Australia, Melbourne 18-26/11/2011

We spent a week with my Sister in Eltham. As this was my fourth trip to Australia, the pressure was off on the birding front. This allowed plenty of time to indulge in the Yarra valley wineries and enjoy the birds as they appeared. Where ever you go around Australia there are great birds to be seen even around the suburbs.

We had a great time at the Eltham Wine Show where for a modest entry fee it was entirely possible to embarrass yourself. 

We visited a number of Yarra valley wineries including De Bortoli's which was not as good as it was 15 years ago when I last visited. We had some lunch at Domaine Chandon but white fizzy stuff doesn't really do it for me like the reds. We also went to Yarra Yering who produce top quality reds. I had a couple of bottles of their Underhill Shiraz a few years ago but can't afford it now!

Bendigo Pottery

We had a day out at Bendigo.  A walk in the town botanic gardens produced a fantastic Roost of Grey-headed Flying Foxes. Lunch at the Bendigo Pottery even served up Musk Lorikeets, Crested Pigeons and Superb Fairy Wrens (In the trees outside, not on the plate! Mind you birds on your plate is quite conceivable  in some places in Oz.)

Not your average UK shop window!


Another day we went down to the Twelve Apostles which were spectacular.

New Zealand, Dunedin and the Otago Peninsular , 17/11/2011

Our base for our two nights in Dunedin was The Brothers Hotel. 
The hotel is situated on Rattray street, just round the corner from the Speights Brewery and has great views over Dunedin.

Their website gives the following information on the building's history before it's renovation in 2005:
"The Christian Brothers Order had been on the property at 295 Rattray street since 1876 and the current Stately residence was built in the early 1920's in the area known as the "Vatican" district. At one time the huge residence housed up to 13 Brothers. In March 2005 there were only 4 remaining."

We spent the morning in Dunedin, checking out the Otago Stadium which was one of the Rugby World Cup venues. We also were advised to take a look at the Railway station with ornate Flemish Renaissance-style architecture features which earned architect George Troup the nickname of Gingerbread George.

We also took a drive up Baldwin Street which is said to be the steepest street in the world.

By lunchtime we headed out on the Otago Peninsular towards Taiaroa Head. Here is the only mainland colony of Northern Royal Albatross. I had been warned that to view them you have to look through thick glass and there would be no chance of getting video of them at the nest. The looks on the faces of the birders I met who parted with the entry fee only to find out that viewing was limited, reinforced my decision to wait on the car park for the wind to get up and get the Albatrosses as they soared overhead. As the wind got up in the afternoon the birds did as expected allowing me to get some flight footage. It was however disappointing that there was no opportunity to film them on the ground.

Around the car park area there was a large colony of Red-billed Gulls and good numbers of Spotted Shags on the cliff edges.

Spotted Shag

Red-billed Gull

This was our last night in New Zealand. We ate this evening at the Etrusco Italian restaurant at the Savoy Hotel in Dunedin and finished the evening in the Scotia Whisky Bar (Can't stand Whisky, but the beer was good!).

New Zealand, The Catlins and Nugget Point 16/11/2011

We left Stewart Island this morning on the morning ferry back to Bluff. Nothing new seen on the return crossing. Can't believe I am taking for granted White-capped and Salvin's Albatrosses! 

We picked up the car in Bluff but before leaving headed up to the point and the lookout. The chain represents Stewart Island's role at the heart of Maori mythology. Translated as "The Anchor Stone of Maui's Canoe", it refers to the part played by this Island in the legend of Maui and his crew, who from their canoe (the South Island) caught and raised the great fish, (the North Island).

Video grabs from my New Zealand 2011  DVD (see "Trip DVDS For Sale" tab at top of page)

We returned to Invercargill and then drove eastwards through the Catlins. Roadside stops produced good numbers of New Zealand Pigeons and Redpolls.

Nugget Point

By mid afternoon we arrived at Nugget Point. The main quarry here was Yellow-eyed Penguin. After short walk down to the observation hide we spotted our first Penguin making it's way down the beach to the sea. After about an hour we saw a couple more coming ashore. Also of interest was a rock stack that held a colony of Royal Spoonbills.

Yellow-eyed Penguin

We left Nugget Point in the late afternoon to drive to Dunedin where we stopped at The Brothers Hotel.

New Zealand, Stewart Island, 14-15/11/2011

Half moon Bay
We left Invercargill this morning for the short drive down to Bluff. This was our departure point for the ferry to Stewart Island.We heard reports that crossing Foveaux Strait to Stewart Island can be very rough. So of course today it was like a mill pond! Great for Alison but not so good for birds though as I am led to believe that windy conditions bring in more seabirds. However on the crossing I did mange to see Common Diving Petrel, White-capped and Salvin's Albatrosses and Little Blue Penguin. 

Video grabs from my New Zealand 2011  DVD (see "Trip DVDS For Sale" tab at top of page)
Golden Bay

On arrival in Oban, we dumped our gear at the South Seas Hotel which was only a couple of hundred yards from the boat. In glorious weather we walked over the hill to Golden Bay to meet Matt Jones for our afternoon trip to Ulva Island.


Ulva Island
Ulva Island

Stewart Island Weka

Stewart Island Robin

Ulva island is a predator free island although we were to learn that Rats had been found on the island recently prompting a major poisoning program. This was said to have affected Stewart Island Weka numbers on the island. We shared our trip this afternoon with an American couple who were on a birding honeymoon. We had a great afternoon on Ulva Island seeing Yellowhead, Brown Creeper, Stewart Island Robins, S.I. Weka, South  Island Saddleback, Kaka, Yellow and Red-crowned Parakeets amongst the highlights. Also Matt pointed out diminutive Spider and Green hooded orchids on the trails.

Brown Creeper

Stewart Island Kiwi

After an early evening meal at the South Seas Hotel, I set off on my evening Kiwi trip with Phillip Smith.
Our destination was Ocean Beach the site made famous when Phillip took David Attenborough to see the Stewart Island Kiwi's many years ago. We had a boat trip to reach a jetty and then had a short briefing before we headed over a headland by torchlight towards the beach. Our guide had us slowly walking up the beach along the seaweed lines as he scanned with his red beamed torch. He had a big stick in his hand, not sure what that was for. It was not long before we found a adult female Stewart Island Kiwi feeding on Sandhoppers just a few feet away from us. We watched this bird for about five minutes before someone coughed and it wandered off back up the hillside. A stunning view allowing me to obtain great video.We later found an immature male but it did not show half as well as the female earlier.On our last patrol of the beach we came cross a huge Leopard Seal (Now I know what the stick was for!). Leopard Seals can be aggressive so it was time for us to leave. What a brilliant day!

White-capped Albatross
White-capped Albatross

Southern Royal Albatross
The following morning I joined up with Matt and the two Americans again for a mornings pelagic birding with Aurora Charters. We had a fantastic morning in calm conditions and a sunny start although it began to rain at the end of the trip. The calm conditions probably meant that we missed a few good birds such as Mottled Petrel (seen a couple of days earlier by the Wrybill group). However the trip was brilliant with superb views of Southern Royal, White-capped, Salvin's and a single Buller's Albatross. Thousands of Sooty Shearwater were also an impressive sight. A lone Yellow-eyed Penguin was seen on the shore as well as a few Little Blue Penguins out at sea.

Spent the afternoon making short walks from the Hotel in between the rain. Late afternoon Matt kindly invited me to his house to film the Kaka's in his garden. Still raining, I was able to do this from his back door.
The supporting cast of Greenfiches, Chaffinches and Blackbirds was rather incongruous.


Half Moon Bay