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Seasquirt

The adventures of Fe & Chris

Archive for Birds

The greatest bat show on Earth

We’ve just returned to Ayutthaya after lovely couple of days in Khao Yai national park. Inside a cave that also functioned as a Buddist temple, we saw thousands of bats of three different species from an enjoyably close proximity. I was quite happy with that but when treated with the spectacle of two million Wrinkled-nosed bats leaving their cave we were blown away. Pleasingly a few were knobbled by raptors on their way out to add to the fun.

Our tour group was an eclectic bunch. A perfectly pleasant couple from Bristol with humourous accents, an Israeli chap that had a comment on every topic imagineable, and a unusual Frenchman who was prone to inappropriate spontaneous outbursts of singing or wailing. Then there was us of course.

 Next morning we saw lovely White-handed Gibbons and Pig-tailed Macques along with numerous deer and copious elephant poo. Wild Dogs caused quite some excitement amongst our guides. The Bird of the Day award was a tricky choice between the monsterous Great Hornbill and the tiny Vernal Hanging Parrot.

Ican’ttellyouanymoreasthespacebaronthiskeyboarddoesnotwork. Itisdrivingmetodistraction. And we’ve got a train to catch…

Eyeshine, spiders and monkeys

We had a lovely couple of days around the Khao Sok National Park. We stayed in a lovely, and quite substantial shack, in a place that served up food in beautiful surroundings. For our breakfast viewing pleasure the staff hung up bananas to entice pretty birds to their flower clad dining area.

I was rather hoping to be able to provide you with a dramatic post - “A tiger chewed my leg off” or “An elephant sat on my sandwich” but the charismatic megafauna was not to be found. We did see some fluffy-headed White-crowned hornbills amongst other aves whilst Long-tailed macaques provided mammalian entertainment. We also saw more different, and impressive, species of butterfly than we have ever seen before.

After a lovely curry for tea we took a turn around some of the forest in the dark. We saw the eyes of a handful of mouse deer, chanced across a civet, some tree frogs and some very scary, but pretty, looking spiders.

Poorly behaved endangered species

The island of Tiritiri Matangi is described as somewhere that anyone with even a mild interest in wildlife must visit. Eagerly we booked ourselves on a boat, with only slight disappointment at the huge number of our journey mates.

One of the highlights of the island is the Takahe, which resembles a rather overgrown moorhen. Now, the Takahe is one of the rarest birds in the world; it’s terribly endangered, and was once thought extinct. Rare birds should, of course, be difficult to see, and behave with a certain dignity befitting their status.

Takehe

This Takahe is stealing a chocolate bar from an old lady’s lunch. How rude is that? This beast is known - it is called Greg and will regularly strut around the beach begging and stealing food. All well and good you might say, more energy means Greg is better able to service the ladies and save the species from extinction! Not so, Greg has been eating too much junk food and can’t keep a lady. He hasn’t bred for years. Utterly useless. He should be confined to the sperm bank then poor old ladies lunches will be safe and any genetic uselfulness will be preserved.

At last…

After nearly two months of intermittent night-time wanderings we finally saw a wild kiwi. Several in fact, probably five. We’d heard one or two wild birds before, and seen captive birds at an excellent breeding facility in Rotorua and one lone beast in a less pleasing exhibit somewhere else (the names all disappear in a blur).

Our visit to Trounson forest was to be our last chance. Armed with red filters over our torches we entered the forest an hour after dark. Within 20 minutes we were listening to a beast snuffling and scratching just five metres from our path. After a suitably short pause to heighten excitement, a North Island Brown Kiwi popped out to say hello (well, it sniffed a little - a hello in kiwi-speak, I’m sure).

Over the next three hours we continued to explore the forest, enjoying brief glimpses of kiwi as they foraged. My particular favourite bird ran right past us as we were watching a scary looking short-finned eel and some crayfish in a stream. Quite brazen it was. Fast too, and with a comical looking rear end.

We decided to retire about 0100, and just as we were about to walk back through the gate to our conveniently located campsite two splendid kiwi decided to put on a proper performance - they strutted their stuff for a good twenty minutes in open view. Excellent stuff indeed.

A marvellous occurence

After a pleasant evening in Auckland and mildly frantic search for somewhere to live we spent a relaxing morning strolling the shores and headlands of Mahauangi, a touch north of the big smoke. We found lots of curious and new beach fauna and admired a tall ship that was anchored in the bay.

Offshore I could see hundreds of seabirds, but they were too far away for satisfaction. Most vexing. Some time later we clambered up onto a headland and much to my surprise, a few thousand feeding shearwaters had surrounded the aforementioned tall ship.  This was most unusual behaviour; shearwaters are normally offshore feeders.  As the raft of birds was slowly making its way towards the shore I pegged it off down the hill as fast as my little legs would carry me (I confess to abandoning my flip-flop clad beloved atop the hill).

By the time I reached the beach the birds were just metres from the shore. These were Fluttering shearwaters (a poor choice of name I’m afraid). I waded into the water to obtain closer views and was sorely tempted to strip off and go for a swim with them, however just as the urge became strongest, the fishy-things they were feeding on drifted away and so did the shearwaters.

They had caused quite a commotion. Even the local rangers stopped and admired the show, having never seen such a display before (then they asked me what they were!).

The north of the South

Over the last few days we have been exploring the north coast of the South Island - we started off towards the west with the Abel Tasman national park - there is a coastal track and lots of kayaking going on around there - we went for a couple of day walks around the area to check out some of the beaches, seal and shag colonies that are around - we had lovely weather (with red nose and shoulders to prove it), and the sea was a beautiful colour - so tempting to go for a dip, although a paddle proved sufficiently chilly and refreshing. We punctuated our hard walking (ha!) with afternoon naps on the beach - a habit I could get used to.

We saw in the New Year in a layby with views to the estuary and bottle of Tui beer, lovely!

The second main national park on the coast comprises Queen Charlotte Sounds - on the east side of the island. We arrived late in the afternoon after a scenic if twisty and hilly journey - we stayed in a relatively busy campsite (in comparison to the laybys we had previously been using) and finally went for a swim in the warmish waters of the sound. Yesterday we checked out a small section of the Queen Charlotte Track, which runs along the coast and occasionally into some of the bays and tramped through some overgrown grass and reeds to find our own lovely little beach for lunch - a Weka came and said hello, and Chris went for a quick dip - I was too wimpy and stuck with the paddling.

We are currently in Picton debating whether to go on a boat trip this afternoon for some dolphin and bird spotting. Tomorrow we head off on the Cook Strait to the North Island.

Psycho penguins, argumentative albatrosses, and mellow furries

We enjoyed a fine couple of days in the environs of Kaikoura. The town itself is nothing to speak of but I was attracted by the opportunity to see plentiful seabirds over the edge of the continental shelf, close inshore.

As we approached town Fiona skillfully parked next to a group of Dusky Dolphins, both parties staying in their required moisture status. After finding a mediocre and expensive campsite in town we strolled along the fur seal dotted shore. The furries were all very well behaved compared to their Antarctic counterparts, they didn’t even attempt to bite badly behaved tourists.

We kept walking, away from the masses of grockles, until we found a cave. Of course, a cave must be explored, and inside we found a rather brazen Yellow-eyed Penguin, boldly staring down at us. At the time, I was surprised by his lack of fear of us - we subsequently found out he is locally known as ‘Psycho’, due to his tendancy to chase sheep, people, albatrosses - anything that comes near him.

From the cliff top we watched the whale watching boats and aircraft chasing Sperm Whales. The three big (50 people) boats chasing two whales, with only one boat getting reasonable views was enough to put us off and we opted for an early morning boat trip to the deep water to see seabirds. This turned out to be an excellent adventure - we saw lots of wandering albatrosses of the Antipodean and Gibson’s subspecies or species (depending on your taxonomic point of view). Salvin’s and White-capped albatross were plentiful too. All the birds hang around the back of the boat to try and get a bit of tempting fish liver, frozen, and in a cage, that is used to attract them.

I’ve never watched an albatross/petrel foraging event at sea so close before. Several of the wanderers used their courtship calls, even some Salvin’s seemed to be displaying to each other. Curious behaviour, as they can only form pair bonds with birds that live in their colony. The wanderers would also fight for prime feeding position. Vicious attacks with that big hooky bill are serious business.

Our skipper gave us hot chocolate and ginger biscuits. First class!

Later in the day we opted for a swim with the New Zealand Fur Seals. A touristy set up, but we needed to hire wetsuits and gear. We walked over to a small haul-out of surplus male seals (furries have harems) and jumped in. A few seals cruised around us, but few came close until a couple of boys decided we were interesting. Being eye to eye with a male fur seal is something I would only want to experience in the water: their breath smells and they bite. Under water they are supremely elegant, and even seem to have a nice personality.

The south of the south

Over the last week or so we have made our way along the south coast of the South Island - through the Catlins, a nice bit of coastline with the occasional yellow-eyed penguin, lots of fur seals and plenty of small walks to keep us entertained for a couple of wet days.

After that we headed across to Stewart Island - famed for its potential kiwi spotting. It’s a small little place, and allegedly the locals are ‘friendly’, but we had obviously done something to upset them. The ferryman that took us to the smaller island of Ulva was very chirpy though, and Ulva itself was very interesting - they have removed all those nasty European mammals from this island so the native bird population is thriving - we saw all the required birds, with the exception of the kiwi that is.

Back on Stewart Island, a walk along to a lighthouse provided us with an impressive display from some bottlenose dolphins - haven’t seen so many and so active before so I was very excited - as were the family who were also watching - we were also treated to a group of little blue penguins feeding, and a couple of white-capped albatross.

We tried for a midnight walk along some of the places that the tourist info woman suggested sometimes had kiwi, but all to no avail.

The hour journey back to the mainland via the notorious Foveaux Strait was slightly more choppy on the way back and I felt slightly queasy - a catamaran is not the ideal for these conditions!

The last couple of days have been spent in Fiordland where we took the seemingly obligatory trip on a boat in the Milford Sound - a very impressive fiord with some lovely scenery - lots of big mountains and waterfalls coming straight into the sea - the boat kindly steered us into a couple of these, bizarrely whilst playing dodgy ‘atmospheric’ music.

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We are currently in Queenstown deciding whether to give in to one of the many adrenaline sports offered here - we may beat a hasty retreat though and go for some more beaches along the west coast instead…

Penguins, seals and albatrosses…

We’re in Dunedin, formally called New Edinburgh. It’s nothing like Old Edinburgh, but the street names are the same.

Nearby coastal wildlife abounds and we have enjoyed Yellow-eyed Penguins (they look rather like Gentoos - who gave them a genus all of their own?) and Little Blue Penguins waddling ashore in the dark, scared of skua’s that arn’t present (penguin evolution is a slow process).

The New Zealand Fur Seals we have met so far are surprisingly unaggressive compared to their southern cousins, but still smell bad. We had some fun with New Zealand Sea Lions on the beach yesterday; Fiona was alarmed when two medium sized boys started running towards her (one was herding the other - practice for herding females later on and had no regard for Fe’s presence!).

We visited the Royal Albatrosses on Taiaroa Head. $30 NZ for 30 minutes albatross watching is rather steep - birds should be free! With a telescope you could get a reasonable view from Amarona, across Otago Harbour. It was nice none the less.

Bird attacks

Whilst Chris is an avid bird fan, I must say that although I like looking at them, when they start getting a bit close I’m kind of nervous (a while ago some gulls got upset when they thought I was coming too near their imaginary nests - I was scared, but Chris told me I’d be ok as long as I had a hat and a stick!).

Whilst coming back down a hill from a walk to Sealy Tarns near Mount Cook we heard a New Zealand Falcon calling so we stopped to try and see it - it turned out that the bird had a nest nearby and was trying to warn us off - to add to the effect, the falcon suddenly started swooping down and trying to attack us. Since I didn’t have a stick (although I now had a hat on) I was definitely more scared than before - these birds have bigs claws - I clung onto Chris and cowered. Luckily he is taller than me - therefore the bird would get him first. He was quite excited by it all - encouraging me to look up and see the talons bearing down upon me, oh and eye contact apparently puts them off - alright if you wear glasses perhaps! Needless to say I wasn’t keen to hang around for long, and continued to cower - missing my chance in a lifetime to see a bird of prey at such close quarters. Not sure I’m too distressed about that.

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