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     Stewart Island


Oban Paterson Inlet

Oban, Stewart Island

Paterson Inlet

For touristvisits, the only regular way to visit the island is to take the ferry which departs from Bluff on the South of the mainland South Island, and traverse the channel for an hour before alighting in Oban, the only settlement there. Even before the ferry leaves the terminal, it is worth checking the water just out from the harbour. An albatross was seen as we were boarding, and a Buller’s Albatross after a minute or so out at sea. There were surprisingly no others on the journey, although Sooty Shearwaters, were fairly regular within a short distance of both coasts. Later on, while having a beer in the hotel which looks on to the harbour, a handful of Buller’s Albatross could be see plying to and fro a few hundred metres out. What may have been a trio of penguins were spotted on the water all too briefly. The deep forest of the national park backs on to the town, and regular sightings were Tui, New Zealand Pigeon, New Zealand Fantail, and the odd Bellbird, with a Kaka flying overhead and into a tree late on. Strangest sight was a Sacred Kingfisher perched on one of the rugby posts at the recreation ground. It is also worth time sitting watching the harbour in more detail (prime spots are the waiting room for the ferry or while having a pint at the South Seas Hotel!). Buller’s Albatross are regular here, and occasionally fly up to and level with the ferry dock – a quartet was even with a Shy Albatross right next to the dock lured in by a fisherman throwing small fish back for them. Shags from here included Otago & Spotted, and there was even a Sea Lion meandering around between the beach and the ferry dock. A pair of Kaka flew overhead a few times though the day.

A prime birding reason for visiting Stewart Island is that it not only holds a healthy population of Southern Brown Kiwi (apparently in the region of 10000), but they are the only species which can be diurnal, and also they are so regular from Oban that tours are more less guaranteed to see them. That is when the boats can sail around to the viewing point of course! I was booked in for the evening we were on the island, but it was cancelled due to an impending hurricane that evening. We only had a sniff of this when the Ulva ferry captain told us that he wasn’t running the 6:15pm return due to the high winds, and sure enough, checking at Stewart Island Experience confirmed the cancellation of the Kiwi tour. Yet this was also a blessing in disguise. The water based cancellations extended to the main Bluff return ferry, so we had an extra night on the island enforced upon us. The weather was very variable through the day and into the evening, but I decided on a look around the rugby pitch near to our accommodation anyway. And when they say timing is everything – I entered the field to find a small group of people with dimmed red lights watching a small Kiwi slowly and methodically probing around the edge of the field. It continued to do this for around 5 minutes when someone’s noisy velcro fastening sent it hot footing back into the deep vegetation.

Tui South Island Oystercatcher Variable Oystercatcher

Tui

South Island Oystercatcher Variable Oystercatcher
Fishing Buller's & Shy Albatross

 

Buller's & Shy Albatrosses
Spotted Shag Buller's Albatross Shy Albatross

Spotted Shag

Buller's Albatross Shy Albatross

     Ulva Island


Ferry Ulva

Ulva ferry

Ulva Island

A second reason for visiting Stewart Island is the potential to visit Ulva Island. For birders this is highly recommended. It only costs NZ$20 return for the 15 minute or so each way short journey from Oban, and this finds prime habitat for many New Zealand specialities. The story seems to be that this is one of the few islands not to have suffered from the presence of stoats (rats were present and have been eradicated but aren’t quite as lethal to birds as the former), so had managed to retain some of the indigenous birdlife, along with a little help in the form of some reintroductions. From the experience of our visit, it is also one on the only places I went to where I didn’t see signs of the widespread European introductions. There are only a few tracks on the island, and a steady stroll can cover them in 3 hours, although the ferry transfer times can accommodate longer stays if necessary (usual first one across is 9am and last return 6:15pm). These tracks are very well maintained, and mainly cut through the lush and thickly vegetated rain forest, with occasional ventures on to rocky beaches.

Even before landing on the jetty of the island, a group of Shag resting on a nearby rock turned out to be Otago Shags – the first ones seen on the trip, and probably at their South-western limit here. Alighting on to Terra Firma, we decided to take the longest track first to Western Bay, which cuts through thick and dark forest for around 45 minutes. First fifteen minutes or so turned up much of the usual in the form of Bellbird, Tui, and New Zealand Fantail, but then we came across our first bird party – a small number of Pipipi were buzzing around at eye level. Just above, a calling Red-crowned Parakeet gave itself away. At the Bay, we were excited by the sign warning of carefully approaching Sea Lions, but this was an empty threat – no mammals of any sort. However, a couple of Weka pushed in on the entertainment, by following us around and almost stepping over our feet. We then headed off towards Boulder Beach, and this is where birding became even more interesting. After a very close South Island Robin, a band of Yellowheads was chanced upon. Just as busy as their white-headed counterparts from the North, they also hosted a single South Island Saddleback, being shadowed by a New Zealand Fantail. Boulder Beach hosted more Wekas, and it was here we decided on the return to the jetty. We arrived there early, so following up an unusual call pinned down a much more obliging Saddleback. Time also allowed for a detour to Shelter Bay, where we chanced upon a resting New Zealand Sea Lion amongst the rocks, showing the marks in the sand where it had hauled out. Some amazing birding continued after we had boarded the ferry for the return. After a single Spotted Shag on the sea, we were trailed all the way by half a dozen Shy Albatross. They seemed to delight in using our swell, and at times were so close above the bow that they seemed to be staring in at us.

Red-crowned Parakeet South Island Robin Yellowhead

Red-crowned Parakeet

South Island Robin Yellowhead
Saddleback Saddleback Weka

South Island Saddleback

South Island Saddleback

Weka
Shy Albatross
Shy Albatross
Shy Albatross

Shy Albatross

Shy Albatross

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