Friday, 26 February 2016

Crossing Foveaux

We were up early this morning, and thankfully the bad weather that had been forecast hadn’t yet eventuated.  We packed the van and left the accommodation as it was starting to get light, and as we headed out towards Invercargill, the sun was rising and looking pretty spectacular over the hills and mountains as we drove.

We basically made a bee-line straight for Bluff, stopping in at the musical toilets in Winton, and then bypassing the metropolis of Invercargill.  We headed to an estuary area and scanned the shoreline, spotting a good number of oystercatchers, as well as a few bar-tailed godwit, red knot and a lot of banded dotterel.  There were a lot of black swan and a few Royal spoonbill as well, so a good birdy spot.  We then headed in to Bluff and had a quick look from Stirling Point to look out over Foveaux Strait – which was lovely and flat!  Excellent!

We checked in for the ferry and then boarded on time and headed out of the port.  As we did so an Arctic tern was spotted by some, but was so brief we did have enough time to get everyone on to it.  We carried on out into the Strait and a few sooty shearwaters started to come past.  As we got out a bit further we spotted our first albatross – a Buller’s at that – a new one for the list.  With almost no wind there wasn’t a lot of birds flying, but we added a couple of white-capped albatross, a single Southern Royal sitting on the water, several Stewart Island shag, and then several brown skua on the rocks as we passed the Muttonbird Islands.  We scanned the rocks for Fiordland crested penguins as we came into Halfmoon Bay, but nothing, except a little penguin in the water.

We docked at the main wharf, grabbed our bags and headed up to the South Sea Hotel to check in.  We stowed our gear in the rooms, grabbed our lunches and ate them in the sunshine out the front of the hotel.  We then walked up and over the hill to Golden Bay, where we met with our water taxi who took us across to Ulva Island.  With the weather still warm and high cloud we were anxious to see as much as possible before the forecasted deterioration commenced.  We headed up the trail and within a minute or so had a juvenile saddleback – in the classic jackbird plumage with rusty red-brown feathers.  It crept around on the forest floor feeding amongst the leaflitter and we got great views, before it skulked off into the undergrowth.  We carried on along the trail and before long were hearing a lot of yellowhead just off the trail.  We carried on hearing more, but still of the track, and then we found a group that seemed closer and waited and listened.  We were eventually able to get good views of birds not too far off the track, and then a little later another group a bit further along.  Of course the robins were trying their best to distract us, and it worked quite a bit of the time!  We gradually wandered out to a beach, seeing more yellowhead, saddleback, a few red-crowned parakeet and kaka along the way.  We found a couple of the resident variable oystercatchers on the beach, and it wasn’t long before a weka found us!  It crept around trying to work out what it could steal…but then decided there were better morsels to be had along the strand line on the beach.

We then wandered back towards the other side of the island.  We saw more of the same, but also some nice views of yellow-crowned parakeet and a morepork roosting as well.  We gradually headed back around to the wharf, just as it started to rain a little – prefect timing.  We had seen everything and decided to catch the taxi a little early.  We had a little time before dinner, then a great dinner, and then readied ourselves for our kiwi hunting mission.  We headed down to the main wharf, boarded the boat with Phillip Smith, and then headed around Acker’s Point and across Paterson Inlet.  The weather was still holding thankfully, and as we headed up and over to Ocean Beach the light was definitely fading.  Greg led us off down the beach, and almost at the end of the beach was our target!  A fantastic female Southern brown kiwi, feeding right out in the open on the beach!  She was eating sandhoppers and busy at it!  She hardly paused whilst we stood there, just metres away, with a torch dimly lighting her for about 15 minutes.  Fantastic views and a beautiful experience.

We moved off and left her in peace, and then headed back up and across to the boat, looking for other birds on the way.  It started to rain a little and we had a bit of rolling and spray on the way back, but we had had a fantastic day and our beds were waiting…

Day total – Seen = 65 + 2 heard (grey warbler, tomtit); new for the trip = 7; total for the trip to date = 154

Bird of the day – Southern brown kiwi x5

The waterfront at Oban on a sunny day is hard to beat

Post Office Cove on Ulva Island

A yellowhead feeding deep in the shrubbery

An adult South Island saddleback

A weka tries to sneak in for a look

A yellow-fronted parakeet peers down

A sleepy morepork at its daytime roost

A red-crowned parakeet - possibly a hybrid with yellow-crowned - note the orangey look to the rear part of the red forehead

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