Wednesday, 22 January 2020

Millford Sound

Milford Sound was every bit as good as they told us it would be. Eighth wonder of the world according to some and I'm not going to disagree. Not much to report other than amazing scenery and superb weather. Two kea flew over the ferry terminal and a couple of great white egrets chased each other around.

Monday, 20 January 2020

Above the treeline

Grand though some of the famous New Zealand walking trails are, unless you are a serious hiker getting past the treeline seems to present a real problem. For example a couple of days ago Elaine did a 15 mile return hike on the Routburn track from Glenorchy and still failed to clear the trees. Similarly though I haven't done it yet, I have been told that it's also a 7.5 mile hike to clear the trees from the other end of the Routeburn at the Divide. That's 7.5 miles there, 7.5 miles back. Now, impressive though these forests are, dominated by wonderful bryophytes and ferns, and alive with birds, I really did want to try to get above the trees and see some of the alpine flora of New Zealand.

Today we found a route up to The Remarkables Ski area which allowed us to drive up to 1550m with not a tree in sight. From there we then hiked up to Lake Alta at about 1800m, before climbing even further to over 2000m. At this height we were very much in amongst scree and boulders  and the there were plenty of alpine flowers about, though I didn't see a single bird.

Saturday, 18 January 2020

Riffleman and Yellowheads

Photo: Riffleman.
I spent the day in the woodlands of Glenorchy at the eastern end of the famous Routeburn track. The woodland was alive with birds and I managed a couple of new species for me. Undoubtedly though the highlight was the charming riffleman, a bird which I had seen previously at Arthur's Pass. Riffleman is the smallest bird in New Zealand, imagine a yellow-browed warbler or a goldcrest but without a tail, it's that small. It's a really odd looking thing and there were lots of them. Once I got to know the calls I picked them up everywhere and they were very confiding.

Thursday, 16 January 2020

The Westland Glaciers

Photo: Fox Glacier.
Westland National Park is a spectacular place with high snow capped peaks even in mid summer and dominated by two glaciers, Fox and Franz Josef. In truth these glaciers are nowhere near as impressive as they may appear from the photographs, on foot the nearest you can get to Fox Glacier is 2.5km, whereas Franz Josef is about 1km. They have receded considerably in recent years due to climate change and as you walk towards them you pass signs which indicate the position of previous glacier terminal faces. Still, the scenery is spectacular and even walking through the valley moraines deposited by the glaciers is an impressive experience for anybody interested in geography.

Wednesday, 15 January 2020

Experiencing Kiwi

Well nobody said that seeing kiwi would be easy but I didn't expect it to be quite so strange. Last time I was in New Zealand in 2018 I managed to see little spotted kiwi, this time I connected with great spotted kiwi and Rowi (also known as Okarito brown kiwi), but that only tells half the story!

Kiwi are nocturnal so that presents it's own set of problems, but they also live in woodland and all species are pretty rare. We were staying in Franz Josef Glacier, only about 15 miles from Okarito so I booked myself onto a tour run by Okratiro Kiwi Tours because this seemed the only realistic way of seeing a Rowi, the rarest of all the kiwi.

Tuesday, 14 January 2020

Kea at Arthur's Pass

Arthur's Pass is the gateway to the west coast of New Zealand when travelling from Christchurch and it is renowned for its friendly kea. These are large birds which are also known as mountain parotts and at Arthur's Pass they have become relatively tame and will even 'steal' items from unsuspecting tourists.

We saw about 4 birds in the village, and then two more at the Otira viaduct lookout. The latter were incredibly tame and one even came and pecked at my camera lens as I tried to take its photo.


Weka are large rail like birds endemic to New Zealand which are not too dissimilar to corncrakes in size and look, although they occupy completely different habitats. During our journey from Nelson to Arthur's Pass we stopped off at several lookouts and view points and found relatively tame weka walking around the car parks, including this bird at Hope Saddle Lookout.

Monday, 13 January 2020

A few New Zealand endemics

Photo: Double-banded plover.

My planned Albatross Encounter trip from Kaikoura was disappointingly cancelled today due to strong winds, but actually it turned out well in the end. Yesterday I had seen plenty of seabirds well on the Whale watching trip and even briefly contemplated cancelling todays trip but decided to go ahead with it on the off chance that I would get something different. However when it was cancelled not only did I get a full refund but I was then able to head off to Kaikoura headland for a sea watch from there.

It was very impressive, the wind had driven many seabirds close inshore, especially Hutton's shearwater which were going past in their thousands. Also from the headland, at least 3 Salvin's albatross, southern royal albatross and white-capped albatross, plus 3 northern giant petrels.

Plenty of other birds today as well, including a new species for me, Double-banded plover.

Sunday, 12 January 2020

Albatross's from Kaikoura

Photo: Salvin's albatross.
Today's whale watching trip was really only about seeing sperm whale but inevitably I picked up  a few decent seabirds, most pleasing of which were this stunning Salvin's albatross and a few southern royal albatross. This brings my albatross life list to ten species.

Whale watching Kaikoura

Photo: male Sperm whale diving
Whale watching in Kaikoura today and what a fabulous day, we saw a single sperm whale and many dusky dolphins. both of which were new for me. Also today two new species of albatross and a few other decent sea birds.

Saturday, 11 January 2020

Black-billed Gulls in quake city

New Zealand sits on the Pacific Ocean's Ring of Fire and as such is hit by frequent earthquakes, with several in the past decade including the devastating 2011 quake which killed 185 people and demolished many buildings and severely damaged the city's cathedral. Earthquakes are a way of life and a constant threat and to the visitor the the city appears to be in a permanent state of being rebuilt.

Also damaged in the 2011 quake was a 17-storey office building in Armagh Road owned by PwC. Following the quake the building was demolished and cleared so that all that remains now is a hole in the ground which was the buildings basement as well as concrete foundations and metal reinforcing.

It's a bit of an eyesore to be honest, but amazingly in amongst the rubble and twisted steel the worlds most endangered gull has made itself at home in the Central Business District of New Zealand's second most populous city.

New Zealand Scaup

This New Zealand scaup was incredibly tame today in Christchurch Botanic Gardens. Earlier in the day I'd seen about 100 adults, many with very young chicks at pools adjacent to the Heathcoate River mouth. This was a new bird for me today.

Friday, 10 January 2020

A stop over in Singapore

On our way to New Zealand and Australia, we decided to stop off for three days in Singapore. It's absolutely not a birding stop but inevitably I was bound to pick up a few new species having never been to south-east Asia before. One of the commonest was this beautiful black-naped oriole and in total I managed 20 new species in Singapore. Most spectacularly I managed to find an unprecedented flock of 12 Himalayan Vultures themalling over the CPD, whilst most pleasing for me was getting a good look at blue-crowned hanging-parrots.

Thursday, 9 January 2020

Himalayan Vultures, Singapore!

During a visit to Singapore CPD today I spotted 12 large birds thermaling overhead. Turns out they were Himalayan vultures which aren't even annual in Singapore, and although there have been 3 or 4 seen recently, 12 is unprecedented numbers. I reported the sighting on the Singapore birders Facebook group and since then there have been other sightings of the flock elsewhere in the country. Unfortunately I didn't have my camera with me and had to be content with these phone camera shots (not through the telescope!). Also today, blue-crowned hanging parrots, bright green, about the size of a sparrow, they habitually hang upside down and even sleep that way. My new favourite bird!


Red junglefowl, one of several seen in Singapore Botanic Gardens. This is a species which occurs naturally in this part of south-east Asia but in Singapore some populations are under threat from hybridisation with domestic fowl. This bird looks pretty good to me but it's hard to know how pure it really is.

More to follow from Singapore soon...

Wednesday, 1 January 2020

My top 10 UK birding experiences of the decade

Over the past 10 years I've seen 378 species in the UK and 313 species in the north-west. I added 58 species to my UK list during the decade leaving me currently on 432 for the UK and 369 for the north-west. However it's not just the birds, it's the experiences which I love with good friends in often fabulous locations. Here is my top 11 from the decade.

1. American black tern Eccleston Mere, St Helens, August 2012.

Photo: American Black Tern © Steve Young.
My best ever self found rarity, at the time it was about the fifth for the UK and the next one didn't appear until September 2018 in Kent. On the day I found it, I'd actually gone to the mere in the hope of finding a black tern and when I saw this bird. I took a few photos but it wasn't until I returned home and looked at the photos that I noticed the grey flanks which identifies it as American black.

The bird commuted between the mere and Prescot Reservoirs for a about five days, with a day spent at Pennington Flash in the middle of its stay. It was a very exciting time for me at the mere, a place which at the time I regularly visited 3 or 4 times a week and had done so for 15 years and most of the time just seeing coots and mallard.

Saturday, 28 December 2019

Siberian / Stejneger's Stonechat, Ashton's Flash

At the second attempt I caught up with the Siberian / Stejneger's stonechat at Ashton's Flash today. A great north-west record, it was always distant, at least 100m, and the light was very poor today so I'm happy to get any photos. It was a decent view through the scope though. DNA is going to be pretty much impossible to obtain from this bird I would think so chances are it will never be conclusively identified.

Tuesday, 10 December 2019

Purple Heron, Eagland Hill

Time was when I classed purple heron as my bogey bird in the UK, I just couldn't see one, in fact I'd been birding 40 years before I managed to connect with the species on home soil. However since then I've not done too bad, and todays bird at Eagland Hill on the Fylde was my 4th in five years.

What on earth it's doing at Eagland Hill surrounded by the arable fields of the North Lancashire mosslands is a real mystery. I mean yes there are a few reedy ditches in the area, but not really that many to hold a species which is usually much more associated with reedbeds than grey heron. In fact this bird, which is a juvenile, spends as much time in a field of tall rank vegetation as it does in the nearby ditches.

Wednesday, 4 December 2019

Chocolat Suchard menu card

Yesterday I bought a 2nd hand book enititled "The Alpine Flora" written by Henri Correvon, illustrated by Phillipe Robert and published in 1911. The original book was written in French and this is an English translation. There are two names with dates in the book, Edith Nelson May 1935 and another which I can't quite make out but which looks like Judith Madeley, Campfer 1922. Henri Correvon was a Swiss botanist and there is a place in Switzerland called Champfer so perhaps there is a connection there. Of particular interest to me though, inside the book there is a Chocolat Suchard menu card with a hand written menu and a painting of a species of yellow foxglove labelled D. Ambigua. The label has been underlined and a question mark handwritten at the end. There is a note at the bottom of the card which says something like "In Correvon's Alpine Flora D. Ambigua & D. Lutea are pictured together and D. Lutea is much more like this of the two." This is signed and dated 24/6/1923. I can't read French but the menu appears to mention starters and prawns 🙂.

Sunday, 1 December 2019

Tyn Dwr Hall

It's that time of year when the countryside is dominated by browns or greens, but just now and again if you look closely enough you can find some different colours, and there is no more lovely example than these yew tree berries at Tyn Dwr Hall near Llangollen.

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