NEW ZEALAND 2001 ONE-MONTH BIRDING TRIP

Wednesday, April 18, 2001. Week 1, Day 7. Kiwi-land to the Miranda Estuary.

5:00 AM. I wake up and can tell Sharon's awake. "Do you want to try again, this morning?" I ask her. "I think we have to," says she. And up we plod. Gear up again, back out onto the walkway, still dark. Glow worms still glowing. Not nearly so many sounds, though. In fact, only a Kiwi call, and no crunch, crunch of the leaves. Back to the motorhome, have breakfast, then gear up for leaving Trounson.

Trounson Kauri Forest Park. This is a 421-hectare (I think one hectare is either 2.2 or 2.6 acres) parcel of forest totally surrounded by farmland -- an island of forest in an ocean of pastures. A Mr. Trounson donated it to the people in 1922, as I recall, but it may have been 1822, hoping it would give them as much pleasure as it had given him.

7:48 AM and I start up the engine. All the auxiliary 12 volt stuff comes on. What the? We need to have this fixed. We head out onto the metal road. We pass the White Horse, who couldn't predict his way out of a paper bag, and who is nipping at the flanks of the other two horses in his pasture, chasing them around.

We see a large bird run across the road, and it's a male Pheasant. We also see several Pukekos, several rabbits, several Blackbirds. At 8:30 a flock of about 12 Eastern Rosellas fly across the road, and land in a tree. We can see their backs, and even on this overcast day, they still look brilliant.

A minute later, a small yellow bird zooms in, flits very fast (I don't know what that means. It just came to me), and is gone. Two harriers fly up and overhead. We come to a cool mini-mountain shaped like a statistical bell curve (that's for you, Bill B.).

We cross the bridge that says, "Dargaville, 44K," when I remember something about our pre-dawn Kiwi hunt. One of the cool things about being in the forest, or anywhere there are birds for that matter, is listening to the dawn chorus. The birds singing as the sun comes up. Only it was well before dawn, when a handful of birds started the chorus. The other birds said, "Hey, you young rascals, pipe down. It's too early," and they did. After petering out once, they tried again, again without the other birds joining in. We were out of there before the real dawn chorus.

We pass through Dargaville, and I call Adventure Caravans to tell them about the 12 volt problem. After listening to my story, having me try some things, the fellow says, "Just take it into a garage," meaning they'd reimburse me for having it fixed. But I don't want to do that. "Can I just bring it into you, because we're planning on driving right past you on our way south on Highway 1?" "Sure thing," the fellow says. Then I notice this cool green bug on the outside of my side window .

Back on the road again, we cross from west to east on Highway 12, get on Highway 1, and read, "Auckland 112 km." It's 1 PM and we are headed south.

A bit later now. We are almost into Auckland when I suddenly remember, "Hey, we're supposed to go to Murawai Beach to see if the Gannets are still here!" I was so concentrated on getting to and through Auckland, and getting the voltage thing fixed, that it almost slipped my mind. I just have time to pull over, check our maps, and for Sharon to navigate us a way there.

So I mentally postpone the meeting with Adventure Caravans to see if we can see Gannets. My expectation is to see a bunch of birds a half-mile out or so, plunging head-first into the sea. Little specks in our 45X zoom scope. But that would be cool, if we could.

2:30 PM and there are about 300 *GANNETS to the left of me, to the right of me, flying right at me. Incredible. Straight out is a tall column of a rock with greenery and about a hundred Gannets on it. Soon I see one Gannet flying over this rock. Down below us and to the right is a huge ledge containing another hundred or so Gannets, and I take a tricky close-up photo of Gannets through the lens of the scope. I get a nice shot of a Gannet about to land, and another of a Gannet who just launched.

They are incredible. Elegant and graceful in the air, clumsy and stupid as a white horse on the ground. Sharon has read that there is another bird colony farther out, on the big flat rock next to the dome rock, and we can barely make out the *WHITE-FRONTED TERNS there. A couple of decades ago, this was all a Tern colony. But the Gannets discovered it, and slowly took over, relegating the Terns to the small area they now use as their rookery.

Later, it's 5:02 PM, and Steve has found the problem (a bad connection of a fuse holder, at the auxiliary 12-volt battery, under the motorhome floor), fixed it, and we are off again.

We finish off the day by driving via Highway 1, then Highway 2, then a cutoff road to Miranda itself. We make our way to the Miranda Hot Springs Holiday Park and check in. The fellow knows all about the Miranda Estuary, and tells us where it is. Hey, only ten minutes up the coast. Cool

We drive in, pick our spot, have a nice hot shower each and have dinner. We enjoy our microwave and all the auxiliary 12-volt stuff. Pretty cool how the problem came up just in time to get fixed on our way through the home office.

I go to sleep dreaming of this little coastal bird with an incredible feature. But I'll save that till tomorrow. For now, it's Good Night, Good Luck and may the Good Lord take a likin' to ya.

OUR MOTORHOME, A PICTORIAL. A short timeout before turning in.

When I was perhaps in high school, I used to be put into a magical trance any time I'd see a diagram of the floorplan of a trailer or motorhome. To see where the stove and refrigerator went, where the beds were, whether they were over and under bunkbeds, singles or doubles, where the bathroom was (if there was one), all the storage compartments. All of it.

So if you are reading this at our website (at www.24birds.net, then click Trip Reports, then click New Zeland, then click Report 4), here are photos of the inside of our motorhome.

In rear, looking forward. Catalytic heater at lower left, on bathroom cubicle. Kitchen at right. Bed over cab.
The sink and stove.
In front, looking rearward. That's the single bed slung from above (storage for us), wrap-around couch in back, dining table at left.
Looking at the couch.
The bed over cab during the day (storage of chairs, tripod and scope).
Looking down at the driver's cockpit. Automatic floor gear shift, GPS beyond gear, fold-down armrest.

And here's a bonus, for granddaughter 'Mantha: Someone's been sleeping in MY bed, and she's still there!

Bird Summary:

Life Birds:
Today: 2. Gannet, White-fronted Tern.
For the Trip: 35.

Trip Birds:
Today: 2. The 2 lifers.
For the Trip: 50.

Thursday, April 19, 2001. Week 2, Day 1. Miranda Estuary. To our Friends, the Bolstads.

8:34 AM. As we are about to leave the Holiday Park, we hear a bird, like a parrot, do its parrot sounds from a cage. We amble over, but the first thing that strikes me are these three little fuzzball birds on the ground. I've studied the Australian birds a little, and I'm going to make a guess that these are Button Quail, in a cage, so uncountable of course. They are cute as buttons.

There are also several exotic finches and a couple of large parrots, one of which is VERY high on himself. SQUAWWWWK!!!

We head north on Miranda Road. Hey wait. Sharon sees a pair of birds in a field. We turn around and go back. They are White-faced Herons, and she thought they might be something else. There are also Paradise Shelducks and Harriers around. Then three White-backed Magpies. The ground is slightly wet, as it sprinkled a little early this morning. It is medium cool today and totally overcast.

I'm getting the notion that it can be totally gray, but not rain for a long period of time. Nobody has umbrellas or raincoats, nobody is ready for rain, and we guess that it's just the heartiness, or hardiness of the New Zealander.

8:46 AM and as we come to the estuary, we get a couple of Pied Stilts on a pond to our right, next to the road. Beyond that I saw perhaps eight hunters walking back the way we came from, one with what looks like a shotgun broken down over his arm.

Ten minutes later, we've got a number of great SKYLARKS over a field to the left. We make it to the visitor center, and talk with a pleasant lady who is all efficiency. "Do you want to come in? We're just about to open. We've had about 40 students sleep in here last night, and you'll find sleeping bags around. Come on in anyway. Or do you want to just pop up to the estuary, then come back?"

We decide to go to the estuary first. "Is it where we saw those hunters?" I ask, after she describes where we should go. "Heavens, I hope not. Those are the students. You must have seen a tripod." Oh, yeah, I knew that.

We drive back up and park, then walk out to where the students are, lined up along a rise in the field, just before dropping down onto sand consisting mostly of shells. We learn from talking with a couple of students that they are recording the activities of various birds, mostly the Oystercatchers. Then we luck onto one of the instructors, and tell him of the bird we're after. "You'll find them down there, to the right all the way, where that one fellow is with the white sweater. Just at the river mouth." All right! We start walking. But then he comes running to catch up, and says, "We were just told that they've all flown out of there. They'll likely be gone now till about 5 PM, where you'll see them all over this area, by the hundreds." Well, this is just peachy because at 5 PM, I'll be having a drink or something in Hamilton with Bill Bolstad.

We turn around to head out, but as we are walking, I notice a small group of perhaps ten birds ahead of us and to the right, only perhaps 50 meters away from a spot we'll be at in about one minute. Meantime, Sharon has noticed a cloud of about fifty birds that SHE thinks might be our bird. We each try to get the other onto our respective group.

I finally win, but don't tell Sharon I said so. On the other hand, I'm always the winner because she married me.

But back to our target birds. We set the scope up and can see the incredible feature. Each and every little gray and white shorebird has a thin, pointed beak which bends to the RIGHT! These are the world famous *WRYBILLS of New Zealand and nowhere else. They were on David Attenborough's miniseries too. His final words to this segment were, "... and if you have been wondering, yes, they always bend to the right." Cool as can be. I get one shot of the Wrybills through the scope again, then another of the totally bland, seemingly ugly (but not to us) overcast day, and drab grayness of the sand, the water, the hills and the sky around.

Other birds out there are Pied Stilts, Black Shags, South Island Variable Oystercatchers, New Zealand Dotterels and Banded Dotterels, me and Sharon and the students and instructors. We head back to the visitor center, where I enjoy a depiction of the New Zealand-Australasian Flyway. Here we buy one of the great "gifts" of our trip, a book called "Birds of New Zealand, Locality Guide," by Stuart Chambers. It shows a scene of ferns and bush, or forest, in the foreground, water and mountains in the background, with an inset of a Spotted Kiwi on the cover.

This book has replaced my internet trip report from an Aussie birder as THE locality reference of the trip. This has been our most meaningful purchase, and will surely help us get perhaps ten species we would not have otherwise gotten on this trip.

Dynamite!

The sales lady (the same efficient lady we met earlier) racks up our choices, and her Visa Card reader won't work, so we have to pay cash. Dang, wasted frequent flyer miles. Oh well. We spend some time telling her about the birds we're after, and she directs us further up north. We head on up there, and pull onto a wonderful picnic area, then drive onto the beach itself. Sand, again mostly shells, is very hard and supportive. We go to the location she recommended but don't see any of our target birds -- rare Arctic shorebirds who haven't left yet for the Arctic.

But suddenly Sharon spots a *WHITE HERON. These are common in Australia, but extremely rare in New Zealand. There is a special breeding site on the west side of the island, and this year's breeding is finished. When each year's breeding is finished, all the birds disperse, as if by an explosion, to all parts of the islands. And one has shown up here -- one of about 200 birds in all of New Zealand, Sharon has read. Black legs, yellow bill, all white, standing tall, words in our books have said, "Count yourself lucky if you see one of these birds."

We count.

We head back over to Highway 2, then to Highway 1, then south to Hamilton. I have Bill Bolstad's emailed instructions for how to get to his house from our 1994 trip there, and we use it to find his house again. Nobody is home, and my mobile phone won't work here, so I find a store, buy a phone card, and call him at the office. It is Easter vacation, so all the students in the country are off for this week. Bill is preparing for a conference he's heading.

Anyway, we connect, and he drives out to his house. He's only five or ten minutes away, and we get there about the same time. He lets us in, and he shows Sharon how the washer and dryer work. I tell him I want to connect with the internet, using my Mac Powerbook, and he says I need a special cable. New Zealand on the end that plugs into the wall, and American on the end that plugs into the back of the computer. He says he'll bring one from the university when he gets home about five.

Meantime, I finish up one trip report and get it ready to send. Plus, I have England's last report ready to send.

Bill's wife Syl and daughter Rachel get home about quarter till five, and we have a great time catching up with stuff and enjoying each other. Then Bill gets home a little before five. But Bill couldn't find the required cable. I ask if we could buy it somewhere. He and Syl decide on Dick Smith's Electronics, and Bill calls them to find that they close at 5:30. We just have time to get there before they close.

We go there, and as we're walking through the parking lot, I say to Bill, "I keep checking for a Missouri license plate, but I haven't seen any yet." Of course, each and every one is New Zealand.

We get the cable, a nice 3-meter white one which I can use in England also, when we go there next spring. That's the plan anyway. Bill says, "Follow me," and we high-tail it across the street, into a shopping mall, into a store which is decorated up really cool, and there on a display is an old Missouri license plate [I didn't notice at the time, but there were about five, of different colors and years]. I'm stunned. Fantastic.

We go back, and the cable works, the Earthlink connection works to the Hamilton phone number, AOL works as a TCP/IP connection to the internet, and I'm totally in business. I send the emails and update our website.

Meantime, Syl and Rachel are off to their Hebrew class they are taking together. I'm all confused about the Jewish thing. I believe Syl is Jewish. And partly French. Anyway, 100% great person. And Sharon says the only way you are born Jewish is if your mother is Jewish. If your father is Jewish, but your mother is not, then you are not born Jewish. Rachel stopped off at our house on her way around the world a couple of months ago or so. She had been to Israel and is thinking of moving there. How exciting, though, of course, Bill and Syl have mixed feelings about that.

Bill and I try to get the VCR to record something on Channel 5, but we learn later that it only records on Channel 2. Or something like that. Bill then puts on this video tape of the X-Files. Only it's the best episode I've ever seen. It stars Rachel as Scully, and a friend of Ben's as Muldar. Bill and Syl both play parts in this, and Bill winds up dead of paper cuts, an apparently self-inflicted death. It is just excellent and would fit well in my Goofy Movie Day collection at home. And the Academy Award goes to...

Bill is responsible for dinner (Syl has cooked the main part, and Bill only has to warm it up, but he has to do the salad and vegetable and rice). We have a great, great time visiting, and every two seconds, we interrupt Bill and he leaves the dinner preparations to come over and get in on the new discussion subject. But soon enough, the three of us sit down and have dinner. Some of the white rice is brown, and Bill thinks we should complain about it when Syl gets back so he doesn't get dinner detail again any time soon. Actually, it is pretty good. The whole thing is pretty good.

Then Rachel and Syl get back and they eat some of Bill's stuff, and make some of their own stuff too. And somewhere in the afternoon or evening, Syl breaks out these pepper crackers and some kind of out-of-this-world cheese. Unfortunately, when I discover the great cheese, there are only about four small pieces left. I am not normally a cheese and crackers guy, but this night I am.

We continue our conversation till all three of them have to go to bed, since they get up tomorrow and go off to their daily tasks. We figure to all leave at 8:30 or 9:00, about the same time.

Also, some time in there, their friend Sue shows up. She's attending an art conference that Syl is involved in. I don't think I mentioned what a great painter and overall great artist that Syl is. Their home is decorated with her paintings, and she has a cool art studio to work in. Other objects grace their home that she has created. Others she and Rachel made together, some with their friend Rex's help, as I recall.

So everyone else goes to bed, and I get back on the internet and finish up all my stuff, then hit the hay about 11:00 or 11:30. What a great, great thing. Wrybills and wry Bill, all in one day.

Bird Summary:

Life Birds:
Today: 2. Wrybill, White Heron.
For the Trip: 37.

Trip Birds:
Today: 3. The 2 lifers, plus Skylark.
For the Trip: 53.


Next Report (No. 3)
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