25 Nov 2010

From Otago in east to Fiordland in west - 25th

I had a a nice lie-in and got up at 8am. It was a light cloud-cover and almost windless. I were supposed to take the bus to Dunedin, but Kevin had a day off from his guiding work today and he always get to Dunedin for business things and meeting friends. He insisted to show me the southern part of the peninsula in general and the Sandfly Bay in particular and the drive me to the bus station in Dunedin. The road along the ridge of the peninsula offered great views and we soon reached Sandfly Bay, which mainly is known as a resting place for New Zealand Sea Lions, and of course shifting sand. There were six Sea Lions on the beach, of which two were huge males. Pat one of these on the cheek were certainly not the first that crossed my mind, but they were majestetic indeed. We also saw tracks of several Yellow-eyed Penguins in the sand. Kevin and I had a good time together and he finally dropped me at the bus station in Dunedin. Unfortunately, I didn´t have time to visit the museum, but one can't do everything, but enjouy the moments that occur.

The bus-ride from Dunedin to Te Anau in the western part took 4 1/5 hours and offered a great scenary. Te Anau and Lake Te Anau with all the surrounding mountain ridges were just breathtaking and beautiful in a dramatic way. One just have to sit down on the shore and try to absorb it. I did some shopping for my 4-day tramping on Kepler track that I start tomorrow morning. I have re-packed and stored half of my things at the accommodation place. So, now I am ready to do one of the great walks!

A Bellbird on Flax, while I enjoyed my breakfast. Its flute-like song reminds much of the European Golden Oriole, but even more lovely.
Nice view of the southern part of the Otago peninsula.
Kevin at Sandfly Bay. He work as a guide within the penguin reserve.
An imposing New Zealand Sea Lion at Sandfly Bay.
A beautiful black morph of Variable Oystercatcher.
After thousands of Red-billed Gulls along the coast it was nice to see hundreds of Black-billed Gulls for a change, during the travel inland and at Lake Te Anau.
View at Lake Te Anau towards north in the evening!

Shags and albatrosses at Otago peninsula – 24th

Woke up and discovered a clear blue sky. Had an easy breakfast on the veranda in company of one Tui and a couple of flute-like singing Bellbirds. Indeed a happy start on the day. I had a nice walk along the windy road to Taiaroa Head, the very tip of the Otago peninsula, where the Royal Albatross Colony is located. I had booked a guided tour at 2pm, so I had four hours for seawatching from shore. Within half an hour I had spotted one Northern Royal Albatross and one White-capped Albatross, two Cape Petrels and numerous Sooty Shearwaters as well as the first Stewart Island Shags. Now I have recorded a total of 8 shag species! After an hour or so I recognized a fishing vessel heading towards Taiaroa Head and the inlet. The boat were followed by many seabirds: White-capped Albatross (25), Salvin's Albatross (5), Giant Petrel (7), Cape Petrel (50), Sooty Shearwaters (10) and 20 unidentified all-dark shearwaters (probably Westland or White-chinned). In addition I saw about 30 Hutton's Shearwaters foraging offshore.

The guided albatross tour were OK, but not that exciting. We saw five birds on nest from the Richdale Observatory and two birds flew by. Rest of the afternoon I just took it easy at the lodge and had a nice talk with Kevin, one of the guides at the penguin reserve. The place is really relaxing with no Internet connections at all. Time for contemplation.

Taiaroa Head, the very tip of the Otago Peninsula, which is the only mainland breeding site for albatrosses (e.g. Northern Royal Albatross).
Adult Little Shag.
A beautiful adult Spotted Shag, which breeds at Taiaroa Head.
A colony of Stewart Island Shags, which breeds of the most exposed slope of Taiaroa Head. Both forms (all dark and pied) is depicted in the photo, as well as quite big chicks.
One of the nesting Northern Royal Albatrosses seen from the observatory. In all 16 pairs have started the incubation and it will take about 80 days before the chick hatch.
View towards Otago Harbour and Dunedin from Richdale Observatory at Taiaroa Head.

A day of penguins at Otago peninsula – 23rd

I woke up early and had a quick breakfast with Colin. He then drove me to the bus stop as I wanted to catch the morning bus to Harington Point, which is located at the tip of the Otago Peninsula. The bus driver dropped me at the Penguin Place and I checked in at their lodge for two nights. The lodge were located at the top a hill and its veranda facing the inlet. Amazing view while Bellbirds singing in the surrounding forest. I  accommodate myself and the took a long walk along the shore to Portobello. It was low-tide and hundreds of hundreds of Red-billed Gulls as well as Variable Oystercatchers, Black-backed Gulls, three Royal Spoonbills, Little and Spotted Shags.

Back to the lodge a made a simple pasta dinner, enough for two days. Took a power nap before I joined a tour within the penguin reserve. The reserve has been managed by the McGrouther's family since 1985. They has replanted the penguins breeding grounds, built nesting sites, cared for sick and injured birds and trapped predators. Daniel were my and to more participants guide for the one hour tour. We saw a young Yellow-eyed Penguin, which had been present on the cliffs for two days. During our tour an adult Yellow-eyed Penguin landed on the beach and we could study the bird from a nearby hide. Finally we visited a shady nest with one parent and two three-week old chicks. It were a great experience to see these strange, but beautiful birds. Afterwards I had soft selfmade latte on the lodge veranda and enjoyed several Silvereyes and a couple of Bellbirds.

In the evening I took a five kilometres walk to Pilot Beach close to the Royal Albatross Colony at the very tip of the peninsula, to watch little Blue Penguins arriving to their breeding grounds after sunset. Just behind the roped-off viewing area there were two burrows with penguins visible. 10-15 minutes after sunset one could see rafts of 10-20 penguins coming to shore, but slowly and careful. It was to see them to land on the beach just below the audience. And soon their calls sounded through the night. During my walk back to the lodge I saw several rafts of Blue Penguins swimming in to shore and heard some tramping in the bush. What a joyful day!

The Penguin Place is located almost at the tip of the Otago peninsula. The place has been a conservation reserve for the Yellow-eyed Penguin since 1985.
View from the veranda at Penguin Lodge where I stayed for two nights.
The beach where the Yellow-eyed Penguins land during afternoon and evening. Unlike other penguins it breeds solitary and have clear territories and don’t use burrows.
An immature Yellow-eyed Penguin. They receive adult plumage after their first moult.
An adult Yellow-eyed Penguin that just have land at the beach. It is 70 cm tall and weighs over 5 kg.
Adult Blue Penguin and chick in its burrow at Pilot Beach, where a great colony is to be found.
Sunset at Pilot Beach while awaiting the Blue Penguins, which usually arrive some 10-15 minutes after sunset.
A blurry picture of a group of Blue Penguins that just have landed on the beach. Flashes or torches is of course not allowed.

Lincoln – Lake Ellesmere – Oamaru – Dunedin – 22nd

Had a breakfast at Colins place. Took farewell of the cats and we headed to Colins office at Landcare Research in Lincoln. He had to do some preparations for the 9 week long stay on Campbell Islands, of which he will be leading. You can follow their research and monitoring work on www.campbellisland.org.nz

Later in the morning we drove to Lake Ellesmere, a huge brackish lake just south of Christchurch. We had an appointment with the local birder Colin Hill and drove to his farm with its beautiful rose garden. We changed to gumboots and placed ourselves in Colins 4WD jeep. If one visit Lake Ellesmere for the first time I think its wise to use a guide that know the area and where to find shorebirds, depending on winds and water-levels. Lake Ellesmere is a huge area, which is impossible to cover within a single day. However, we did a good work and saw Pectoral Sandpiper (4), Curlew Sandpiper (2), Red Knot (15), Pacific Golden Plover (7), Wrybill (1), Turnstone (5), Bar-tailed Godwit (100), Banded Dotterel (20), Black-billed Gull (1) and Caspian Tern (7). Add to this hundreds of Pied Stilts, Red-billed Gulls, Black Swans, Grey Teals and Australian Shovelers and many more. After three hours nice birdning we said good bye to Colin, a kind and helpful guy. We drove back to Colins office as he had to do some paperwork before headed southwards to Oamaru. We left Lincoln at five and did a few stops now and then and about ten Black-fronted Terns at Waitaki River were the most exciting bird sighting along the road. Well in Oamaru we drove to Bushey Beach where the rare Yellow-eyed Penguin breed with a few pairs. We were a bit late and had already missed five penguins. However, we were lucky as a late struggler landed on the beach. What a lovely sighting! We stayed for half an hour more, but no more Yellow-eyed Penguins. We then drove to a Blue Penguin colony for a short visit. We saw one at close range and heard several more. Time was 9:30pm and we decided to drive to Dunedin, instead of staying overnight in Oamaru. In Dunedin we stayed in a nice flat, which Colin had lent from a friend.

Dr Colin Meurk in his office at Landcare Research in Lincoln. He soon going to Campbell Islands for nine weeks monitoring work.
Only a part of Lake Ellesmere. A huge area to cover, so one need a knowledgeable man to find the birds and Colin Hill is the man.
Double Colin. From left: Colin Hill and Colin Meurk at Lake Ellesmere.
Sign in Oamaru (known as the Penguin Town). Bushey Beach is the place where Yellow-eyed Penguin breed.
Bushey Beach at dusk. We saw a single Yellow-eyed Penguin, even though we were a bit late.

22 Nov 2010

Kaikoura to Christchurch - 21st

Woke up at 7am. It had stopped raining and I had a nice breakfast on Lazy Shags veranda. Took a walk a long the beach to Kaikoura point. Hundreds of Hutton's Shearwaters were foraging off shore, saw several distant albatrosses, a few Giant Petrels vloser to shore and at least five differant scholls of Dusky Dolphins, of which one contained about 100 dolphins and they played and breached for about half an hour. A joyful sight indeed. Along the shore were Little, Spotted and Pied Shags, Variable Oystercatchers and White-faced Herons.

At 12:30 I boarded the bus to Christchurch. The bus-ride took about three hours and Colin Meurk were there to meet me. We went to Riccarton Bush in centre on Christchurch and saw Grey Gerygone, Tomtit and Tui. Next stop were Travis Wetland were we saw several Grey Teals, New Zealand Scaups and the more usual birds sucha as Paradise Shelduck, Spur-winged Plover, Australian Shoveler, Pied Stilt and so on. We went to a few more laggons in the area a couple of hundred of New Zealand Scaup, a pair of Australian Coots, many Grey Teals, hundreds of Oystercatcthers and 50 Bar-tailed Godwits. When the sun was about to set we drove to a ice-hockey rink were Colin's daughter Christine were to play a ice-hockey match. Kind of strange, going to NZ and watch a hockey match, which ended 4-4. Finally, we got to Colin's house in late evening and in the little house were I gonna stay for the night were two beautiful cats, one Korat and one Russian Blue. Nice, as a miss my own two cats. Skeffy the Korat, were a darling indeed and he slept under the quilt with me. I slept well all night.

A beautiful Pied Shag at Kaikoura.

A NZ Fur Seal at Kaikoura, where several colonies is to be found.

A pair of the endemic Paradise Shelduck, male (left) and female, at Travis Wetland.

Ice-hockey match in Christchurch. Quite an experience.

The beautiful darling Korat cat Skeffy (actually taken in morning the day after).