New Zealand: Birding Extravaganza
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New Zealand Birding Extravaganza
New Zealand is one of the most remote places on earth, and during 80 million years of isolation a fascinating and unique fauna has evolved. In the absence of mammals, except for bats and marine species, birds became the dominant animals, and they evolved to fill most available niches. Many became flightless, and some grew to be giants, including a huge eagle and the giant browsing moas. Sadly, with the occupation of New Zealand by Polynesians about 800 years ago and Europeans in the 19th century, many of the endemic species became extinct, including the eagle and the moas. Of those species that survived, some are still common, others are rare but still found on the larger islands, and many are only found in carefully managed populations on small predator-free islands. The stories of how New Zealanders have protected their birds are extraordinary, and these stories play an important role in our tour of New Zealand.
This itinerary is designed to find as many of the endemic species as possible, as well as species introduced by Europeans and the many species that have naturally colonized from Australia. Located in the Southern Ocean, New Zealand is also rich in oceanic species of birds and mammals, and our itinerary includes pelagic trips at three key locations.
The tour starts in Auckland where we will get this group birding tour underway with our first pelagic trip, in the Hauraki Gulf, where New Zealand Storm Petrel, a recently rediscovered species, is just one of our many target species. We will pop over from our base to Tiritiri Matangi Island, the first of three predator-free islands we will visit, to see rare endemics, including North Island Saddleback and Stitchbird, we will then start our journey south, our first stop on this journey being to the wader haven at Miranda.
Stitchbird is usually seen on predator-free Tiritiri Matangi Island.
Among the migratory waders we should find at the excellent Pūkorokoro Miranda Shorebird Center and surrounding area, is the only bird in the world with a sideways curving beak, the Wrybill. In the temperate rainforests of the central North Island, such as at the stunning Pureora Forest Park, we hope to find North Island Kokako, New Zealand Kaka, and other forest endemics. In the nearby fast-flowing rivers we look for the very rare Whio – the Blue Duck.
Leaving the volcanic plateau, we will cross over to Kapiti Island, not too far from the city of Wellington on the southernmost tip of North Island. An overnight stay on Kapiti Island will offer us the chance of more highly sought-after endemics, including the gorgeous Little Spotted Kiwi.
After crossing Cook Strait, from Wellington to Picton, by ferry (offering more seabird opportunities), our tour continues on the South Island. During a boat trip in the Marlborough Sounds we visit a colony of New Zealand King (Rough-faced) Shag, which is only found in this isolated location and on Motuara Island, another predator-free reserve.
At beautiful Kaikoura on the east coast of South Island, a unique phenomenon provides the ideal location for our next pelagic cruise. This is the only place in New Zealand where there is no continental shelf, and the sea plummets 3,280 feet (1,000 meters) just offshore. Albatrosses, shearwaters, and petrels can be seen just minutes from the shore and give fantastic close views, and marine mammals are abundant. This experience is sure to be a tour highlight.
The sight (and sound) of the ginormous Antipodean Albatross bobbing around the back of the boat, along with many other stunning seabirds is sure to be extremely memorable.
Next, we cross the vast Canterbury Plains before bisecting the Southern Alps, the junction between two great tectonic plates. A visit to the stunning Arthur’s Pass National Park could give us views of the cheeky Kea! From here we will travel down the rugged and wet west coast (different habitats to those found on the east slope of the range) where we will look for both Great Spotted Kiwi and Okarito Kiwi.
We will cross back across the divide at Haast Pass and make our way to the MacKenzie Basin. This region takes some beating for its beauty, with its many turquoise lakes, braided rivers and the grand, snow-capped peaks of Aoraki Mount Cook National Park. Birding here is a breathtaking experience, as we seek out mega birds such as the Critically Endangered (BirdLife International) Black Stilt, the unique Wrybill on its breeding grounds, and the striking Double-banded Plover.
Dropping down to the extreme south of South Island we will visit several spots, such as Taiaroa Head and the Royal Albatross Center, the only mainland breeding site of Northern Royal Albatross and a unique opportunity to observe these birds on land at their nests. There is also a colony of the endemic Hoiho – the Yellow-eyed Penguin here.
We will take the short ferry ride across to Stewart Island, New Zealand’s third-largest island. A different set of seabirds are on offer on our pelagic trip here and we will also look for Southern Brown Kiwi. From Stewart Island a short boat ride will see us visit the delightful Ulva Island, which is like stepping into an ancient forested world, and it’s great for rare endemic birds.
To end our tour we will visit the dramatic fjord called Milford Sound, New Zealand’s most stunning natural attraction, looking for Fiordland Penguin and, amongst the rocks en route, the tiny alpine New Zealand Rockwren. This must-see destination needs to be seen to be believed.
Milford Sound is a famous scenic spot, it is a beautiful area and one of many such sites that we will enjoy during the tour.
The food in New Zealand is legendary, especially the wonderful fresh seafood, the accommodations are varied and interesting, and the scenery is simply some of the most spectacular on the planet. This once-in-a-lifetime birdwatching holiday will live long in your memory, led by a cast of absolutely wonderful land and sea birds. We love this tour!
Itinerary (18 days/17 nights)
Day 1. Auckland to Gulf Harbour
A non-birding day. After your morning arrival into Auckland, New Zealand’s capital, on North Island, we will meet and transfer to the picturesque Gulf Harbour, just north of Auckland. We will check into our comfortable lodge in the afternoon for the first three nights of the tour. This location forms an ideal base for the next few days of birding.
If you would like to arrive into Auckland a day or two before the tour (maybe to relax after your flights or do some sightseeing, such as checking out fascinating Hobbiton for example – great for any fans of the Lord of the Rings movies and also some smart birds there too!), we can organize extra accommodation for you, just let us know when you book the tour.
Overnight: Whangaparoa Lodge, Gulf Harbour
New Zealand has many globally rare birds, and one of the rarest is New Zealand Storm Petrel, we will hope this species becomes an early tour highlight.
Day 2. Full day pelagic in the Hauraki Gulf
This is the first of three pelagic trips planned for this tour. Each pelagic trip offers different species, although there are a number of species we hope to find today that we are less likely, or unlikely to encounter elsewhere on the tour, these include Buller’s Shearwater, Fluttering Shearwater, Little Shearwater, Black (Parkinson’s) Petrel, Grey-faced Petrel, Cook’s Petrel (rarely even Pycroft’s Petrel and Black-winged Petrel), and White-faced Storm Petrel. However, one of the main reasons for a pelagic trip in this area is the chance to see the tiny, and Critically Endangered (BirdLife International), New Zealand Storm Petrel. This species was assumed to have become extinct, based on a lack of records since three specimens were collected (under dubious circumstances) in the 1800s. Amazingly, this species was rediscovered in 2003, with recent genetic work confirming species status, and then in 2013 a breeding site was spectacularly discovered on Hauturu Island (Little Barrier Island). An observation of this tiny seabird species will make for an early tour highlight. Other exciting possibilities on the water include Common Diving Petrel, Northern Giant Petrel, and our first albatrosses of the tour – Shy (White-capped) Albatross.
We could also see marine mammals on this boat trip, including dolphins and Bryde’s Whales, as well as other marine species. This will be a full day pelagic trip and we will return to the harbor in the late afternoon.
Overnight: Whangaparoa Lodge, Gulf Harbour
Day 3. Tiritiri Matangi Island
In the morning we will take a short boat ride to the excellent Tiritiri Matangi Island, a protected haven for endangered species and home to New Zealand’s oldest operating lighthouse. Tiritiri Matangi is a predator-free island, meaning the island is free of rats, possums, hedgehogs, cats, and stoats etc., thus providing a safe haven for many rare birds (many have been introduced or re-introduced to boost populations). We will visit several such islands during this tour. The restoration of the island started over 40 years ago and the progress made is incredible. We will spend the day on this picturesque island enjoying the bird song as we explore the regenerating forest on boardwalks and trails.
New Zealand has many unique birds and interesting bird names. This endemic and highly sought-after North Island Kokako has an amazing song and is a joy to hear in the dawn chorus.
This excursion will offer up our first chance for many exciting localized native land birds, many with intriguing and enticing names, such as North Island Kokako, Stitchbird, Whitehead, New Zealand Fernbird, North Island Saddleback, along with the more familiar-sounding North Island Robin. We will also come across more widespread endemic species such as Tui (a large spectacular honeyeater with an amazing duet), New Zealand Bellbird, New Zealand Fantail, and Grey Gerygone.
The island is also great for rare endemic non-passerines such as the hulking South Island Takahe (a giant swamphen), Brown Teal, and Red-crowned Parakeet. We may also find the widespread endemic Morepork (a Ninox hawk-owl) and the very cute Little Penguin.
The giant (25 inches/63 centimeters), flightless South Island Takahe was rediscovered in 1948 after being considered extinct for 50 years! It is considered Endangered (BirdLife International).
In the evening, back on North Island, we will take a trip out nearby our accommodation to look for North Island Brown Kiwi, our first example of this extremely bizarre (even by New Zealand standards), endemic family.
Overnight: Whangaparoa Lodge, Gulf Harbour
Day 4. Pūkorokoro Miranda Shorebird Center
Leaving Gulf Harbour behind us for the final time we will drive to the south of Auckland and the excellent Pūkorokoro Miranda Shorebird Center, an important feeding ground and roosting area for many shorebirds (waders) which migrate from the tundra of the Arctic to avoid the northern winter. One of the most famous northern migrants is Bar-tailed Godwit (read about the fascinating migration of this species here), others can include Far Eastern Curlew, Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, and Red-necked Stint. There are also several interesting endemic shorebirds likely to be present here, such as the unique Wrybill (though we are likely to see more on their breeding grounds when we get to South Island), South Island Oystercatcher, and New Zealand Plover.
We will continue our journey to Lake Rotorua where we can find New Zealand Grebe and New Zealand Scaup among other waterfowl such as Paradise Shelduck, Australasian Shoveler, and Grey Teal. Rotorua is on the central plateau of North Island, with plenty of geothermal activity. We will also visit Waimangu Volcanic Valley, and the nearby boiling mud ponds!
Day 5. Pureora Forest Park and Tongariro National Park
The forests at Pureora Forest Park are often referred to as the ‘dinosaur forests’, because they are dominated by ancient conifers in the Podocarpaceae family. Podocarps were the dominant trees in Gondwana 100 million years ago and are still dominant in some of New Zealand’s rainforests today, and no more so than at Pureora. Our morning will be spent in this, one of the finest podocarp forests in the country, where we will experience the haunting call of the endangered North Island Kokako in its natural, misty rainforest environment. We will have most of the day here and will also look for New Zealand Kaka (an endemic parrot), Yellow-crowned Parakeet, Whitehead, North Island Robin, New Zealand Falcon, New Zealand Pigeon, the gorgeous Tomtit, Shining Bronze Cuckoo, with luck the secretive migrant Pacific Long-tailed Cuckoo, Sacred Kingfisher, and New Zealand’s smallest bird, Rifleman.
Later in the day we will finish up in Tongariro National Park, New Zealand’s oldest national park, where we will look for the rare Whio – or Blue Duck, they like the fast-flowing rivers coming off the volcano here and they are a very interesting, ancient species.
Overnight: Whakapapa Village
Day 6. Kapiti Island
We will drive south off the volcanic plateau and arrive at Paraparaumu Beach where we will take a short boat ride across to the island sanctuary of Kapiti Island for an overnight stay. While on this small island we will be looking for further views of South Island Takahe, North Island Saddleback, Stitchbird, Tui, Whitehead, Red-crowned Parakeet, North Island Robin, and New Zealand Kaka. However, the main reason for an overnight stay here is to seek out the nocturnal, Endangered Little Spotted Kiwi as well as Morepork, and Little Penguin.
Overnight: Kapiti Island
Day 7. Kapiti Island to Wellington, ferry to Picton, South Island
We will have the early morning on Kapiti Island, perhaps enjoying views of the species listed above, or something different such as a Variable Oystercatcher, Paradise Shelduck, White-fronted Tern, or a flock of Kelp Gulls before bidding farewell to the island in the mid-morning.
We should stand a good chance of connecting with the Little Spotted Kiwi (the smallest of all kiwis) while on Kapiti Island.
We will then board the large ferry in Wellington on the southern tip of North Island bound for Picton at the northern tip of South Island. The crossing of Cook Strait takes around three hours and it provides another seawatching opportunity with possibilities including Fluttering Shearwater, Hutton’s Shearwater, Sooty Shearwater, Flesh-footed Shearwater, Black Petrel, Westland Petrel, Broad-billed Prion, Fairy Prion, Common Diving Petrel, Parasitic Jaeger (Arctic Skua), Northern Giant Petrel, Antipodean Albatross, and Shy (White-capped) Albatross. We will stay overnight near the ferry terminal in town.
Day 8. Marlborough Sounds (Queen Charlotte Sound) then to Kaikoura
Our morning will be spent birding our way through Queen Charlotte Sound. We will have seen some of the area on the ferry the previous evening, as we came into Picton, but this will be a more specific birding trip and we will make our way to a small rocky island where a small colony of the very localized New Zealand King (Rough-faced) Shag breeds and roosts. We could also see the widespread Australian Pied Cormorant and Little Cormorant, and we may also encounter the interesting Weka, a flightless member of the Rallidae family.
In the mid-afternoon we will drive down the east coast of South Island to the famed town of Kaikoura (a pelagic paradise), where we will spend the next two nights.
Day 9. Kaikoura Pelagic
With a backdrop of steep mountains and the sea that plummets into a deep ocean trough, Kaikoura is not only spectacular to look at but also a perfect habitat for pelagic animals. Sperm Whales are resident, Humpback Whales are seasonal visitors, Dusky Dolphins are abundant, the tiny, rare Hector’s Dolphin is frequently seen, and there is a New Zealand Fur Seal colony close to the town. Pelagic birds, including albatrosses and giant petrels, are often seen from the shore. Hutton’s Shearwater breeds near the tops of the 8,200 foot (2,500 meter) mountain range behind the town and can often be seen in vast flocks wheeling around just offshore. Not surprisingly, Kaikoura’s economy is based on whale watching, swimming with dolphins, and albatross viewing, as well as commercial diving for crayfish and pāua (abalone).
An early-morning outing on the ocean from Kaikoura is the best possible way to start the day. Because conditions are so perfect for pelagic birds, we do not need to travel far, or for long, but we do see a lot of species. Possibilities include Antipodean Albatross, Northern Royal Albatross, Southern Royal Albatross, Shy Albatross, Salvin’s Albatross, Buller’s Albatross, Black-browed Albatross, Southern Giant Petrel, Northern Giant Petrel, Common Diving Petrel, Westland Petrel, White-chinned Petrel, Hutton’s Shearwater, Buller’s Shearwater, and the abundant Cape Petrel.
Southern Royal Albatross is one of the many seabird species we should encounter on our Kaikoura pelagic.
The afternoon will be at your leisure to take a stroll on Kaikoura Peninsula or edit the hundreds of photos you will have likely taken on the boat trip!
Day 10. Kaikoura to Punakaiki
As well as targeting pelagic species at Kaikoura, we will also look for a rare introduced species, Cirl Bunting. Throughout our tour we will also see a number of species introduced from Europe, including Eurasian Skylark, Common Chaffinch, Yellowhammer, European Greenfinch, European Goldfinch, Common Redpoll, Common Blackbird, Song Thrush, House Sparrow, and Dunnock. These birds might not be of too much interest for European birders but might be so for birders from other parts of the world.
Our journey today takes us from the east to the west coast of South Island and carries us across the vast Canterbury Plains (look out for endemic and gorgeous Black-fronted Terns here). We will cross the staggeringly beautiful Southern Alps via Arthur’s Pass, an ancient route of travel once used by the Maori. Along the way, at Arthur’s Pass National Park we might find the Kea – the world’s only montane (and definitely cheekiest) parrot – it is also rather pretty, as shown on the itinerary front cover!
Our final destination for the day is Paparoa National Park and the small community of Punakaiki, which is famous for its unusual limestone formations known as the Pancake Rocks. The surrounding forests are home to the largest species of kiwi of them all, the Great Spotted Kiwi, which is the target of this evening’s nocturnal walk.
Day 11. Punakaiki to Franz Josef (via Okarito Lagoon)
We will drive south down the wild and wet west coast on roads lined by beautiful, lush rainforest (this side of the mountain range is notably different to that on the opposite slope). Stopping at Okarito Lagoon we might find the endemic New Zealand Fernbird along with Black-billed Gull, Great Egret, White-faced Heron, and Royal Spoonbill. In the adjacent forests we might also find a new endemic for our trip, Pipipi (New Zealand Brown Creeper), not a creeper like those from the rest of the world, this is actually part of the New Zealand endemic Mohouidae (Whiteheads) family, which has three members. By this stage of the tour, this species should be the second of the three for us.
Our main focus today is to see the Rowi – Okarito Kiwi, a relatively recent split from the South Island Brown Kiwi and we will look for this, the rarest of New Zealand’s kiwis on a nighttime excursion.
Overnight: Franz Josef
Day 12. Franz Josef to Twizel (via Haast Pass)
We continue south along the west coast (keeping our eyes peeled for anything interesting along the way), before crossing the mountains through Haast Pass. The vegetation changes dramatically after we pass through the divide due to the rain shadow effect from the mountains, and we will soon be in the rolling tussock grassland and landscape of schist rock. This is a land of clear turquoise lakes of the MacKenzie Basin, some natural and others created or enhanced by man for hydro-electric-power generation. The huge, braided rivers that bring the meltwater from the mountains are where our next target species lives. Time permitting, we will make a start on the birds listed below.
The tussocky grassland and braided river landscape we will be birding in whilst in sight of Mt Cook (the tallest mountain in New Zealand) is spectacular, and the birds are too!
Day 13. Twizel to Dunedin
There are many great birds on offer this morning, gorgeous Black-fronted Tern, New Zealand Pipit, South Island Oystercatcher, Paradise Shelduck, and Swamp Harrier. However, there are three species of endemic shorebird to be found here, and these will form the focus of our attention.
The Kaki or Black Stilt, which is one of New Zealand’s rarest birds, breeds along the rivers in this area, and we will spend time looking for this elusive bird. Like so many rare New Zealand birds it owes its survival to micro-management by conservation authorities, who operate captive breeding facilities, and private conservation groups.
We will also be searching around the braided rivers for breeding Wrybill and the pretty Double-banded Plover (a New Zealand breeding endemic which migrates to Australia during the non-breeding season).
Black Stilt (pictured) is deemed Critically Endangered by BirdLife International and there is a lot of work underway to try and prevent this very rare bird becoming extinct. One of the threats to the species’ survival is hybridization with its cousin, Pied Stilt, a recently self-introduced species from Australia (several other species we will see during the tour are also self-introduced from Australia). The survival of this species certainly hangs in the balance!
After concluding our birding here, we will continue to the city of Dunedin on the south coast of South Island. A charming cruise from Otago Harbour will take us around Taiaroa Head, the only mainland breeding site of Northern Royal Albatross, a huge bird with a wingspan of over 120 inches (three meters)! Here too, we will look for Spotted Shag, Otago Shag (another very localized endemic), and Silver Gull (of the endemic form, sometimes split and referred to as Red-billed Gull). Here we will also be on the lookout for Hoiho – Yellow-eyed Penguin and Little Penguin, both of which breed in the area.
Definitely one of the most highly sought-after species in New Zealand, the Wrybill.
Day 14. Stewart Island
We depart Dunedin for Invercargill, where we will board the fast ferry to Stewart Island. We will base ourselves in the village of Oban for two nights on this gorgeous, almost pristine, island. Although not a pelagic trip as such, this ferry ride does offer an extra chance for a few new seabirds, maybe Australasian Gannet, Salvin’s Albatross, or Buller’s Albatross.
The main activity in Oban will be a nighttime quest to find Southern Brown Kiwi, potentially the final of New Zealand’s kiwis on our trip. We will have enjoyed some great food during the tour and the fresh seafood in Oban is sure to rate as some of the best.
Day 15. Stewart Island birding, Paterson Inlet and Ulva Island
A charter boat will pick us up and we will delve into the South Pacific and Paterson Inlet. We will look for Yellow-eyed Penguin, Fiordland Penguin, Little Penguin, Foveaux Shag (a new English name for what was previously Stewart Island Shag, after the split of Otago Shag, a bird we will have looked for on the Otago Peninsula a few days prior), Buller’s Albatross, Shy (White-capped) Albatross, Salvin’s Albatross, Brown Skua, and Common Diving Petrel.
The New-Zealand-breeding subspecies of Shy Albatross is split by some authorities and called White-capped Albatross. It is easy to see why in this picture.
A treat awaits us in the afternoon on the island sanctuary of Ulva Island. This primeval forest on the island is amazing and a great trail network allows easy exploration. The island comes complete with some really special birds and many of these are extremely approachable allowing for great photo opportunities.
We will be on the lookout for as many of the specials as possible during our visit, depending on what we have seen over the previous two weeks of the tour. Potential targets include South Island Robin, South Island Saddleback, Yellowhead, Pipipi (New Zealand Brown Creeper), Tomtit, Grey Gerygone, Morepork, Yellow-crowned Parakeet, Red-crowned Parakeet, New Zealand Kaka, New Zealand Pigeon, New Zealand Bellbird, Tui, New Zealand Fantail, Variable Oystercatcher, and Weka.
Occasionally New Zealand Sea Lions might haul themselves out of the ocean onto the beaches of Ulva Island, a rather spectacular sight.
South Island Robin can be extremely confiding!
Day 16. Stewart Island to Te Anau
We will bid farewell to the beautiful Stewart Island (looking out for any further pelagic species on what will be the final ocean trip of the tour). Back on the mainland we will start a small loop of the southwestern section of South Island. We will be suitably enticed by the glacially sculptured mountains and valleys of Fiordland National Park (even more stunning scenery, to go with all of the rest we will have enjoyed during the tour). Not far from the town of Te Anau, our base for the final two nights of the tour, we will drop in to the beech forests of Eglinton Valley where we will look for Yellowhead, New Zealand Kaka, and Yellow-crowned Parakeet.
There is the optional-extra of a trip across Lake Te Anau in the evening to view the famed 12,000 years old Te Anau Caves and their glowworms (cost not included).
Overnight: Te Anau
Day 17. Milford Sound
Leaving Te Anau for the day, we will head towards Milford Sound. A drive along the Eglinton River to Hollyford Valley will delight us with spectacular mountain scenery. In the valley we will seek out some unique endemic species, with New Zealand Rockwren being one of the main targets. Also high on the ‘wanted list’ will be Blue Duck, which we should have already seen on North Island, but will not complain at another look at this rare bird. Other birds possible today include Tomtit, Rifleman, New Zealand Kaka, Kea, Pipipi (New Zealand Brown Creeper), and many more.
There is an optional-extra boat cruise on Milford Sound (which is actually an impressive fjord) in the afternoon, during which there is a chance of Fiordland Penguin and some great scenic photographs of hanging valleys and cascading waterfalls
Overnight: Te Anau
We will see New Zealand Kaka at several locations on the tour, they are always impressive.
Day 18. Te Anau to Dunedin where tour ends
We will reluctantly leave the land of fjords and complete this southwestern loop of South Island and indeed our whole New Zealand tour. We will return to Dunedin in the early afternoon where the tour will conclude; selecting the “bird of the trip” should be fun!
You can fly back to Auckland to connect with your international flight home, or you could extend your birding to somewhere else in the region such as Australia, Samoa, Fiji, or New Caledonia, we would be happy to arrange a private tour for you, or you might be able to hop onto one of our other scheduled set departure tours in the region.
Overnight: Not included
Please note that the itinerary cannot be guaranteed as it is only a rough guide and can be changed (usually slightly) due to factors such as availability of accommodation, updated information on the state of accommodation, roads, or birding sites, the discretion of the guides and other factors. In addition, we sometimes have to use a different international guide from the one advertised due to tour scheduling.Download Itinerary
New Zealand – Birding Extravaganza Set Departure Tour Trip Report
10 – 27 OCTOBER 2022
By Andy Walker
DOWNLOAD TRIP REPORT
This comprehensive New Zealand tour started in Auckland, North Island on the 10th of October 2022 and ended in Dunedin, South Island on the 27th of October 2022. We visited Tawharanui Regional Park, Tiritiri Matangi Island, Pūkorokoro Miranda Shorebird Centre, Pureora Forest Park, Tongariro National Park, Kapiti Island, Blumine Island, Arthur’s Pass National Park, Okarito Lagoon, Mount Aspiring National Park, Tasman Delta, Taiaroa Head, Stewart Island (Rakiura), Ulva Island, Te Anau, Milford Sound, and Homer Tunnel. We also took several pelagic trips, such as at Hauraki Gulf, Queen Charlotte Sound, Kaikoura, Dunedin, and at Stewart Island (Rakiura).
We got some great looks at the Critically Endangered (BirdLife International) Malherbe’s Parakeet during our New Zealand birding tour; this is one of the rarest parrots in the world.
During the tour we recorded numerous New Zealand endemic birds (almost 50 species), highlights included Little Spotted Kiwi, North Island Brown Kiwi, Southern Brown Kiwi, Brown Teal, New Zealand Falcon, Wrybill, Black Stilt, Blue Duck, Malherbe’s Parakeet, New Zealand Kaka, Kea, North Island Saddleback, South Island Saddleback, Stitchbird, Tomtit, Yellowhead, Pipipi, North Island Robin, South Island Robin, New Zealand Rockwren, and Rifleman. Several breeding-endemics were also found, like the stunning Double-banded Plover.
The waters around New Zealand are blessed with huge numbers of incredible seabirds, and it is no surprise that they featured heavily during the tour. Albatrosses, penguins, petrels, cormorants, and shearwaters were recorded in good numbers and diversity and included Buller’s Albatross, Northern Royal Albatross, Cook’s Petrel, New Zealand King Shag, Fiordland Penguin, and Yellow-eyed Penguin to name just a few. New Zealand’s avifauna now also includes introduced species from Europe, Asia, and Australia (some making it under their own steam from the latter region) and many of these were also observed during the tour. Native species, such as Pacific Long-tailed Cuckoo, Shining Bronze Cuckoo, and Sacred Kingfisher were also recorded.
Stitchbird was a highly desired New Zealand endemic bird that gave us some fantastic sightings.
Day 1, 10th October 2022. Arrival in Auckland and transfer to Warkworth with afternoon birding at Tawharanui Regional Park
The group met in downtown Auckland at lunchtime where we met our excellent local guides Mark and Richard, who would take us on our long and winding journey from northern to southern New Zealand. A few of the group had arrived earlier than the tour start date and had explored Auckland city (including Auckland Zoo) and even made the trip down to Hobbiton to visit the “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit” film trilogies set!
We drove north out of Auckland city over the harbor bridge, heading towards our quaint accommodation for the first night of the tour in the town of Warkworth, just about an hour north of the city. After a quick check in we drove out to Tawharanui Regional Park where we had some afternoon tea and got our birding underway with a few endemics, such as Brown Teal, Paradise Shelduck, Variable Oystercatcher, New Zealand Pigeon, Tui, Whitehead, Grey Gerygone, and New Zealand Fantail all seen well. More widespread resident and introduced species were also noted, such as Swamp Harrier, Australasian Swamphen (in very high numbers), Sacred Kingfisher, White-faced Heron, Common Myna, Song Thrush, Common Blackbird, Silvereye, and European Goldfinch.
We dropped back into town for dinner and bed, ready for the pelagic the following day.
One of the commonest and most widespread of the New Zealand endemics, the Tui is one charismatic and attractive bird, with an incredible vocal repertoire.
Day 2, 11th October 2022. Hauraki Gulf pelagic and Tawharanui Regional Park kiwi trek
We headed into the Hauraki Gulf for our first pelagic trip of the tour. As we left the marina, we noted Silver (Red-billed) Gull, Kelp Gull, Pied Cormorant, African Collared (Barbary) Dove, and White-fronted Tern. As we progressed out to sea, we picked up Fluttering Shearwater, Little Shearwater, Common Diving Petrel, Australasian Gannet, and Bryde’s Whale.
We reached a particular point on our pelagic and started putting the burley (chum) out. It didn’t take too long to pay rewards and soon we had a couple of Flesh-footed Shearwaters coming to the back of the boat, along with Cook’s Petrel, White-faced Storm Petrel, Fairy Prion, Buller’s Shearwater, and Sooty Shearwater. There was excitement when first a Shy (White-capped) Albatross flew in behind the boat, and then shortly afterwards a Salvin’s Albatross flew in too, allowing for comparisons to be made between both species. To top it off we then had a Buller’s Albatross fly in, and this bird would remain with us on and off all day, what a spectacular sight.
This Buller’s Albatross spent quite a while visiting the boat during the morning and the afternoon. It was very interested in our burley (chum) and an early “bird of the trip” contender!
We took our lunch up close to one of the small islands, so we were out of the wind. While here we picked up a few distant endemic land birds and enjoyed listening to some native New Zealand bird song. As we left the sheltered spot, we soon found a Humpback Whale, which gave some excellent views, as did a Northern Giant Petrel. Our journey back to the harbor was filled with the same species as previously mentioned and better views of some species, such as Fluttering Shearwater. As the tide had dropped, we saw several New Zealand Plovers on the sandflats. In the evening we headed back to Tawharanui Regional Park where saw Morepork (a hawk-owl), and some of the group saw North Island Brown Kiwi during a kiwi walk. We arrived back at our accommodation quite late after a very long, but very rewarding day birding in New Zealand!
Day 3, 12th October 2022. Tiritiri Matangi Island birding
After breakfast we took the short ferry ride across from Gulf Harbour to Tiritiri Matangi Island, a predator-free island that contains many rare New Zealand endemic birds. As soon as we landed we started birding and we walked around the island during the morning and early afternoon. During our time on this beautiful island, we found lots of key target birds, including North Island Kokako and Stitchbird, both were collecting nesting material and showed well. North Island Saddleback, Red-crowned Parakeet, and New Zealand Bellbird gave us some good views too, and we also had our best views so far of endemics like Whitehead and Tui, and we found a roosting Morepork too. Around the coastline of the island, we noted White-fronted Tern, Silver (Red-billed) Gull, Kelp Gull, Paradise Shelduck, and Variable Oystercatcher.
It was also great to hear the bird song here, very few non-native species were present and the song filling the air was pretty much just that of native species, giving a glimpse into the past, and what it must have been like hundreds of years ago before settlement. After an enjoyable day we headed back into Auckland where we spent the night.
This North Island Kokako was collecting nesting material when we found it.
Day 4, 13th October 2022. Pūkorokoro Miranda Shorebird Centre and travel to Rotorua
Leaving Auckland for the final time we started our journey south through New Zealand. Our first stop was the Pūkorokoro Miranda Shorebird Centre and we then called in to the nearby Piako Floodplain. Both of these sites yielded lots of new birds for the tour and included the endemic and highly sought-after shorebird, Wrybill, along with two breeding-endemics, Double-banded Plover and White-fronted Tern. Other resident birds present include Black-billed Gull, Pied Stilt, South Island Oystercatcher, Variable Oystercatcher, Masked Lapwing, Black Swan, Paradise Shelduck, Grey Teal, Australasian Shelduck, Royal Spoonbill, Caspian Tern, and Swamp Harrier.
The area is hugely important for birds on the East Asian-Australasian Flyway, and we found several migratory shorebirds during our visit, including thousands of Bar-tailed Godwit, along with Black-tailed Godwit, Pacific Golden Plover, Red Knot, Curlew Sandpiper, and Sharp-tailed Sandpiper. A flock of uncommon Eastern Cattle Egrets flying over was a nice surprise.
After lunch we drove south, down to Rotorua, where we visited the large Rotorua Lake. Here we found New Zealand Grebe, New Zealand Scaup, and had a good lesson on cormorant identification, with Great Cormorant, Pied Cormorant, Little Pied Cormorant, and Little Black Cormorant all being present! A New Zealand Fantail and flock of male Common Chaffinches gave us some nice views as we were leaving the site for our hotel, just before a huge rainstorm enveloped the area for the night.
Day 5, 14th October 2022. Birding Pureora Forest Park and Tongariro National Park
We started the day with some birding not too far out of Rotorua, where we found our first North Island Robins, we also saw several other species here, with some of the group getting brief views of New Zealand Falcon. A mix of common and widespread endemics were also found, and a Shining Bronze Cuckoo was heard distantly calling but couldn’t be seen as it was too distant. Next, we moved on to Pureora Forest Park, where we found our first Tomtit. It was a bit high in the canopy, but eventually came a bit lower. Here, we also found Yellow-crowned Parakeet, one of our main targets for the site, Pacific Long-tailed Cuckoo, and our best views so far of New Zealand Kaka. We commenced our journey south, hearing Australasian Bittern and New Zealand Fernbird along the way in rather windy conditions.
Blue Duck gave us some great views in a fast-flowing mountain river.
Nearing our accommodation in Tongariro National Park we called in at some fast-flowing streams where we found our big target, the rare and localized endemic, Blue Duck. While watching a pair of ducks we also found our first New Zealand Pipit and had further looks at an attractive Tomtit.
Day 6, 15th October 2022. Tongariro National Park to Kapiti Island
We awoke to a cold crisp morning and a spectacular view of snow-covered Mount Ngauruhoe and Mount Ruapehu. We took a drive up the mountain after breakfast to gain an even more spectacular view that even included Mount Taranaki bursting out of the clouds at Egmont National Park, some 254 kilometers (158 miles) away to the southwest! A couple of New Zealand Pipits were noted, but not a lot else, though the view was why we’d really come here. We started our journey down to the southwest of North Island and we called in at the Manawatu Estuary (some seeing Rook along the way). We had our lunch at the estuary where we saw Wrybill, New Zealand Plover, Double-banded Plover, Bar-tailed Godwit, Ruddy Turnstone, Red Knot, and Masked Lapwing. A flock of White-fronted Terns were rather flighty but gave some good views.
We arrived in Paraparaumu where we boarded our speedboat for a quick crossing to the idyllic Kapiti Island. During the remainder of the afternoon, we took a walk around a forested part of the island, finding our first Weka of the tour, along with plenty of other New Zealand/North Island endemics, such as New Zealand Kaka, Red-crowned Parakeet, New Zealand Pigeon, New Zealand Fantail, Tui, New Zealand Bellbird, Whitehead, North Island Saddleback, and North Island Robin. Watching a family of fantails provided lots of entertainment and won the “cute factor” award! A small wetland held a family of Brown Teal, along with Australasian Shoveler, Paradise Shelduck, Black Swan, Australasian Swamphen, and Pied Stilt.
New Zealand Fantail is a common endemic but full of character and always a joy to watch. We had multiple opportunities throughout the tour to do as such.
After checking into our accommodation (to the sound of Pacific Long-tailed Cuckoo) we enjoyed some local snacks and wine with Weka on the balcony, and then dinner, before the main event, and main reason we’d come to stay on the island, a nocturnal kiwi walk. After an informative and interesting talk on the species, we spent about an hour walking around the area near the lodge and eventually all enjoyed views of a Little Spotted Kiwi or two, a fascinating species as are all kiwis. We also found Morepork, Little Penguin, and Weka during our nighttime excursion.
Morepork gave us some good views and was heard on many other occasions during the tour.
Day 7, 16th October 2022. Kapiti Island to Wellington then ferry to Picton, South Island.
We awoke to a cold start, and all stood in the sun warming up and drinking tea/coffee as we scanned the nearby hills, where a New Zealand Falcon was on view on and off for over an hour. It was great that everyone could finally catch up on this bird. Most of the birds seen/heard the previous day were still present, including Weka, Pacific Long-tailed Cuckoo, Sacred Kingfisher, Tui, Red-crowned Parakeet, New Zealand Kaka, and New Zealand Fantail.
After a delicious breakfast we took the boat back to Paraparaumu (seeing Pacific Reef Heron along the way). Back into our bus we then continued on to Otaki Sewage Works, where we found Black-fronted Dotterel as well as several duck species and lots of hybrids too. Afterwards, we drove into Wellington, New Zealand’s capital city for lunch at, and an exploration of, Te Papa Tongarewa (Museum of New Zealand) before catching the ferry to Picton, South Island. During the ferry crossing we saw lots of Fluttering Shearwaters, along with our first Westland Petrels of the trip, with Shy (White-capped) Albatross, Buller’s Albatross, Fairy Prion, and Sooty Shearwater also seen.
Day 8, 17th October 2022. Birding Marlborough Sound and Queen Charlotte Sound then travel to Kaikoura
We spent the morning cruising on a boat through Queen Charlotte Sound with a couple of major targets the main focus of our trip. As we left the marina, we were soon watching a pod of Dusky Dolphins, shortly after, as we commenced our journey proper, we were seeing lots of Fluttering Shearwaters, Australasian Gannets, White-fronted Tern, and both Kelp and Silver (Red-billed) Gulls. A rocky outcrop gave us great looks at our first main target of the day, New Zealand King Shag, one of the rarest shags in New Zealand. Here we also got our best looks so far at the attractive Spotted Shag as both stood side by side. We also enjoyed brief views of Little Penguin and prolonged views of New Zealand Fur Seal.
We enjoyed some close views of New Zealand King Shag while in Queen Charlotte Sound.
We made a wet landfall on Blumine Island, where we spent some time listening to, and looking at, a set of familiar birds and some new ones, the main target for us here was the Critically Endangered (BirdLife International) Malherbe’s Parakeet. We had a pair flying around as soon as we arrived, but it took longer to get the whole group to get good views of this rare parrot, but good views we did eventually get (see trip report cover image). South Island Saddleback was new for the trip, and we had a couple of very vocal birds. Tomtit was noted and we also saw New Zealand Bellbird, Tui, New Zealand Pigeon, and our best views so far of New Zealand Falcon.
After our morning on the water, it was time to drive south to Kaikoura, our base for the next two nights. We made a few stops along the way, one at a sewage works that gave us good views of a large flock of breeding plumaged Royal Spoonbills and a few other wildfowl species. Another stop at a small wetland gave us good views of Hoary-headed Grebe (uncommon recent natural colonizer in New Zealand), Great Crested Grebe, and Eurasian Coot. Driving along the coast into Kaikoura we stopped briefly at a New Zealand Fur Seal and Spotted Shag colony.
Spotted Shag is one seriously stunning bird when in breeding plumage.
Day 9, 18th October 2022. Kaikoura Pelagic birding trip
We spent the morning on an enjoyable pelagic trip off Kaikoura where we enjoyed a great selection of mammals and seabirds. As we left the harbor, we picked up a shy Hector’s Dolphin and a few White-fronted Terns. Moving out to sea, we noted a large number of Hutton’s Shearwaters cruising past us, with the occasional Sooty Shearwater included. As we progressed, we could see some large birds in the distance and before long we were watching both Westland Petrels and Cape Petrels. As we put out the burley (chum) in came some birds, and included the huge duo of Antipodean Albatross and Southern Royal Albatross. Here too we got some action from Salvin’s Albatross and Northern Giant Petrel, large birds but dwarfed by the former species.
We changed our direction after a while, in doing so we then picked up some distant Sperm Whales that we watched for a while. After putting out some more burley (chum) we were again inundated with seabirds. Along with the Antipodean Albatrosses, Southern Royal Albatrosses, and Salvin’s Albatrosses, we also now had several Shy (White-capped) Albatrosses in attendance and the numbers of Northern Giant Petrels was also increasing. A steady stream of Cape Petrels and Westland Petrels were coming in, along with a couple of Buller’s Shearwaters and Hutton’s Shearwaters. The views we were getting of all these birds was simply breathtaking as they sat off the back of the boat and squabbled over the food, a real tour highlight.
As we moved further out to sea we were suddenly upon a pod of Killer Whales (Orcas), we followed them for a while and got some great views of this most-wanted mammal. We ended our pelagic by watching a pod of Dusky Dolphins and numerous New Zealand Fur Seals.
The humongous Southern Royal Albatross sat behind the boat and gave excellent views. This species has a wingspan of up to a whopping 142 inches (3.6 meters)!
A large pod of Killer Whales (Orcas) provided another highlight of our morning on the sea off Kaikoura.
After our most enjoyable time on the sea, we came back to land for lunch. Some of the group took a hike around the headland during the afternoon, noting several species and some impressive scenery, and others took the opportunity to catch up on some rest and laundry!
Day 10, 19th October 2022. Kaikoura to Punakaiki via Arthur’s Pass
We had a long travel day today to get between Kaikoura on the east coast of South Island to Punakaiki on the west coast of South Island. We first drove south towards Christchurch where we stopped at Ashley River Estuary, here we found the Critically Endangered (BirdLife International) Black Stilt, one of the rarest shorebirds in the world, with an estimated population of 38-50 birds, and our first Black-fronted Terns of the trip. Plenty of other birds were present here too, including Wrybill, Double-banded Plover, Caspian Tern, White-fronted Tern, Royal Spoonbill, and Black-billed Gull. A couple of other roadside stops gave us a mix of common birds we’d previously seen, but that were still appreciated, including Yellowhammer and New Zealand Fantail.
Driving through Arthur’s Pass National Park we made a couple of stops to admire the impressive scenery as well as for some short birding sessions, one such stop produced the highly anticipated Rifleman (another “bird of the trip” possibility?), a tiny bird with a high-pitched call, along with our first Kea, Pipipi (New Zealand Brown Creeper) and South Island Robin of the tour.
Rifleman, New Zealand’s smallest bird gave an excellent showing. The opposite end of the size spectrum to the Southern Royal Albatrosses we had been watching the previous day, this one is only 2.8 inches (7 centimeters) long and is an energetic ball of feathers!
We arrived at Punakaiki in the late afternoon. We checked into our hotel and had dinner before going out at night for a walk into the nearby hills where we got to witness the impressive sight (and sound) of several Westland Petrels returning to their nest burrows to feed their chicks, a fun experience indeed. We also heard the haunting calls of Pacific Long-tailed Cuckoo and Weka.
Day 11, 20th October 2022. Punakaiki to Franz Josef via Okarito Lagoon
We had a relaxed day with a later start after our previous nighttime excursion, travelling south down the west coast of South Island. We called in to check out the famous and impressive “pancake rocks” at Punakaiki as they were so close to our accommodation, here we enjoyed the natural landscape and some breeding White-fronted Terns. We then called in at Hokitika to take a look around the famous town and enjoyed a picnic lunch on the beach.
During the afternoon we visited Okarito Lagoon where we saw our first New Zealand Fernbird of the tour. We’d heard one earlier on the tour, but it was a rather windy day so little chance of seeing that one, today we found a sheltered spot and enjoyed great views of a pair. Here we also got our first and only Great Egrets of the tour (at the only location the species breeds in New Zealand), as well as several endemic bush birds, such as Tomtit, Tui, New Zealand Bellbird, New Zealand Fantail (including an interesting black morph bird), and Grey Gerygone.
Some of the group got some excellent views of male Tomtit. The birds on South Island have orange/yellow on their breast, whereas those on North Island are white below.
In the evening we took a walk near Okarito Lagoon where we heard Okarito Kiwi, but they were too far into the bush to get to for views. We also heard Morepork and Pacific Long-tailed Cuckoo during our birding session.
Day 12, 21st October 2022. Franz Josef to Twizel via Haast Pass
A long day as we traveled from Franz Josef to Twizel. It was a long but spectacular journey through some staggering scenery. We took the route through Haast Pass and in doing so connected with the endemic Yellowhead during a brief tea/coffee/cake stop! Here we also got more looks at Rifleman as well as other more widespread endemics.
In the afternoon, after saying goodbye (and a huge thank you) to Richard, who had got prior eBird New Zealand Bird Atlas commitments, we called in at the Tasman Delta near Twizel. Here we got some good views of Black Stilt, closer than our earlier sighting and we also got to see Wrybill, Double-banded Plover, South Island Oystercatcher, and Black-fronted Tern all on their braided river breeding grounds and all set in front of spectacular snow-covered Mt Cook.
The endemic and attractive Black-fronted Tern was a popular bird with the group.
Day 13, 22nd October 2022. Twizel to Dunedin and Otago harbor cruise
We awoke to a very cold and frosty morning in Twizel. After breakfast we commenced our journey south to Dunedin. We called in at a lake near the town where we saw more waterbirds we’d seen earlier in the tour, such as Great Crested Grebe (these ones displaying though), New Zealand Scaup, and Black Swan.
Once we reached the coast we called in to the harbor at Oamaru where there was a huge Otago Shag colony. We noted the differences between the different color morphs of this localized species as well as the smaller Spotted Shags that were around the periphery of the colony. A mix of introduced finches proved an attractive distraction with Common Redpoll, European Goldfinch, European Greenfinch, and Common Chaffinch all giving good looks.
Once we arrived in Dunedin, we continued to the tip of the Otago peninsular. Here we joined a harbor cruise around Taiaroa Head where we soaked in the amazing sight of mainland breeding Northern Royal Albatrosses. The birds were up and down off their nesting area frequently giving close flight views, as well as sitting on the water off the boat undertaking their courtship and pair-bonding displays. Other species noted on the cruise included Otago Shag, Spotted Shag, Little Penguin, Sooty Shearwater, Royal Spoonbill, and New Zealand Sea Lion.
We were thrilled to watch the massive Northern Royal Albatrosses around their breeding colony on the Otago peninsular at Taiaroa Head.
Day 14, 23rd October 2022. Birding the south coast of South Island and travel to Oban, Stewart Island (Rakiura)
We spent the day driving from Dunedin down to Bluff on the southern tip of South Island and from Bluff we caught the fast ferry across to Oban on Stewart Island (Rakiura). Our first birding stop was at Nugget Point where we walked out to the lighthouse. In doing so we saw our first Shining Bronze Cuckoo of the trip (after hearing a few before now) and we also enjoyed our best view of the tour of New Zealand Falcon, with a hunting bird flying low below and then above us. Other interest was provided by a mix of native and introduced species, as well as the impressive coastal views. Moving on we called in to a beautiful bay for lunch where we saw New Zealand Sea Lion, and Greylag Goose (not quite as impressive!).
Continuing our journey during the afternoon we briefly had time to call into a wetland where a quick look gave us several shorebirds (Bar-tailed Godwit, South Island Oystercatcher, and Pied Stilt) and a range of wildfowl, such as Black Swan, Paradise Shelduck, New Zealand Scaup, Australasian Shoveler, and Grey Teal. In the late afternoon we took the ferry across to Stewart Island (Rakiura). Those braving the spray were rewarded with sightings of Fiordland Penguin, Foveaux Shag, Common Diving Petrel, and Salvin’s Albatross.
Trying to keep up with the fast-moving hunting New Zealand Falcon was tough!
We had several Fiordland Penguin sightings during our time at and around Stewart Island (Rakiura) and later in the tour at Milford Sound too.
Day 15, 24th October 2022. Stewart Island (Rakiura) Pelagic trip and birding Ulva Island
We awoke to a rather damp and dull morning after a heavy rainstorm during the early hours, which was still lingering while we were having breakfast. This poor weather would stay with us for most of the morning, but it didn’t really impact us too much, thankfully.
We met our pelagic boat outside our hotel after breakfast and set out to explore some of the water and small islands off Stewart Island (Rakiura). Our first stop was not far out of the harbor where we saw Fiordland Penguin near to where we had seen them the previous evening, much better views for everyone this time. Moving out to sea we enjoyed a range of pelagic species, many of them giving great views as they came in to eat our burley (chum), such as Buller’s Albatross, Shy (White-capped) Albatross, Salvin’s Albatross, Northern Giant Petrel, Common Diving Petrel, Cook’s Petrel, Sooty Shearwater, and Fairy Prion. Checking out some of the smaller islets we found both Little Penguin and a major target, Yellow-eyed Penguin. We also visited a Foveaux Shag colony and gained good views of many birds on their nests.
We were rather excited to see this Yellow-eyed Penguin during our boat trip.
After lunch on the boat, we got dropped off on pretty Ulva Island where we spent a few hours soaking in a range of endemic birds. Noisy New Zealand Kaka greeted us, along with Weka, New Zealand Fantail, and South Island Robin. As we quietly walked through the forested island, we picked up Red-crowned Parakeet, Yellow-crowned Parakeet, Tui, New Zealand Bellbird, and Grey Gerygone, as well as more Weka, New Zealand Kaka, and South Island Robins. A quick scan of a beach provided us with looks at Variable Oystercatcher, Kelp Gull, Weka, and Silver (Red-billed) Gull. Continuing our walk on the island we came across a family group of South Island Saddlebacks alarm calling at the presence of a New Zealand Kaka and a short while later we found a good mixed flock (bird wave) containing many of the aforementioned species, as well as Yellowhead, Pipipi (New Zealand Brown Creeper), and New Zealand Pigeon. A fitting end to another great day of birding in New Zealand… or was it…
An evening excursion after dinner resulted in everyone in the group getting multiple Southern Brown Kiwi sightings, including one bird that gave prolonged views, and possibly became a “bird of the Trip” contender.
South Island Saddleback very nearly became extinct after rats invaded the final three islands the species was clinging onto in the mid-1960’s. Luckily birds were translocated to predator-free island refuges where they were able to survive.
Day 16, 25th October 2022. Stewart Island (Rakiura) to Te Anau
A relaxed day as we travelled between Oban on Stewart Island (Rakiura) to Bluff on South Island, before driving west along the picturesque coast, then north into some equally spectacular scenery to Te Anau, on the edge of Fiordland National Park. The sea crossing was flat and as a result seabirds were hard to come by, though Buller’s Albatross, Shy (White-capped) Albatross, Brown Skua, Cape Petrel, Sooty Shearwater, and Common Diving Petrel were all recorded.
Once back on South Island we called in at a few wetland sites where we picked up many of the birds we had seen before on the tour, such as Paradise Shelduck, Australasian Shoveler, Great Cormorant, Bar-tailed Godwit, South Island Oystercatcher, and Ruddy Turnstone, etc.
We called into a very pretty coastal bay for lunch, where we had a constant stream of Sooty Shearwaters passing by, along with Northern Giant Petrel, Australasian Gannet, White-fronted Tern, Spotted Shag, and Foveaux Shag. On arrival at Te Anau, some of the group opted to walk along the lake shore and do some gift shopping, while others visited the nearby Te Anau Caves for a glowworm tour!
Day 17, 26th October 2022. Birding Milford Sound and Homer Tunnel
Departing Te Anau after breakfast we first called in at a lakeside viewpoint where we watched some New Zealand Scaup foraging as well as a pair of New Zealand Fantails and a vocal South Island Robin.
Moving on to a woodland patch, we commenced a loop walk through some spectacular mossy forest. Along the walk we enjoyed seeing several Rifleman as well as more showy New Zealand Fantails, South Island Robins, New Zealand Kaka, and a few other native birds. Weather conditions were not ideal for birding with a very strong wind and increasing rainfall, but we still made the most of our time and certainly weren’t going to complain after the wonderful weather we had enjoyed for most of the tour.
Gaining some elevation we came across our first Kea for the day, and shortly later another few materialized and we enjoyed watching this comical alpine endemic parrot, as we tried to prevent them destroying our vehicle. Needless to say, we had our best views of this species of the tour here!
We were visited by a few mischievous Kea during our time birding around the Milford Sound area, which was a real treat, they are fascinating birds.
After a picnic lunch in the bus sheltering from the rain, we started walking around some boulder fields near Homer Tunnel – a formidable and impressive landscape, as much of the area is here. In no time at all we were watching a pair of the fantastic New Zealand Rockwren. We didn’t really care that it was cold and raining because this was one of the top endemic targets for many on the trip and we were very pleased to get such good views in limited time of what can be a tricky bird to connect with at times.
After a warming cup of tea, coffee, or hot chocolate, and a snack, the group set out on a boat trip on Milford Sound where Fiordland Penguin was the pick of the birds seen in some spectacular glacial scenery. Some of the group also saw the Critically Endangered (IUCN) Fiordland subpopulation of Common Bottlenose Dolphin.
The endemic New Zealand Rockwren performed excellently for us in the cold rain.
Day 18, 27th October 2022. Te Anau to Dunedin where tour concluded
We left Te Anau after breakfast and made the drive back to Dunedin airport, where this thoroughly enjoyable tour concluded. There was lots of discussion about “bird of the trip” along the journey and Southern Brown Kiwi was voted “bird of the trip”, but had close competition from many other species, such as Little Spotted Kiwi, Stitchbird, Weka, Fluttering Shearwater, Little Penguin, Yellow-eyed Penguin, Yellowhead, New Zealand Fantail, New Zealand Falcon, and New Zealand Rockwren.
We must offer up a huge thank you to Mark who guided the tour throughout (and who carefully drove us around the islands) and to Richard, who was along for most of the tour too. It was a pleasure birding and traveling with you both and we learnt so much about the birds, wildlife, landscape, geology, habitats, and flora of New Zealand, and had a great laugh along the way too. From pelagic boat trips, predator-free small-island visits, nighttime kiwi walks, stunning snow-capped mountains, braided river valleys, and mossy forests we covered a lot of ground through this beautiful country. I look forward to traveling with you on our next New Zealand birding tour.
A huge thank you to everyone in the group too, for contributing to making the tour a great success, I look forward to traveling with you all again soon, hope to see you in Borneo, Thailand, PNG, or Bali soon!
Bird List – Following IOC (12.2)
The following notation after species names is used to show conservation status following BirdLife International: CR = Critically Endangered, EN = Endangered, VU = Vulnerable. The common name for New Zealand endemics is shown in bold type, e.g., Southern Brown Kiwi.
|Common Name||Scientific Name|
|Southern Brown Kiwi – VU||Apteryx australis|
|North Island Brown Kiwi – VU||Apteryx mantelli|
|Okarito Kiwi – VU (H)||Apteryx rowi|
|Little Spotted Kiwi||Apteryx owenii|
|Ducks, Geese, Swans (Anatidae)|
|Canada Goose||Branta canadensis|
|Greylag Goose||Anser anser|
|Black Swan||Cygnus atratus|
|Blue Duck – EN||Hymenolaimus malacorhynchos|
|Paradise Shelduck||Tadorna variegata|
|Australasian Shoveler||Spatula rhynchotis|
|Pacific Black Duck||Anas superciliosa|
|Grey Teal||Anas gracilis|
|Brown Teal||Anas chlorotis|
|New Zealand Scaup||Aythya novaeseelandiae|
|New World Quail (Odontophoridae)|
|California Quail||Callipepla californica|
|Pheasants & Allies (Phasianidae)|
|Wild Turkey||Meleagris gallopavo|
|Common Pheasant||Phasianus colchicus|
|Brown Quail||Synoicus ypsilophorus|
|Pacific Long-tailed Cuckoo||Urodynamis taitensis|
|Shining Bronze Cuckoo||Chrysococcyx lucidus|
|Pigeons, Doves (Columbidae)|
|Rock Dove (Feral Pigeon)||Columba livia dom.|
|African Collared Dove (Barbary Dove)||Streptopelia roseogrisea dom.|
|Spotted Dove||Spilopelia chinensis|
|New Zealand Pigeon||Hemiphaga novaeseelandiae|
|Rails, Crakes & Coots (Rallidae)|
|Weka – VU||Gallirallus australis|
|Buff-banded Rail||Hypotaenidia philippensis|
|Eurasian Coot||Fulica atra|
|Australasian Swamphen||Porphyrio melanotus|
|Hoary-headed Grebe||Poliocephalus poliocephalus|
|New Zealand Grebe||Poliocephalus rufopectus|
|Great Crested Grebe||Podiceps cristatus|
|South Island Oystercatcher||Haematopus finschi|
|Variable Oystercatcher||Haematopus unicolor|
|Stilts, Avocets (Recurvirostridae)|
|Pied Stilt||Himantopus leucocephalus|
|Black Stilt – CR||Himantopus novaezelandiae|
|Masked Lapwing||Vanellus miles|
|Wrybill – VU||Anarhynchus frontalis|
|Pacific Golden Plover||Pluvialis fulva|
|New Zealand Plover||Charadrius obscurus|
|Double-banded Plover||Charadrius bicinctus|
|Black-fronted Dotterel||Elseyornis melanops|
|Sandpipers, Snipes (Scolopacidae)|
|Bar-tailed Godwit||Limosa lapponica|
|Black-tailed Godwit||Limosa limosa|
|Ruddy Turnstone||Arenaria interpres|
|Red Knot||Calidris canutus|
|Sharp-tailed Sandpiper||Calidris acuminata|
|Curlew Sandpiper||Calidris ferruginea|
|Gulls, Terns, Skimmers (Laridae)|
|Silver Gull||Chroicocephalus novaehollandiae|
|Black-billed Gull||Chroicocephalus bulleri|
|Kelp Gull||Larus dominicanus|
|Caspian Tern||Hydroprogne caspia|
|White-fronted Tern||Sterna striata|
|Black-fronted Tern – EN||Chlidonias albostriatus|
|Brown Skua||Stercorarius antarcticus|
|Little Penguin||Eudyptula minor|
|Yellow-eyed Penguin – EN||Megadyptes antipodes|
|Fiordland Penguin||Eudyptes pachyrhynchus|
|Austral Storm Petrels (Oceanitidae)|
|White-faced Storm Petrel||Pelagodroma marina|
|Antipodean Albatross||Diomedea antipodensis|
|Southern Royal Albatross – VU||Diomedea epomophora|
|Northern Royal Albatross – EN||Diomedea sanfordi|
|Shy Albatross||Thalassarche cauta|
|Salvin’s Albatross – VU||Thalassarche salvini|
|Buller’s Albatross||Thalassarche bulleri|
|Petrels, Shearwaters, Diving Petrels (Procellariidae)|
|Northern Giant Petrel||Macronectes halli|
|Cape Petrel||Daption capense|
|Fairy Prion||Pachyptila turtur|
|Cook’s Petrel – VU||Pterodroma cookii|
|Westland Petrel – EN||Procellaria westlandica|
|Buller’s Shearwater – VU||Ardenna bulleri|
|Sooty Shearwater||Ardenna grisea|
|Flesh-footed Shearwater||Ardenna carneipes|
|Fluttering Shearwater||Puffinus gavia|
|Hutton’s Shearwater – EN||Puffinus huttoni|
|Little Shearwater||Puffinus assimilis|
|Common Diving Petrel||Pelecanoides urinatrix|
|Gannets, Boobies (Sulidae)|
|Australasian Gannet||Morus serrator|
|Cormorants, Shags (Phalacrocoracidae)|
|Little Pied Cormorant||Microcarbo melanoleucos|
|Spotted Shag||Phalacrocorax punctatus|
|Australian Pied Cormorant||Phalacrocorax varius|
|Little Black Cormorant||Phalacrocorax sulcirostris|
|Great Cormorant||Phalacrocorax carbo|
|New Zealand King Shag – VU||Leucocarbo carunculatus|
|Otago Shag – VU||Leucocarbo chalconotus|
|Foveaux Shag||Leucocarbo stewarti|
|Ibises, Spoonbills (Threskiornithidae)|
|Royal Spoonbill||Platalea regia|
|Herons, Bitterns (Ardeidae)|
|Australasian Bittern – EN (H)||Botaurus poiciloptilus|
|Eastern Cattle Egret||Bubulcus coromandus|
|Great Egret||Ardea alba|
|White-faced Heron||Egretta novaehollandiae|
|Pacific Reef Heron||Egretta sacra|
|Kites, Hawks, Eagles (Accipitridae)|
|Swamp Harrier||Circus approximans|
|Sacred Kingfisher||Todiramphus sanctus|
|Caracaras, Falcons (Falconidae)|
|New Zealand Falcon||Falco novaeseelandiae|
|New Zealand Parrots (Strigopidae)|
|Kea – EN||Nestor notabilis|
|New Zealand Kaka – EN||Nestor meridionalis|
|Old World Parrots (Psittaculidae)|
|Eastern Rosella||Platycercus eximius|
|Yellow-crowned Parakeet||Cyanoramphus auriceps|
|Malherbe’s Parakeet – CR||Cyanoramphus malherbi|
|Red-crowned Parakeet||Cyanoramphus novaezelandiae|
|New Zealand Wrens (Acanthisittidae)|
|New Zealand Rockwren – EN||Xenicus gilviventris|
|New Zealand Bellbird||Anthornis melanura|
|Australasian Warblers (Acanthizidae)|
|Grey Gerygone||Gerygone igata|
|New Zealand Wattlebirds (Callaeidae)|
|North Island Kokako||Callaeas wilsoni|
|North Island Saddleback||Philesturnus rufusater|
|South Island Saddleback||Philesturnus carunculatus|
|Stitchbird – VU||Notiomystis cincta|
|Woodswallows, Butcherbirds & Allies (Artamidae)|
|Australian Magpie||Gymnorhina tibicen|
|Yellowhead – EN||Mohoua ochrocephala|
|New Zealand Fantail||Rhipidura fuliginosa|
|Crows, Jays (Corvidae)|
|Australasian Robins (Petroicidae)|
|North Island Robin||Petroica longipes|
|South Island Robin||Petroica australis|
|Swallows, Martins (Hirundinidae)|
|Welcome Swallow||Hirundo neoxena|
|Grassbirds & Allies (Locustellidae)|
|New Zealand Fernbird||Poodytes punctatus|
|Starlings, Rhabdornis (Sturnidae)|
|Common Myna||Acridotheres tristis|
|Common Starling||Sturnus vulgaris|
|Song Thrush||Turdus philomelos|
|Common Blackbird||Turdus merula|
|Old World Sparrows, Snowfinches (Passeridae)|
|House Sparrow||Passer domesticus|
|Wagtails, Pipits (Motacillidae)|
|New Zealand Pipit||Anthus novaeseelandiae|
|Finches, Euphonias (Fringillidae)|
|Common Chaffinch||Fringilla coelebs|
|European Greenfinch||Chloris chloris|
|Common Redpoll||Acanthis flammea|
|European Goldfinch||Carduelis carduelis|
|Total heard only||2|
|Common Name||Scientific Name|
|Bryde’s Whale||Balaenopterta edeni brydei|
|(Southern) Humpback Whale||Megaptera novaeangliae australis|
|Sperm Whales (Physeteridae)|
|Sperm Whale||Physeter macrocephalus|
|Oceanic Dolphins (Delphinidae)|
|Killer Whale (Orca)||Orcinus orca|
|Dusky Dolphin||Sagmatias obscurus|
|(South Island) Hector’s Dolphin||Cephalorhynchus hectori hectori|
|Common (Fiordland subpopulation) Bottlenose Dolphin||Tursiops truncates (Fiordland subpopulation)|
|Eared Seals (Otariidae)|
|New Zealand Fur Seal||Arctocephalus forsteri|
|New Zealand Sea Lion||Phocarctos hookeri|
|Hairs and Rabbits (Leporidae)|
|European Rabbit||Oryctolagus cuniculus|
|Brown Hare||Lepus europaeus|
|White-tailed Deer||Odocoileus virginianus|
|Common Name||Scientific Name|
|Australasian Geckos (Diplodactylidae)|
|Common (Raukawa) Gecko||Woodworthia maculata|
|New Zealand Grass Skink||Oligosoma polychroma|
|Common Name||Scientific Name|
|Australian Tree Frogs (Pelodryadidae)|
|Southern Bell Frog||Ranoidea raniformis|
|Green and Golden Bell Frog||Ranoidea aurea|
Notable Other Taxa List
|Common Name||Scientific Name|
|Wētā and King Crickets (Anostostomatidae)|
|Auckland Tree Wētā||Hemideina thoracica|
|Lady Beetles (Coccinellidae)|
|Steelblue Lady Beetle||Halmus chalybeus|
|Whites, Yellows, and Sulphurs (Pieridae)|
|Small White||Pieris rapae|
|Brush-footed Butterflies (Nymphalidae)|
|New Zealand Red Admiral||Vanessa gonerilla|
|Freshwater Eels (Anguillidae)|
|New Zealand Longfin Eel||Anguilla dieffenbachii|
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This is a fantastic tour. The birds, scenery, mammals, other wildlife, pelagic tours, lodging, and food were all beyond compare. The guides were extraordinary in their knowledge and consideration. I highly recommend this tour for all bird and nature lovers. Andy is wonderful. His consideration and kindness were above and beyond. He is very knowledgeable, and he ensured that I enjoyed the best possible views of the birds and the other wildlife as well. His patience and good humor made this the most pleasant trip.