So this was a new experience for me: catching Covid-19 in the middle of a tour! Our tour was stymied by several folks becoming so affected, and it made things difficult for all, but I appreciate the perseverance of those who continued (and hope that those who couldn’t were able to navigate their ways home safely!). Happily, it was in a country where language wasn’t much of an issue, so that helped. Dismissing that elephant in the room, the tour nevertheless enjoyed some great birds and great scenery. My thanks to Mark and Michael for continuing on and giving the group a good tour in my absence!
We started in the far South in Queenstown, heading to Te Anau for our first few nights so we could explore Fiordland National Park, a wonder of sights for our eyes! The moss-festooned forests, quiet lakes, alpine boulder-strewn fields, and fjords all were easy on the eyes. We had a great experience with the South Island (Rock) Wren at Homer Tunnel, saw our first Fiordland Penguins on the boat tour of Milford Sound, and watched a Blue Duck frolic in the rapids of one of the area’s rivers. From Fiordland, we headed to the southern point of the South Island, at Bluff, and caught the ferry to Oban on Stewart Island, where we spent the next few days. This visit gave us our first pelagic species, including Australasian Gannets, three penguins, Brown Skua, two albatrosses (White-capped and Salvin’s), and Cape Petrel. We also walked on Ulva Island and were treated to quite a menagerie of native South Island landbirds with the likes of Yellowhead, SI Saddleback, SI Robin, Pipipi (Brown Creeper), Tomtit, Weka, two of the Kakariki (parakeets) and more. And an evening outing gave us great views of SI Brown Kiwi, which was a great experience! Then back to the South Island and up to Dunedin to see the Royal Albatross breeding colony and a few more seabirds. Next, after visiting Omarau for lunch (and the shag colony), we headed inland to the Mackenzie country to see the breeding shorebirds such as Black Stilt and Wrybill, as well as Black-fronted Tern, Black-billed Gulls, and more. From there on to the west Coast to see the temperate rain forests, try (unsuccessfully) for Okarito Kiwi, and (successfully) Westland Petrel. From there we cut back across the South Island to the east coast and Kaikoura, where we had some more pelagic outings, which really racked up the seabirds!
From that point, I had to depart the group, so I can only imagine the joy of seeing the remaining sights and species. It sounded like the visit to Miranda was great with many excellent shorebirds there (Far Eastern Curlew and Black-tailed Godwit?! Holy cats!). The ferry issue threw a wrench in the works as far as getting to Tiritiri, and that was a shame, but it sounds like the group had an outing to get North Island Kokako and Red-breasted (New Zealand) Dotterel. The extension had a pelagic go out and netted a nice list of pelagics, and then returned for a shot at the birds on Tiritiri, so those who were able to participate on that section still got the targets there, happily.
So it was an interesting mixed bag of a tour. I am sorry that the logistical and health complications kept it from being the smashing success it could have been, but hope that it nevertheless gave you all a glimpse into the avifauna of New Zealand, a land of birds. Maybe you’ll be inspired to return some day?
Meanwhile, good birding to all!
KEYS FOR THIS LIST
One of the following keys may be shown in brackets for individual species as appropriate: * = heard only, I = introduced, E = endemic, N = nesting, a = austral migrant, b = boreal migrant
SOUTHERN BROWN KIWI (Apteryx australis) [E]
What a nice experience! We were on the Oban airstrip with Beaks and Feathers to see kiwis, and we enjoyed spending quite some time watching a female as she foraged without showing any concern for us. A hidden male called at one point.
CANADA GOOSE (Branta canadensis) [I]
BLACK SWAN (Cygnus atratus) [I]
Although the current population is thought to have been introduced from Australia, sub-fossils suggest that Black Swans were naturally occurring on NZ in prehistoric times, so not really an exotic. Plenty common, however!
PARADISE SHELDUCK (Tadorna variegata) [E]
This is perhaps the most successful endemic on NZ. They probably have benefited greatly from habitat alteration by humans.
BLUE DUCK (Hymenolaimus malacorhynchos) [E]
All right! We lucked upon a single bird foraging along the river below the Homer Tunnel in Fiordland, and enjoyed watching it for a while.
AUSTRALASIAN SHOVELER (Spatula rhynchotis)
Much like our familiar Northern Shoveler... just an upside down version.
PACIFIC BLACK DUCK (Anas superciliosa)
For the most (entire?) part, the birds in NZ are not pure-blooded, but tainted with Mallard genes. We saw a few that looked fairly pure, though.
MALLARD (Anas platyrhynchos) [I]
The same beast we know from North America.
GRAY TEAL (Anas gracilis)
Mostly found in estuarine habitats.
NEW ZEALAND SCAUP (Aythya novaeseelandiae) [E]
An attractive species, and luckily, we didn't have to sift through Lessers and Greaters to pick them out!
CALIFORNIA QUAIL (Callipepla californica) [I]
BROWN QUAIL (Synoicus ypsilophorus) [I]
For those who got to Tiritiri island, you got to see this Australian species.
NEW ZEALAND GREBE (Poliocephalus rufopectus) [E]
Mostly found on the North Island and the northern end of the South Island, but not terribly rare where they occur.
GREAT CRESTED GREBE (Podiceps cristatus)
Widespread on lakes on the South Island primarily, where we saw many. The breeding colony on Lake Wanaka was particularly easy to approach.
ROCK PIGEON (Columba livia) [I]
AFRICAN COLLARED-DOVE (Streptopelia roseogrisea) [I]
Mostly in Northland north of Auckland, so seen on the extension.
SPOTTED DOVE (Spilopelia chinensis) [I]
Mostly around Auckland.
NEW ZEALAND PIGEON (Hemiphaga novaeseelandiae) [E]
These beefy behemoths are fairly common where there is some native bush.
SHINING BRONZE-CUCKOO (Chrysococcyx lucidus)
If it weren't for their thin whistled song, this migratory cuckoo would easily slip by unnoticed, but happily we saw several. Perhaps our best view was that one at a pulloff in Fiordland that Kathy spotted.
WEKA (Gallirallus australis) [E]
Although spottily distributed, we saw several of these large flightless rails on the South Island. They are one of the few flightless landbirds that seems to be holding its own on the main islands. The one that was poking around the buses at Milford Sound was the first to catch our attention, and reveal the boldness of the species.
BUFF-BANDED RAIL (Gallirallus philippensis)
A species limited to mangrove swamps; the group had this one at Miranda.
EURASIAN COOT (Fulica atra)
Apparently only on the South Island this tour, but seen on many larger bodies of water.
AUSTRALASIAN SWAMPHEN (Porphyrio melanotus)
Locally called "Pukeko", it is a fairly common resident on both main islands, often seen stalking about in pastures.
BAILLON'S CRAKE (AUSTRALASIAN) (Zapornia pusilla affinis)
Locally called "Marsh Crake", we saw one in the pond edge grasses near the Ohau canals in the Mackenzie country.
PIED STILT (Himantopus leucocephalus)
Widespread and common, apparently having colonized in the past couple hundred years from Australia. Pied Stilts have caused problems for the endemic Black Stilts by hybridizing with them.
BLACK STILT (Himantopus novaezelandiae) [E]
It took a while, but eventually, we encountered a trio of these rare endemic shorebirds at Lake Tekapo, which was a huge relief!
SOUTH ISLAND OYSTERCATCHER (Haematopus finschi) [E]
Widespread on both islands, although it only nests on the South Island, as the name suggests. Often found away from the coast, and even away from water, it breeds in pastures, fields, and braided river systems.
VARIABLE OYSTERCATCHER (Haematopus unicolor) [E]
The name refers to the fact that more northerly populations include white-bellied individuals as well as all-black ones (which are the only ones present in most of the South Island). We saw our first "pied" individual at the Ashley Estuary north of Christchurch. Also, this species is very much restricted to the coast, unlike the last.
PACIFIC GOLDEN-PLOVER (Pluvialis fulva) [b]
A bird at Miranda was a nice record.
MASKED LAPWING (BLACK-SHOULDERED) (Vanellus miles novaehollandiae)
Locally called "Spur-winged Plover" (which is usually a name given to an African species), this is a species that naturally colonized in the past 50 years from Australia and has swept the country.
RED-BREASTED DOTTEREL (Charadrius obscurus) [E]
Locally called "New Zealand Dotterel" and I'm not sure why Clements doesn't use that name? It is endangered, but Michael got the group onto a pair at Mangere on the last main tour day, and the extension saw another dozen.
DOUBLE-BANDED PLOVER (Charadrius bicinctus) [E]
A handsome plover that is fairly widespread. Locally called "Two-banded Dotterel".
WRYBILL (Anarhynchus frontalis) [E]
One of the iconic endemics of NZ, we had our first distant views in the Mackenzie country at Lake Pukaki, but had far better views at Tekapo, and later at some coastal estuaries as well.
FAR EASTERN CURLEW (Numenius madagascariensis) [b]
Oooh, you lucky ducks! Two birds at Miranda was a real treat (and would have been life birds for yours truly!).
BAR-TAILED GODWIT (Limosa lapponica) [b]
Another iconic shorebird of NZ, but in this case because of the incredible migrations that these birds make from Alaska, where they breed, to NZ. Some individuals can do it in a little over a week of non-stop flying! Utterly amazing.
BLACK-TAILED GODWIT (Limosa limosa) [b]
Another nice vagrant at Miranda, and another I'm just a little envious y'all got to see.
RUDDY TURNSTONE (Arenaria interpres) [b]
One of the more common migrant shorebirds we see in NZ.
RED KNOT (Calidris canutus) [b]
Smallish numbers make it to NZ, but we saw them at several spots on both islands.
BROWN SKUA (SUBANTARCTIC) (Stercorarius antarcticus lonnbergi)
An impressive predator we enjoyed around Stewart Is.
PARASITIC JAEGER (Stercorarius parasiticus) [b]
These arctic migrants (also called "Arctic Skuas" by many) were present at several points of the trip.
BLACK-BILLED GULL (Chroicocephalus bulleri) [E]
An endemic species to NZ, and one that is endangered due to depredation at nesting colonies, but seemingly common nonetheless. We had a particularly large concentration around Lake Tekapo.
SILVER GULL (RED-BILLED) (Chroicocephalus novaehollandiae scopulinus) [E]
The common small coastal gull.
KELP GULL (Larus dominicanus)
The only large gull likely in NZ. Locally called "Southern Black-backed Gull."
LITTLE TERN (Sternula albifrons) [b]
This migrant from Asia showed at Miranda.
CASPIAN TERN (Hydroprogne caspia)
Familiar to us as it is also found in North America, it is not rare in estuaries around NZ.
BLACK-FRONTED TERN (Chlidonias albostriatus) [E]
A really handsome "marsh tern" that we enjoyed around the Mackenzie country and at a couple of estuaries on the South Island.
WHITE-FRONTED TERN (Sterna striata)
Fairly common marine tern.
YELLOW-EYED PENGUIN (Megadyptes antipodes) [E]
Rare and declining; we enjoyed seeing three of these large penguins on our boat excursion off of Stewart Island.
LITTLE PENGUIN (Eudyptula minor)
The most common and widespread of the penguins on the main island of NZ; we had this species on Stewart Is and several areas around the South Island.
FIORDLAND PENGUIN (Eudyptes pachyrhynchus) [E]
Seen both in Milford Sound in Fiordland, and near Oban on Stewart Island.
WHITE-CAPPED ALBATROSS (CAUTA) (Thalassarche cauta cauta)
The most common mollymauk around Stewart Island, but also around Kaikoura.
SALVIN'S ALBATROSS (Thalassarche salvini) [E]
More common than the last around Kaikoura, but also seen around Stewart Island.
BLACK-BROWED ALBATROSS (Thalassarche melanophris)
A young bird was on the second Kaikoura pelagic.
ROYAL ALBATROSS (NORTHERN) (Diomedea epomophora sanfordi) [E]
This is the large albatross we saw on several outings, most notably around the nesting colony at the Otago Peninsula.
WHITE-FACED STORM-PETREL (Pelagodroma marina)
These sea kangaroos were seen on the extension pelagic.
SOUTHERN GIANT-PETREL (Macronectes giganteus)
The White Morph of fame actually materialized on the Kaikoura pelagic!
NORTHERN GIANT-PETREL (Macronectes halli)
The common giant petrel we saw on several outings of the tour.
CAPE PETREL (Daption capense)
Strangely sparse on this tour, but still a striking species.
GRAY-FACED PETREL (Pterodroma gouldi) [E]
Three birds showed for the boat trip off Kaikoura.
COOK'S PETREL (Pterodroma cookii) [E]
After a flyby or two on the ferry ride crossing the Foveaux Strait, the extension pelagic encountered a few.
FAIRY PRION (Pachyptila turtur)
Seen on the Foveaux Strait ferry crossings, out the mouth of the Marlborough Sound trip, and on the extension pelagic.
WHITE-CHINNED PETREL (Procellaria aequinoctialis)
One was on the Kaikoura boat trip.
PARKINSON'S PETREL (Procellaria parkinsoni) [E]
Locally called "Black Petrel". This was on the extension pelagic.
WESTLAND PETREL (Procellaria westlandica) [E]
After an outing in the Westland by Punakaiki where the group got to see a young bird in the process of fledging and flying off, we also had them on the Kaikoura pelagic.
FLESH-FOOTED SHEARWATER (Ardenna carneipes)
One bird inspected the boat off Kaikoura, but many were seen by the folks on the extension pelagic.
BULLER'S SHEARWATER (Ardenna bulleri) [E]
Several on the Kaikoura pelagic and many on the extension. This species used to be called "New Zealand Shearwater."
SOOTY SHEARWATER (Ardenna grisea)
Mostly seen on boat trips off South and Stewart islands.
SHORT-TAILED SHEARWATER (Ardenna tenuirostris)
Birds were seen on the Kaikoura and extension pelagics.
HUTTON'S SHEARWATER (Puffinus huttoni) [E]
Endemic to NZ, and common around Kaikoura.
FLUTTERING SHEARWATER (Puffinus gavia) [E]
Abundant around the Cook Strait and Marlborough Sound, also on the extension pelagic.
COMMON DIVING-PETREL (Pelecanoides urinatrix)
Seen on the ferry ride back to Bluff from Oban, but also on the extension pelagic.
AUSTRALASIAN GANNET (Morus serrator)
This relative of the Northern Gannet was encountered on several boat trips over the course of the tour.
LITTLE PIED CORMORANT (Microcarbo melanoleucos)
Common on many water bodies, fresh and salt, during the course of the tour.
GREAT CORMORANT (AUSTRALASIAN) (Phalacrocorax carbo novaehollandiae)
Locally called "Black Shag" (the Kiwis love their shags!). This species is widespread, but not terribly common.
SPOTTED SHAG (Phalacrocorax punctatus) [E]
A particularly lovely endemic of NZ that we saw on many boat trips and rocky coastal points.
LITTLE BLACK CORMORANT (Phalacrocorax sulcirostris)
Only seen around Rotorua on the tour. It is largely confined to the North Island and very north of the South Island.
PIED CORMORANT (Phalacrocorax varius)
An attractive, but understated, shag that is mostly found in coastal waters.
NEW ZEALAND KING SHAG (Leucocarbo carunculatus) [E]
Highly localized in the Marlborough Sound area where we saw it on the boat trip from Picton.
STEWART ISLAND SHAG (OTAGO) (Leucocarbo chalconotus chalconotus) [E]
This was the form we saw on the Otago Peninsula and on the wharf at Oamaru.
STEWART ISLAND SHAG (FOVEAUX) (Leucocarbo chalconotus stewarti) [E]
These were the birds we saw around Bluff and Stewart Island. The two forms have been considered different species by some NZ ornithologists, and this may eventually lead to their splitting by international list-keepers as well.
AUSTRALASIAN BITTERN (Botaurus poiciloptilus) [*]
GREAT EGRET (AUSTRALASIAN) (Ardea alba modesta)
Given the abundance of suitable habitat, it is confounding that this species isn't more widespread and common in NZ, but we only saw the one bird from the platform at Okarito.
WHITE-FACED HERON (Egretta novaehollandiae)
Far and away the most common heron in NZ.
LITTLE EGRET (Egretta garzetta)
One at the Manawatu Estuary was a nice surprise!
GLOSSY IBIS (Plegadis falcinellus)
A small colony seems to have established itself at Blenheim, where the tour encountered two.
ROYAL SPOONBILL (Platalea regia)
Perhaps the most attractive of the world's spoonbills, and not particularly rare in NZ!
SWAMP HARRIER (Circus approximans)
The only hawk in NZ, and it fills many niches including the vulture niche. Weird.
MOREPORK (Ninox novaeseelandiae) [E*]
SACRED KINGFISHER (Todiramphus sanctus)
Mostly encountered on the North Island.
NEW ZEALAND FALCON (Falco novaeseelandiae) [E]
Two rather unsatisfying brief encounters that weren't enough to allow the group views.
KEA (Nestor notabilis) [E]
Full of personality. Several gave us a good looking-over near the Homer Tunnel in Fiordland.
NEW ZEALAND KAKA (Nestor meridionalis) [E]
Loud parrots that we encountered at several forest patches on all three of the main islands.
RED-CROWNED PARAKEET (Cyanoramphus novaezelandiae novaezelandiae)
Of the three kakariki, we saw this one the most, including an active nest over the shelter at the wharf of Ulva Island.
YELLOW-CROWNED PARAKEET (Cyanoramphus auriceps) [E]
Encountered on Ulva Island and again at Pureora Forest on North Island.
MALHERBE'S PARAKEET (Cyanoramphus malherbi) [E]
The Blumine Island population was established to help this very local endangered species, and is the easiest place to see it now. Also called "Orange-fronted Kakariki."
EASTERN ROSELLA (Platycercus eximius) [I]
RIFLEMAN (Acanthisitta chloris) [E]
We saw a pair or two of these diminutive NZ wrens in Fiordland. They are not rare in many native forests in the country, but are hard to detect with their nearly ultrasonic vocalizations.
SOUTH ISLAND WREN (Xenicus gilviventris) [E]
Locally called "Rock Wren" and we got to see why! We enjoyed two pairs of these lovely little sprites at the Homer Tunnel. What a great experience!
TUI (Prosthemadera novaeseelandiae) [E]
Common and widespread, this is perhaps one of the most dramatic looking of the common endemics in NZ.
NEW ZEALAND BELLBIRD (Anthornis melanura) [E]
Heard a bit more than seen, but we saw quite a few at most of the forest patches we visited.
GRAY GERYGONE (Gerygone igata) [E]
Called "Grey Warbler" locally, not rare, but skulky.
WHITEHEAD (Mohoua albicilla) [E]
The North Island member of the Mohuidae family. The group had them on Tiritiri island.
YELLOWHEAD (Mohoua ochrocephala) [E]
Seen well on Ulva Island, where they appear to be the leaders of mixed species flocks.
PIPIPI (Mohoua novaeseelandiae) [E]
Locally called "Brown Creeper" and not too uncommon in native forests on the South Island.
AUSTRALIAN MAGPIE (Gymnorhina tibicen) [I]
Widespread introduction from Oz, and found in the open farmland for the most part.
NEW ZEALAND FANTAIL (Rhipidura fuliginosa) [E]
With the colorful local name "Piwakawaka" this little sprite is quite entertaining, acting a bit like our American Redstart in using its large tail to flush out insect prey.
NORTH ISLAND KOKAKO (Callaeas wilsoni) [E]
After getting two at the Kaharoa Conservation area, others were seen at Tiritiri on the extension.
NORTH ISLAND SADDLEBACK (Philesturnus rufusater) [E]
Encountered on Tiritiri.
SOUTH ISLAND SADDLEBACK (Philesturnus carunculatus) [E]
Seen well, including the juvenile (called a "Jackbird") on Ulva Is.
STITCHBIRD (Notiomystis cincta) [E]
Several were on Tiritiri on the extension.
NORTH ISLAND ROBIN (Petroica longipes) [E]
Similar to its South Island counterpart, this is a loud, confiding species that the group encountered in several North Island forest patches.
SOUTH ISLAND ROBIN (Petroica australis) [E]
An endearing bird that hopped among us as we walked trails on the South Island and Ulva Island.
TOMTIT (NEW ZEALAND) (Petroica macrocephala toitoi) [E]
The North Island form with its pure white breast.
TOMTIT (NEW ZEALAND) (Petroica macrocephala macrocephala) [E]
The South Island form with an orange tinged breast.
EURASIAN SKYLARK (Alauda arvensis) [I]
Common in open country, nearly constantly audible when we were near meadows.
NEW ZEALAND FERNBIRD (Poodytes punctatus) [E]
A pair at Okarito showed very well, delighting all.
WELCOME SWALLOW (Hirundo neoxena)
We certainly felt welcome with this species, which was present at most sites.
SILVEREYE (Zosterops lateralis)
A fairly recent colonist from Oz, this small warbler-like species has taken over most of the country.
EUROPEAN STARLING (Sturnus vulgaris) [I]
Familiar to us all, and similarly common in NZ.
COMMON MYNA (Acridotheres tristis) [I]
Mostly limited to the North island, where it can be common.
SONG THRUSH (Turdus philomelos) [I]
This and the next are everpresent throughout NZ. Apparently, they are more densely found here than in Europe!
EURASIAN BLACKBIRD (Turdus merula) [I]
DUNNOCK (Prunella modularis) [I]
Another common European introduction.
HOUSE SPARROW (Passer domesticus) [I]
NEW ZEALAND PIPIT (Anthus novaeseelandiae)
Not an easy one to meet up with, but two at McCracken's Rest on the South Island gave us nice views.
COMMON CHAFFINCH (Fringilla coelebs) [I]
This and the next four finches are present over most of the country in nearly every wooded habitat.
EUROPEAN GREENFINCH (Chloris chloris) [I]
LESSER REDPOLL (Acanthis cabaret) [I]
EUROPEAN GOLDFINCH (Carduelis carduelis) [I]
YELLOWHAMMER (Emberiza citrinella) [I]
Hard to consider this lovely bunting an exotic pest. They fill a niche that I don't think existed prior to the arrival of Europeans.
OLD WORLD RABBIT (Oryctolagus cuniculus) [I]
Pretty widespread and a pest.
CAPE HARE (Lepus capensis) [I]
More restricted to open heath habitats than the last. Looks more like a jackrabbit.
DUSKY DOLPHIN (Lagenorhynchus obscurus)
Seen on several pelagics.
HECTOR'S DOLPHIN (Cephalorhynchus hectori)
We had this off the beach on the south end of the South Island. Dorsal fin is rounded, not pointed.
ORCA (Orcinus orca)
Seen on the Kaikoura pelagic.
STOAT (SHORT-TAILED WEASEL) (Mustela erminea) [I]
One was running among the rocks at Cosy Nook.
HOOKER'S SEA LION (Phocarctos hookeri)
That big bull on the beach at Ulva Island didn't prevent us from continuing on the trail, thankfully!
NEW ZEALAND FUR SEAL (Arctocephalus forsteri)
Quite widespread on the South Island.
Totals for the tour: 130 bird taxa and 8 mammal taxa