Tiritiri Matangi Island (Bird Sanctury) A 30yr dream is fulfilled


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Published: November 14th 2008
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Owera The Monarch ButterflyOwera The Monarch ButterflyOwera The Monarch Butterfly

This species migrates from NZ across the Pacific Ocean to the forest of Mexico
We arrived at Owera just before dark and checked into a Top 10 camp site, we needed to wash some clothes, shower and check email. While Pili was showering I cooked up a couple of sirloin steaks.

The next morning we hastily packed up camp, not before I took some gorgeous shots of a Monarch Butterfly (these graceful insects migrate to Mexico across the Pacific!!). We headed down to Gulf Harbour to catch our ferry Pili had booked the previous day via phone, we also were staying on the island overnight. I can’t remember being so excited, this is a boyhood ambition about to be fulfilled.

On arriving at the harbour car park I heard someone shout, “What time do you call this??” my blood ran cold for a moment, thinking it was Neal & Louise. To my great relief and pleasant surprise it was Matt & Mel. They had decided that they wanted more nature adventures and were going to join us.

I dragged Matt off to the office to see if we could get them on the ferry, no problem. Tickets in hand we joined the large queue outside. I was a little disappointed as we
Gulf HarbourGulf HarbourGulf Harbour

We missed the ferry for Tiritiri & Matt's deafened by kids.
were surrounded by noisy kids, not the best for watching shy birds!! My worst nightmare then happened; I noticed our ferry pulling out of the harbour, no way! This crowd of people were waiting to go to another island and not the bird sanctuary!!!! Pili immediately talk to the supervisor; she hadn’t told us where to go when we collected our tickets, we just assumed the queue was for Tiritiri. The embarrassed lady radioed to ferry, of course they were not going to turn back for us, fortunately the school party ferry agreed to take us to the island, phew, I was about to kill people, starting with several small individuals who were running around our feet screaming.

The funniest event of this catastrophe was the sight of Melanie running along the dock shouting at the ferry to stop. She was waving her “LiquorLand” bag full of beer and wine for the overnight stay, she looks so fragile but is a little demon at heart. Melanie’s departure gift to us was the famous (to us) “LiquorLand” bag full of left over supplies which is now one of Pili’s most precious possessions… (What is it with Pili and hand-bags?)

The ferry trip lasted about 20 minutes and when we disembarked on the island we noticed immediately the air was filled with exotic bird song, all unfamiliar to me apart from the song of the Tui and Fantails.

It took us a strenuous 20 minutes climb up the steep hill to the lighthouse where we had our accommodation block. I didn’t really notice because on route I saw the beautiful and rare Stitch Bird, Bell Bird (what a amazing song) White Heads & the inquisitive and very rare Saddlebacks. Also several pairs of Red-Crowned Parakeet, flying through the tree tops.

At the accommodation block we found a fully equipped kitchen and bunk beds. When we spoke to the Department Of Conservation yesterday when booking our trip, they told us that there were no cooking facilities and very basic sleeping arrangements, we brought along no food because of this. Matt and Melanie had been told that all they needed was pillow cases!! One of the wardens, James was obviously embarrassed and gave us some supplies and a quilt for Matt & Mel. Oh yeah I almost forgot, we were also told that the ferry was leaving at 10:30am the next day, we found out from James that it was actually 3:30pm, this was the reason we brought no supplies. Yet again no communication between departments, what a surprise!

When we reached the lighthouse we were met by three Takahe Notornis Mantelli the World’s largest flightless Gallinul. This bird was first recorded in 1849 but later thought extinct until rediscovered in 1948 by Dr Orbell in the Murchison Mountain Range at an altitude on 1,000 metres, west of Lake Te Anau. The present population is approx 120 birds. These three birds were transferred to the predator free Tiritiri Island a few years ago and seam to be thriving and unconcerned about the visitors.

I’d wait a very long time to meet these ancient and charismatic birds. Before checking in I sat within 5 feet and admired their beauty. The colouration of the nape and wing feathers is astonishing, blending from a royal blue into an emerald green. The broad beak is perfectly designed for cutting reeds and tussock grass which in the wild is the natural diet; here they were cutting the lawn very effectively. Mom throw away the lawnmower, I have a better plan.

How can I top this? I was thinking. Tonight I would find out to my astonishment!

The rest of the day was spent with Pili, Matt and Melanie exploring around the island and giving them a commentary of exactly what they were observing. They told me after that they really enjoyed it, which really pleased me. Mel said they had to come to be with us because they knew that they’d have their own personal naturalist guide to accompany them. In all their travels they have seen lots of animals but didn’t really have a clue what they were looking at. They were genuinely excited to do something that the normal traveller never experiences. They even said that when back at home they were going to do more nature walks as I had opened a new World to them.

Before dusk we headed down to the shoreline to try and catch the Little Blue Penguins coming up the beach to the nest site. I think we missed them but it didn’t matter as we had previously seen two of them in their nest boxes and had a really nice time sat on the rocks with a few cold beers.
Blue Penguin watchBlue Penguin watchBlue Penguin watch

Of course with a Tui beer

After searching for the Kiwi’s for an hour with me up by the lighthouse (we could definitely hear them in the bush) Pili and the others crashed out after sharing a bottle of red wine. No way was I going to bed. I knew on the Island was a small population of the rarest and most elusive Kiwi, the Little Spotted Kiwi. I’d decided to walk the island through the night until I found one and hopefully film it. I covered my torches and camcorder lights with red film so not to scare the Kiwis or anything else I might encounter. I was told I’d be very lucky to see one as they were very shy. This did not deter me in the slightest, tonight would probably be the only chance in my lifetime to witness this bird in its wild habitat.

The night air was very cold and I’m glad I was well wrapped up. I walked about 10km and at about 2am I heard some load rustling in a patch of ferns by the pathway. I knew instantly this was my elusive quarry. Sure enough after following it into the bush I caught a brief glimpse of a small, brown spotted Kiwi butt disappearing at speed into the undergrowth. My heart nearly stopped. I fumbled with the camera but all I caught was myself clumsily crashing through the vegetation. Never mind, I saw one and it was burnt into my memory forever. Twenty minutes later the same thing happened. First thing I heard some heavy footsteps in the long grass (I think the Bigfoot legend is just a very large Kiwi somewhere in North America, talk about heavy footed!!) Again I failed to get any decent film, just me swearing at my own incompetence. Trying to aim the torch and focus a camera on a small, round, camouflaged and very fast bird in pitch blackness is just about impossible, I need an assistant for this type of filming! WOW, two sightings. Within 10 minutes I had my third and clearest encounter. I saw this beautiful creature for a couple of seconds clearly in my spotlight. It would have made a perfect photo, this classic Kiwi, long beak, small beady eyes looking directly at me. To be honest I was just so stunned to have such a clear shot, I froze, so did the bird and then it took off. This was more than I could have hoped for. I sat down on the grass in the dark, all by myself in the middle of this little island & laughed with elation. Not having any film makes absolutely no difference to me; this night was up there with the best of my entire life.

After a couple of hours restless sleep lay in my sleeping bag back at the dorm I was up for sunrise and the dawn chorus. I walked for about 3hrs and ended up down by the shore line. Along the route I had a very close encounter with the exceeding rare North Island Black Robin. This is another species saved from the brink of extinction. Ten minutes from the lighthouse, on my way back for breakfast with the guys I had yet another amazing surprise. I turned a corner on the Ridge Path and on the ground eating clover was the Kokako, a crow sized bird, blue grey feathers and a bright blue wattle beneath its beak. Only a handful of this species exist in the world, Tiritiri has two pairs only. With my hands shaking I raised the video camera and filmed for about ten minute, I daren’t move or breathe. I also managed a few still shots before the bird joined its mate in a nearby tree. To date this has to be the rarest bird I’ve ever seen in the wild.

Back at the visitor centre I showed the researchers and staff my footage and recalled my adventures. They were amazed at my three Kiwi encounters and were even more shocked to see my Kokako footage. This behaviour of eating clover on the ground has never been recorded as far as they are aware. This I will look into further, I may have some very unique film on my hands of a near extinct bird. This’ll look good on the C.V. The curator of the island has also invited me back to help document the projects being carried out. This I would love to do after our trip. They are also setting up a meeting with Don Merton - he’s the guy who saved the Black Robin among several other species, a real legend in the conservation world.

I spent the rest of our trip with Pili filming the birds, while Matt and Mel explored on their own. Pili had a really excellent encounter with the Black Robin. Such inquisitive little birds, just like our own UK Robin. Pili’s become quite the naturalist, which makes me really proud of her. She’s remembering the names and calls of a coupe of dozen species, which is no mean feat.

We left on the ferry at 3:30pm, I had a lump in my throat. I could have stayed there the rest of my life. Hopefully I will return.

Back at the van we said our final goodbye to Matt and Mel. They were on the last leg of their journey and heading to Fiji then Hawaii to meet up with Matt’s brother. It was a pleasure travelling with them.

Because I had hardly slept during our stay on the island we decided to have another night at the camp sight in Owera before heading toward Rotorua tomorrow.



Additional photos below
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sunrise on Tiritiri Islandsunrise on Tiritiri Island
sunrise on Tiritiri Island

I'd been walking all night through the bush, I'd seen 3 Little Spotted Kiwi's, the World rarest Kiwi, then dawn gretted me like this. I'm a lucky man.
BIG JellyfishBIG Jellyfish
BIG Jellyfish

This beastie was about 3ft across!
North Island KokakoNorth Island Kokako
North Island Kokako

This is one off the Worlds most endangered birds
North Island KokakoNorth Island Kokako
North Island Kokako

This was my last glimpse of this ghost bird
Pili joins me for the dawn chorusPili joins me for the dawn chorus
Pili joins me for the dawn chorus

She a official bird watcher now, ha, ha
BellbirdBellbird
Bellbird

singing in a new day
Brown QuailBrown Quail
Brown Quail

A once common bird introduced from Tasmania in the 1860's


12th October 2010

Great blog
I am from Nova Scotia and am heading to Tirtiri in early Nov. I read your blog with great interest. Well done and well written. The Kokako pic was super. My son has challenged me to get a photo of this bird. I hope I will be as lucky as you!

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