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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

Chapter 2

Tiritiri Matangi

An Island Sanctuary

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View from Tiritiri Matangi New Zealand

The view from the top of Tiritiri Matangi Sanctuary

Auckland and A Lost Day
I said good-by to my family and at 10:30 PM on June 19, 2002 boarded a United Airlines flight from Los Angeles . During the night I crossed the Pacific Ocean, the equator, and the International Date Line to arrive in Auckland , New Zealand at 6 AM on June 21. At departure I set my watch ahead 19 hours. The flight actually took about 14 hours, but crossing the date line means losing an entire day of your life. On the plane I had a nice dinner and managed some sleep in my tourist class seat. I had traveled half way around the world, gone from the northern to the southern hemisphere and from early summer to mid winter. This is not winter as we know it in New Hampshire. It was only cold enough to wear a sweatshirt or light jacket.

The city of Auckland straddles a narrow part of the north island of New Zealand. On the eastern side the city lies on the Hauraki Gulf leading to the Pacific Ocean and on the western side the Tasman Sea separates New Zealand and Australia. Later in my trip when I wanted to drive north through Auckland to the northern part of the island, I realized what a bottleneck the city really is.

I had arrived with no plans other than to spend two nights at the Hilton Hotel on the wharf as a gift from my frequent flyer son who builds up points at Hilton Hotels. The Hilton on Prince's Wharf is one of the nicer and more expensive hotels in Auckland. Since it was the middle of winter they were able to have my room  ready for me at 8 AM. For the budget conscious which was me on the rest of the trip there two YHA hostels both a healthy walk from the ferry building and several backpacker hotels in Auckland. A bus from the airport costing NZ$11 (with YHA card) will take you to either YHA or for that matter any hotel in Auckland. I spent the first day visiting the maritime museum next to the hotel and walking in the rain to the base of the Sky Tower. I decided not to spend NZ$15 to go up in the tower since it was too foggy to see anything. My wandering led me to the ferry terminal close to the hotel where I noticed a day trip to an island called Tiriti Matangi or the Bird Island. Sounded like my kind of place so I signed up for a tour the next day which was Saturday. I then returned to hotel and crashed into bed about 4 PM.

New Zealand north island map

Boat Trip
At 8 AM the next morning as I was picking up my ticket a familiar voice behind me said "I know that voice." It was Noel Mann and Daan Sandee, birding friends from Massachusetts. They were just starting a round the world trip with a night on Tiritiri Matangi . I spent the first day of my solo trip with two good friends. The ferry to Tiritiri is a large boat with food service and restrooms. June is the middle of winter down under. It was only cold enough to warrant a light jacket or sweat shirt. If you wish to look for birds from the upper deck on the hour and forty five minute boat trip, you may appreciate gloves and a wool hat. There is no problem disembarking at the sturdy boat dock on the island.

In winter you should have a chance for Fluttering Shearwater on the way over to the island. We did not see any either coming or going. The ferry service was cancelled for the two previous days because of a severe storm and this may have sent the shearwaters out to sea We did see Black-backed Gull , White-fronted Terns and the delightful if ever abundant Red-billed Gull which is called the Silver Gull in Australia. The boat makes one stop at Gulf Harbor to pick up more passengers where we had two Spur-winged Plovers, Little Black Shag and 4 Australasian Gannets.

Red-billed Gull, Silver Gull  New Zealand harbor

Red-billed Gull is known as the Silver Gull in Australia.

Tiritiri Matangi - An Open Island Sanctuary
Tiritiri Matangi is one of several several island wildlife sanctuaries maintained by the New Zealand Department of Conservation to ensure the survival of endangered native plants and animals. The island about 4 KM off the coast of the Whangaparaoa Peninsula was originally covered with forest. It was inhabited by the Maori people who had extensive settlements here and probably introduced the Pacific Rat. Europeans took over in the mid 1850s, and the island was farmed continuously until the 1970s. Almost all the native vegetation was removed during the farming period except for that in steep valleys. Fortunately the island remained the property of the New Zealand government. The lighthouse, now fully automated, was built in 1865. In the 1980s the government terminated the farmers lease and turned the island over to the Department of Conservation.

In 1984 the restoration of the island began with planting of the native Pohutukawa tree. A nursery was established on the island to propagate seeds. Most of the work was done by volunteers. Non native predators such as rats, possums, and fox were eliminated. Unlike some of the other island sanctuaries maintained by the Department of Conservation, Tiritiri Matangi is open to the public and all who abide by the strict rules are welcome to visit. Private boats can dock here. Most people arrive by ferry and spend the day. I visited the island twice. Once in the winter when I first arrived in New Zealand and again in December ( summer) just before I few home to the U.S.

You can visit the island on Thursday, Fridays, Saturday, Sundays, and public holidays. Purchase tickets at the downtown ferry building on Quay Street between Prince's Wharf and Queens Wharf. (sandstone building). The boat leaves from Auckland at 9 A.M. or from Gulf Harbor at 9:45 AM. The return trip leaves the island at 2:30 PM and docks in Auckland about 4 PM. The cost is NZ$42. All sailings are subject to weather conditions so you should check with the boat ahead of time.

The Department of Conservation Ranger and his wife greet the passengers on the dock. The Ranger was the last lighthouse keeper on the island and he and his wife are the only full-time residents.  ( I understand that they are not fully retired and no longer on the island.)

You are invited to put your backpack, lunch and anything else you don't need on the climb up to the lighthouse on a truck which will meet you at the top. It is a gentle but steadily uphill climb on which you will see many birds and learn about the island. Best to unload everything you can on the truck

Auckland Port Building

Brown Teal
The first activity was the release of a pair of Brown Teal by the Auckland Zoo with the financial aid of Ducks Unlimited. The Brown Teal is perhaps the most diminished duck species in the world and several pairs have been released on Tiritiri. The introduction has not been successful in the past with the released pairs disappearing immediately. 

The Brown Teal is a dull version of the Chestnut Teal of Australia. The male (left) has a green head and chestnut underparts. Both male and female have a brown eye with narrow white eye ring clearly seen in this photograph of the released pair. The Brown Teal is listed as a "Rare Endemic".

Daan Sandee from Massachusetts watches the release of the Brown Teal (right). The newly introduced pair of Brown Teal explore the pond. The ducks were released into a small pond next to Ridge Road. They swam about for a time, but had disappeared by the time I returned to take the boat back to Auckland in the afternoon. There was no news about this pair of ducks when I returned in December. Perhaps they too found another home

Brown Teal Tiritiri Matangi Brown Teal pair Tiritiri Matangi

Brown Teal pair explore the pond on Tiritiri Matangi. At left the male Brown Teal.

Daan Sandee watches release of Brown Teal

Wattle Trail
We began the climb to the lighthouse on the wattle trail. The wattle trail was named for a winter blooming plant introduced by one of the lighthouse keepers to provide flowers for nectar eating birds. One of the first birds we saw was the Red-crowned Parakeet. The large green parakeet was the first bird restored on the island. While locally common I would not see this bird again until I got to Stewart Island.

The vegetation planted by volunteers about 20 years ago is today a good height for birding. The Stitchbird another rare endemic introduced on the island is now relatively common here and easy to see and photograph. The Bellbird was common throughout New Zealand and on Tiritiri. It was one of the birds that survived the devastation of agriculture on the island and did not need to be reintroduced.

Stitch bird Tiritiri Matangi Bell Bird Tiritiri Matangi

Stitchbird left and Bellbird on the right.

Stitchbirds and Bellbirds are honeyeaters and nectar feeders. They could be found easily at the Hummingbird feeders maintained by the volunteers. Cages around the feeders have holes large enough for the Stitchbirds, but too small for the more aggressive Bellbirds.

Another honeyeater is the remarkable Tui. It is a common endemic.that you will see many times. It was one of my favorite birds because it makes remarkable noises and has two white tuffs under the chin.

Robin Tiritiri Matangi NZ

Left:The robins of Australia and New Zealand are dear little birds. This is the North Island Robin introduced here. Notice the bands on this bird.

Right: The locally common Whitehead usually feeds in flocks. On my summer trip a flock moved across the boardwalk and I was able to take this picture. It is closely related to the rare endemic Yellowhead of the south island which I never did see. The Whitehead was introduced to Tiritiri because it was not found in the Auckland area. Otherwise it is not uncommon.

Also look for the Silver Fern the national tree of New Zealand although there is some controversy regarding one of the athletic teams claiming to have the rights to the silver fern logo. This large tree fern is identified by the silvery backing to the fronds.

White Head on Tiritiri Matangi NZ
Saddleback Tiritiri Matangi NZ Saddleback Tiritiri Matangi NZ

The Saddleback is a member of the New Zealand Wattlebirds family (Callaeidae). The Kokako and the extinct Huia also belong to this family.

The rare endemic Saddleback was introduced to the island in 1984. It was easy to see on both my winter and summer trips. A ground forager it tends to bound from limb to limb without flying. I found it rather hard to photograph as it always seemed to keep behind the leaves. The left  photograph shows the chestnut saddle and rump. The right photo while not in focus shows the eye ring.

Kokako or Blue-wattled Crow
The Kokako is the only member of the Wattlebird family to survive on the mainland. On Tiritiri it is much harder to see than the Saddleback and I missed it entirely on my winter trip. On the summer trip I saw two individuals. It is not a strong flier and sits quietly in shrubby vegetation.

Kokako or Blue-wattled Crow

A Kingfisher Halcyon sancta vagans perched in the open. This bird is known in New Zealand as Kingfisher because they have only this one kingfisher and in Australia as the Sacred Kingfisher. It is an abundant native bird.

The Brown Quail (right) was self-introduced to the island after the restoration began. It is relatively common and I saw several. The Brown Quail was introduced to New Zealand from Australia. The quail is not a threat to the native species and welcome on the island.

Brown Quail Tiritiri Matangi NZ

The Lighthouse
The guided walk ends at the lighthouse where volunteers have a gift shop and offer tea and coffee. You can retrieve your lunch you left on the tractor at the dock and eat at the picnic tables. There are toilets with running water.
This is also the location of the YHA bunk house where you can spend the night. You then have about 2 hours to explore the island on your own before making your way back to the dock for the return ferry at 3:30 PM.
The revegetation of Tiritiri was accomplished with volunteer workers. Seedlings were started in the plant nursery. While exploring the nursery I saw the Pied Fantail, Common Blackbird, and a New Zealand Pigeon (right).

Pigeon Tiritiri Matangi

Kiwi on Tiritiri Mantangi
When New Zealanders call themselves Kiwis they are not talking about a little green fruit but about their beloved native bird. There are
at least three species of Kiwi: Great Spotted, Little Spotted, and Brown Kiwi. The Brown Kiwi has three sub-species, North Island Brown, South Island Brown and Stewart Island Brown Kiwi. All species are nocturnal, flightless and very endangered. No birder can come to New Zealand and not want to see a Kiwi in the wild. You may have to be satisfied to hear one in the wild and even that is not easy. Fourteen Little Spotted Kiwi were introduced on the island. Today there are 50 birds. The Brown Kiwi has also been introduced on Tiritiri. You cannot expect to see or even hear either on a day trip. Read more about seeing a Kiwi in the chapter on Kiwi. and read the email I received below. My friends Noel Mann and Daan Sandee spent the night on the island and had to settle for hearing it only.

Takahe - Endemic Bird On The Brink of Extinction
The Takahe is a large member of the family Rallidae closely related to the Purple Gallinule. It is flightless and before the arrival of introduced predators it was widespread over both the north and south islands. It was thought to be extinct until about 250 birds were found on the south island in the mountains above Lake Te Anau. This area is now a nature sanctuary which can only be visited with permission from the Department of Conservation. I went to the Glow Worm Cave at the base of the mountain sanctuary during my stay at Te Anau, but did not see the Takahe.
The birds on Tiritiri were introduced from captive breeding stock and seem to be very tame, allowing visitors to approach. It is important that visitors refrain from feeding them. I noticed that in the summer they were drinking from water near the picnic tables. There are now 17 adults and 2 chicks on the island.

Takahe Endemic Bird on endangered list Takahe bird on the way to extinction Takahe bird nearly extinct

Boat Dock
You need to plan to be at the boat dock for the return trip well before 3:30 PM as you do not want to miss the only return ferry. On both trips I started the return trip from the lighthouse about 1 PM and worked my way slowly and quietly down the Wattle Trail. There is very good birding in the vicinity of the boat dock.

On my summer trip to the island I spent some time sitting near the little pond where the Brown Teal had been released on my winter trip Here I was able to see Spotless Crake, Brown Quail, Welcome Swallow, European Goldfinch, Myna, Whitehead, Yellowhammer, Chaffinch, Silvereye, Fantail, Gray Warbler, Stitchbird, Bellbird, Red-crowned Parakeet.

On reaching the beach you can walk toward the toilets and look in the artificial penguin burrows. They were empty on the winter trip, but in December one contained an adult Blue Penguin . This is not the best way to enjoy this bird and you will see it other places as it parades after dark to the burrow.
There are usually Variable Oystercatchers at the dock and on the summer trip an Australasian Harrier was seen soaring over the island.Tiritiri Matangi was a wonderful start to my trip and I left looking forward to many more days just like this one. I envy the people who live near Auckland and can participate in this marvelous conservation effort. Any birder with a free weekend in New Zealand should visit Tiritiri. It would certainly brighten a business trip to Auckland at any time of the year.

E-Mail From Stephen Hale- Night on Tiri Tiri Matangi
Date: 4/15/03 11:25:04 AM Eastern Daylight Time From: (Stephen R. Hale)
Emmalee, I enjoyed looking through your travel book. Thanks for sharing it. It brought back a lot of memories from 2 years ago, when I was in NZ for 5 months. My family was fortunate to arrange an overnight stay on Tiri Tiri Matangi (after an overnight stay on Kapiti Island was cancelled due to high seas). It is really special being there at night. We walked down to the boat dock and there were Little Blue Penguins everywhere around our feet. We had to be careful not to step on them.

We could hear kiwis in the night. At that time, I don't think there were any Brown Kiwi on the island, only Little Spotted. We walked some trails heading up away from the water, with our flashlights (red cellophane over the light is required to protect the eyes of nocturnal animals). For literally less than 1/2 second, my wife and I saw a Little Spotted Kiwi leave the trail into the bush. It was very exciting, even though it was so short a time. The silhouette was unmistakeable.

Then we walked around, a bit and I was trying to see the Grey-faced Petrel ( or Grey Petrel, I confuse the two; one nests in the Hauraki Gulf, and the other I think is more associated with the South Island; I don't have my book with me here at work). We could here them coming in through the trees by it was too dark. So we started walking back, working our way through the penguins. We had our flashlights off, so as not to disturb them. We stopped at a strange silhouette on the ground. It looked like a football at first. It was LITERALLY 6 inches from my feet. Not moving, not afraid, just sitting there. I turned a flashlight on and it was one of the Grey-faced Petrels that had come in from sea.We missed Blue Duck and Rock Wren, and I looked pretty hard for them. We picked up most of the other landbirds, but had some misses in the shorebird department. I wasn't there when the two migratory cuckoos are there. We lived in Hamilton, so I was able to make some trips to Miranda to see wrybills etc. Near the end of my stay I picked up 7 Royal Spoonbills which come up from the South Island.

1. Webmaster note: I am writing this at home and do have a bird book. I assume from the location that Stephen was right at first Grey-faced Petrel. Great to hear from someone from New Hampshire. EBT 2015

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