New Zealand: see birds…seabirds!

Seabirds are some of the most remarkable and wonderful avian species on earth, yet the average birder doesn’t get to see many of them. But a trip to New Zealand–in addition to introducing you to a wonderful variety of endemic landbirds, from kiwis to stitchbirds–offers an unusual opportunity. Would you like to try out a little pelagic birding with a few shorter trips on the water to “find your sea legs”? If so, our November New Zealand itinerary makes for the perfect tour.

Have you noticed the diversity of tubenoses in the Pacific (say, off California), but ever wondered, “where do they nest”? For many, New Zealand is the answer. New Zealand is among the last large landmasses to have been colonized by terrestrial mammals (including humans), and as such the islands provided some of the safest nesting grounds for seabirds in the world. Today, the many smaller offshore islands of the country are still home to huge colonies of seabirds: shearwaters, petrels, prions, albatrosses, storm-petrels, penguins, gannets, and cormorants (or as they are called by most Kiwis, shags). Our main tour of the country includes not only much wonderful landbirding but also 8 boat rides, virtually all under half a day in length, and seabirds are a major target of those outings. We have had good luck with three species of penguins (Little, Fiordland, and Yellow-eyed), at least four albatrosses (Salvin’s, White-capped, Royal, and Wandering–these last two sometimes split into additional species by some authorities, in which case we can easily add another species of Royal to the tally), several larger petrels (Northern Giant, Cape, Westland, and White-chinned, for starters), Fairy Prion, and several shearwaters (including the endemic Fluttering and Hutton’s, as well as Flesh-footed). A pelagic on our optional Hauraki Gulf extension also has been very successful in netting two storm-petrels, including the endemic New Zealand Storm-Petrel, a species believed extinct until rediscovered a little more than a decade ago!

Of course, New Zealand is more than just seabirds. As a “land of birds” for so many millennia, the islands fostered the evolution of several endemic bird families: Kiwis (of course!), New Zealand parrots, wattlebirds, stitchbird, mohouas, and the adorable New Zealand wrens. Our tour route is designed to maximize our opportunities to see members of each of these families, and we usually see them well! There are additional endemics that make for a special tour to these enchanted islands, such as the odd Blue Duck, the orchestral endemic honeyeaters Tui and New Zealand Bellbird, the dinosaur-like flightless rail–the Weka–and a host of interesting and unusual shorebirds, perhaps most notably the unique Wrybill. And of course, if you ever wondered where Alaska’s Bar-tailed Godwits spend their winter, the answer may surprise you: New Zealand. And they get there via a non-stop flight every autumn!

Yes, the country of New Zealand is a fine destination if you want to experience something quite different from your “normal,” yet it seems oddly familiar. Besides the fact that New Zealanders speak English (with a lovely twist), you may recognize the epic landscapes we pass through from several blockbuster movie sets. And there is always something to look at as we travel from the bottom to the top of this impressive country. Interested yet? If so, consider joining me this November 15 for a visit to Aotearoa (“the Land of the Long Cloud,” the Maori name for the country), and see it for yourself. And see the seabirds!