headed to Tawharanui Regional Park, now a well-established predator-free reserve. Brown Teal were in good form, and we had a real stroke of luck finding a pair of South Island Takahes feeding on the edge of a glade. This giant flightless swamphen species is not only critically endangered but typically very secretive in breeding mode at this time of year. Maybe this pair had failed to breed successfully this year. Our first Whiteheads, garrulous and highly dynamic Tuis, and songful New Zealand Bellbirds were a great hit, while our first nesting New Zealand Dotterels approached us closely. A final stop at a remote beach delivered a trio of the New Zealand Fairy Terns, these three birds representing 8% of the entire population. This is an exceptionally rare bird just clinging to existence.
A big high pressure system had moved over the north end of the North Island bringing balmy temperatures and light winds, perfect for us and a day at sea on the Hauraki Gulf with captain Piers on the Norma Jean. We were joined by friends Chris Gaskin and Karen Baird, marine ornithologists working on the conservation of seabirds and reducing plastic, bird by-catch of fisheries, and many issues adversely affecting these beloved oceanic wanderers. The biomass of seabirds here is spectacular, and the ocean in places heaves with huge schools of trevally, schools of dolphins, and squadrons of plunge-diving Australasian Gannets. Few participants had seen such a rich pelagic zone. Great birds included a New Zealand Storm-Petrel, several Black Petrels, a cooperative Little Shearwater, a brief Mottled Petrel, and a wonderful Gray Noddy. We saw hundreds of Cook’s Petrels, White-faced Storm-Petrels, and Fairy Prions along with good numbers of Buller’s, Fluttering, and Flesh-footed shearwaters, Common Diving-petrels, and a single Northern Giant-Petrel.
Read Dion’s full report in his Field Report.