NEW ZEALAND 2001 ONE-MONTH BIRDING TRIP

Tuesday, April 24, 2001. Week 2, Day 6. Kick That Block. Picton to Cape Foulwind via Blenheim.

It's 9:25 AM and we are in new territory, headed south to Blenheim, on the northeast part of the South Island. We just stopped in town, a little earlier. Sharon was feeling bad physically, too, and she kept thinking it was something we both ingested, like bad water or bad food. Anyway, we stopped in a pharmacy in Picton. Sharon had heard that her Clariton is half-price here, plus there is no prescription needed.

Being in recovery mode, it didn't dawn on me that insurance covers them in the U.S. if you have a prescription, but won't cover these. Oh well, she was about out of this hay fever medication anyway. She also bought some fingernail glue, nail files and some tomatoes at a Veggie stand.

But back to the present, Sharon sees a Shag in a tree, and it turns out to be a White-faced Little Shag.

9:52 AM and we are going past the Marlboro Airport, to which is attached the Royal New Zealand Air Force. Speaking of flying machines, we are on the lookout for the New Zealand Falcon, which is known to be in the countryside around here.

The ground is impossibly dry, and we recently learned that the South Island is in the midst of a terrible drought, many farmers having already used up their winter feed on the cattle.

Three of four streams and rivers are totally dry. We come across a field which has an estimated fifty Paradise Shelducks. I am still weak from last night's performance, and I suggest a nap, to which Sharon says, "If you're waiting on me, you're backing up."

11:54 and we're awake. Out the window, I see a view which has repeated itself over and over. After a century or more of cutting trees down in New Zealand, there is a big replanting effort underway. Sometimes the seedlings and resultant trees are planted randomly, but far more often, the replanted trees are in wavy rows. We have lunch and move on, coming into Murchison about 127 PM. Everything is green around here, so the drought is obviously a local thing. It is certainly dry north and east of here.

1:36 PM, we round a corner and Sharon notices some brown looking ducks in a lake. We pull over and put the scope on 'em, maybe eight or nine individuals. If they are Mallards, there should be at least ONE male. But there are no male Mallards. Plus the fact that the face pattern is very well defined makes they *GREY DUCKS.

Incidentally, I can never quite decide whether to spell gray as grey, or grey as gray. If you have a clue, let me know [It turns out that every NZ Bird of that name is 'Grey'].

It's 2:00 and we just skipped walking across New Zealand's longest swing bridge, then returning on the Comet Ride. The fellow can't believe we don't avail ourselves of this Xciting, Xtreme Xthing. Believe it. Sharon has been bitten three times by tiny sand flies and isn't feeling much like walking deeper into their territory. I take a picture and we continue down the road.

We get a couple of the never-too-tired-to-admire-the fantails, and Sharon thinks one is black. But it's not. We follow the Buller River for a distance, and there are nice views from time to time.

3:52 PM and we are at Cape Foulwind. Captain Cook named this area when the weather and seas battered his ship at this point for several days when he was here. The name obviously stuck.

Sharon is actually feeding a *WEKA, a large rail which we have been just dying to see since we got here, without success till now. She kneels down and holds out here hand, like she did in England, hoping that the bird will eat from her hand. Well the Weka's aim isn't as good as the Tits of England, and it takes a nice peck at Sharon's skin. To which she giggles.

4:26 PM. We are following our internet birder's report, and it was at this point that he walked up the wooden stairs built into the rocks to see the Fur Seal colony. So we do too. There are two more birds our internet guide spotted here, and we guess that one will be on this giant rock, with guano all over it. We see two *SPOTTED SHAGS, out in the Spotted Shag colony.

Next we look out to sea, all the whole time there are these fur seals below us, and Sharon spots a half dozen all-black birds. I saw three sitting in the water, then five flying. We believe these to be *WESTLAND BLACK PETRELS, and this area, from here south about 20 miles or so, is the only place in the world you can see them [actually, the only place they breed].

Up on this bluff, there is one of those posts with cities, directions and distances on it, sticking out in all directions.

Back in the parking lot, Sharon tries to feed another couple of Weka, but the Red-billed Gulls come and sort of elbow their way in. I get one great photo of a Red-billed Gull, though, in the process.

We drive back into town, stopping for groceries first, picking up a huge cauliflower which we figure will last us a while. Then, on to the Westport Holiday Park, and ask about Greater Spotted Kiwis. We know this is their stronghold on the island, and we hope to get lucky. The fellow behind the desk says if we drive about thirty miles, then walk about five miles into the bush, we might have one chance in five or so. He's never seen any or heard any.

"You been hepful." -Eddie Murphy in "Trading Places."

It's $18 for two people for one night, for a powered (with electricity) site. That's about $7.20 in US dollars. "Also, it's ANZAC day tomorrow," the old fellow says. "Are you telling us that because the traffic will be bad, or the stores will be closed, or what?" I ask him. "The stores must not open till 1 PM by law," says he.

I notice that there is a computer, which they will let me use to check email, but I want more. I'll check back later on that.

We set up, and a Weka comes right out of the bush behind our motorhome. Sharon feeds it, and two more come. Fantastic. And I was beginning to think there were no Weka.

After dinner, I go to the office, talk to the girl who's knowledgeable about computer stuff, and she sets me up with my own telephone line. I call Christchurch long distance, and rack up about fifteen minutes of airtime, for which she wants to charge me $4.50 NZ. I give her $5 and say thanks, having just sent off a Trip Report.

Bird Summary:

Life Birds:
Today:4. Grey Duck, Weka, Spotted Shag, Westland Black Petrel.
For the Trip: 58.

Trip Birds:
Today: 4. The lifers.
For the Trip: 80.

Wednesday, April 25, 2001. Week 2, Day 7. ANZAC Day. Our Third Kiwi. The Westland Black Petrels.

We are not quite sure what today will be like. We need to check with a Department of Conservation person knowledgeable about Kiwis. Well, one thing we do know about today, and that is that Sharon is going to feed the camp Weka again.

Sharon is doing me the great favor of cleaning my binoculars. "Don't do that with that paper," I say, feeling like a creep because she's doing the cleaning. But paper will scratch the lenses after a while. (She maintains she was only moistening the lens that is salty from our trips to the coast and using the special cloth to do the actual cleaning.)

I find a phone and call Adventure Cruises again, to see when the Kiwi expeditions go out on Stewart Island. Still a recorded message. Then we head for Okarita. We cross Four Mile River at 12:22 PM. This is totally wild country, but the two lane road is nice and wide, and the best paved road you could ask for. Off to the left, there are high bluffs on tree-covered mountains, and beyond that there are taller, rocky mountains. This may be the beginning of the Southern Alps.

1:05 PM and we decide to pull over at a nice spot for a picnic lunch. Sharon calls and we get our first South Island Bellbird. That's after we finally give the local Weka enough bread bits so that he gets tired of it and goes back into the bush. A Chaffinch looks nice in the car park.

Car park is a much better phrase than parking lot. It's easier to say, there are only two syllables instead of three, plus it sort of rhymes with itself. "Cark park" says Sharon, "rhymes with itself?" Ignoring that little bit, the faux-rhyming makes it more fun to say.

As we're eating at the picnic table, with the fabulous view, Sharon calls in a Silvereye, then another one behind us. We have to check out what kind of birds are nesting far across the bay, but our scope can only bring them so close. They are too far away to ID.

At Punakaiki, we find the hoped-for DoC Visitor Center and check with John, who's working the desk today, fortunately for us. "Yes, I can tell you where to go to hear them," he says of the Greater Spotted Kiwi. "This is their stronghold, you know."

We know, we know, and we are so glad to bump into you.

You just drive up Bullock's Creek Road. You will come to a car park after about a 25 minute drive. Walk through the locked gate, go about 200 meters to a tee in the track. Turn right, go about another 100 meters, to another locked gate. This is where they often do census work.

Hot dog.

Trying for a double bagger, I ask, "And what about Westland Petrels? We've heard that from somewhere around here, you can see them flying in, heading for their burrows. Do you know where a good place to be for that is?"

He knows and suggests a place, down the road a bit, near an old mine works. The problem is -- how do we listen for Kiwi at dusk, and still look for the Petrels flying in at dusk? With a 40 minute drive between each? We put off the question for a while.

So that's that. We will stay at the Holiday Park in Punakaiki. Back we go, but there is no one to take our money. Only a "Back at 4 PM" sign. There are plenty of spaces available, so we'll just pay when we get back. Or tomorrow morning. There is a nice view of a mountain, on the "away" side of the road from the water, with flowers in the foreground.

2:29 PM, and we are doing a practice run up Bullock's Creek Road, where we are going to try for the Greater Spotted Kiwi later tonight. It takes us about 25 minutes to drive in to the locked gate. There is indeed a car park, and to our surprise, about six cars here. We head in for the tee junction, now on foot. Sharon gets a Grey Warbler, then another one behind us. And still another overhead.

2:52, and I tell my new decision and recommendation to Sharon. "Let's just stay here. I'm afraid we'll miss the Kiwi calls if we drive back out, try for the Petrels at 5 PM, then drive back in. We've already got a long distance view of the Petrels, but to add the third Kiwi to our list would be far more enjoyable." "OK," she says, all for it.

We are in the bush now, and there is a great commotion high in a tree. I recall that certain bush birds will gather around and heckle a Long-tailed Cuckoo, doing so till he leaves. We investigate, and finally decide that the "Cuckoo" that is driven off is in reality a Tui, who has apparently fooled the birds with one of its mimic calls.

After the Tui leaves, a Tomtit flies out, then a Bellbird. We walk a little deeper and come upon a sign commemorating the death of 14 people, all on the same day, April 28, 1995. Both men and women. I make the guess that they died in a mine accident near here, but we don't know for sure. Later we learn (from Sharon reading a newspaper) that a lookout platform fell, taking these unlucky people with it.

At 4:00 PM, I go back to the motohome, and transfer a couple of bird calls from my CD to my Minidisc. While I'm inside the trailer, Sharon sits patiently in one of our folding chairs outside. As I'm deep in the middle of my business, Sharon yells something. I come out, too late to see Sharon's first Black Fantail. Back in I go to record the sounds of the Long-tailed Cuckoo, Shining Cuckoo, Brown Creeper and Yellowhead (all bush birds) and the Great Spotted Kiwi.

I finish my recording, and back in we go. I play our new cuckoo call, and birds come flying in -- Tomtit, Pied Fantails, Grey Warblers plus a home run. Six *BROWN CREEPERS, acting like the Bushtits sometimes of our back yard. These birds have brown caps and gray necks and seem to always be in flocks. Now we're a little farther in and we get a female Bellbird, several Gray Warblers, several Fantails, a couple of Silvereyes and a great look at the South Island Tomtit, with the yellow chest, not white.

Then we go back down to this spot where we will wait for the big, hoped-for event. I get a shot of Sharon. We hope this is the BEFORE picture. I am actually hoping to bring in a Cuckoo with our new Cuckoo calls, when at 5:32 PM, we hear a *GREAT SPOTTED KIWI. I return the call from the Minidisc, but get no re-response.

We decided immediately that the chances of seeing a Kiwi here are perhaps one in twenty, if that, so we pack up and drive back out to the road, then south to the mine works. I pull in and notice a sign saying Scotchman's Creek. This is fantastic, because THIS is where one of our books told us to go to see the Westland Petrels. We get out of the motorhome and both look up. At exactly the same time, we each see a Westland Black Petrel flying overhead, one for me and one for Sharon. But then we notice that there are about a half dozen, circling around in the darkening, now deep ink blue. Almost dark.

These Petrels are doing their last bit of exercise before flying a few more yards inland, landing and making it into their burrows. Exhilarated, we drive back to the Holiday Park and check in. Sharon cooks chicken, onions and noodles tonight, with corn and cherry tomatoes. Everything tastes like a million dollars. U.S.

The bad news is that Sharon's getting bit by the bugs, especially the tiny little flies. The area around one eye is swelling, as is the back of one hand. Today she bought some roll-on stuff that is supposed to help. The guy who sold it to us said, "And it gets worse the farther south you go."

"But there's glaciers down there," I think. "How can that be?" Back in the motorhome, I take an AFTER picture of Sharon, who gives me thumbs up.

Bird Summary:

Life Birds:
Today: 2. Brown Creeper, Great Spotted Kiwi (heard only).
For the Trip: 60.

Trip Birds:
Today: 7. The 2 lifers.
For the Trip: 82.


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