seeking general advice

General birdwatching discussion, help with bird identification, and all other things relating to wild birds and birding in NZ that don't fit in one of the other forums.
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seeking general advice

Postby MikeGC » Thu Dec 20, 2018 12:54 am

Hello folks,

I was once told “there are no stupid questions” so let’s test that statement.

I was last in your beautiful country nearly four years ago (in April) with an old rugby pal celebrating my 60th birthday and managed to find some great birds, just by being out in the countryside and in parks (in cities), etc. I booked whale watching in Kaikoura and had planned to get out with Albatross Encounters. We stayed 4 days in Kaikoura but that coincided with an Antarctic blow. The waves passing the bay looked pretty tall (10m+) and I had no argument with the various operators who sensibly refused to venture out of harbour.

For this visit I will be in New Zealand for January.
I’m pretty serious about my birding trips in the UK and Europe (I’ve done some organised birding holidays too) but this will be a holiday with binoculars as opposed to a birding holiday.
I’ll be visiting various spots between the north of North Island and almost to the south of South Island. This time I am travelling with a “girlfriend” who has expressed a particular interest in seeing Blue Penguin. I note from the Omaru website that they predict approx. 100 birds at 9pm on January evenings.

Question 1 – Omaru Blue Penguin - I understand that they are trying to sell tickets to tourists, so is this as good a “spectacle” as it looks on the publicity shots ?

Question 2 – we will be going out with Albatross Encounters. I’ve met the skipper a few times at the UK Bird Fair and in Kaikoura – he seems like a genuine bloke. However, the pictures on the website show huge numbers of various petrels, shearwaters and albatross hanging around the boat. I’m hoping someone on here has done these boat trips and can say whether this is “poetic license” or the genuine experience ?
Is it a binoculars and camera trip or mainly camera ?

Question 3 – we’ll be crossing the Cook Straight on the ferry and on a cruise along Milford Sound. These were pretty unproductive trips in April but I’m hoping for better luck in January – any recommendations (other than sit outside !!) ?

Question 4 – we’re in Wellington for one night, is Zealandia worth the effort ?
Might be my only chance to see Kiwi (on this trip) but it is $85 – any comments welcome
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Re: seeking general advice

Postby kengeorge » Thu Dec 20, 2018 8:13 am

If you're after Fiordland Crested Penguin in the Milford fiord then forget it, just done the trip and missed the penguins by a couple of weeks. The water in the fiord is now too warm for them and they're moved south for the summer. Nice boat ride though and the geology is stunning. The drive up the Eglington Valley between Te Anau and Milford is absolutely fantastic with plenty of great birds there right now, kaka, kea, mohua, shinning and long tail cuckoo, numerous falcon, black-fronted tern, tui, bellbird and slightly oddly, chaffinch in huge numbers and in alpine habitats that you'd think would be quite tough for any bird, but the chaffinch seems to be thriving there. The Cook Strait ferry crossing can be a bit of a lottery, it can be brilliant or it can be a complete bust. I did it twice early December and the big petrels, the mollymawks and albatross have all moved further south, the water is too warm at this time of the year I think. If you look carefully, you'll probably see blue penguin from the ferry in Wellington Harbour, or out by the heads. The Albatross Encounters trip is always worth doing, as is visiting Zealandia. That's good for saddleback, stichbird, red-crowned parakeet, and whitehead. $85 for kiwi sounds pretty cheap to me, though as they are in an enclosed area (Zealandia), it's up to you whether you'd consider them strictly 'tickable'.... Never go anywhere in New Zealand without your binoculars, you never know what will pop up when you least expect it. Enjoy the scenery, especially the drive up the Eglington, the Homer Tunnel and down to Milford, even by NZ standards, it's a mind-blower. Just to be pedantic, the name Milford Sound is technically incorrect, a Sound is a drowned river-cut valley, while a Fiord is a glacier-cut valley, which is what Milford is. There is a huge difference in physical appearance between the two, the visit to Milford is worth it just the see what a glacier cut valley system looks like.
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David Riddell
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Re: seeking general advice

Postby David Riddell » Thu Dec 20, 2018 9:18 am

The pictures on the Albatross Encounter site are definitely not poetic licence, it really is like that. They put out chum to bring the birds in, and the birds have got to know it. We had seven albatross species when we went, plus a good range of other things including Westland petrels, a white-chinned petrel, Hutton's shearwaters, northern giant petrels, can't remember if we saw blue penguins, but they'd be a good chance. Haven't done the Oamaru blue penguins, though I understand they're a good spectacle, if a little artificial. The "colony" was built up from an originally small population largely through the efforts of a single individual controlling predators and constructing nesting boxes, quite a conservation success story and arguably worth supporting with an admission fee, but you can now see blue penguins coming ashore all around that port area after dark. There are also yellow-eyed penguins just over the hill at Bushy Beach, though when I was there about three weeks ago a volunteer I spoke to said they'd had a bad couple of years and numbers were down. We only saw one, at about 6.10pm, others were expected later. South end of the beach is apparently best (stay on the track at the top of the hill, don't go down to the beach).

If you go out to Tiritiri Matangi Island (fantastic day out, with a huge range of birds to see) there's a very good chance of blue penguins from the ferry.

Yes, Cook Strait is variable. Usually at least a few albatrosses to be seen, but I came across just last week and for the first time ever saw none at all (though admittedly I didn't stay outside for the whole crossing), not much to see except lots of fairy prions. Also a few blue penguins in the Sounds.
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Re: seeking general advice

Postby MikeGC » Thu Dec 20, 2018 10:27 pm

thanks, this is just what I was hoping for
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Re: seeking general advice

Postby andrewcrossland » Fri Dec 21, 2018 9:13 am

Some further advice:

Yep, the Kaikoura pelagic pics are standard for the trip, but best to book the morning trip (starts early) as birds tend to be better. The boat captains, particularly Gary Melville are genuinely knowledgeable about local seabird ID and occurrence - a significant point of difference to the whale watching boat trips where every mollyawk is identified in the guide's knowledgeable voice as a "Wandering Albatross". Occasionally there's a longer distance/duration pelagic that goes further out and samples birds that are less common on the normal pelagic - prions, more variety in petrels, etc. These are often organised at the request of a collection of local birders and advertised on the forum.

The Milford boat is generally a scenic trip, but there is a reasonable chance that FC Penguins will in fact be around (they're only away for a short period), so strike up a conversation with the cruises' resident natural history expert early on in the voyage so he/she keeps an eye out as the boat reaches the mouth of the Fiord where the penguins are and points them out on the loud speaker. Choose one of the bigger boats - not a small one. The bigger the better. This is because it will have to leave the Fiord to turn around and enter the ocean. Now, what you want to strike is a bit of wind and a bit of wave, and then for 10 blissful minutes while everyone else is hunkered down below decks wishing they wee back in the calm and tranquility of the fiord, you'll be alone on deck ticking off a bunch of very cool southern seabirds.

The Oamaru penguin parade is legit and a way that locals have turned a dog-ravaged, weed-infested old quarry into a viable wildlife sanctuary. The penguins came there first and the locals have simply put some protection around them and built some tasteful viewing infrastructure. Also check out the derelict wharvces for a large roost of Spotted Shag and Stewart Island (Otago) Shag. The town also, with its stone Victorian/Edwardian buildings is an interesting and slightly eccentric place, quite different to any other part of NZ.
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Re: seeking general advice

Postby gmckinlay » Fri Dec 21, 2018 11:36 am

On Kaikoura, I have been wondering if organising a special longer trip might be possible sometime during the upcoming holiday period, given that a few NZ birders are likely to be travelling south then. I would be a starter anytime Dec 29-Jan 17, but I am just one person.

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