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New England Seabirds

 Wilson's Storm-petrel  Dave Jones

Birding On My Own
Australia &
New Zealand 2002
Emmalee Tarry
Revised 2015

Trip Reports

Table of Contents

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Chapter 19

New Zealand
North Island

North Island
Wellington
Mount Bruce Wildlife Center
Napier
Cape Kidnappers
Gannet Colony
Lake Taupo
Geothermal Steam Plant
Rotorua
Miranda Shorebird Center
How To Find The Wrybill
Wrybill


Cape Kidnappers Gannet Colony from cliff

Looking down on the Saddle Gannety Colony at Cape Kidnappers from golf course above. What a beautiful place this is.  

North Island Tour

I spent two nights in Wellington then drove north to Napier on Hawkes Bay to visit Cape Kidnappers and then inland to Taupo and Rotorua to look for Blue Duck and to tour the geothermal areas. .

 I continued north to Miranda on the Firth of Thames to look for shorebirds and then north through Auckland to the Bay of Islands where I visited Arhoa Island.

The trip ended in Auckland.

Wellington

The ferry between the south island and north island runs from Picton to Wellington. The EZi Car Rental is one block from the parking lot of the ferry terminal in Picton. After you turn in your car, they drive you to the ferry terminal.

The EZi Rental Car met me at the terminal in Wellington with the new car and I drove to the YHA in downtown Wellington. The Y has a small parking area in front where you can park to unload. If this is filled you can park in the grocery store lot across the street. After that you are on your own to find a spot. I ended up 3 blocks away at the Municipal parking garage.

The next day I toured the Te Papa (Our Place in Maori) Museum which was within walking distance of the YHA. The natural history section had a mounted bird exhibit and in the children's corner there was a case with a Royal Albatross displayed standing on one wing tip. Standing in front of this display you really get a feel for what it means to have a 9 foot wingspan.

Mount Bruce National Wildlife Center

I left Wellington on a beautiful Sunday morning and headed toward Napier with a stop at Mount Bruce National Wildlife Center NZ$8. This is an outdoor zoo where endangered birds are raised in captivity for release in the sanctuaries. There is a Brown Kiwi House. This was my first time to see the Kokako or Blue Wattled Crow since I had missed it on the first trip to Tiritiri Matangi. I did see the bird in the wild on the second trip. You may also enjoy birding the many tracks inside the center. I didn't because of course it started to rain again.

Napier - Art Deco

Napier is a small town on beautiful Hawkes Bay. In 1931 most of the town of Napier was destroyed by an earthquake. It was rebuilt using the then fashionable style Art Deco. Seventy years later it is the only example in the world of a town built in the architectural style of the 1930s.

The characteristics of Art Deco are pastel colors, bold lines, and elaborate motifs especially lighting bolts and zig zag patterns. You can buy a small pamphlet and conduct your own walking tour or you can take a guided tour for NZ$8. I elected the guided tour which lasts about an hour and ends at a small museum and shop.

The YHA in Napier, across the street from the aquarium and park is housed in one of the few buildings to survive the earthquake of 1931.

Cape Kidnappers

The real reason for the trip to Napier was to visit the Australasian Gannet Colony at Cape Kidnappers about a half hour drive south along Hawkes Bay. There are two outfits that provide tours to the Gannet colony. You can make reservations for either one at the YHA. Both will pick up in Napier at the YHA and drive you to the starting point. The cheaper tour NZ$26 uses tractors to run out along the beach. The tractors are slow and the tour must be timed to avoid the high tide. You end up on the beach below the colony and to really see it you will have to climb the steep cliff. You can also walk along the beach for 12 KM and end up at the same place for free, but remember you will have go and return between tides.

I took the more expensive tour NZ$40 using 4-wheel drive vans. The trip over the Summerlee Station Ranch takes and hour and half . There are views down into the steep canyons and sweeping views of Hawkes Bay on the way out. As you can see you end up right at the edge of colony.

The whole peninsula has been sold and will be developed as a golf resort for the rich and famous. The new owner is environmentally aware and is going to preserve the Gannet colony. He has already started replanting huge areas with native vegetation. The sheep ranch is also going to be preserved.

The overland trip takes you right next to the upper Gannet colony where you can take close pictures of the nesting birds like the ones on this page. There are some 6,500 Gannet here in 4 colonies. Two of the smaller colonies are on the beach.

Gannet Colony

This was my third visit to a Gannetry having seen the Northern Gannet at both Bonaventure Island and Cape St. Mary's in Newfoundland.

I visited Cape Kidnappers during the first week of December. At that time some pairs had chicks as you can see in the picture to the left..

Other birds are sitting on eggs. Visitors do not need to disturb the birds in any way. If you just stand still and watch you will eventually be able to see birds at all stages of the life cycle.

You do not need a fancy lens to take pictures. Any point and shoot camera will do.

Still other pairs were playing the matting game. Look for mating displays like skypointing and strutting. A Gannet colony is a busy and fascinating place.


The Australasian Gannet has a rich golden color on the head in breeding plumage. Notice the white edges to the black tail.

Lake Taupo for Blue Duck

I searched for Blue Duck through the passes of the south island with no success. There is one more chance at Turangi. I decided to make my headquarters at Lake Taupo YHA. This was somewhat of a mistake as I later found out there is a Backpackers in Turangi which would have put me closer to the Blue Duck area.

I was curious about a large Maori rock carving pictured on a postcard. I read and studying something about polynesian culture during the two years I lived and taught school in Hawaii. I had never heard of the polynesians doing any large rock carvings. Furthermore the postcard shows a carving of an animal that looked like a crocodile. There are no crocodiles in New Zealand. The carvings are on the far side of beautiful Lake Taupo and there are several boat trips to take tourists to see them. The one I choose was a quiet trip on a sailboat. As soon as we pulled away from the dock the captain explained that the rock carvings are only 22 years old. They were done by Maoris, but modern men using power tools. I was right to be skeptical. The trip was quite pleasant with the captain fishing for Rainbow Trout (introduced fish from North America ) and giving sailing instructions.

Early the next morning I took off for Turangi to look for the elusive and rare Blue Duck. The directions given to me by a birder in Kaikoura proved a little vague. I eventually got to the right place. Here are detailed directions.

From Taupo, follow the lake shore south on Route 1 to Turangi and then continue south for 7 KM. You will pass the National Trout Farm on the left before coming to a small bridge over the river.

Immediately on the left beyond the bridge is a small parking area. Pull in the parking lot.

Behind you as you face south you will see an unpaved road that goes into a fishing area known as the Blue Hole. Follow the unpaved road through the woods avoiding a left branch until you come to a small parking area.

Get out and look for the Blue Duck here. If you don't see it proceed down the unpaved road to the next parking area where there are some toilets. From here you want to start scanning the river for the duck. There is a track along the river you can walk.

Get here very early to beat the fishermen to the spot. 

I searched most of the day for the duck with no luck. In the afternoon I visited the trout farm where I met a Ranger who gave me more hints for finding the duck. I think the main problem was that I did not have good directions to this place and by the time I got there it was late in the morning. There were several fly fishermen working the creek. The duck can be anywhere along the river. It is much easier to see early in the morning before people arrive at the area. It tends to hide under overhangs and can be very hard to see. I should have tried again the next day, but I had enough. I hope my directions will help others.

There was good birding in the area and I saw: California Quail, Paradise Shelduck, Silvereyes, European Goldfinch, Grey Warbler, Starling.

Geothermal Steam Plant and Prawn Farm.

The Craters of the Moon geothermal area is a short distance north of Taupo. From the entrance, the whole area seems to be smoking. Walk along the boardwalks to look into the vents and boiling mud pools.  This was the first time I had ever seen an area where geothermal features are used to produce energy.  I was amazed and somewhat appalled that visitors were allowed to walk so close to the boiling water. 

There used to be a single geyser here before the power plant next door was constructed to tap into the super heated water to produce electricity.

Just north of Craters of the Moon the geothermal power plant is open to the public. Drive through the plant to the visitor's lookout. Apparently the government isn't very worried about 9/11 here. Although this may have changed since my visit.

The power plant taps very hot water from underground to make electricity and releases cooler but still hot water into the creek across the street.

A prawn farm uses the still hot water from the power plant to raise Malaysian freshwater prawns (shrimp).  Nobody puts a "shrimp on the barbie" here because shrimp are called prawns.

I took a guided tour of the prawn farm. The just hatched prawns are kept in sterile tanks inside a shed until they are large enough to be placed in the outside pools. Waders and shags are attracted to the outside tanks which are covered with algae. The prawns hide under the algae in the pools so the guide assured me they do not worry about the birds. At night they use an air gun to keep birds from roosting in the pools. There were cormorants and a few herons in the outdoor tanks. All the prawns raised here are consumed in the farm restaurant where a plate of prawns served hot with garlic butter the way we eat lobster goes for NZ$28.

Rotorua

The Rotorua area is very similar to Yellowstone National Park in the United States. The day I left Taupo it started to rain and continued raining for several days. I stayed at the YHA in Rotorua for three nights and toured 4 geothermal areas all of which charged a fee. The YHA here is large and nice with separate facilities and rooms for men and women. There is a park next to the YHA that has active geysers. If you are bothered by the cost of the tours, you can see geysers in the park for nothing.

OraKei Korako ( NZ$15 ) starts with a short boat trip across the lake to a self-guided walk through the geyser area. Diamond Geyser was erupting at 9 AM and continued erupting the whole 90 minutes I was there. There are several small geysers, soda pools and mud volcanoes. The self-guided track was almost deserted in the rain and I enjoyed the solitary tour.

Wai-O-Tapu is a very large geothermal area also with a self-guided tour. On a large salt flat area a Pied Stilt was raising 3 fluffy babies. Highlight of this area is the pink edged turquoise blue Champagne Pool.

The next day I went to the Whakarewarewa Geothermal and Maori Cultural Center in Rotorura. This had an entrance fee which I failed to record and was very crowded. The Maori cultural center was very disappointing and the guides were rude. They do have a Brown Kiwi House here.

The best of the geothermal areas was at Waimangu. It is also the most expensive at NZ$45 which includes a boat trip on the lake. You start at the top of a large hill and walk downhill looking at the geothermal attractions. It rained off and on the entire day and there were very few people here.

At the lake at the bottom of the hill were New Zealand Dabchicks the only time I had them on the trip.

Also Black Swans, Black-billed Gulls, Little Black Cormorant, Grey Teal, Pied Stilt, Kingfisher, and White-faced Heron. A bus takes you back up the hill to the parking area.



There is a large park on the lake at Rotorua. At Sulfur Point there were many birds including many Black Swans, Cormorants, and gulls.



Both Red-billed and Black-billed Gulls can be found on the lake at Rotarua. You have to be careful because immature Red-billed Gulls have black bills. I believe the gull in the back to be a Black-billed Gull
In the lake park rose garden, I met a family of four from Yellow Knife, Canada. They recognized my Bathurst Inlet cap from on my trip with Bill Drummond. The father works for a company that provides equipment for the diamond mine north of Yellow Knife which I remember flying over on the way to Bathurst Inlet. He is here in New Zealand on business. Are they finding diamonds here? One of the girls is very interested in dolphins and whales. I was telling them about Kaikoura and the whale watch which costs a healthy NZ$110 per person. Unfortunately they probably will not be able to afford the trip for 4 people. The Canadian dollars is about on par with the New Zealand dollar.  Makes me realize how important the strength of the dollar against other currencies is to my trip.  Unfortunately that is no longer true thanks  to the importation of oil and stuff made in China.

Miranda Shorebird Center

Miranda is a short drive north of Rotorua on the Firth of Thames. I arrived just before noon and went to the Miranda Shorebird Center to get information about finding the Wrybill. Last winter when I was on the North Island there were probably 2,500 Wrybills here. Now in November, the attendant tells me there are only 50 or so and I will be lucky to see even one.

.I arrived about an hour before high tide. I asked about where to go and how to see the Wrybill. The attendant was most unresponsive. He answered questions as briefly as possible and then went back to reading his newspaper volunteering nothing. I couldn't figure out this attitude. There was another American (not a serious birder) in the center asking questions about birding opportunities for children at the time and he was getting the same treatment. Perhaps the attendant  wanted me to pay him for a guided tour, but he never mentioned any guiding opportunity. Maybe he just doesn't think it is cool to look only for the Wrybill. Birders from the northern hemisphere have many chances to see the other shorebirds. The Wrybill is the New Zealand endemic you must see while you are here. Center information sheet lists the Wrybill and the New Zealand Dotterel as target birds at Miranda.

I bought a map of the Miranda Coast for NZ$2 and purchased a book. There was also a contribution box, but the attendant's attitude was no inducement to making a contribution. Everybody has a bad day. I hope this was not an example of how birders are regularly treated here. I think anyone who comes half way around the world deserves better.

According to the map and guide I bought at the shorebird center, summer is from September to March. Winter runs from March to September. Large numbers of Wrybill ( 2,500) arrive in January and February. They are often hard to find at roost. They return to feed in the bay by the hide on a falling tide. During the summer there are generally less than 30 in the area.

Miranda Shorebird Center
RD1, Pokeno
There are accommodations at the center. Bunk House and self-contained flat.
One hour south of Auckland airport.
Phone: (64) 9 232 2781

Email:
shorebird@xtra.co.nz
Web Page:
http://www.miranda-shorebird.org.nz/

How To Find The Wrybill

Here is what I eventually learned from others about finding the Wrybill. The best viewing is just before and after high tide. Go to the Shorebird Center and buy the orange map and Brief Guide to the Shorebirds of the Miranda Coast. Before high tide look for the bird near the hide. Make a right turn from the center and go back the way you came to the gate on the left just before the bridge. Walk the track to the hide. It is natural to look at all the birds in Stilt Pools and there are so many you will never finish. The Wrybill is rarely seen there. You need to look to the shell banks on the other side of the hide. If you don't see the bird here, go back to the road and drive past the center taking a driving track on the north side of Taramaire Creek. At the parking area leave your car and view the shell banks from the high bank on the north side of the creek.

The first day I started by taking the walking track to the hide. Not knowing how to look for the bird I spent a good deal of time looking at roosting birds in Stilt Pool. There are lots of good birds to see here. such as: New Zealand Dotterel, Bar-tailed Godwits, Red Knots, Ruddy Turnstone, Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, Pied Stilt, Pied Oystercatcher. There was no one around to give me better advice about finding the Wrybill. Late in the afternoon I drove on to Thames to stay at the YHA hoping for better luck the next day.

The next morning fortune smiled on me because there were several birders at the Stilt Pool along with a Birdquest group from Britain led by Tony Clarke. They were watching the shell banks on the other side of the hide. When they did not see the bird there, they moved down to the Taramaire area and I followed.
Tony's group had their scopes on the bird when I arrived and they kindly shared with me before I was able to get my scope on it. The bird is amazingly hard to see because it blends with the shell beach perfectly. I was very grateful to Tony for sharing with me.

These are the shell flats on the north side of Taamaire Creek where I finally saw the Wrybill. Position yourself just on the other side of the high bank from which this picture was taken. Charging down to the creek edge will probably ruin your chances of seeing the bird and the other side of the creek is out of bounds.
BIRDQUEST
Birding Holidays Worldwide
Tony Clarke
Lancashire BB7 9QY
England, United Kingdom
Phone: 44 1254 825317
birders@birdquest.co.uk

Wrybill

The Wrybill Anarhynchus frontalis is a New Zealand endemic. It breeds on the wide, shallow river banks of the south island and disburses to the north during the winter.

It is the only bird in which the end of the long bill curves right. In this picture of the Wrybill the bill appears long and straight. You can only see the curved bill when it turns its head toward you..

This bird was one of the highlights of the trip. Thank you Tony Clarke and group for your help in finding this bird and for sharing with me.

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