11 Dec 2010

Magic days and nights on Tiritiri Matangi – 8-10th

Back in Auckland after three fabulous days birding and exploring the island of Tiritiri Matangi, an open sanctuary located in Hauraki Gulf. I took the ferry on Wednesday morning and arrived to Tiritiri one and half hour later. Clearblue sky and scattered clouds further in to mainland. Throughout the weather was sunny and hot (20-23 degree). The DoC Rangers welcomed all the day visitors and those staying overnight and held a brief lecture about Tiritiri, what to do and not do and so on. I got my bed in the bunkhouse, occupied by  volunteers and a small group of exchange students for the night. I packed up my things quickly and was soon ready to explore the island and its birdlife. Each day throughout my stay I walked almost every track, but in different directions and time of day. As the forest is quite young it’s not as high as native forest’s, therefore rather easy to birding and detect birds. However, it’s birds everywhere, easy to find and see, but sometimes much more difficult to photograph that one may think. Of course, some species are more difficult than others to see, which is true for Kokako, Fernbird and the nocturnal ones. All tracks are good, but take your time. Also, the vary of habitat, old and young forest, the closeness to the sea, which means your walk never get boring. Add to this several good spots for seawatching in (most preferably) the evening along the eastern coastline. Wow, it’s hard to describe or even write up a story for these days. I meet a lady from Auckland, who stayed over for one night. On the return ferry she said to me: “I feel ashamed to say that during my 15 years in Auckland I had never been on Tiritiri, but what a jewel. And I saw my first Kiwis in wild ever last night! I have already decide to take along my grandsons next month to Tiritiri.”

The birdlife were incredible rich and the numbers of many species were very high. Tui probably being the most numerous (several hundreds a day), followed by Whitehead and Saddleback. I was very happy to see ten Saddlebacks on Ulva in one day, however, on Tiritiri you could see ten in one small valley. And to experience the morning concert of all singing birds is nothing but unforgettable. If I had to pick out a favourite it has to be Tui, which have two voiceboxes and this is what enables Tui to perform such a myriad of vocalisations. And to hear a small group of Tuis singing in chorus in early morning or especially in the evening were like listening to the voice of God!

The nocturnal walks not to be forgotten! On the first day’s evening I placed myself at the lowest part of the Wattle track. Listening to a nice chorus of three Kokakos while waiting for the dusk and hopefully calling Little Spotted Kiwis. At 9:15, almost dark, a male Kiwi was calling in the valley and later a female answer. Then it was silent for half an hour so I decide to continue to walk the track slowly. After a while I reached the gravel road and came across one of the students from the bunkhouse. We walked together slowly and within ten minutes we saw two different kiwis! Both crossing the road and one remained for about ten seconds in the middle of the road about three metres in front of us! On the second evening, after more the three hours of seawatching, I placed myself on a the meadow slope above the pond between the Fishermans Bay and Emergency landing location. Had a cup of coffee and enjoyed the dusk coming. Two Spotless Crakes start to call and suddenly a Morepork flew by two metres from me with the greyblue sky as a perfect backdrop. It start to calling from an adjacent clump of trees. Already at 8:45pm I heard the first Kiwi calling and soon a female called back! I stayed at the lovely spot for 45 minutes more, hearing 3-4 more kiwis. Very happy I longed for the bed and start walking back to the bunkhouse. At the lookout point close to the lighthouse I nearly suffered a heart attack as a Kiwi start calling just a few metres off the track. I stood still, with my red headlight on. I could hear the Kiwi moving towards me and suddenly it just were there, on the grassy track in front of me! Heart attack was the word! After a few seconds, which felt like hours, it disappeared in the dark forest. I felt like the luckiest guy in the world. Seeing Little Spotted Kiwis two evenings in a row and bearing the sightings on Stewart Island in mind. I just wonder if my Koru medallion, which I bought when I arrive to New Zealand, has a great part in my fantastic travel, from the beginning to this grande finale. Most probably!

Sightings worthy of mention (average numbers per day in brackets): Brown Teal (3), Little Spotted Kiwi (4-5 heard + 3 seen), Spottless Crake (2 heard + 1 seen), NZ Pigeon (many),  Kaka (5), Red-crowned Parakeet (20 pairs), Morepork (1 seen and heard), NZ Kingfisher (2-3), Grey Warbler (2-3), Fernbird (seen on five locations), Whitehead (common), Fantail (5), North Island Robin (20), Kokako (1 seen + 3-4 heard), Tui (common), Stitchbird (20), Bellbird (common), North Island Saddleback (common).

Dedicated seawatching on a the tip at Fishermans Bay in lovely light condition between 5-8pm produced lot of seabirds flying westwards: Common Diving Petrel (1), Buller’s Shearwater (367), Flesh-footed Shearwater (322), Fluttering Shearwater (490), Sooty Shearwater (3), Cook’s Petrel (2), Australasian Gannet (c. 400), Arctic Skua (7) and Dusky Dolphin (30). After 8pm I stopped counting and just enjoyed the loose endless stream of Buller’s and Flesh-footed passing westwards.

Besides an unforgettable overall impression I was given seven lifers during these three days. Please enjoy a photo cavalcade from Tiritiri Matangi. About two hours I’ll catch the bus to Auckland airport. Sweden here I come!

Leaving Auckland behind.

Approaching Tiritiri Matangi.

The bunkhouse were I stayed. Rangitoto Island in far background.

View from the eastern part towards northwest (mainland).

View from the eastern part towards northwest (mainland).

The beautiful Pohutukawa tree with its red flowers. (North Islands Christmas tree).

Wooded Island off Northeast Bay (where I had a nice swim).

NZ Pigeon.

Red-crowned Parakeet.

A lovely Tui.

A male Stitchbird.

North Island Saddleback searching for nectar.

Sun bathing Saddlebacks at the bridge at Northeast Bay.

North Island Robin.

Juvenile Bellbird.

The rare Brown Teal (one of three seen).
Fernbird, which are quite difficult to see properly.
Takahe (like a gigantic Purple Swamphen). This is not famous Greg.
A energic Whitehead. Nearly impossible to get on photo.

Seawatching at Fishermans Bay was very productive and enjoyable.

An Australasian Gannet flew overhead.

The pond at the eastern part where three Brown Teals and Spottless Crakes were present.

Evening view at Fishermans Bay towards east.
The lighthouse in evening light.

8 Dec 2010

Tiritiri Matangi for three days - 8th

So, I just had have a nice breakfast at Xbase and will will soon walk downtown to the ferry, which will take me to the island of Tiritiri Matangi for a three-day stay. The target speies is Little Spotted Kiwi, Stitchbird and Kokako and of course it will be nice to see the already seen specialties as well as the subspecies of Robin and Saddleback. Fortunately, it's no public Internet connection on the island and therefore it will not be any updates until Friday evening or so, but stay tuned.

7 Dec 2010

From Invercargill to Auckland – 7th

My journey soon come full circle. Strange feeling. At noon I flew from Invercargill in the very south of the South Island to Auckland in the north, covering a distance of about 1200 km. However, at the moment I am sitting at the side of the window in the Xbase community room in centre Auckland. Writing on the travel blog on my notebook, a latte from Starbucks across the street, Cure in my headphones and I can see people walking along Queens street, wearing summer clothes. Strange. Knowing that Santa Claus literally is round the corner. Today, it’s on day one month since I arrived and spent my first night at Xbase. Seems to be so long ago. I really can’t bow to the inevitable fact that I’ll start my travel back to Sweden on Saturday. No, tomorrow morning I’ll the 360 Discovery ferry to the island of Tiritiri Matangi and stay there until Friday afternoon. It’s an open sanctuary, but you have to book accommodation well ahead, as the bunkhouse only contains 10 beds. I booked already in March to secure a place. It will be interesting to compare Tiritiri with Ulva island, but on the other hand I am not sure one should, as they had have (and still have) complete different opportunities for their conservation work. As I said one month ago, Xbase is a great place to stay at: the Airport bus stops just outside the door, the ferry to Tiritiri Matangi as well as cetacean/seabird boat tours is located 15 minutes walk away and the Railway station ten minutes. So folks, it’s time to get to bed. My adventures is not finished yet;-)

Santa Claus in summer time. Can't believe it's Xmas soon, not here at Xbase.

6 Dec 2010

Ulva Island a second time – 6th

Last day on Stewart Island. Quite a sad feeling. I had a last wholesome breakfast at Jo and Andy in company with Colin. Then I enjoyed the Fuchsia walk, continued to Golden Bay and took Peter’s water taxi to Ulva island for a three hours visit. It had rained all night and it was only me and two German guys visiting Ulva in the morning. Wonderful! There was lots of Stewart Island Robins throughout all tracks and at West End Beach I found a pair with a newly fledge bird. I saw three South Island Saddlebacks and heard four singing birds. Two Riflemen, four Yellowheads and at least 20 Brown Creepers is worthy of mention among the usual bird species. Back on the main island I meet Leo, a Dutch birdwatcher, that made a day visit. I packed my things and took farewell to Andy and Jo. Walked a few hundred metres to South Sea Hotel (the southernmost hotel in the world?) and enjoyed a last latte. The ferry left Oban at 3:30pm. Leo and I did some seawatching from after-deck. We saw a few Stewart Island Shags, several White-capped Albatrosses, Sooty Shearwaters and Common Diving Petrels. At Tuatara Lodge I had full-head-shave, a shower and washed my muddy trousers and boats. After these refreshments I headed to A la Turk for a lamb kebab. Delicious! I spent rest of the evening reading and listening to the Cure. Tomorrow I’ll fly to Auckland via Christchurch. I begin to realize that my long journey has an end, but I try to avoid thinking of it. I look forward to three days stay on Tiritiri Matangi!

View from Sydney Cove on Ulva Island.
Newly fledged Stewart Island Robin at West End Beach.
A curious Kaka.
A Black-backed (Kelp) Gull at Ulva Island.
View from the ferry towards the northeastern part of Stewart Island.

Rakiura Track on Stewart Island – 5th

For this day I had planned to walk a part of the Rakiura track, which is consider to be one of the great walks in NZ. The whole track is about 36 km and one’s suggested to do one or two overnights in the huts along the track. However, I thought that it may be possible to do the track in one day, but I think it would be wise to start with the first third to Maori beach, then make a final decision. I packed my rucksack with food and rain clothes only and left the house at 9am. Cloudy and a westerly breeze. I excluded the Horseshoe Point track and headed directly towards Lee Bay. On the beach at Lee Bay a huge Sea Lion had parked himself. I reached Maori Beach quarter to 12. Had a small lunch and finally decided to do the whole Rakiura track. By the way, Rakiura is the Maori name for Stewart Island and means “Land of the Glowing Skies. While this is a reference to the blushes of Te Rakitamau it also describes the island’s spectacular sunsets and its night-time displays of Aurora Australis, the Southern Lights.

The track between Port William and North Arm Hut were just wonderful. Through native old forest all way, valleys with small streams, suspension bridges, a few lookout points, even though one never reached below the bushline. I reached North Arm at 3:40pm and had a 20 minutes rest in the hut with coffee and food. Unfortunately, it started to drizzle when I hit the track. The track between North Arm and Sawdust Bay were just a muddy disaster as some clever one had pulled away the wooden walkway, instead of doing it step by step when replacing it with a gravel walkway. I arrived to Jo and Andy’s house at 7pm, with quite muddy and wet trekking boats, but happy to had have completed the whole track, though there was no other option then to proceed. The regular bird species were seen in good numbers during the walk. I got to bed early and fell in sleep at once.

Dead Man Beach in early morning.
The huge Sea lion at Lee Bay.
View along the coast from Peters Point.
The suspension bridge at Maori Beach.
The lovely dense native forest between Port William and North Arm.
A temporary suspension bridge between Port William and North Arm, due to construction work of a collapsed part of the track.
A nice stream along the track.
View towards Prices Inlet.
The North Arm hut.
Part of the North Arm seen from the hut.
View at Butterfield Beach nine o'clock in the evening!