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Wellington Area

     Kapiti Island

 

After huge desolation of the indigenous bird populations by introduced predators such as cats, rats, dogs and stoats, one of the projects New Zealand is well known for is the eradication of these interlopers and the resultant rewilding of certain offshore islands. Kapiti Island, off the western coast just above Wellington, is not only one of these, but arguably the largest island to have undergone this treatment. Although it was made a reserve in 1897, with the occupying farmers given 3 years to leave, it wasn’t until the 1990’s that traps were laid for the stoats, and shortly after poison bait for the rats. Within 3 years the latter had been eradicated. From only one small pocket of original forest, the whole of the island has now reseeded, and the only non Government owned section at the North is the base for the Maori owners to run the visits to this part of the island. Thus many birds indigenous to New Zealand can once again be seen after conservation/reintroduction schemes to boost their numbers. Some of the speciality birds are easy to see, such as North Island Robin, Weka, and Takahe, but others (Saddleback and Morepork) need a bit of good fortune. Stitchbird is a more recent introduction, and Kokako prefers habitat away from the settlement.

Various methods of visiting the island can be employed, all using Kapiti Island Nature Tours (www.kapitiisland.com). The lowest cost is a simple no frills day trip, more expensive the same with guide and lunch (including access to the lodge area where lunch is served), and an overnight option, which has the benefit of looking for Little Spotted Kiwi (NB they are not always seen!). Rangatira Point, a little further down the eastern side of the island, can also be visited. Giving contact details, including mobile phone, on booking is useful, since the times of sailing from the mainland can vary – we received a text on the morning with this information. The boat, hitched to a tractor and trailer for launch, leaves the beach at Paraparamau usually at around 9am. The beach itself is worth checking – there was a group of White-fronted Terns next to the tractor with Silver Gulls, and at least 3 Variable Oystercatchers when we were there.

Beach Ferry

Paraparamau Beach

Tractor hitched to ferry with Kapiti in background
Kelp Gull Variable Oystercatcher White-fronted Tern

Kelp Gull

Variable Oystercatcher White-fronted Tern

The crossingtalks around half an hour, and the agenda when we went was a short briefing on the history of the island at the shelter near to the boat dock, then a short guided walk to the start of the loop trail, free time to walk the loop trail (at least 2 hours for this), and then lunch at the Lodge, with some free time to look for the birds around here. There is also a track around the lagoon near to the sea, but this had been destroyed by a recent tropical storm when we were there, and the nesting Spoonbills and Gulls had already departed. From the shelter to the start of the loop walk, it is obvious that New Zealand Pigeons and Tui are very common, with Bellbirds also a regular sight and sound. A Red-crowned Parakeet was calling just outside while we were having the briefing but had frustratingly gone by the time we could look for it. The start of the loop walk offered a couple of very amenable North Island Robins. As with a lot of forest birding, much of the walking along the trail is fairly quiet, although the payback was 2 very busy flocks of mixed Fantails and Whiteheads. Our first Kaka was picked up as it flew across the path, but the meat of the birding was around the Lodge. Kaka was very close here – almost too close, as they eyed up the lunch that they were trying to steal. Takahe is now a very rare bird in New Zealand, and so it was nice to pick up one of the two residents, which are now apparently around 20 years old and so unfortunately past breeding age. It was also ridiculously easy to see, as it grazed the lawn next to the Lodge (what was likely to be this bird was even seen from the boat while approaching the island). For comparison, there were 5 Pukakos (Australian Purple Swamphen) in the wet area to the rear of the buildings. This area was explored for a short while before we departed, and was particularly good for Red-crowned Parakeets, Paradise Shelduck, a single Sacred Kingfisher, and very close views of New Zealand Pigeons. As we were boarding the boat, a New Zealand Pipit was spotted amongst the rocks on the shore line.
 

Kapiti from landing area Forest on Kapiti Private land

Kapiti from landing area

Forest on the island Private area behind restaurant
NZ Bellbird Kaka Kaka

New Zealand Bellbird

Kaka Kaka
North Island Robin NZ Pigeopn

North Island Robin

New Zealand Pigeon
NZ Pipit Takahe Weka

New Zealand Pipit

Takahe Tui
Weka Whitehead

Weka

Whitehead

     Wellington to Picton Ferry, and journey on to Kaikoura

 

As part of our car hire package, we had included the Interislander ferry from the North to the South Island. One of the intentions was the potential for seawatching from the observation decks. After chugging out of Wellington Harbour for the first 15 minutes or so of the trip, the ferry headed into the much more choppy waters of the Cook Straight. This thin strip of water is renowned for being a bit wild, so it was comforting for the captain to announce that the swell would be only one metre or so (slightly optimistic as it turned out, but still not too tough a ride). Much more of an issue was the wind – a very strong northerly which could be felt as almost gale force on the level 10 observation deck. Luckily, I found a relatively sheltered spot on the port side away from the fiercest of the gusts. This also had the side benefit of scattering the selfie crowd pretty smartly - I was the only person on the deck for most of the trip. Scanning the waves for the hour and a half or so in the Straight itself did produce some interesting birds. One of the targets was to see Albatross in any form, and this was rewarded about half an hour in with Shy Albatross shearing the waves a little distance from the ship. 3 further birds of this species were seen – another fling the same line, and 2 on the sea. The other definite species was a single Common Diving-Petrel which took off from near to the ferry. Birds seen which were likely but couldn’t be definitively identified were 3 separate Fluttering Shearwaters (seemed to have the whiter underwing than Hutton’s), Buller’s Shearwater (back patterning and size looked good, but conditions might preclude 100% certainty), and Flesh-footed Shearwater (all dark and didn’t seem to have white patch under wing or wedge shaped tail). A few Australasian Gannets also appeared near to the entrance of Queen Charlotte Sound. Last treat in the Sound was a group of Bottlenose Dolphins which followed the ferry for some distance.

Nothing outstanding was seen on the car journey from Picton to Kaikoura (apart from good numbers of New Zealand Fur Seals on rocks on the shoreline about 20Km North of Kaikoura), but a chance pull in about 85Km North of Kaikoura found us munching our picnic on a table right next to Elterwater Wildlife Reserve. This is a small expanse of water which is generally open, with one or two stands of either dense or bare trees. The main claim to fame here seems to be the half a dozen or so Royal Spoonbills feeding or sleeping at the far shore. These had been missed the day before at Kapiti Island, where they breed. A Pied Stilt was with them, and some ducks which were a little too distant to identify through binoculars, although inspection of photographs later picked out both Australian Shoveler and Grey Teal.

Elterwater Elterwater

 

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Introduction

Singapore

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