NEW ZEALAND 2001 ONE-MONTH BIRDING TRIP

Monday, April 16, 2001. Week 1, Day 5. Tiri Tiri Matangi Sanctuary Island.

It's 8:44AM, and we're on our way to Whangaparaoa, 2K from the marina. There is a big open green field to the right and we see three yellow birds on a wire. We turn around to come back, but they fly across the road, and we miss them.

We turn around in a housing development, and there are three Pukekos, who can't quite decide if they'll let me take their photo or not. Finally one gives in. We complete our turnaround, return to our original path, and notice several birds. Pukeko, Paradise Shelducks and several yellow-headed birds in a plowed field. A careful check shows them to be *YELLOWHAMMERS. Originally there were several Goldfinches too.

We arrive at the ticket building for the trip to Tiri Tiri, pick up our tickets (reserved by phone two days ago), and go outside on the dock to await our ride. Our boat shows up on time, and the ride over is smooth and uneventful, taking just twenty minutes. We DO see one shearwater of unidentified type, but have to let it go.

It's 10:11 AM and the boat is slowing down to dock on Tiri Tiri Matangi.

As we exit the boat, onto the dock, we are told to gather around the island director, who explains the history of the island, dos and don'ts, and so on. He tells us to watch out for "Greg," a Takahe (large blue rail) who has gotten so used to beach picnickers that he will make a pest of himself.

Sharon and I, with our scope over my shoulder, are told to go with the last of the five or six groups, each headed by a volunteer. When our group finally takes off, and after about five minutes, it's clear we want to be on our own, and not with a group. They are travelin' way too fast. So we catch up long enough to tell them we're exiting the group, and peel off, but not before seeing a pair of *BLUE PENGUINS in their home.

Sharon later reads that when Blue Penguins molt, they will come ashore and stay in their caves for up to two weeks. Maybe this is what's happening. Some time ago, I learned that when birds molt, for a time, they cannot fly. They are said to be in the "eclipse" phase.

This Penguin domicile is a man-made pile of rocks roughly in the shape of a two-foot tall igloo, cemented together with a rectangular piece of plexiglass in the roof of the "igloo," and a wooden cover over the plexiglass, for privacy and to keep out the sun, I suppose.

One at a time, as the next member of our group passes, he or she lifts the cover and sees two Blue Penguins in their home. Pretty cool. I want to see this bird out in the open of course, and we have a good chance for that later in the trip.

At 11:00 AM, we are on a high area, just uphill from the beach. I can see Black Variable Oystercatchers, and earlier we saw House Sparrows, a Fantail, gulls overhead. Now we are walking along Hobbs Beach, along facing foliage. Sharon sees a bird, and it's our first *SADDLEBACK, a black bird with a rich rusty "saddle" on its back, and a small red wattle. Wonderful. We watched an episode of David Attenborough's miniseries on birds, where a nice section portrayed this bird.

We come upon two couples having a picnic lunch on the beach, and there is Greg, trying to get into their food. Shame on our lifer *TAKAHE. One of the girls elbows him aside, so he tries an approach near one of the others.

But back to our foliage, there is another bird in there, green, but it leaves and we have to move around the corner, ready to head up on one of the island trails. Just before taking off, we see a FERAL GOOSE, but I'm always reluctant to count them, as being tame. This one might be wild though.

11:44 and we're about 100 feet up the trail. Sharon yells "parrot!" and I turn just in time to see one rocket right past my head. They land up higher, and they are *RED-CROWNED PARAKEETS. Terrible pests to farmers' crops, they were almost eradicated. This after first being caged birds, then escaped birds, then becoming a force to be reckoned with. Some were brought over here though, where they are thriving, without creating the need for their own destruction.

Almost noon and we're up even higher. We get another, even better view of a Saddleback, several Fantails, and one or two others, we can't see yet. A little *WHITEHEAD responds to Sharon's call. This is a blue-gray bird with a head the color of, let's see now...

12:03 and we just saw our first BELLBIRD. They are olive-yellow and black. We heard one in '94 near Rotorua, NZ, but this is the first time we've ever seen one.

Then we hear a wonderful series of descending notes in the bush to our left. "Bush," in New Zealand means forest. In Africa and Central America, it means jungle.

Sharon calls and calls, but it won't come. I have brought my Minidisc, and I record the bird's song, playing it back to him a few seconds later. Not immediately, but in ten or fifteen seconds, out pops our life *NEW ZEALAND ROBIN. As they used to say on The Little Rascals, "We-mark-a-beau!"

It's 1:27 and we are up higher now, way behind schedule. We are heading up one of the two main trails to the lighthouse, after which we'll take one of the ridge trails, heading over to the other main trail, which will take us down to the boat.

There is a tree full of bellbirds, responding to Sharon's call, when suddenly, three rare *STITCHBIRDS fly over to check her out, two males and a female. They are antsy birds, bouncing around and switching positions. The chuck-like call they give sounds like "stitch" to me. Sharon says the bellbirds are going into and out of the flowers of this huge tree.

It's 1:35, and time for our best bird yet. Sharon is on a new bird and says "I got a big bird," to which I respond, "A Tui?" "No," she says, "this is the one with the wattles." A *KOKAKO has flown in, and this bird is, I believe, one of the rarest on the island.

We are making our way up a long flight of wooden stairs built into the hill, when we come upon a rest spot. We unload our gear and have lunch. I move around, taking video and pictures, getting one of Sharon resting on a bench. Suddenly I call, "Sharon, look at the plank, right across the walk from you." Not ten feet away, a NZ Robin has landed, curious. We had been told that they are a very friendly bird, and this one certainly is.

It comes over by me, and I get my best picture of the trip so far -- the little NZ North Island Robin.

Sharon leans over with her cane (almost everybody in NZ calls it a stick, and I do too now), scratches some leaves away, and backs off. The Robin waits about a half-second, then hops over to the newly-cleared area. It begins eating bugs and stuff that got disturbed by Mr. Coolest-Stick-in-New-Zealand.

We come across three Takahe's in the path, two adults and one juvie (juvenile). We feel better now that we don't have to count Greg as one of our life birds.

We're supposed to be back down at the boat at 3:15, and we're hopelessly behind schedule. So we have to decide what to skip. We decide to skip the trip up the hill to the lighthouse itself, and we later learn that this costs us two life birds -- the Brown Teal and Brown Quail. I-hate-when-that-happens. Ah, but that's the way the world works.

We make it down to the boat in time, and cross over to the mainland. We unload into the motorhome, and make it back to our camp for some well-earned rest.

Bird Summary:

Life Birds: Today: 9. Yellowhammer, Little Penguin, Takahe, Saddleback, Red-crowned Parakeet, Whitehead, New Zealand Robin (North Island), Stitchbird, Kokako.
For the Trip: 29.

Trip Birds: Today: 10. The nine lifers, plus Bellbird (upgrade from heard-only in 1994).
For the Trip: 43.

Tuesday, April 17, 2001. Week 1, Day 6. The Brown Kiwi Chase.

Kings' X, Kings' X! Timeout for Explanation.

Our target destination today is Paihia, up by the Bay of Islands, in northeast NZ. Yesterday, I thought we'd hop off the boat from Tiri Tiri, and just drive up there. But it's a long way, we were pooped, and we just didn't feel like driving it. It so happens that Pahia sits at the upper right corner of a large driving loop, best described as a tall rectangle. The lower right corner of the rectangle begins a ways north of us, where Highway 12 cuts over from the east coast to the west coast. This forms the short, lower leg of the rectangle, which we plan as the last leg for us to take. The upper right corner is Pahia, where we have reports of Brown Kiwi being heard. The plan is to try for the Kiwi there at night, then next day drive west.

At the western end of the short upper leg, we hope to see White-fronted Terns at a river mouth. Then down the west coast, through Kauri forests, through Dargaville, then shortly after that, head east, and complete the rectangle. Then we'll begin our drive down through Auckland, to my old Stanford roommate's house in Hamilton. Namely Dr. William Bolstad, wife Syl and daughter Rachel. Son Ben lives in Berkeley where he's getting a PhD in statistics.

The result of not driving last night is that a drive straight north to Pahia this morning would get us there before noon, and we'd have to wait till six or seven PM to see the Kiwi. Simple solution. Go around the rectangle in reverse arriving at Pahia in the late afternoon.

Kings' Y, Kings' Y! Back to Normal.

5:30 AM. I am up early. The alarm is set to go off at 6:30, so I tell Sharon to sleep some more if she wants. She wants. I work on a trip report for a while. Then I dump the gray water. But our dump tank exit is higher than the lip around the camp's dumping point. Anyway, I have to maneuver the hose a little to get the gray water to leave our motorhome. To which the gray water has apparently gotten very attached. Somehow I get most of it out.

We take off, but as is often the case, I head south instead of the desired northerly direction. Oops. Stop ignoring your GPS! And stop ignoring Sharon, for sure. The motorhome is still in our camp, just a few feet from the highway, and we're headed up about a 15 degree hill. I put the brake on and try to put the transmission into reverse, but it jumps into the dreaded 2nd gear.

Attie said, "Don't put it in second gear, it will jam." Pronounced jem. Now we know what that means.

Now I can get it to go between 1 and 2, but not even into 3rd. Sharon says, "Pull forward, then pull over to the side of the road, and maybe you can get it back into 4th." I try that, but the road is a little busy, so Sharon says, "Pull over into that KFC parking lot, you'll have more room." I pull over there in second gear, but still can't get it to go. "Try turning the engine off. Then maybe it'll go." Engine off. Can't budge the transmission. Now the vehicle won't start because I'm in not in Park.

Not missing a beat, I pick up the mobile phone and dial 2. I get Adventure Motorhomes. I describe the problem. After finding out which vehicle we have, he says, "Shut the engine off." Hey I'm way ahead of him there. "Foot on the brake. Without pressing the button on the side of the shift, firmly slide the shift lever straight forward." I try and it slides right into Park. Click, click, click. "Just a second," I say. "I'll try to start it while you're on the line." Vroom vroom. "Thank you and Goodbye," I say joyfully.

Sharon says, "See, told ya."

8:53 AM and we're in new territory, 99 kilometers to Wangerei. I'm not sure what that means, but wasn't that a song? Paul Anka or somebody?.

We drive past a place called the Dome Lookout. There is a Dome Hill Scenic Walkway. We can see that about halfway up the dome, there is the "Top of the Dome Cafe."

Can't you just see the marketing meeting that took place? "What will we call the cafe? I guess the Halfway-up-the-Dome Cafe." "No, no, that's no good. Let's call it the Top of the Dome Cafe. Who's gonna check? Or care?" Madison Avenue stretches clear to New Zealand.

I get excited every time we drive past a group of ferns because one of the birds we came to see is the Fernbird. Nothing but ferns, so far. We guess that maybe it got its name because its tail looks a little like a fern, and later Sharon reads that this might be true.

9:29 AM and we get a White-backed Australian Magpie. It's really cool to see one when it is flying straight away from you, with white patches on the upper tail, back and wings. Looks a little bit like those costumes kids used to wear for Halloween. Do you remember the ones. All black cloth, but with white painted on that are the bones.

The common bird here is the Mynah -- they are all over the roadsides. When they fly, the white patches on their wings make them look like little fluttering fans. They are not afraid of vehicles zooming by at 100 km/hr (62.5 mph), just taking maybe two steps away from the highway as we pass.

9:34 and we are driving through Wellsford. All the shops are lined up on the main street, just like Versailles used to be before the malls and Walmarts came, providing better prices and service to customers, but shutting down little mom-and-pop stores. Mum and Pop are thriving in Wellsford.

Butcher shop, clothes shop, junk shops, pharmacy...

Two minutes till 10 AM, and we just hit the cutoff road to go over to the west coast. Highway 12. Lower right corner of the rectangle. Sharon spots some WILD TURKEYS in a field.

Three hours later and we have completed the trip to the west coast, turned north, and after a bit, have gone through Dargaville, a large town on the west coast. We stop in a Woolworth's, but over here, that means a grocery supermarket. After stocking up, we take off again.

We are headed for a Kauri Forest, but right now we're in pastureland. We zip by some power lines where I would estimate 200 Mynas are holding a power convention. The leader says, "I think we can stand even closer to the human traffic to pick up morsels from the road." The flock says, "Show us, O Master, we're right behind you."

We come to huge Waipoua Forest, and I drive up to a lookout, mentioned in some of our literature. The lookout isn't as impressive as I thought, and in fact, we don't even go up into it. A couple of tourists are up there though (See how I don't call us tourists? I figured you'd catch that).

I am waiting outside while Sharon fixes us lunch when I hear this high-pitched "Peep peep peep." Then I see this black and white bird while sitting in our motorhome doorway. It is about 20 meters away and is sitting on what looks like a yucca plant. I think "It's a New Zealand Robin." But then it flies, and there are beautiful white wing patches. It's our first *TOMTIT. Wonderful black and white flashbird. After lunch we head back down to the main road and the visitor center.

At the visitor center, we talk to Mae, who works for the DoC (Department of Conservation). I ask her one of my magic questions, "We're headed up to Paihia to see Brown Kiwi. We read an internet report that a couple of fellas heard one there. Do you know of a better place?" To which she answers, "I can tell you that I know personally of 200 Brown Kiwi in Trounson Forest, back the way you came." I am so tremendously excited about this I can't quite stand it. She gives us further details about her personal knowledge, and we immediately change all of our rectangle plans (bet you're glad to be done with the rectangle thing, huh?).

We about face, head back down south to the road that cuts over to Trounson. "Don't be put off by the 'metal' road. It's like that till you get to the park, then it's paved," Mae had told us. By the best experience you can get (doing it), we learn that a metal road is a gravel road, but with almost all the gravel worked down into the roadbed. Bang, bang, bang.

And she's right. The 20 or 30 kilometers drive there is metal. But the last 1k is wonderful paved surface. The DoC knows how to do their own park roads.

But I'm jumping ahead. We're on the metal road when we come upon a great scene, for me anyway. We're by farmland -- pastureland, sloping down to dark green forest. There is one white horse standing down there, and we can see just his head and back against the dark green forest. Beautifully eerie, in an omen sort of way. My crystal ball tells me the meaning of the horse is that we WILL see Kiwis tonight.

3:09 PM and Sharon spots a large black bird in a dead tree on farmland. We check it and and it's an immature (because he acts sort of goofy, out of place and all) *BLACK SHAG. It matches this bird three ways: one, it's real big, two, it's all black, and three, it's in a tree where it's not supposed to be.

Still on the "metal" road, our refrigerator door pops open, and stuff comes rolling merrily out. Luckily Sharon's boysenberries all stayed in their plastic container with the tight lid. And none others have popped open either.

You know, as I think about it, this is an advantage of a self-contained motorhome vs. our pickup-pulling-a-fifth-wheel. On one of our trips, the refrigerator door popped open, stuff fell onto the floor, the freezer door popped open, a three-quarters full carton of rocky road ice cream hit the floor, and rolled around for about the next 2-3 hours. The top came off, of course, the ice cream melted, and in a 100% chance event, the carton rolled forward onto the carpet, where it spilled its guts. Slowly. Over two or three hours. Great fun to think back at that ice cream oozing out and ruining the carpet, while we cheerily rolled down the highway.

Sharon puts everything back, but much more tidily this time. Around a corner and we see our first NZ rabbit, then a Blackbird, then three or four Pukeko's, then four more bunnies. A little further into the park and five or six Goldfinches fly off of a wire as we zip by. A couple of Mynahs see how close they can come to our tires. The word's out. But then they fly. Chickens.

We come up to a tidy little farm, and see a spotted horse, a peacock and an incredible flower, divided neatly in half by colors -- red and yellow. I take a photo, and the flower comes out perfectly, while the peacock is just a dark teal blotch. Actually I like the flower better anyway.

4:44 PM. We have found the Trounson DoC Motor Park (RV Park), set up our rig, hooked up to electricity, and find that there is no power in the things attached to the auxiliary 12 volt battery. No reading light over the bed for Sharon, no lights we normally have been using inside the trailer. What's up with that? The indicator to show how much power is left in the auxiliary battery (the one recharged by driving down the road, and by plugging into 240 VAC) is dead as a hammer. Dead as a doornail. Dead, man.

We can't fix it so we let it go. Soon we are walking the entire distance of the through-the-forest walkway. About half of it is gravel and half of it is raised plank-type boardwalk. Sharon wants me to take a photo of the bromiliads high in a Kauri tree, which I do. Then we walk by two of the four Kauri sisters. Sharon thinks they look like a pair of upside down blue jeans. Ah, nature.

I would put the distance of the walking track at about 1 1/2 miles, but it may just seem like it. It might only be two kilometers. Sharon spots a big bird flying into a tree at the edge of the forest. It's an Eastern Rosella.

We go back to camp, and gear up for the evening's Kiwi walk. Let's see. Web flashlight to wear over my cap, on my head. Video camera, with its night vision capability. Binoculars. Minidisc with Brown Kiwi calls. Extra flashlight. Parka. Umbrella. Fanny pack to hold water bottle. I'm ready. Gimme them Kiwis!

We head onto the path, which soon becomes a boardwalk, raised above the forest floor. Sharon stops short of a famous snail they call a something slug (sorry, don't remember its actual name). Incredibly, they can live to be 20 years old.

Kiwis sometimes just walk right under the boardwalk. That's what a fellow told us just a few minutes ago. He said that he and his girlfriend were out there last night and saw three Kiwis, and that one walked right under the boardwalk while they stood on it. The boardwalk, not the Kiwi. That would be goofy.

How many will we see? I would settle for one. I think of the White Horse. We set ourselves down at about 6:30 PM, having heard a couple of calls at about 6:15. This is going to be SO MUCH FUN!

Then we hear a Morepork, and it's very clear why this owl got its name. Let me try and say its call like it gives it. Ready? "More pork!" We keep calling it Morepark because of those two frontage roads that lie one on either side of Highway 280 in San Jose. One frontage road is called Moorpark. The road on the other side of the freeway (no joke) is called Parkmoor.

It is getting darker and darker and darker. My back is killing me. Plus as I stand here, I get the feeling that I can't tell exactly which way is exactly straight up. Like I could topple over without too much trouble. I click on my flashlight when the feeling gets overwhelming. And, ah, yes, I thought that was up. But sometimes: Oh, I thought up was THAT way.

We begin to hear sounds. Things falling from trees, striking layers of leaves before hitting the ground. Things walking through the leaves on the ground. Things making little grunting noises, right before us. Glow worms not giving enough glow to help, but these together with the sounds make Sharon think of the Blair Witch Project movie. Me personally, I wasn't scared a bit. I was eating it up. Come on Kiwis! You can do it.

When we're finally, absolutely, 100% certain that the sound is directly below us, on go the flashlights, pointing directly at the sounds. And... nothing. We hear maybe a dozen Kiwis, but we do not see one Kiwi in about 2 1/2 hours, and we are exhausted.

Sharon later reads that if you do what we did, you have an 80% chance of seeing a Kiwi. So we hit a 1 in 5 shot, on the short end.

We go back to the motorhome and I collapse. Sharon fixes dinner, but says that I am sleeping so soundly that she doesn't want to wake me.

From my viewpoint, Sharon was starting to fix dinner, I closed my eyes, opened them, and Sharon was cleaning up after dinner! How'd that happen? I don't think I am hungry but she made this noodle chicken, sweet and sour dish that is fantastic. I have three helpings. I am soooo tired.

I try to work on a trip report, but keep dozing off, waking, dozing, so I finally give up and join Sharon, doing the great sleep of the normal. You know, those who have not seen a Kiwi today.

Stupid horse.

Bird Summary for Today:

Life Birds:
Today: 4. Tomtit, Black Shag, Brown Kiwi (heard only), Morepork (owl. heard only).
For the Trip: 33.

Trip Birds:
Today: 5. The 4 lifers, plus Wild Turkey.
For the Trip: 48.

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