NEW ZEALAND 2001 ONE-MONTH BIRDING TRIP

Monday, April 30, 2001. Week 3, Day 5. To Invercargill (Southern Tip, South Island). Fetching a Fernbird.

8:50 AM. We're in the trailer. It rained all night and is still raining lightly. I can see three beautiful little Chaffinches, three House Sparrows and two Dunnocks. The Chaffinches are especially pretty when they get wet.

9:22 and we leave Te Auno Lakeview Holiday Park, driving in the rain. The sky is totally gray, like we're in a cloud. No matter what direction you look, it's solid grey (see what I mean about the gray thing?). It is raining steadily. This morning I called Citibank and paid our monthly bill over the phone, so we wouldn't get a late charge. Pretty cool. While I did this, Sharon went and dealt with the "No" lady again, returning the internet building key.

Hey, do you know what they call raisins over here? Sultanas. We have some cereal called Sultana Bran, so you can figure out what that is. Sharon bought these cookies and I was looking at the degredients: salt, flour, sugar, milk, butter and sultanas. What the heck is THAT, I wondered at the time. And that's not to mention mince meat. I always thought mince meat was some meat that had a bunch of sugar or something added, and it was sweet. Yuccchh!

But here, and in England, it simply means ground. Like mince steak is very good hamburger. I did my usual thing with Sharon: "Huhuh!" "Just go over to the meat department, if you don't believe me, and see for yourself," she says. I amble on over, and sure enough, there isn't any hamburger for sale, but there's lots of minced steak.

11:33 and we are down by the Oreti River, looking for Black-fronted Dotterels. From the description, it's not clear whether they will still be here after breeding, or if they have dispersed. Some information says that they join together in flocks at lake margins and damp paddocks. Anyway, they're not here, Jack. We got Goldfinches, we got Spur-winged Plovers, we got Chaffinches, we got Pied Stilts, we got Fantails. But no pig iron.

We cross a set of railroad tracks, and I like the typical NZ railroad crossing warning sign we encounter. It's a cartoon-like warning. We head back out to the highway, and at one point, as we are traveling, we see two horses -- trotters pulling sulkies, with drivers. They are running around a practice track, and just come out of the short turn. For a second, we three are all traveling together. I look over and meet the eye of the nearest driver, who looks at me too. I wave, and without letting go of his reins, he gives me the thumbs up with his left hand.

Driving down the road, we pass a close stand of trees that are shaved perfectly smooth on the side facing us. A while ago, we saw this tractor slowly going along the edge of the road.The tractor had a big arm with three parts. One went straight up from the rear of the tractor, the next went across to the trees, and the third dropped down. There was some kind of rotating helicopter-like blade spinning up against the trees. It was whacking off all the limbs and branches that stuck out on this side. We have seen this close-shaven sight many times. Sometimes the trees are taller than the arm can reach (say 20 feet or so), so the trees will be shaved smooth up to that height, then normal, rowdy trees above that.

Another interesting thing we see is that usually 3.5 kilometers (to a town, for example) is indicated as 3-5.

12:46 PM and we pull in to our Motor Camp, check in and pay 15 dollars for "just the two of yous?" It turns out to be an incredibly dumpy site, with mostly permanent, very cheap trailers. The common building, containing the kitchen, showers, toilets, etc. is a shambles, and is what we use. But we're pretty excited otherwise, because this camp is so close to several sites we want to visit.

First, though, we check out the actual skeleton of a Moa. It is not the Giant Moa species, which was ten or eleven feet high, as I recall, but one of the smaller, six-foot ones. Some guy found it near a river and for some reason, chose this place to display it. I view it from the front, and then from the side.

We are very excited about the first place we want to bird. We follow the directions we have, and wind up at the home of Ian and Jenny Gamble, keepers of the faith for the Fernbirds of the area. As we walk up their driveway (just knock on the door, and they'll give you permission to walk their private boardwalk, if possible), a couple of Corgi dogs begin barking ferociously, but they are just a couple of phonies. Jenny comes out, sees what we're after, goes back in and puts on a jacket and her Wellingtons while we pet our new friends. I learned before I went to England that Wellingtons means nearly knee-length rubber boots, pulled on over stocking feet.

She leads us on the walk, and it's just like a DoC (Department of Conservation) nature walk, with plaques indicating the type of plant or tree you are seeing all throughout the boardwalk. Jenny is clearly passionate about this place ("Before we bought this place, people would just stomp about, tramping down all the grass looking for these birds. Destroying their nests and all. P'ssed me off!"). Jenny is easy to like. We pass a Manuka plaque, next to a Manuka tree. This is (I think) what Sharon's walking stick was made from.

After a while, we leave the forest-like area and enter a marshy area. "This is the Fernbird's territory," she says, "so listen for a little 'chup.' They are very curious, and if you are talking, they are liable to pop up to see what the fuss is. So if one does pop up, keep talking. Don't stop."

Just then we hear a little chip, and Jenny says, "THAT'S a Fernbird." She points, and I don't recall whether she or Sharon spots it first. "There it is, right there," she says. Sharon tries to get me on it, and finally I see the *FERNBIRD, but sort of fleetingly. It moves a little and we see it better, and then it's gone. We continue on, the dogs sometimes leading us, sometimes following us. "The Corgis have one," Jenny says, and sure enough, where they are nosing around, one pops up into a bush about six feet high, and about eye level, and starts preening. It stays there for about five minutes, and I don't have my video camera. I left it behind because sometimes I'm superstitious, and by this mysterious and foolish logic, I feel that if I don't bring the video camera, that increases the chances that we'll see it. I get one Fernbird photo, and it's PP (pretty poor). Jenny says that often people ask her not to bring the dogs as they are frightened that the dogs will reduce their chances of seeing the fernbird. But as with us, the dogs often find the birds and point them out to us.

As we are walking out, she points out the Tussock plants she has put in, and some Cabbage Trees.

We drive down to what is supposed to be an estuary. We see Pied Stilts, and Black-backed Gulls, then a White-faced Heron or two. Finally we spot what may be our target bird. We get out, get the scope on the four little shorebirds, but they turn out to be Banded Dotterels, not Black-fronted Dotterels. Oh well.

The rain starts coming down harder about 4:30 PM, just as we cross the 3500 kilometer mark for our trip. We go to one more lake looking for Crakes, but Jenny was right, it's on private property. No entrance and no way to walk around it. There are cattle and sheep around it, so we don't know what the heck it's even doing in our locations book.

We decide to bag this and head back to camp, then get ready for tomorrow's big adventure.

Bird Summary:

Life Birds:
Today: 1. Fernbird.
For the Trip: 67.

Trip Birds:
Today: 1. The lifer.
For the Trip: 91.

Tuesday, May 1, 2001. Week 3, Day 6. To Stewart Island, Day One. Kiwi Trip Tonight? Early Winter.

8:08 and it's almost perfect blue skies. The sun's not quite in my face yet. It's up but some hedges are blocking it. We were hoping for a good day -- good flying weather. A Tui is singing and singing, in the early morning sun. I walk directly below him and look up. A person here has put out sugar water as we do at home for the hummingbirds though here they put it out in shallow dishes for the honeyeaters -- that is, the Tuis and Bellbirds. I have to put away the electrical cord and turn the gas off, then we'll be out of here.

We show up at the airport an hour early for our 10 o'clock flight, and holy cow, two people just cancelled for the 9 o'clock, and would we like to get on it? "You bet," we say. The incredibly friendly and helpful lady at the airline desk says that she had called Stewart Island Lodge and told them when we'd be arriving, and that she'd just call them again, and let them know of our new arrival time. They will meet us at the terminal downtown. The world's service people should take a lesson.

At ten minutes till 9, we're told to head out. We walk out and turn left. As they say here, it's a wee bit of a plane. Nine passengers plus pilot. Side by side, two by two. Four in the first two rows, and four in the last two rows, plus one by the pilot. The one by the pilot gets headphones because it's noisy.

Sharon and I are in the next to last row.

As we walked around the corner, Sharon thought, "Where's our airplane? It can't be that little bitty one there!"

The pilot gives us a quick safety review and we're off. We each checked one bag, and I have a backpack which I store under the seat in front of me. The pilot lines us up and we rush down the runway. Then we're airborn. We head out over the water and I have fun looking at the wheel outside my window, which does not retract. Then, just so you'll get the feeling for the passenger area, I click a photo looking forward, inside the plane. I take some video, then in about twenty-five minutes, we land on a runway on top of a mountain on Stewart Island itself. That's all there is -- an air strip, no buildings. A van pulling a box trailer zips after us on the runway, parking next to the plane. The van driver takes our luggage out of the plane, and puts it into one half of the trailer. She then loads the outgoing passengers' luggage from the other half of the trailer into the airplane. While all this is going on, I back off and admire our little plane. Hey, our Belize plane to Chan Chich was even smaller.

We have gone from beautiful, clear weather to gray, sullen weather with a healthy bit of wind and some rain. We load into the van, but the driver just sits there. The plane fires up its twin engines again, and takes right off. Since the landing strip IS the road, we wait for the plane to get about a quarter of the way down the runway, then the driver takes off, following the departing plane. "Which side are you going to pass on?" one of our fellow incoming passengers yells at the driver, and everybody gets a good laugh at that.

It's 9:25 and we're in the courtesy van, on our way to the "air terminal," downtown. This building is also the post office. There is lots of resource-sharing on the island, and it's about two minutes from the air strip to "downtown." Oban is in Halfmoon Bay, and is the only town on the island.

Doug Wright, owner of the lodge, introduces himself to Sharon as I pick up our bags. Then he introduces himself to me, carries our luggage out to his van, loads it into the back while we get in, and we're off for the 100 seconds or so it takes to make the short drive up the steep hill to the Stewart Island Lodge. He shows us to our room, and the view of Halfmoon Bay is outstanding. There are only four rooms here, and we are the only guests. Doug tells us that his wife's mother, in her 80s, fell and broke her arm, so if it wouldn't be too much trouble, could we have dinner in Oban tonight, at the South Sea Hotel on the waterfront, or at the Church Hill Bar and Cafe, up on the hill, by the church, naturally. Of course we can. The room comes with breakfast included, and dinner is optional, normally, but with his wife gone, he figures we'd do better out.

After we get settled in our room, we meet him in the common room, with the same view we have from our room. This room has big comfortable chairs and couches, reading material about Stewart Island, New Zealand, birds, nature and everything you can imagine. At the back quarter of the large room sits a large dining table. After apologizing for the "early winter," he gets out a map of the island and fills us in on all the dos and don'ts, where we can do things, the walking tracks, the stores, the bay and all the things we need to know. He also tells us about the island's Kakas -- parrots that are so tame, they will come and drink nectar from a bowl he fills periodically out on the deck, overlooking the bay. As we sit there, a Kaka flies in and drinks, and I walk out the door to the porch above the deck for a closer look. This bird seems tame when I think of the Kaka Sharon got in Pureora Forest on the North island.

Anyway, then Doug's off to the wharf where he has to meet somebody who's going to fix a broken heater somewhere in the lodge. We load up our birding gear and head for town, for some lunch.

But first we take a trip to the ferry building, on the end of the main wharf, where the bigger boats tie up to let passengers on and off. We see several shags WAY out in the bay, on rocks, but can't ID them from this far away. A fellow named Ron, whom we later learn is sort of the naturalist of the island, tells us that the ones on the little rocky island to our left will be Spotted Shags (we ID'd one there), and there will be Stewart Island Shags around too, but those are the only two we'll find. So we have to be precise in our identification. Ron says that if we walk around the south end of Halfmoon Bay, to Akers Point lighthouse, we'll be able to see albatrosses and seabirds following fishing boats in about three PM or so. We might do this later.

But first I ask Doug to call Philip Smith to see if the Kiwi Spotting trip will take place tonight. It involves a boat trip in the dark, across partially open-sea-weather-exposed waters, and the high winds make things doubtful. We don't connect with Philip, so we'll try him later.

Ten minutes past noon now, and we're in the bar of the hotel. There are two menus here -- one for the dining room and one for the bar. Basically, hamburgers and light food in the bar, larger meals in the dining room. We feel like hamburgers and opt for the bar. It is quite cool and windy outside and the fire in the fireplace feels good. We take turns warming up -- first Sharon , then me, standing by the fireplace. On our way here, we walked past a large outdoors chess set -- the board about 12 feet by 12 feet on a concrete pad, across the street from the hotel, just in front of the beach. The pieces look like they're constructed from metal and the white pieces are painted bright yellow, the black pieces bright green, if you know what I mean. A game is in progress, but the players are nowhere in sight. Maybe it's a rainout.

As we eat our hamburgers and chips (french fries in America, but chips in NZ and many other places of the world), we check the ID of the Stewart Island Shag, and learn that there are two color morphs. One is black with white front, but in breeding plumage there is a white slash through the wing. Ron says he's starting to see some of these already. The other morph is called the bronze morph, but the bird looks black except in exactly the right light, when it has a sort of bronze sheen.

After lunch, we decide to walk to the lighthouse, but on the way we see a sign pointing up the hill to Deep Bay and it says 20 minutes. I know that tourists can take water taxis all around weather-sheltered Golden Bay and its attachment bays, but you have to walk over the peninsula from Oban to catch them. The water is calm over there, unlike Halfmoon Bay when an "Easterly" exists. The bay opens eastward, and the winds of this type of weather pattern just whip the waters up to whitecap rank.

Anyway, we decide to walk over to Deep Bay, then up to Golden Bay, then back over to Halfmoon Bay, if there seem to be good walking tracks to do that. Up we go, trudge, trudge, trudge, and then down the other side. Part way up the hill, I see a jeep in a driveway of a house where a man is working at his dining room table. The license plate (whose number is called the 'registration' in NZ) says "C KIWI," and who could this possibly be?

I knock on the door, the man answers and I introduce myself (I talked with him from the U.S. and we're booked for tonight's trip). Yes, yes, he remembers me. But right now it looks like we'll cancel, and could we just call back about 5 PM to verify. I apologize for the direct intrusion, but he says no problem and appears to mean it.

On up the steep hill we go, then we reach the crest (Ahhhh), and head down the other side, through moist forest-like bush, on steps constructed of wood and filled with rocks. When we get down to the other side, we find a sign that points to the right and says 1 hour to Oban via Golden Bay. Sharon says, "Do you want to go back the way we came or follow this?" and I say let's follow this. She's in agreement because of all those steps, and off we go. BIG mistake.

The track is almost 100% up and down steps, and totally wears us down. I never saw so many steps. We just make it to Golden Bay when Sharon says she can't make one more step. Luckily, the path back over to Oban is all paved road, but we still have a tough time. During the walk we heard Tuis and saw Fantails, New Zealand Pigeon (with the deep "whoom, whoom, whoom" of its flight) but not much else. Nobody warned us about the steps, and it turns out (listen up now) that just because something is different than what you are used to, doesn't mean it's going to be better.

We stop at The Fernery on the way back over, and Sharon likes a Fernbird needlepoint piece, but it's framed and she doesn't know how she'd manage. I suggest that maybe they can take it out of the frame, but Sharon's too tired to pursue that. We continue our trip over the peninsula, on the paved road, where we bump into a couple walking a black and a white Scottish Terrier. They are all waggly tail as we roust them around a little. The man has a Scottish brogue, and upon seeing Sharon's stick says "Scotty McGregor (or somebody) carried a stick like tha' when he toured around the States between the wars." I could listen to his speech for an hour, but we continue on our way.

We finish our trip over, and have a rest in the bar at the hotel, where we will wait for 3 PM and the first fishing boat's return. After a bit, Sharon goes to the bathroom, and of course, I see the first fisherman returning right after she leaves, with two dozen birds flying around the boat. Sharon!!!

She comes, and we go outside to the front of the hotel. It's 3:33 PM. My fanny pack chooses this moment for one of the connector pieces to come off the strap. We were trying to hurry out to the pier, but we have to bird from where we are, about 200 meters farther away. We do our best, the boat comes in, and all the seabirds return to the sea, peeling off from the boat as it comes closeer to land. All except the gulls. They stay with the boat all the way.

I finally get the fastener re-attached and we walk out to the pier, hoping to see the next boat coming in. On the way we describe to each other what we saw, and as usual, we don't agree. Sharon kept seeing this one long-winged bird white on top except black stretching across the back. White body underneath with gray under the wings. I have not seen any with gray, but did see one with white under the wings. So to help us out, a bird flies in "unattached" to any fishing boat, and we can clearly see its underparts. It matches all the requirements, including the fact that the underwings are white with thick black edging all around the wings. This could make it look gray from a distance. It's a *BULLER'S MOLLYMAWK. A Mollymawk is just one of the smaller albatrosses that as a group, New Zealanders call Mollymawks. We enjoy the way this bird soars and banks, then glides over the water. How easy it looks.

I ask Karen, the girl at the desk of the ferry building, if there are any more fishing boats coming in. She looks around the bay, apparently checking each spot where a boat is normally anchored for the night. "No, they're all in," she says.

3:53 and Sharon notices another fishing boat coming in. We don't get any new seabirds from this one, but verify the presence of the Buller's Mollymawk behind this boat too. I tell Sharon that I think we have one bonus day saved up.

We could spend it in Picton, at the north end of the South Island, or on a tour boat trip through the islands of Marlboro Sound looking for the rare King Shag (it's the only place you can find one). On this trip, we could also try for the Reef Heron which is supposed to be around the edges of the three biggest islands that are most of New Zealand. Or we could stay two nights at Kaikoura and take a pelagic trip out. We would probably get ten new seabirds doing this, but we can't decide which we'd like to do

As we are walking, this bird flies over. I look up and say, "It's a shag," but as I watch it, I change my mind. "No, it must be a White-faced Heron," since it is flying like the Great Blue Heron of America. We are both on the bird with binoculars, and I look and I look, but I see no white face. Sharon doesn't either. Unbelievably, just seconds after mentioning this bird for the first time since we got to New Zealand, a *REEF HERON has flown right over our heads, headed from Halfmoon Bay towards Golden Bay. All right!

"That bird can talk," says I to Sharon. It's saying, "OK, let me make your decision easier. I am one of the birds you wanted to see on the Marlboro Sound trip. Now, since there's only ONE bird to see on that trip, you should go on the pelagic." We walk up, and up, and up to our room and relax a bit, clean up and so forth, then I ask Doug to call Philip again. We learn that the Kiwi Spotting trip for this evening is officially cancelled because the waters are just too rough. Dangit, that just leaves tomorrow. Well, it's why I booked us here for two nights instead of one.

We walk down to town where tonight we'll eat in the dining room.

Sharon has Titi Bird (a whole bird, not just a half, because she can't figure out how big it's going to be), and I order classic fish and chips, something I never ordered when we were in London -- only, holy cow, three weeks ago or a little more. We meet the fellow at the next table. His name is Warren and he's over here from the South Island on a job wiring up the motors of some new plant that's being built here. Something like a fish farm or lobster farm, I forget exactly what. Anyway, he's married, got two kids, and says when he retires, he wants to do what we're doing -- travel around the country in a motorhome.

Sharon's roast potatoes are not very tasty, but the Titi bird, which is also known as Muttonbird, which is also known as Sooty Shearwater, has a very strong taste, says she; somewhat fishy, which makes sense as the bird eats only fish. The waitress was impressed that Sharon would try this for a meal (in fact, had said,"You're brave" when she heard that Sharon had ordered it, and keeps checking to get Sharon's impression. Which is basically, "That was interesting, I don't think I ever have to order it again." We are told afterwards that only those of Maori descent can hunt the Titi bird, and they do that on Muttonbird Island not far from here.

We finish off with dessert. I try to order the small chocolate sundae that Warren had and somehow wind up with a double one. But there are kids starving halfway around the world (but in the OTHER direction, from here), so I have to do my duty. Sharon gets chocolate cake which she says is the best thing she has ever tasted. I guess a treat after the Mutton bird dinner. Then it's back up the hill, and to our room, where we decide to leave the curtains open to the beautiful lights around the bay.

Bird Summary:

Life Birds:
Today: 2. Buller's Mollymawk, Reef Heron.
For the Trip: 69.

Trip Birds:
Today: 2. The two lifers.
For the Trip: 93.

Wednesday, May 2, 2001. Week 3, Day 7. Stewart Island. Day Two. Last Kiwi Chance?

Hey the Kentucky Derby's this Saturday. I don't even know who's running -- something I usually keep up on. But not this year.

It's overcast, but the water is quite calm. We hope this is a good sign, regarding tonight's Kiwi Spotting. Since weather cancelled the trip last night, and Philip can go only every other night at most, he has rescheduled last night's trip for tonight. So we're still signed up.

We watch the Tuis and smaller birds flying around and singing outside. We go to the dining room for breakfast, and Doug fixes us toast to go with the cereal and fruit already set out. It's tea for Sharon and orange juice for me. The orange juice has an unusual zing to it, sort of like it's fermented, but we can't quite place it. I ask Doug if the calm waters are a good indicator for tonight, but he says that we're basically in the middle of the ocean, and the weather can change radically within an hour. Oh well, I still pretend that it's a good sign.

He has booked us with Kean, that rhymes with seein', as in "I'll be seein' you." Only I ask him to spell Kean. "K-E-Ean," he says, again 'Ean' rhymes with seein'. "OK," I say, as if I understand.

As if.

"His boat is the Seaview," says Doug, and he proceeds to tell us what we might expect. Thirty seconds later, I figure out Kean's name. It's KEN. Spelled K-E-Ean. It's the way Doug says 'N' or anything that rhymes with 'N.' I love his New Zealander speech. Then I ask Doug to call Ron (R-O-Ean), the local birding expert. I ask if the Brown Teal are on Stewart Island, as one older book in Doug's library said. "No. Rat predation," says Ron. "How about Banded Rail?" says I. "Same answer," says Ron. "And what about the two crakes?" Rat predation also. I asked if any of those birds are on Ulva Island and he gives the ratty answer again.

8:45 and I'm on the Fuschia Walk. I'm headed to meet Sharon where this intersects with the road she's taking, headed over to Golden Bay. I went to the visitor center and got a NZ Seabirds book, in case we do a pelagic trip from here or from Kaikoura. The Fuschia Walk has a lot of steps, so I'm glad Sharon didn't take this.

9:49 and we're walking up the hill. We pass the police station when a single bird, a Kaka, flies over. There is a football field to our right now -- well probably rugby. There are eight or nine Pied Oystercatchers out there. Ten minutes later and we are at the dock. Our water taxi is docked, but no one is around. We can hear the radio on the boat say, "Ken, are you theah yet?" And of course the no answer is a no answer.

We walk to the end of the dock and there is a Cormorant (aka Shag) -looking bird in the water. I can see white on its throat. It turns around and we both see the white slash marks on its wings. It's a *STEWART ISLAND SHAG. Fantastic. No question about it.

10:00 and we hear chatter across the water, coming from two Black Variable Oystercatchers. About 10:20, Ken arrives in his jeep. He boards his stubby-looking water taxi, and brings the Seaview around to the loading steps. We board and about five minutes later, we are walking on Ulva Island. Before we did all the birding we have done, Ulva Island looked like a paradise of new birds for us. But now, there won't be any new birds for us. But there should be some closer looks of birds we already have.

I didn't bring my Minidisc and forgot my video camera. All is overcast and quiet. A Fantail pops down on us, and we can hear Tuis and Bellbirds all over. We get a Yellow-crowned Parakeet, and there are Tuis flying all around us. Sharon continues making her call. Her ears pick up something dropping down through the trees to the forest floor, and she spies a Kaka, feeding in the upper stories. A Tomtit, South Island variety (yellow chest and belly) answers Sharon's continued calls.

We get to the end of our track, and about 20 feet from the water, there is a Weka on the trail, acting like it wants us to feed it or something. We are short on time, so we head back immediately for our 12:30 PM pickup from "Kean." About fifty feet in, Sharon hears some noises that she recognizes as suspicious. She looks up and there are two Red-crowned Parakeets. They are so close, I can see the red cheek patches on one of them. Sharon sees the blue wings. I finally tire of looking at them, so to drive them away, I try to take some video of them, and that does it -- off they go. A Kaka lands just above where they were.

12:14 PM and a South Island Robin comes in and lands about eight feet away from us. Sharon scratches the ground, and down it pops, onto the scruffed up area. It gets some bug or worm and back up into the bush it goes.

Ken arrives and picks us up at the dock, and by 12:33, we are back on Stewart Island, Golden Bay. Two White-fronted Terns are in the little harbor now. We walk back over the hill, then head to a location where Doug has recommended -- a beach through town, over a hill and down the other side. On the way, we see several Mallards but also in there company were two male and one female ducks that we've never seen pictures of before. The males are overall black in appearance, but closer examination shows a dark blue-green, with a green speculum. They have orange feet, and here comes one right up to us. The gray bill has a black tip. A white ring around the neck is actually discontinued in the back of the neck. This fellow has run over to get fed obviously, so they are some kind of escaped exotic, but one we don't know about. They are slightly larger than the Mallards in their company.

The weather still seems pretty good on what we hope will be our Kiwi Day. We go back up to the lodge for some rest, and to pick up umbrellas, the video camera and to rest. We meet Margaret, who has returned from the South Island with her mother. She is very pleasant. We also meet their youngest grandson Cane, whom they call Chaos. He just has the devil written all over his smiling little pink-cheeked face, being all of about three years old. He takes some bits of apple outdoors and places them where the Kakas usually feed, then he watches one of the parrots come and begin eating. We load up our gear and head over to the dock where Philip has told us to meet him.

We meet a couple who make some sort of herbal balm from bee honey and other stuff, and sell it here on the island. The man collects and restores old motorcycles, and he has a 1923 Indian among his collection.

5:34 PM and I think it's going to happen! The Volantis (Philip's boat) is headed over here. The ferry has just pulled up, and it's the Foveaux Express. This dock is cool because if you are standing on it, and a boat bumps the dock, the whole thing shudders as if in an earthquake. Foveaux is the name of the strait between the South Island and Stewart Island. I watch the workers lift metal boxes off the boat and set them down on the dock with a crane attached to the Foveaux. After a bit, they load a motorcycle from the dock onto the boat. Pretty fun to watch them do this.

We start loading onto the Volantis, but there are three telephone poles lying on the dock right where we are supposed to get onto the Volantis. As Sharon plants her stick and starts to step over, either a) the stick slips, or b) I knock it out from under her with my foot. At any rate...

"Down goes Frazier, down goes Frazier, down goes Frazier" - Howard Cosell.

No harm done, she gets back up, and we load on. Philip takes my Visa card to charge the $60 NZ per person. It is raining ever so lightly, and we learn that the Kiwi don't much like to feed when it's raining. Uh-oh, is this how it's going to happen?

We make the 45-minute boat ride, in the dark, over to the bay side of a small, vertical strip of island, and dock at a pier with a light on it. I get what I hope is the last shot of Sharon before she sees a Kiwi. The birds are supposed to be on Ocean Beach, directly over the strip, on a beach that faces east. If you start swimming east from that beach, you don't stop till you hit South America. We can see rough, steep stone steps leading up from the pier. I tell Sharon, "Let's get near the front, so we don't miss any Kiwis that might appear on the trail going over the hill." Sharon is worried that that will hold everybody up, but I am insistent, and we both edge over to the beginning of the steps. I'm sure the other people will be fairly slow too.

Each of the 17 of us has a flashlight, but we are to use them only when walking the trail over. Once we get onto the beach, all lights go off except for Philip's powerful one. He has the experience to know when a Kiwi is okay with lights and when not. This is approximately his 1400th trip to Ocean Beach to show people like us a Kiwi.

We get to the beach, and unfortunately saw no Kiwi on the trail over. Philip starts his talk about how to see Kiwis, what to do when we come upon one, and stuff like that. One fellow interrupts him in the middle, and says, "There's one right behind us." Everybody turns around and Philip puts the light on him, and sure enough, we get a glimpse of our STEWART ISLAND KIWI!! This is the same subspecies as the Brown Kiwi we heard up in Trounson Forest, but the behavior is of the two subspecies is quite different.

Philip kills the light and says, "We'll see him again later." He finishes his words, turns around, but the Kiwi is gone. We then start walking up the beach, with the beach on the left, and the edge of the forest on the right. We are most likely to see them just at the edge of the forest, says Philip. We make one trip up the beach and see none. We wait about ten minutes, then make the return. Still no more Kiwis. It is a killer, walking on this beach for both of us, but Sharon has had enough and we make arrangements to leave her at the path entrance to the beach while we make one more trip up and back.

One more round trip produces nothing. Philip wants to go to the end of the beach in the other direction, a not very great distance, and we continue that way. About twenty meters from the end, he says, "You all wait here. I'm going to go check near the creek. If I blink the light on and off, then come quickly." And he takes off.

Meantime, Sharon has decided that she can make this quick little jog, so she catches up with us, unbeknownst to me. For my part, I reason, "If he does see one, and blinks, I want to be the closest to him, so I can get there first and take a video." I don't get that thought out, when his flashlight starts blinking furiously!

I turn and say, "He wants us to come," but everybody has already started towards him. I'm about third there and fire up the video so it's already running before we get there. I turn on the SUPER NIGHT SHOT feature of the camera, and when Philip's spotlight hits the bird, I can see it clearly. Meantime, Sharon has caught up and is watching the bird through her binoculars, clear as anything, she later says.

Every time the light hits the Kiwi, it heads for the forest. Philip responds by taking the light off. Sharon, through her binoculars, can see that the instant the light is off the Kiwi, it stops running and continues feeding as if nothing had happened. Then the light hits it again, and again the Kiwi runs towards the forest. Finally, Philip leaves the light on it, and it runs all the way up a trail that the Kiwis have carved out of the bluff. It is unbelievable to see that Kiwi climb straight up that cliff.

And I GET THIS ALL ON VIDEO! Not professional quality by any means, but you can see it clearly.

So guess what, Ladies and Gentlemen. We just achieved the main, perhaps the sole purpose for us coming to Stewart Island -- to see an actual Kiwi in the wild. This is what it's all about, for me. Planning this thing, scheduling two nights in case the first one falls through, in this case, getting a break in the weather the second night, then seeing the bird.

We go back to the boat, with Sharon and me last. I help her down those terrible, now slippery stone steps. We load up, and Philip talks about twenty minutes detailing the life of a Stewart Island Brown Kiwi. So much more enjoyable AFTER we've seen one. Great, great stuff.

This is the exact same trip that David Attenborough showed on his "The Life of Birds" miniseries on PBS. In fact, David stayed at the Stewart Island Lodge too.

Bird Summary:

Life Birds:
Today: 1. Stewart Island Shag.
For the Trip: 70.

Trip Birds:
Today: 2. The lifer plus Stewart Island Brown Kiwi (Seen but not heard).
For the Trip: 95.


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