Sunday, April 22, 2001. Week 2, Day 4. Birding Foxton Beach. Prep for Tomorrow's Ferry Crossing.
It's 8:17 AM, and we've driven out here to the estuary. A couple of police cars, then a tow truck have come out to rescue somebody's car which apparently strayed somewhere it wasn't supposed to. It is bracing and breezy, and we have our parkas on.
There are a number of terns that we are working on. There are about a dozen that we finally decide are WHITE-WINGED BLACK TERNS by name here, White-winged Terns in the U.S. There is also a tiny little tern which is either a Fairy or Little Tern. We check the geography, and based on that, and the color pattern, it's a (too bad, because we've seen it in California) LITTLE TERN. Beautiful though, as it flies off towards the beach.
There are other shorebirds and we scope them carefully. There is a gull flying which has yellow legs, and a yellow bill with a black tip. This is a juvenile *BLACK-BILLED GULL, whose bill will, as you might guess, turn all black as an adult.
8:51 AM and we get one of my most exciting shorebirds ever, a *RED-NECKED STINT. It took a while of cross-checking all our books, comparing photographs and paintings with the wonderful rusty red color on the face and head, and the size of the rusty-colored feathers, outlined in black. We get another close look at Wrybills too.
The wind's really blowing, and we're at the end of the season here. There has been all kinds of human activity here at the beach in the past few days and weeks, and there are lots of little footprint-sized holes in the sand. There are enough for each shorebird to hunker down into. They do this, facing the wind, which is coming from our left. Then they tuck their bill back, put it under their left wing, and leave their right eye open, to keep on us, I presume.
Sharon sees a Black Shag, who pulled an almost too-big fish out. The bird barely manages to down the fish, and you can see its throat wiggle for a little while.
Other birds here are New Zealand and Banded Dotterels, White-winged Black Terns, Red-billed Gulls, a couple of Caspian Terns, the Little Tern (who is gone now), and many Pied Stilts.
9:20 AM and we are headed over to this lake which we saw from the beach. As we get there (driving, then walking), we can see that there are two sizes of ducks. The big ones are Mallards, which list at 58 cm, but the smaller ones look 2/3rds that size. We have a good guess at these, and the book lists our *GREY TEAL as 42 cm, about right.
We see a large group of Spoonbills, Oystercatchers, Caspian Terns and Red-billed Gulls on a sandspit.
Next, Sharon wants to walk along the shore, which she figures we can drive to. We go back to the motorhome, and drive around to where we think is about the right entry spot to the walkway. Bullseye. We begin our walk, and catch a nice White-faced Heron in close view. The wind has most of the Royal Spoonbills, at the left of the spit, with their heads tucked under their wing for warmth. We finally return to our rig, and head for Nga Manu. Which I have no idea how to pronounce.
11:41 AM and we are extremely disappointed with Nga Manu Sanctuary, in Waikanae, about 55 km north of Wellington. I'm guessing we have misinterpreted our books, because it's mostly a look-at-our-caged-birds place. There is a pair of Paradise Shelducks, and it's the only tame ones we see on our trip. However, it does allow us good, close views. We also get a *NEW ZEALAND SCAUP in the lake, but nothing else worth mentioning. It feels a little like a petting or feeding zoo. I try to take a photo of a couple of Pukeko, but they fly just as my camera clicks. The surreal Pukeko photo is actually pretty cool.
One of the success stories in New Zealand is a local beer called Tui, the same name as the bird. There is a controversy going on as to whether the beer is made in the wilderness, which they claim, or in the city. Another term used frequently among naturalists is "predation." For example, you might show the remains of a bird killed by a stoat, and say that this is an example of predation of the bird by the stoat. Damn weasels.
Anyway, in the visitor center is a cool display of an example of Tui predation by rats. You have to see it to understand it. But if you don't see it, it's no big deal.
We have our lunch here, and it's a beautiful inlet spot near Waikanae. After lunch, we move on, and at 12:34, we are at a very small lagoon in another area of Waikanae. There is a "hide" here, or bird blind, we might say. And from this blind, we get a beautiful look at several pairs of *AUSTRALASIAN SHOVELER. The colors seem more spectacular than the Northern Shovelers near our home in San Jose.There is an extra gray color on most of the face that makes a very colorful male.
We bird a little more, but now we're interested in checking out Wellington. We drive on into the city, and through it. Sharon is navigating us to this special place called the Karori Wildlife Sanctuary Trust. It is located on the site of an old reservoir, and they have cleared out about a 600-acre area, designed a special, extra tall fence around it, cleared about 15 meters of brush and trees outside the fence, and eradicated all non-native mammals, including possums, cats, rats, dogs, stoats and so on -- anything that might do harm to a kiwi or ground-dwelling bird.
We have missed the last day tour, but there is a special night one, this evening starting at 6 PM. We decide to come back for it, after finding our campsite. We make a trial run at the Picton Ferry, commit about five errors, figured out how to avoid them tomorrow, then head for Karori again. On the way, in Wellington, we drive past the capital buildings and Sharon has heard of the one called the beehive. We are early, so Sharon asks for an antique stop. We find a place, and look all around. She finds a teapot she likes, but it's a little large. The price is 250 dollars NZ. We offer him 180 and he drops to 240, but says that's as low as he will go, and that he never lies. I laugh and offer him 170. He explains, not knowing me very well, that I am moving in the wrong direction.
I offer 181, but we both know we're not buying this teapot. Part of this knowledge comes from Sharon, who figures it will make a big bundle we'll have to pack into our suitcases, so we let it go. We return to our motorhome, and I admire the Victorian multi-storied buildings, very similar to San Francisco. Then we head for the Karori Trust again.
They have a five hundred year plan which kicked off several years ago. There is a large rail called a Weka, of which they've moved in quite a few. They also moved twenty Little Spotted Kiwis. Their latest information shows one birth, so there are 21 Kiwis there now. Our goal is to hear one tonight.
Our guide is Richard. Richard gives everyone a flashlight, who needs one, and says to partially cover the beam if you MUST use the light. The encouraged method is to leave it off, and let your "night vision" just take over.
On our hike in, he shows us a Kingfisher burrow in the side of a hill, where the Kingfishers nest. He also clears up a mystery for us. Since the NZ Kingfisher eats just about anything, they don't necessarily have to be near water. We continue on.
Before we left, I played my Minidisc Little Spotted Kiwi sound. I asked him if I could try it, just in case we don't hear any, hoping to elicit a response. He said OK, but he has heard one on every trip he's led. Hot dog. He kept interrupting himself with, "That was a Weka," but neither Sharon nor I were sure which sound he was talking about. After a while, they stopped, so we don't claim them.
Back to the present, at about 6:15 PM, there it is. A *LITTLE SPOTTED KIWI is calling. It doesn't seem far off, but we have zero expectation of seeing one. Our expectation is fulfilled. Sharon and I keep waiting for our night vision to appear, but we are just walking in the dark, following the sound in front of us. It's dark, man.
We go on up, into an old gold mine, which now is home to hundreds of wetas - a weta being a fair-sized grasshopper, but with no wings. I don't go in, but Sharon does, and says Stewart led her in with three others, flashlights on the ground. Then after they all arrived at the final spot, he said, "Now look up." There, not six inches above them, on the ceiling, several hundred of the little critters, just ready to dive into a head of hair.
We continue on up, and walk across the top of the old dam. We turn off all the lights and enjoy the Milky Way, Orion's Belt and the Southern Cross. Peaceful and a little eerie, for me anyway. The lake is so smooth that the stars are reflected in it and look like glow worms under the water.
We get back to the car park about 8:00, and Sharon would like a night off. We decide to eat out, if we can find a restaurant with a fairly safe-looking car park situation. A bit out of the city, we find a fish restaurant open on the second floor. We park on the street, and walk up. Across the bay, we can see the lights of Wellington. Beautiful and exciting. But not as exciting as getting some food into our stomachs.
Sharon has a shrimp and smoked salmon fettucini and I have a flounder so big you would not believe it. Great though. For dessert, Sharon has an old fashioned Sticky Pudding and I have ice cream (scoop of vanilla, strawberry and chocolate) and fruit, including kiwis, oranges, and pineapple. You know how pineapple, cut fresh has some of the tough center in it. Don't eat that, just cut it off and eat only the outside part of the fruit.
He says from bitter experience, too late to save himself.
It's 10:56 and we are in the trailer. We set the alarm so that we can drive along with the commuters, into town to catch the ferry. Sharon's not feeling to well, and believes that it's the water.
"Do you know how the Little Spotted Kiwi got its name? Because they are little spotted," an old man tells me some time later.
Today: 6. Black-billed Tern, Red-necked Stint, Grey Teal, New Zealand Scaup, Australasian Shoveler, Little Spotted Kiwi (heard only).
For the Trip: 49.
Today: 1. The lifers plus Little Tern.
For the Trip: 76.
Monday, April 23, 2001. Week 2, Day 5. Wellington to Picton Ferry. Blocked.
Monday morning and it's 6:40 AM. We are in line for the Ferry. It'll be a while before we start loading onto our boat, so Sharon fixes her milk oaties (oatmeal), coffee or tea, and I put on my scopalamine patch. I parked our motorhome close to the ticket building, went in, got in line, and picked up our boarding passes and receipt. Then back out, past the check-in kiosk, where we were directed to this line.
6:57 and a big red mail truck drives on first. His top seems to barely clear the entry of our ferry. Holy cow, Sharon sees a locomotive and about 5 rail cars drive onto the ferry. Finally it's our turn, and we follow the motorhome in front of us into the right hand side of the ferry, but we all do a big U-turn at the far end of the ferry, so that we are ready to exit when we cross the channel.
Soon enough, it's 9:30 AM, and our boat toots her horn. We slowly back out. Sharon and I were first to the lounge, and we have gotten two seats next to a window. But we're so excited that we will spend probably the whole three hours outside, looking for birds. The Wellington Harbor is well protected, and incoming boats have to make a sort of spiral to get to it, so the waters are always very calm.
10:00 AM. We finally can see sort of open water, when two very large black birds land on the water about 100 meters behind us. Sharon thought they looked like Shags till they landed. I never did. They are all black and are *NORTHERN GIANT PETRELS. We also get BULLER'S SHEARWATER, which we got on a Debbie Shearwater Monterey, California pelagic trip a couple of years ago. We have a nice view of the houses on one of the many hills of Wellington Harbor on our way out. It's fun to look up at the big, brightly colored stack of our boat.
10:42 AM and we get a *COMMON DIVING PETREL, a bird that flew towards us from the left rear corner of the boat. It is not all white on the bottom, but is gray and white. Six minutes later, and we get our first two *SHY ALBATROSSES, called SHY MOLLYMAWKS here. They are totally white on the bottom, with very long wings. They glide gracefully, and when they wheel around, we can see that the black on the top of their wings stretches continuously across their back.
I celebrate by taking the scopalamine patch off from behind my ear. I will last through the end of this trip now, with what's in my system. I am not feeling too well, and wonder if I have what Sharon has, from some food we had last night.
11:25 AM and we get a number of SOOTY SHEARWATERS, a common bird off the California coast. Called Muttonbirds by the Maori, they were a good source of food for a long time. We see a tern coming along in the same direction we are going. It is all mottled gray and white. Sharon said she thought it had black wingtips, but we can't ID this bird.
We see a very small bird flying across the water. It lands, disappears and pops back up. It's a *FAIRY PRION, and we see maybe a dozen or more during the trip. They are tiny.
We watch quite a few more Diving Petrels do their thing. Suddenly Sharon says, "Look at that little bird." I thought she meant the Petrel, but then she says, "It's gone now." I turn around, and she was talking about a bird straight down, beside the boat. She claims that it was a Blue Penguin. Yeah, right.
11:54 AM and Sharon spots a jellyfish.
12:13 PM. We both watch a large, light-colored bird flying beside the boat. "Gannet," I say. It slowly rises then drifts over us, continues drifting to our right, then very high up. Sharon says, "That's no Gannet!" I look again, and she is right. How could I miss this. It is a *ROYAL ALBATROSS. It has black-outlined underwings, except that the leading edge is all white. Beautiful how graceful and elegant it is in the air. Effortless flight.
A few minutes later, and we are both watching a large white bird gliding along to our left, higher than the boat. I say that I think it's an Albatross, but Sharon thinks it's a Gannet. Suddenly, it makes a little rise in the air, turns with its lower parts to us, and they seem totally white. It angles down towards the water, like it's going to crash at 90 miles an hour, but it tucks everything in at the last moment. I have just seen my first Gannet dive. What a sight. I get the video out, but the bird will not do a repeat performance for me.
I catch Sharon with the smile of success, at the side of the boat.
12:26 PM, and I follow Sharon's eye to the water just beside the boat. There are two birds in the water that look very strange, until I realize what they look like. The Common Murre of the California coast. But guess what! They are Blue Penguins, and they are slowly left behind by the forward movement of our boat. Cool.
As we are heading into Picton Harbor, we see the Lynx, another ferry heading out.
Now it's 12:43 and we are sitting in our motorhome as requested, ready to drive off when it's our turn. My stomach feels a little upset, but it always does after a pelagic trip.
The big red postal rig exits, then all the small cars and motorcycles go. It's finally our turn, and I follow the rental motorhome in front of me, off the boat. We pull over and figure out that we want to drive through Picton, head for Blenheim and try to drive all the way to the west coast this afternoon. It'll be a long trip, but we'll have put a lot of non-birding territory out of the way.
We are about ten minutes out of town, when I have to pull over. My insides shake like a leaf on a tree. It takes me a bit to figure it out, and it won't be till the wee hours that I do, but the rough part of the pineapple I ate last night has caused a total intestinal blockage. After resting for a half-hour or so, to see if it'd get any better, I don't, and we drive back to Picton and check in to a Holiday Park. Some holiday, this, right now.
The pain is getting pretty bad, and I lay down inside the camper, quickly falling asleep.
To make a lonnnnng story short, I get almost no sleep till about 4:30 AM, when the blockage finally clears itself. Whew. Tough night duty. I'm OK, but I'm weak and sleepy. Mostly I'm relieved. I'll have very little energy for the rest of today, but that's OK, because driving is easy.
"When will they ever learn? When will they ever learn?" - Peter, Paul and Mary. Referring to the pineapple center eating, no doubt.
Today: 5. Northern Giant Petrel, Common Diving Petrel, Fairy Prion, Shy Albatross, Royal Albatross.
For the Trip: 54.
Today: 7. The 5 lifers, plus Buller's Shearwater, Sooty Shearwater.
For the Trip: 76.
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